Jamaica is the Caribbean country that comes with its own soundtrack. Groove to its singular rhythm as you explore beyond the beaches and all-inclusives.
Even in a region as crammed with jewels as the Caribbean, Jamaica is a powerfully beautiful island. Jamaica begins with crystalline waters flowing over gardens of coral, lapping onto soft sandy beaches, then rises past red soil and lush banana groves into sheer mountains. Rushing waterfalls seem to erupt out of nowhere. Jamaican culture can be a daunting subject for foreigners to understand, but ultimately it’s a matter of appreciating this great green garden of a land and how its cyclical rhythms set the pace of so much island life.
While Jamaica's beaches are certainly alluring, this is a country to dive into, literally and figuratively. Beneath the waves there's great scuba diving and snorkeling, and you can float on the water too with lazy bamboo-raft trips (let someone else pole). The adventurous can go caving, or get their hiking boots on to explore the remote crags and forests of this crumpled landscape. You don't even need to be as fit as Usain Bolt to enjoy the hike through lush mountains to the top of Blue Mountain Peak.
With Bob Marley, Jamaica gifted us the first global superstar from the developing world. But he didn’t spring from nowhere – this tiny island has musical roots that reach back to the folk songs of West Africa and forward to the electronic beats of contemporary dancehall. Simply put, Jamaica is a musical powerhouse, a fact reflected not just in the bass of the omnipresent sound systems, but in the lyricism of the patois language and the gospel sounds from the island’s many churches. Music is life in Jamaica, and you’ll soon find yourself swaying along with it.
Like many aspects of Jamaican culture, the food is a creole, born somewhere between the Old and New Worlds. African spice rubs have evolved into delicious jerk, while yam, rice and plantain form the basis of rich stews, and fish abound in local waters. Throw in the astounding array of tropical fruits that seem to drip from the trees, washed down with a shot of rum, and you can see (and taste) how the Jamaican cultural story retains its original voice while adapting to the setting – and, of course, rhythms – of the Caribbean.
Top 15 beaches in Jamaica
6 min read — Published Feb 26, 2021
Lonely Planet EditorsWriter
From the gentle waves in Half Moon Beach to the surfer's paradise in Boston Bay Beach, here are the best beaches in Jamaica.
Discover some of the most unique and fulfilling experiences your next destination has to offer.
Tips & Travel trends to help you pick the perfect time to visit this destination.
Put these must-see destinations on your next travel wish list.
Check out these fun-filled activities that the entire family can enjoy.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Jamaica.
Even in a country that abounds in waterfalls, Reach Falls stands out as one of the most beautiful places in Jamaica. The white rushing cascades are surrounded by a bowl of virgin rainforest; the water tumbles over limestone tiers from one hollowed, jade-colored pool into the next. It’s possible to walk, wade and swim your way up to the edge of the falls, by an unmarked jungle path some way below the main entrance. Do I need a guide? Once you enter the falls, guides will offer their services – crucial if you want to climb to the upper pools, which we highly recommend (there’s a little underground, underwater tunnel a bit up the falls known as the rabbit hole; plunging through is a treat). Excellent local guides Leonard Welsh (849-6598) and Kenton Davy (438-3507) can take you and point out plants and wildlife along the way if you choose to hike to the falls. The Mandingo Cave, the crown jewel of the falls, can be accessed at the top of the cascades, but you need to bring climbing shoes and be prepared for a long climb. It'll involve clambering up slippery rocks, over neon-green moss and into cool mountain pools of the freshest spring water but it's well worth the effort. In some areas you can dive under watery tunnels and through blizzards of snowy-white cascading foam. How much does it cost? The entrance fee is $10 per adult, $5 per child (11 and under). How do I get there? The turnoff to Reach Falls is well signed just over a mile (2km) north of Manchioneal. Any Port Antonio–Manchioneal route taxi can drop you; it's a further 1.8 miles (3km) uphill to the falls.
High on the White River, Jamaica's heavenly Blue Hole is a vision and is an undisputed highlight in Ocho Rios. To reach this popular spot, make your way up a series of magical falls (one measuring 20ft high) and blue pools surrounded by forest, with ample opportunity to swim, dive and swing off ropes 15ft in the air and into the water. There is an entry fee to enter. The Blue Hole is open from 8am to 5pm. Guides accompany you through the cascades on a well-marked trail (with steps and ropes where necessary for safety). The tiny cave climb under one of the falls is safe but isn't for claustrophobes. The guides are excellent and are attentive to both kids and more senior visitors who might be uncertain on some of the climbs. For those who arrive unprepared, vendors sell jelly shoes at the entrance. There are also refreshment stands. Remember, take nothing you aren't happy to get wet. Safety at the Blue Hole While no official accounts of leptospirosis have been confirmed at the Blue Hole, they have been reported. The leptospirosis bacteria can occur in any body of water and is always a concern when doing water-based adventure activities. The bacteria can enter the body through the eyes and nose or via cuts or abrasions, or by swallowing contaminated water. Life jackets are also available for those who want to enjoy the falls but aren't strong swimmers.
