Jamaica is one of the most popular destinations in the Caribbean, and for good reason. Best known to travelers for its “don’t worry, be happy” ethos, jerk seasoning, unreal beaches, and some of the best resorts in the region, Jamaica is an island that should be on everyone’s bucket list.
There’s something for everyone in this tropical paradise, whether you’re an outdoorsy adventurer, a family of four, or a couple looking for some high-end pampering.
No matter what kind of traveler you are, we’ve got you covered with the definitive guide to Jamaica.
The Lay of the Land
Pristine white sand beaches, thick, vine-filled jungles, soaring mountains, martian sunsets, rugged cliffs, buzzing cities: Jamaica has it all.
There are four areas to which most visitors travel: Kingston, the capital city; Ocho Rios, a garden paradise full of resorts; Negril, a laid-back, somewhat hedonistic beach town; and Montego Bay, a busy commercial hub full of shopping and restaurants.
Each region has its own personality, which we break down here:
Kingston, the capital city, is not a typical tourist destination, due to the high crime rates. Uptown is safer than downtown, though we would not recommend going out at night, even in the safer parts of town. It is, however, home to one of three airports on the island, and if you’re going to stay on the east side of the island, chances are you will probably fly into the capital.
The busiest tourist destination on the island, Montego Bay, or Mobay, is packed to the gills with high-end and family-friendly resorts, shopping, world-class food and drink, and plenty of activities. It is also very close to an airport and one of the most popular ports for cruises.
Negril is a smaller town on the far west side of the island, best known for its laid back atmosphere during the day and wild nightlife. This town is great for bachelor and bachelorette parties, couples who like to go out, and group vacations sans kids.
Ocho Rios, on the north side of the island towards the east, is close to a lush paradise full of waterfalls, including the famous Dunn’s River Waterfall, a lush spring surrounded by thickets of jungle flora. This town is great for those who plan on doing a lot of rugged outdoor experiences and interior explorations, but it’s a heavily developed tourist town that reminds you at all times that you’re in a tourist town, so if you don’t like being surrounded by high rises, skip this one.
When to Go
There’s not really a bad time to go to Jamaica, save for perhaps the height of hurricane season (August to November). When you go, therefore, will depend on what you’re looking for out of your trip.
High Season vs. Low Season
Winter in Jamaica is what most people consider the best time to visit, and with good reason. While most of us are suffering through freezing weather, snowstorms, and 5 p.m. sunsets, Jamaica boasts average lows from 69 to 71 degrees and highs from 80 to 83 degrees.
Based on flight volume and booking numbers, Jamaica’s high season is mid-December to mid-April. If you want to go during this time, make sure to book at least two to three months in advance, and be prepared to pay more for flights, accomodations, tours, and more.
If you’re dead-set on going during winter, you can avoid the worst of high season mark-ups by booking as early as mid-November.
Some Like It Hot
If you really want to save money and don’t mind the Caribbean heat, July and August both boast average highs of 88-89 degrees and very low precipitation, which means plenty of sunny skies and beach days.
Avoid October (And June)
October is arguably the worst month to visit Jamaica. Not only is it peak hurricane season, October averages 6.54 inches of precipitation, meaning there’s a high likelihood of getting caught in a storm while you’re there. June is almost equally as dicey: with highs in the upper 80s (almost 88 degrees on average!) and 4.8 inches of precipitation, that is a recipe for a rained out vacation.
There are three airports: Norman Manley International in Kingston, Donald Sangley International in Montego Bay, and Ian Fleming International in Ocho Rios. You’ll very likely fly into Kingston or Mobay, as the Ocho Rios airport is very small, largely serving other Caribbean destinations, and as a result, is rather expensive to fly into.
You can also get to Jamaica by one of their three busy seaports: Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, or Falmouth, which is the newest port on the island. Thanks to its popularity, Jamaica is served by all major cruise lines.
If you’re looking to arrive in more style, you could even charter a private yacht, where you could either make port at one of three secure marinas or drop anchor anywhere along the 350 miles of coastline.
Most resorts will have pick-up and drop-off service for people flying into and out of the country. You can also book tours that do pick-up and drop-off. If you’re into a more DIY trip, try renting a car, but just make sure you don’t leave any belongings visible, and do some research before you go—the roads can be pretty rough.
Where to Stay
Where you stay will largely depend on what you want to do and what kind of group you’re traveling with.
Breathless Montego Bay Resort & Spa, Montego Bay
If you’re looking to host a bachelor or bachelorette party opt for the pool parties and live music offered by Breathless. This all-inclusive has an events calendar packed to the gills with theme parties, reggae nights, DJs, and more.
Sunset at the Palms Resort, Negril
For those who prefer a little more quiet to the typical nightclubby atmosphere of Jamaican singles resorts, this is your jam. With treehouse-style rooms dotting the grounds, and some of the best hikes on the island a stone’s throw away, you’ll feel like you’re in paradise—until you’re ready to hit the town, that is. Negril, after all, is ground zero for Jamaican nightlife.
