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Jamaica - Learn The History And Some Interesting Travel Destinations You Won't Find In Other Places
by Mike Cohen
TheSyndicatedNews columnist


There are two ways to truly experience Jamaica. The first is to stay in some of the unbelievably beautiful hotels that are available, dine in some of the best restaurants you’ll find anywhere with an unbeatable selection of food, visit one of the most beautiful and diverse island environments and dance in elegant surroundings to some really professional reggae bands.

The second way is to “go native” and in Jamaica that means music, music and more music and of course lots of food. And the “double D’s” that Jamaica has become famous for – Drinking and Dancing. Many people go home from a week or so in Jamaica feeling refreshed and relaxed; pampered and healed; ready to face the rigors of their lives. Many more leave Jamaica badly needing rest, but with a smile on their faces that doesn’t even begin to reveal the sweetness of the memories.

The choice, of course, is up to the traveler. But even with that, a pretty good percentage of the people who come to kick back in the mellow pink sands of Jamaica end up having experiences they never dreamed possible. No matter what, though, everybody leaves happy. You can stay in a resort complex built into a network of ocean caves, where the restaurant is actually a cave and where your daily massage spot overlooks the most beautiful stretch of beach in the world. Or you can pitch a tent on the beach and experience Jamaica at its most basic and pure – a peaceful island that lays claim to its own music, its own religion and its own personality. You know who you are and what you like and you’ll be sure to find it (and more) on Jamaica.

Originally called Xaymaca meaning “land of wood and water” by the Arawak Indians who inhabited the island, Jamaica has a bloody past. “Discovered” by Columbus in 1492 who claimed it for Spain, the peaceful Arawak island was forced to endure centuries filled with war, slavery and brutal exploitation by others. Contact with the Spaniards proved too much for the gentle Arawak people who were all but eliminated in seventy to eighty years. Having found no gold anywhere on the island, the Spaniards used Jamaica as a base of operations as it launched its subsequent invasions of Mexico, South and eventually North America.

In 1655 the British virtually walked in and took the island over claiming it as one of the jewels in the English Crown. In no time at all, Jamaica was an important part of a trading “triangle” between the British Isles which supplied manufactured goods, Africa which, against its will, provided slaves and Jamaica which provided sugar grown on its own plantations and from the surrounding islands.

Plantation life on Jamaica was everything. Growing, harvesting and shipping sugar in vast quantities to the British Isles was the only economic enterprise of any worth on the island. The rhythm of the growing seasons, mixed with the organized harvesting and shipping processes created a sense of calm and well being on the island that still exists to this day. The only problem was the slavery that was necessary to provide labor. It didn’t take too many generations of slaves to create a desire for freedom and slowly, slaves began escaping to the north and joining bands of other escaped slaves who became known as Maroons. It took almost one hundred years of bloody fighting between the Maroons and the British but finally, in 1838, looking to avoid another costly, expensive war, the slaves were emancipated.

After emancipation, just like in many other countries, the former slaves rented, bought, stole or were given small parcels of land to farm for themselves. Church groups, especially Baptists, helped out by donating church owned properties to families. Also, during this period of time, sugar began a serious, long lived decline as an economic gold mine as other producers began shipping their product all over the world. As sugar began bringing in less and less money over the years and as the cost of hiring former slaves to do all the work kept rising, the island began to suffer.

Ultimately, the small, independent farmers, the former slaves, began producing bananas, coffee and logwood in ever increasing numbers, which helped to diversify the economy and to regain some prosperity. Through the mid 1900’s, with two great World Wars, the economy continued to grow and prosper, ultimately mining bauxite for the Allied Forces. In 1944 small amounts of independence and self governance were granted to the people living on the island.

But it was not until 1962 that complete political independence was granted to the island nation. Even the decline in the aluminum market could not hurt Jamaica, as the growing tourism market, the millions of island hungry Americans and Europeans who came there and continue to come there, poured in and soon hotels, restaurants and attractions were being created to accommodate them.

With all the rich, British plantation owners, growing and shipping tons of sugar around the world for the hundreds of years since they took over the island, it comes as no surprise that the largest single group of people living there today are the descendants of the African slaves who did all the work. In addition to the Africans there are small but well defined groups of Indian, Chinese, Arab and Europeans as well. This peculiar mix of cultures all living together peacefully on a beautiful island paradise has synthesized over time into a remarkably diverse setting for visitors.

There are mixes of African tribal religious ceremonies and British formal behavior. And even though the official language of the island has been English for over 300 years and the dialect spoken today on the island is drawn from English, it is so unique that it needs to be “interpreted” to be fully understood. With this diverse population approaching 3 million people, there is plenty to experience in Jamaica that is found nowhere else in the world.

