Before I went to Jamaica I had heard the usual warning; go directly to the resort, and don’t leave the property until your transfer to the airport.
However, most people go to Jamaica to experience the wonderful culture, numerous excursions and cuisine, and they continuously implement improvements to make it safe for visitors. Of course, practice safety like you would in your own country, but in short, they love tourists as tourism is a strong industry that provides jobs for its citizens, and it is of utmost importance to protect the travelers. Because sugar cane and coffee exports have been declining due to recent health trends reducing sugar intake and strong competition for coffee beans, tourism is now their number one industry.
The first thing I noticed when I arrived is the friendliness of the locals. Jamaicans love people, and everyone loves to talk to everyone. While I can get by with Spanish, the other thing I noticed was how nice it was that it is an English-speaking island. As a seasoned traveler, I’ve mostly traveled to countries where English is not prevalent. How nice it is to joke around with the locals and have a conversation (and order the right food) with no language barrier.
There are five major tourist areas in Jamaica, and I will cover the three most popular regions here:
- Montego Bay
- Black River
- Ocho Rios
- Port Antonio
Most airlines will fly into Montego Bay (or mobay if you’d like to start speaking like a local), and it is a beautiful flight into the region, with palm trees and hotels lining the beaches.
There are many hotel options in mobay, and it is super close to the airport, which is a plus if you’d truly like to fly and flop and be at your hotel pool as quickly as possible.
- Sandals Montego Bay
- This property sits on the beach (of course) near the airport. As with all Sandals properties, diving is included in your package, making it very affordable if you are a diver. If not, go for the food and the service.
- Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall (family-friendly) and Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall (adults only)
- The Hyatt brand is a strong, 5-star brand with hotels and resorts throughout Mexico and the Caribbean. These two resorts are connected, making it a perfect location for family reunions or weddings. If there are adults in your group that don’t have kids, they can skip off to the adults only section anytime they wish. (pictured below)
- Excellence Oyster Bay
- Best for: Adults-only who want to be pampered. This resort sits on a private peninsula between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios. What I liked most about it were the rooms (you can get a lead-in category room which puts most lead-in category rooms to shame) and the villas, complete with your own personal bicycles and kayaks to explore the beaches and the lagoon.
Ocho Rios is about 1.5 hours (depending on traffic and your driver) from the airport, but well worth the drive. Ocho Rios is home to most of the tourist attractions, so if you are an adrenaline junky, or like to have excursions planned during your trip, Ocho Rios is a perfect place to call home for your vacation. Most excursions are about 5-20 minutes away from the hotels.
- Moon Palace Jamaica 5*
- Why: this resort is laid out very well. They have 3 towers, and all the restaurants are very centrally located.
- Try: Jerk Chicken & Coconut Water Shack. The hotel will set up an area on the beach where you can try jerk chicken and get a fresh coconut to drink your coconut water.
- Beaches Ocho Rios 5*
- Why: this family-friendly resort goes above and beyond expectations. They have Sesame Street characters roaming around the hotel to entertain the little ones, and even an autistic character as they cater to children (and adults) with autism. This is true for all Beaches Resorts.
- Jewel Paradise Cove 4*
- Why: This hotel is great value for money, and will feel *almost* like a 4.5 or 5* resort, but is ranked as a 4*. The beach is beautiful, white-sand and sits on Runaway Bay. (pictured)
Negril is home to the best beach in Jamaica (7 Mile Beach), and impossibly blue ocean views, so if you are looking stroll on a long, white-sand beach during your stay, check out Negril.
- Hideaway at Royalton Negril 5*
- It’s a resort within a resort catering to adults-only (18+) and you have full access to the services and amenities at both the Hideaway and at Royalton Negril.
- Rooms on the Beach Negril 3*
- As the simple name of the resort would suggest, this is a no-frills resort which sits on the beach, offers daily breakfast and is perfect for the free-spirited travelers who want to explore on their own and simply want… a room on the beach. (pictured, courtesy of Rooms on the Beach)
Jamaica Traveler Tips
- Water is potable in Jamaica, so you can fill up your reusable water bottle in the faucets or at refillable water stations
- Book your package with a tour operator (and through a travel agent). You’ll end up paying less and getting more (ie/ free baggage, included transfers and the services of the destination rep). You don’t necessarily get this when booking online through Expedia etc.
- Steer clear of the dolphin excursions. Many tour operators are now starting to cease sales of these operations due to the treatment of captive dolphins. It is important to view wildlife in their natural habitats in all corners of the world.