I have to be totally honest: The Caribbean islands have never seemed to me like much of a cultural destination. Yeah, sure gorgeous, sandy beaches with warm aquamarine waters come to mind, relaxation and family fun, but I never really sat around thinking “wow, what interesting/rich cultures the islands must have” As is usual through travel, my mistake slapped me in the face on Globe for Good’s last trip of 2018. On this occasion we visited the island of Jamaica, just between the busy dates of Christmas and New Year, and I left feeling exactly the opposite of my previous apathetic thoughts – what a truly rich and interesting culture! What’s even better yet, is that it’s alive in the Jamaican people who are so inherently joyful and proud of their heritage it’s sincerely contagious. Some of the main points I took away after my visit are commonly known about Jamaica, but I will share nonetheless – the more you know when visiting another country the more you can take advantage of your visit and elicit the welcoming hospitality and pride of the locals. So here goes:
Some staple items in Jamaican cuisine to look out for and try:
Rice and peas (which are actually a type of bean)
Escovitch Fish or Fried Snapper
JERK CHICKEN (it’s to die for, tender, juicy, spicy and flavorful, just perfection)
2. Geography/Main Sites:
In the same way we have States in the US, Jamaica is comprised of 14 different Parishes. The main tourist attractions and places to visit (you will most likely have to drive some distance to all of these depending on where you’re staying):
Dunn’s River falls (climb up a waterfall on foot, starting on the beach where it runs into the ocean)
Negril 7 mile beach, Ricks Café (cliff jumping) sunset
Luminous Lagoon (brackish lagoon containing microorganisms that light up bright blue when threatened – can be seen in the dark. You go out onto the lake at night, can see the boat’s trial, are able to jump in/swim and see yourself glow)
Bob Marley’s Nine mile
All sorts of ziplining, canopy, treetop bobsled, watersports, catamarans, etc.
3. An amazing purpose/cause to learn about and stop by for a visit:
“Robin’s Nest” – A children’s home located about a 45-minute drive from Montego Bay up in the mountains. The home is focused on nurturing children temporarily who are taken out of neglect and difficult circumstances WHILE they await a more permanent, loving home which can be long term Jamaican foster care or adoption. The children are PRECIOUS, the home is absolutely gorgeous, and they have an excellent structure and organization in place to receive all kinds of visits, to volunteer your time, resources and more. I encourage you to check out all their online resources and to arrange a little adventure to visit them while you’re in Jamaica – you will be so blessed by it!
Learn/listen to/dance/watch others dancing Reggae and Soca music (so much fun)
The official language in Jamaica is English, however the locals also have their own language which they learn at home called Patois. It is an English based language with West African influences as well as some influences from Spanish and French, two of the other big Caribbean colonists.
**You should know: ‘Yes’ in Patois = “Yah-man”, ‘All-right’ in Patois = “Irie”, ‘What’s going on’ in Patois = “waa gwaan”
As a food-centric culture do not miss an opportunity to get good jerk and great local food OUTSIDE of tourist geared resorts, hotels and restaurants.
ONE HUGE MUST (believe me I figured this one out the hard way): The gorgeous crystal clear waters of Jamaica, are packed with Sea Urchins, small black spikey sea creatures that are crazy easy to accidentally step on and get all their spikes stuck under your skin. The process to open up the bottom of your foot and remove the spikes one by one is tedious and painful and you really want to avoid it. So water shoes are a MUST not only for this purpose but also because you will need them for Dunn's River Falls and don't want to have to buy a pair just for that.
Dunn's River Falls and the Luminous Lagoon were the two main attractions we made time to visit on our brief Family reunion in Jamaica and they were both entirely worth it: spectacular and beautifully unique. Remember to barter for prices EVERYWHERE, as Jamaicans like to say "No problem in Jamaica, Man!" frequently all it takes is a little negotiating. Enjoy Jamaica to the fullest and one thing is for sure, if you're seeking natural beauty, gorgeous weather (no rain in Jamaica only liquid sunshine!) and relaxation you will not be disappointed.