For many people, no trip to Jamaica would be complete without a prolonged visit to the world famous Royal Palm Reserve, an eco-attraction without equal. The Royal Palm Reserve is known for its flora and landscape, which are dominated by the awe inspiring 100-foot Royal palms, (Roystonia princes), endemic to western Jamaica. The reserve is situated on a 300-acre expanse within the 6,000-acre Negril Great Morass, which is bordered by the Negril Hills in the east and the Orange Bay community in Hanover, to the west. Activities offered at the reserve are bird watching, guided and unguided boardwalk tours, and sport fishing. The reserve also boasts a bird-watching tower, from which birdwatchers can view sections of the Great Morass, its 190 species of plants, some of the 36 species of resident birds, including the endangered West Indian Whistling Duck, 10 water and three summer migrants. Bird watching is very popular because of the diversity of the bird life. During the tourist seasons, up to 500 visitors flock the reserve monthly. The Royal Palm Reserve is multifunctional in that it has something for everybody. It is a unique place for persons who want a different experience from the beach, who want to see lush vegetation and biodiversity. "We cater to the eco-tourists at heart and to visitors who want to relax, fish or learn about the environment," says Miss Ferguson the Public Relations manager. The attraction is open from 9:00 am until 6:00 pm and costs J$500 or US $10 plus an extra US$5 if you fish.

Here’s a little known attraction that you won’t find unless you ask around once you arrive. Predny’s On The Beach is one of those places for folks who like to sample a little of the local flavor at its best. So popular was this location, that owner Donette Prendergrast was encouraged to open a second location in downtown Kingston because many of the business owners complained that their employees would return late from lunch break having to run all the way to the beach for some food and then return to the city. Some say it’s the aroma from the delicious array of seafood cooking over the coal and wood fires. Others say it’s the way Prendy’s serves up heaping helpings of fresh cooked crab, lobster, fish, conch, bammy and festival done "just the way you like it”. Having been involved in supplying seafood to customers for over eight years, an opportunity came up for Miss Prendergast to take a spot on Hellshire beach in St. Catherine nearly three years ago. Open on Wednesdays and Fridays ¬for the time being ¬ with Friday being the more popular of the two nights, Donette now opens at 6:00 p.m., although her customers start to arrive as early as 4:30 p.m. "Straight from work and we go up until 2:00 a.m., sometimes,” Donette says." Just hop in any taxi and say, “Prendy’s On The Beach” and in no time at all you’ll be enjoying some of the best seafood anywhere, on one of the prettiest beach settings you’ll ever see.

For an undersea adventure you’ll remember forever, don’t miss the Montego Bay Undersea Tour attraction. You’ll board your lovely craft, the semi submarine named the “Coral See” at Pier One in downtown Montego Bay by the waterfront. Shortly after you board, the captain will set sail and you’ll begin to explore the fascinating underwater world of Jamaica’s first and only protected marine environment. The submarine is fully air conditioned for your comfort and offers panoramic views of undersea locations you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Your trip is guided by marine experts who take their time pointing out the unique undersea life that exists in the preserve explaining to the passengers everything that they’re seeing. All this and more as your submarine glides effortlessly through the crystal blue waters that surround the island, showcasing the local fish and plant life that grows in abundance. The tour departs from Pier One at 11:00 am and 1:30 pm daily except Wednesdays. Reconfirmation is very necessary with the tour office as changes due to climate and heavier than expected bookings can occur. The tour price is US$ 40.00 per person. Transportation from your hotel to Pier One can be easily arranged. More information about the different tours available, the times and prices can be found at

How could you not visit an attraction with a name like the Peace Cave? Located about five miles down an old footpath from Accompong Town in Saint Elizabeth, the Peace Cave is an enjoyable if somewhat strenuous walk into Maroon History. In 1655 faced with the invasion of Jamaica by a large expeditionary force from England, the Spanish turned their slaves loose to flee into the mountains to fight the English occupiers while they fled to Cuba. One of those slaves was Kojo who, along with his brother Accompong, founded a small village just on the edge of the virtually uninhabited Cockpit Country. This village became a haven for slaves who fled the English plantations. The Peace Cave is both composed of Karst limestone interior and some crystallized quartz structure near the entrance that appearing together added to the mystery and reverence the Maroons placed on its spiritual power. Today the Maroons incorporate a ceremony at the Peace Cave where they leave bottles of rum to their ancestors during the celebration of Kojo’s Birthday on January 6th of every year. Residents of Accompong Town have been training their youth to be Tour Guides around the community and a Tour Guide can be hired to take you to the Peace Cave. The price can vary but $20 US for a guide is a reasonable cost for the trip. A tip can be added if you are satisfied with your adventure, which I am sure you will be.

