Jamaica has been called the Island of Springs. Xamayca, the name used by its pre-Columbian inhabitants, the Taínos, meant ‘land of wood and water’. It is indeed an extravagantly beautiful island, with rolling hills and steep gullies and the spectacular Blue Mountains overlooking a coastline indented with bays and coves. Rain falls freely, water is abundant, the vegetation is luxuriant and colours vibrant.
The people have a culture to match, from reggae and Rastafarianism to English plantation houses and cricket. The place lives and breathes rhythm: music is everywhere and Jamaica is a hub of creativity in the Caribbean. The cultural impact of reggae and its contemporary offshoot, dancehall, is now a global phenomenon. Kingston is a busy capital city, the centre of commercial activity with a lively arts and entertainment scene including theatre, live music, clubs, bars and restaurants.
It is where everything happens, albeit constrained and overshadowed by a reputation of gangrelated crime and violence. Montego Bay is the tourist capital of the island, offering entertainment for holidaymakers in huge all-inclusive resorts or smaller hotels, whether they are wealthy celebrities seeking exclusivity in a boutique hotel or students looking for a good time on a budget.
Every conceivable watersport is on offer in the resort areas on the north coast, where beaches are safe for swimming. The south coast, while having fewer beaches, is richly endowed with natural attractions such as Black River Safari and YS Falls and is fast becoming the destination for nature lovers and people wanting to get off the beaten track.
Away from the coast you find the other Jamaica, of mountains and forests for birdwatching and hiking, rivers tumbling over boulders and small farms clinging to hillsides where the exquisite Blue Mountain coffee grows in the mist.