Kingston, the largest English-speaking city in the Caribbean, is the capital of Jamaica and its cultural, industrial, and financial center. It's home to more than 660,000 people, including those living on the plains between the Blue Mountains and the sea. The buildings here are a mixture of modern, graceful, old, and just plain ramshackle. The bustling port is evocative of one in Africa, with a natural harbor that's among the largest in the world. The University of the West Indies has its campus on the edge of the city.

Few other cities in the Caribbean carry as many negative connotations as Kingston, thanks to widely publicized reports of violent crime, congestion, bad roads, and difficult-to-decipher traffic signs. But it is also here that you find Jamaica at its most urban and confident, most witty and exciting, most challenging. No other place in Jamaica offers so many bars, clubs, or cultural outlets. And no other place in Jamaica has such a concentration of creative artists and opinions.

We've carefully screened the recommendations contained within this guide, eliminating any that lie within the most dangerous neighborhoods. Keep an open mind about Kingston -- it can be a lot of fun if you keep your guard up, but it isn't for the faint of heart.

When you've had enough of the city, escape to the Blue Mountains at the northern edge of the city. There is no more beautiful mountain chain in the West Indies. The hills are at their most stunning and evocative when a blue mist hovers over them. The Blue Mountains are most famously associated with a celebrated coffee bean, but they're also full of trails, rivers, waterfalls, bird life, fruit, and even marijuana.

Don't expect superhighways: The roads are terrible. Luckily, the best way to appreciate this amazing scenery is by foot -- though only if you're very fit.

Kingston Travel Warning

In May of 2010, violence erupted in the two metropolitan provinces of Kingston. The U.S. State Department issued a travel warning to visitors to the island, although the popular resorts such as Montego Bay were not directly affected. Gunmen roamed the streets of Kingston, protesting the extradition to the U.S. of a drug czar, Christopher (Dudas) Coke. Coke has long controlled a section of Kingston known as "Tivoli Gardens." The Shower Posse gang, of which Coke is said to be the leader, is accused of hundreds of drug-related killings in the U.S. in the 1980s. A film is currently being made based on Shower Posse.

As of this writing, Coke was captured and extradited to the United States, where he faces various allegations. The defendant is charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and marijuana and conspiracy to illegally traffic in firearms. If convicted on the narcotics charge, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison and a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years. On the firearms charge, he could get an additional 5 years, plus a hefty fine.