Ever been to a yam festival? Well, if you’re visiting Jamaica in March you’re in for a real treat. As the Easter Holiday nears, so begins the island-wide buzz for the Trelawny Yam Festival. Scheduled for Easter Monday, March 28th, Jamaica’s first and best festival looks to expand on last year’s record setting performance of nearly 18,000 visitors. Activities begin on March 16th with the Schools Competition and kick into high gear the week of March 21st with the Farmer’s Field Celebration, Yam King and Queen Pageant, Sports Day and Grand Yam Festival Day on March 28th. Yams are a big deal in Jamaica and the Yam Festival is a big deal as well. There are activities, programs, displays, entertainment and of course food every day of the festival. One of the big attractions is the staging of the always elegant Yam King and Queen Pageant at Ulster Spring Primary School. Fourteen of the best and brightest of Trelawny’s young men and women will take to the stage to earn the title of Yam Festival King and Queen. Group and individual performance pieces, modeling and responses to questions will help determine who will be awarded the titles of Most Talented Male and Female, Most Intelligent Male and Female and the King and Queen. More information on this year’s Festival can be obtained by visiting the Yam Festival website at or by contacting the office of the Southern Trelawny Environmental Agency at 876 -610-0818.

What you really want when you go shopping on a vacation, are stores featuring items of quality produced by local artists and craftsmen, properly priced, that you won’t find anywhere else in the world – and Jamaica satisfies on every count. Almost every store on the island is indigenous to Jamaica. You’ll find stores that feature the music of local bands, especially early recordings of local legend, Bob Marley. You’ll find other stores that feature natural items found only on the islands but check before you attempt to bring anything living through your home customs services. Local art proliferates in many of the galleries that showcase paintings, photographs, sculptures and other creations by many of the island’s best artists. You’ll see colors on canvas, styles of clothing and jewelry fashioned by skilled craftsmen that will melt your heart. It’s almost impossible to visit some of the islands more famous shopping areas and not come away with something. From the covered arcades off of King Street, to the Jubilee Market, overflowing onto Orange Street in the heart of Kingston, to the Kingston Crafts Market at the west end of Harbor Street, to one of the most modern shopping centers in Jamaica, the New Kingston Shopping Centre, at 30 Dominica Dr. all the way down to The Shops at Devon House, 26 Hope Rd. you’ll find shop after shop selling only the best items that Jamaica has to offer without ever seeing a single store twice. For more information visit

As with most of the world’s popular tourist destinations, there are numerous cars, motorcycles and other vehicles available for rent. However, for those on a budget or those who like to “go native” there are taxis and a bus service that can get you pretty much anywhere you want to go. Please note that Jamaican Public Transportation is known for a high sense of adventure which means it’s usually very crowded and the driving is edge of your seat exciting. All of the main towns on the island and most of the small villages are served by either taxis or minibuses and will run you about 1/5 of the cost of private cars. Public transportation typically runs between the hours of 6am to 6pm Monday to Saturday. Service on Sunday is lighter between larger towns and sporadic at best for smaller villages. A route taxi runs a set route and picks up and drops off anywhere along the way. A charter is a hired car which does not stop for people along the way. As you reach your destination, yell "one stop" and the route driver will pull over to the side and let you off. On buses, you generally pay when you reach the half way point in the journey. The conductor will ask for 'all fares' at the appropriate time. In taxis, it is customary to pay when you reach your destination - never pay ahead of time. Take a look at the following URL for a well written overview of the public transportation system in Jamaica -

Ask any local about the weather and you’re sure to hear, “Perfect, mon. All year ‘round”. And that pretty much sums up the entire weather situation. Daytime averages run around 82 degrees Fahrenheit, 27 degrees Celsius. Nighttime averages 72 degrees Fahrenheit, 22 degrees Celsius. The average yearly temperature range is between 78 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Extreme temperatures range from a low of 65 degrees to a high of 95 degrees Fahrenheit. There is a fresh sea breeze by day and a gentle breeze from the mountains by night. The high season in Jamaica is the winter season from December 15 to April 14. The winter season is when Jamaica is windiest. During the summer season temperatures are only a couple of degrees warmer than in the winter. The rainy season is usually during the fall, but typically the rains are brief showers followed by sunshine. Totally overcast days are rare. With the one exception of an occasional hurricane, the weather remains as it has always been, “Perfect, mon. All year ‘round”.

Published: Jul 19,2008 12:23
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