Bahia Principe Grand Jamaica, Runaway Bay
This all-inclusive a stone's throw from the Mobay airport is any travel-loving family's dream. Always-on-call concierges will help you book tours so you can explore the island without worrying about logistics. You can also spend ample time splashing around in the pool and dancing at one of their many shows.
Grand Palladium Jamaica Resort & Spa, Montego Bay
A sprawling beachfront resort, the Grand Palladium is perfect for active families. Check out the daily activities they host at the pool, where you can splash around without worrying about getting in anyone's way. Or maybe volleyball is more your style? If that doesn't suit your family's fancy, there's always ping pong and pool at the on-grounds sports bar. Or, heck, catch a nightly show. If your kids are more grown up, there's even a disco where you can dance the night away.
Goldeneye Hotel & Resort, Oracabessa
Located on the estate of Ian Fleming, the very same who conjured James Bond, Goldeneye is a historic slice of private paradise dotted with individual oceanfront cottages and overwater villas. You can take your villa’s private kayak and explore the lagoon. Feel free to wander over to one of the best spas on the island and get the A-list treatment. Or, heck, why not treat yourself to world-class Caribbean cuisine while watching the sunset from the gazebo grounds?
Half Moon Resort, Montego Bay
The only four-star accommodation on the island, Half Moon does everything in style. Treat yourself to spa treatments, spend the afternoon working on your handicap at its 18-hole golf course, ride horses on a private beach, work on your backhand, and so much more. Stay in a traditional hotel room or rent a private villa, all of which are staffed with a personal cook, butler, and housekeeper.
Hideaway at Royalton, Negril
An adults-only, all-inclusive resort, this extraordinary oasis will make you feel like you’re the only people in the world. Offering 24-hour room service, premium drinks, exclusive use of an infinity pool, beachfront massages, and so much more, the luxurious touches you’ll find at the Hideaway will give you a reason to lose your passport.
Zoetry, Montego Bay
The word "serene" comes to mind when trying to describe this quiet, upscale resort in the Rose Hall neighborhood of Mobay. With their Endless Privileges service, you can enjoy a well-appointed suite, personal concierge services, high-end food and drink, and even a complimentary trip to their world-class spa.
What to Do
Jamaica is your activity-filled oyster. Crack it open and enjoy.Outdoor adventures
If you’re looking to get rugged while exploring the land of wood and water, you’re in luck. Whether you want to swim in fresh bodies of water or hike to the top of a mountain, no matter where on the island you stay, you can do all this and more.
Blue Mountains: Jungle hikes, coffee plantations, and more. The island’s highest peaks change drastically from sea level to fog-covered summits, but be prepared with plenty of DEET and water—it’s very muggy in the interior. Book a coffee tour or even a mountain biking tour to see the best of the mountains.
Waterfalls: Of course, Dunn’s River Waterfall is the waterfall to which all other falls answer in Jamaica, with its spectacular pools and easily accessible location. That doesn’t mean it’s the only falls you can or should visit. Forty miles east of Negril, for example, is Steven’s Aqua Nature Park, which boasts refreshing, cool fresh water swimming and even a small waterfall.
Bioluminescent Bay: Feel like having an otherworldly experience? Visit Luminous Lagoon, near Falmouth, to swim in glowing waters at night.
Rest & Relaxation at a Spa
Jamaica is home to no shortage of world-class spas, whether day spas or resorts. Most of the island’s best spas are in the northwest, near Mobay and Negril, so keep that in mind when booking your accommodations.
Tanya’s Secret Escape: Located on the cliffs of Negril, this award-winning spa offers everything from deep tissue massage to facials and even chakra realignment. Whether you’re flying solo or you and your significant other want a relaxing rub-down at sunset, Tanya’s offers a peaceful atmosphere and regularly receives rave reviews.
Strawberry Hill Field Spa: Located in the heart of the Blue Mountains, this hotel spa takes luxury and relaxation to a whole new level. They have an extensive menu of massages, body and face treatments, and even activities like yoga and guided hikes.
Snorkeling and diving and kayaking, oh my!
Any resort worth the land on which they reside will offer watersports on their beachfront properties, of course. If you want to really go above and beyond walking out to your resort’s beachfront, however, you can book a tour with any number of tour operators on the island, and in fact, you can even turn to your Inteletravel advisor to pick the best operator for your budget and interests.
Fresh tropical fruits, cute handmade tchotchkes, carefully curated local crafts, coffee, ginger candy. The delights of Jamaica are yours for the taking (purchasing, really) if you visit any market like the Ocho Rios Craft Market.
Dancehall music was invented in Jamaica, so of course you should go out on the town and dance the night away. Literally. Jamaica is home to no shortage of bars and clubs that stay open ‘til sunrise.
What to Eat and Drink
Whatever you do, do not skip the fresh fruit and fish at your local market.
Looking for the best dang jerk chicken? That depends on who you ask. Most will tell you to scour the streets of Negril and pick the cart with the longest lunch line. That will definitely help. If you’re slightly less adventurous and want a true blue restaurant rec, try Scotchies Drax Hall just outside of Ocho Ríos or Peppers Jerk Center in Falmouth.