The waters that launched Brooke Shields’ movie career are by any measure one of the most beautiful spots in Jamaica. The 180ft-deep (55m) “Blue Hole” (as it is known locally) opens to the sea through a narrow funnel, but is fed by freshwater springs that come in at a depth of about 131ft (40m). As a result, the water changes color through every shade of jade and emerald during the day, thanks to cold freshwater that blankets the warm mass of seawater lurking below. The seemingly bottomless pool of turquoise water is nestled in a protected cove and surrounded by forested cliffs. How to get to the Blue Lagoon From Port Antonio, it's about a 17-minute drive on Fair Prospect Rd to Folly Rd with a turn off at Blue Hole Road. Park at the beach. Since this area is public land, there is no entrance fee. You can swim at the entrance to the lagoon, or take a boat tour (around US$30) on a short ride past some glitzy seafront villas to nearby Cocktail Beach (where parts of the Tom Cruise movie Cocktail were filmed) and rustic Monkey Island. Note that if it's been raining heavily, runoff water from the hills turns the lagoon a murky green.
You can smell the sweetness of molasses wafting from the Appleton Estate well before you reach it, almost a mile northeast of Maggotty. The largest and oldest distillery in Jamaica has been blending rums since 1749. After complimentary rum cocktails and a short video, the sleek tour explains how molasses is extracted from sugarcane, then fermented, distilled and aged to produce the Caribbean’s own rocket fuel, which you can sample at the end of the tour. Selection of rum Three varieties are available for sampling: the Signature Blend, aged for at least four years; the six-year-old Reserve Blend; and the 12-year-old Rare Blend. The limited batch of 50-year-old rum celebrating 50 years of Jamaica's independence from 2012 has been sold out, but if you're around in 2062, perhaps you'll be lucky enough to taste the limited edition Nine Prime Ministers rum, being aged in time to mark Jamaica's 100-year anniversary as an independent country. You also get a small complimentary bottle at the end of the tasting. Tickets This tour is well priced at $30 and well executed, with humor and a dose of audience participation. At the end of the tour you can opt for a heaped plate of tasty jerk chicken or pork with rice and beans and all the trimmings at the onsite Black River Lounge. There is also a gift shop on site if the samples weren't quite enough and you want to stock up. How do I get there? Most tour companies in Jamaica can get you to and from the Appleton estate (the ‘from’ part is pretty fun after three varieties of rum). Otherwise, it’s easiest to get here from Maggotty; the factory is half a mile east, and taxis will take you there and back for around J$600. Booking in advance isn't essential but is advised to avoid disappointment.
Deeply secluded in St Elizabeth parish, you’d be forgiven for thinking YS Falls emerged out of Eden. This series of seven cascades, hemmed in by limestone cliffs and surrounded by lush jungle, are among the most beautiful in Jamaica. The cascades fall 118ft (36m) from top to bottom, separated by cool pools perfect for swimming. Lifeguards are on duty to assist you with the rope swing above one of the pools and a stone staircase follows the cascades to the main waterfall. There are no lockers available, so keep any valuables with you at all times. The waters of YS (why-ess) were supposedly named after the British plantation owners John Yates and Richard Scott who bought the land from the British Crown in the 17th century. Canopy zip line The more adventurous can fly, screeching, over the falls along a canopy zip line. A tractor-drawn jitney takes all visitors to the cascades, where you’ll find picnic grounds, changing rooms, a tree house and a shallow pool fed with river water. How much does it cost? The entry fee for the waterfalls is $20 for an adult and $12 for a child (15 and under). Entrance to the canopy is $49 per adult and $39 per child (12 and under). How do I get there? Almost every tour operator in Jamaica (and many hotels) offers trips to YS Falls, but if you want to get here ahead of the crowds, drive yourself (or charter your own taxi) and arrive right when the grounds open. The YS Falls entrance is just north of the junction of the B6 toward Maggotty. From the A2 (a much smoother road if you’re driving), the turnoff is a mile (1.5km) east of Middle Quarters; from here you’ll head 3.4 miles (5.5km) north to the falls.
The superlative collection of Jamaican art housed by the National Gallery is the finest on the island and should on no account be missed. As well as offering a distinctly Jamaican take on international artistic trends, the collection attests to the vitality of the country’s artistic heritage as well as its present talent.
These famous falls, 3km west of town, are Jamaica’s top-grossing tourist attraction. Great throngs of people at peak hours can sometimes make it seem more like a theme park than a natural wonder, but this doesn’t make the climb up the falls any less exhilarating. You clamber up great tiers of limestone that step down 180m in a series of beautiful cascades and pools. The water is refreshingly cool, with everything shaded by tall rainforest.
Highest of the highlights, Blue Mountain Peak reaches 2256m above sea level, and no visit to the area should neglect a predawn hike to its summit for a sunrise view.
The idyllic waterfall and swimming hole of Nanny Falls is a 30-minute walk uphill from the end of Moore Town, passing under huge ferns, Jamaican apple trees and cathedral-like stands of giant bamboo. It's worth the hike to be able to clamber over the rocks at the end to reach a series of lovely pools and the curtain of water tumbling down through the greenery. A swimming costume is essential; a picnic would be even more perfect.