Even if you're staying at Ocho Rios or Port Antonio, you may want to visit Kingston, Port Royal, and Spanish Town to sightsee.
New Music Museum for Kingston
As of this writing, the Institute of Jamaica was planning to open the Jamaica Music Museum. Exhibits will feature rare pieces from the island's music history, including the solo album the late Bob Marley produced before he gained international fame.
Other artifacts will also include a cassette tape in which another reggae great, Peter Tosh, jams a blues song with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. The tape was recorded in New York in the late spring of 1977.
The museum represents a major attempt to preserve and protect the island's musical heritage. In 2008, the island's musical heritage took a major hit when a massive collection of 1970s music, including original recordings by Tosh and Marley, was stolen from the archives of former Jamaica Broadcasting Corp. The collection was never recovered.
The most important art collection in Jamaica is housed at the National Gallery, Roy West Building, Kingston Mall (tel. 876/922-1561). This gallery is a showcase for the nation's most talented artists. On the ground floor you're greeted with the controversial bronze statue of the late Bob Marley, the reggae great. A work by Christopher Gonzalez, the statue originally was meant to stand in Celebrity Park, but aroused opposition among Marley fans, who felt it portrayed their hero in an unflattering light. You be the art critic here.
The Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts is best highlighted by Edna Manley, a well-known sculptor who was married to Norman Manley, the former prime minister. She was also the mother of another prime minister, Michael Manley. Locals refer to her as the "Barbara Bush of Jamaica." She died in 1976 at the age of 86. One of her most celebrated sculptures is Ghetto Mother, located in the main lobby.
Also attracting a lot of attention locally are the mahogany figurines and other works by Mallica Reynolds, better known as Kapo. His religious themes have made him a household word in Kingston. Some art critics have called his sculpture "the work of a modern genius."
Entrance is US$2 for adults and free for children. Hours are Tuesday to Thursday 10am to 4:30pm, Friday 10am to 4pm, and Saturday 10am to 3pm. You'll better understand what you're seeing if you hire a guide, costing US$13 for a tour.
One of the major attractions, Devon House, 26 Hope Rd. (tel. 876/929-6602), was built in 1881 by George Stiebel, a Jamaican who made his fortune mining in Latin America -- becoming one of the first black millionaires in the Caribbean. A striking classical building, the house has been restored to its original beauty by the Jamaican National Trust. The grounds contain crafts shops, boutiques, two restaurants, shops that sell the best ice cream in Jamaica (in exotic fruit flavors), and a bakery and pastry shop with Jamaican puddings and desserts. Admission to the main house is US$5; hours are Monday to Saturday from 9:30am to 4:30pm. Admission to shops and restaurants is free.
At the Hope Botanical Gardens & Zoo, Hope Road (tel. 876/927-1257), you can visit a Jamaican Shangri-La, a 93-hectare (230-acre) plot of beauty and the largest botanical garden in the West Indies. It is adjacent to the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies. The "Hope" in the name comes from Richard Hope, a British Army commander who lived here in the mid-17th century. After the grime of downtown Kingston, it's a lovely place for a tranquil stroll; attractions include a cactus garden, sago palms, an orchid house, various greenhouses, an ornamental pond, and a "forest garden," with an aviary for the "birdie" in you. There's also a little zoo on-site.
Admission to the gardens themselves is free, and they are open daily from 6am to 6pm. Admission to the zoo, however, costs J$20 for adults and J$10 for children aged 4 to 12. The zoo is open Monday to Thursday 10am to 5pm, Friday 10am to 4pm, and Saturday and Sunday 10am to 6pm. On-site is the Ashanti restaurant, a strictly vegetarian restaurant, serving lunch and dinner daily, using only organically grown ingredients. To reach these gardens from the commercial center of Kingston, take bus nos. 61, 66, or 78.
Between Old Hope and Mona roads, on the eastern outskirts, a short distance from the Botanical Gardens, is the University of the West Indies (tel. 876/927-1660), built in 1948 on the Mona Sugar Estate. Ruins of old mills, storehouses, and aqueducts are juxtaposed with modern buildings on what must be the most beautifully situated campus in the world. The chapel, an old sugar-factory building, was transported stone by stone from Trelawny and rebuilt. The remains of the original sugar factory here are well preserved and give a good idea of how sugar was made in slave days. Organized tours are available. You are also allowed to stroll around the campus Monday to Saturday from 9am to 5pm. You must see the Public Relations office first.
The National Library of Jamaica at the Institute of Jamaica, 12 East St. (tel. 876/967-1526), a storehouse of the history, culture, and traditions of Jamaica and the Caribbean, is the finest working library for West Indian studies in the world. It has the most comprehensive, up-to-date, and balanced collection of materials on the region, including books, newspapers, photographs, maps, and prints. It's open Monday to Thursday from 9am to 5pm, Friday from 9am to 4pm.
Bob Marley Museum, 56 Hope Rd. (tel. 876/927-9152; www.bobmarley-foundation.com), is the most-visited sight in Kingston, but if you're not a Marley fan, it may not mean much to you. The clapboard house with its garden and high surrounding wall was the famous reggae singer's home and recording studio until his death on May 11, 1981, in a Miami hospital. You can tour the house and view assorted Marley memorabilia, and you may even catch a glimpse of his children, who often visit the grounds. Hours are Monday to Saturday from 9:30am to 5pm (last tour at 4pm). Admission is US$20 or US$10 for ages 4 to 12.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.