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Traveller's Guide To Jamaica

18th September 2015

For many people, Jamaica is the archetypal Caribbean beach holiday, a fly-and-flop destination of all-inclusive resorts. But recently travellers have started to realise the country offers so much more than rum punch and a beautiful sunset.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is the capital itself.

Kingston has frequently been regarded as the sort of place you would arrange your trip to avoid, but these days the city is very much on the way up, brandishing a rich cultural life that is tempting travellers back through fine dining and local festivals.

 Sunset over Kingston (Image: Getty)

The music scene is extraordinarily vibrant and a real eye – and ear – opener for anyone who thinks Jamaican music begins and ends with Bob Marley. From live jazz and roots poetry to raucous dancehall street parties, Kingston lays it on with the knowing self-confidence that is the country's stock-in-trade.

But while Kingston is definitely worth a re-visit, the temptations of Jamaica's natural beauty are never far away. This is a mountainous country, draped in green and crying out to be explored.

A whole guidebook might be written about its waterfalls alone – some packed with passengers from the many cruise ships that sail between Montego Bay to Ocho Rios, and others that await the pleasure of discovery by the tourist canny enough to pack a swimming costume in their day-bag on the off-chance of a swim in little-visited pools.

Rivers such as the Rio Grande can be floated down on bamboo rafts – Errol Flynn supposedly came up with that neat idea in the 1940s when he bought a mansion in Port Antonio, a town that's recently experienced a renaissance – or, if you prefer to get completely submerged, the north coast offers fabulous snorkelling and scuba diving.

 Floating down the Rio Grande - an Errol Flynn tradition (Image: Getty)

For hikers, the Blue Mountains and Cockpit Country offer some of the best treks in the Caribbean, with local guides taking you through Maroon communities, descended from slaves who escaped the plantations, or the slopes where some of the world's finest coffee is cultivated.

And after all this, perhaps a bit of beach time is deserved. The long, white crescent of Negril's Seven Mile Beach is deservedly celebrated, but the whole coastline is dotted with sandy getaways.

Treasure Beach, in the south, is a relaxing retreat (and home to an unexpected annual literature festival). But if you want to experience the beach as the Jamaicans do, head for Winnifred Beach, near Port Antonio, or Hellshire Beach, a popular weekend getaway for Kingstonians.

At both you'll find wooden shacks doing a brisk trade in cold beer and fried fish, lively sound systems and Jamaica at play.

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The Great Outdoors

The island's lush green mountains offer plenty of ways to be active on holiday. In a country of waterfalls, the most celebrated is Dunn's River Falls outside Ocho Rios.

The cascades are seemingly tailor-made to splash and climb up – but arrive early to beat the cruise-ship crowds. Even more beautiful are the eight extravagant YS Falls on the south coast.

Reaching the summit of Blue Mountain Peak at 2,256 metres is just about possible as a long day-trip from Kingston, but best enjoyed as an overnight experience to catch dawn from the peak.

 Adventure awaits within Jamaica's Blue Mountains (Image: Getty)

Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust can arrange guides and accommodation.

A ride with Blue Mountain Bicycle Tours will allow you to enjoy the same scenery, with vehicle support and plenty of relaxed, downhill runs.

If you really want to get rugged, head for Cockpit Country, which was once a hideout for runaway slaves.

Guides from Cockpit Country Adventure Tours can lead you through the area's mountain trails and caves. The 15-kilometre Troy-Windsor trail hike is a real highlight.

Food & Drink

Jamaica's classic taste is jerk, a scorching marinade and spice rub for meat and fish. But there are plenty of opportunities to expand your palate beyond hot peppers or rice and peas.

Falmouth Heritage Walks offers delicious foodie walking tours while taking in the town of Falmouth's Georgian architecture.

Wet your whistle on a tour of the Appleton Rum Estate in St Elizabeth, or see prized Blue Mountain coffee transformed from bean to cup at the Craighton Estate.

 Classic Georgian architecture in Falmouth (Image: Getty)

Song & Dance

This place is synonymous with just one name, making a trip to Kingston's Bob Marley Museum, his old house and recording studio, an essential experience. For a more modern take on the country's music scene, head for Kingston. Elsewhere live music is mostly the domain of resort hotel bands playing reggae and calypso covers.

Red Bones Blue Cafe, has regular concerts, but you can find club nights and street parties in the city virtually every night of the week. Two of the most popular are the dancehall-inflected Weddy Weddy Wednesdays and Rae Town Sundays at the Capricorn Inn, which spins oldies, ska and reggae.

Also on Sunday, Kingston Dub Club offers what is perhaps Jamaica's best club setting, playing in the open air in the hills looking down over the city.

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This article was written by Paul Clammer from The Independent and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.