Bird-watching

All you need in the field are a good pair of binoculars and a guide to the birds of the island. Expect to pay anywhere from US$25 for an hour’s jaunt to US$75 for a good half-day of birdwatching in the bush.

Operators

Suggested operators include the following:

Ann Sutton Based in Marshall’s Pen in Mandeville; has been leading major bird tours in Jamaica for more than 30 years.

Arrowhead Birding Tours Tours of one to seven days from Kingston, plus custom itineraries.

Hotel Mocking Bird Hill Hotel outside Port Antonio, known for its highly regarded custom birding tours.

Hope Gardens Birdwatching tours on the first Saturday of every month.

When to Go

The best time for birdwatching in Jamaica runs from December to June; at this time of year birds can be expected to show off their best plumage. This is also the dry season, so you’re less likely to be drenched in your binoculars. A good online resource is the Caribbean Birding Trail (www.caribbeanbirdingtrail.org), a conservation and ecotourism organization that covers the Caribbean Basin.

Where to Go

Good spots include the following:

Blue Mountains

Cockpit Country

Black River Great Morass

Negril Great Morass

Rio Grande Valley

Marshall's Pen, Mandeville

Caving

Jamaica is honeycombed with limestone caves and caverns, most of which boast fine stalagmites and stalactites, underground streams and even waterfalls. Expect to pay a guide at least US$50 per person for a short, half-day exploration of a cave; if you want to go deeper and longer into spelunking territory, rates for guides start at US$70 to US$85 for full-day treks.

Where to Go

You can find guided tours at these caves:

Painted Circuit Cave, Rock Spring

Winsor Caves, Cockpit Country

The following are for advanced cavers:

Peterkin-Rota Caves, St James

Gourie Caves, Christiana

Coffee River Caves, Troy

Cycling

You can hire basic road bicycles at most major resorts and many smaller guesthouses. For anything more serious, you should consider bringing your own mountain or multipurpose bike. You will need sturdy wheels to handle the potholed roads. Check requirements with the airline well in advance. Remember to always have, at a minimum, a flashlight for the front of your bike and reflectors for the rear. If you’re in the fixed-gear bicycle camp, note that Jamaica’s many hills and unpredictable traffic make riding a ‘fixie’ extremely difficult.

Good online resources include the Jamaican Cycling Federation (www.jamaicacycling.com).

Operators

You can hire basic road bikes at most major resorts and many smaller guesthouses. Mount Edge B&B in the Blue Mountains rents out mountain bikes, although if you're serious about cycling consider bringing your own mountain or multipurpose bike.

Diving & Snorkeling

Diving has been a part of the Jamaican tourist landscape since the late 1960s, when the first facilities opened in Montego Bay, even then the tourism capital of the island. Thanks to nearby reefs and the MoBay marine park, the northwest coast from Negril to Ocho Rios remains the epicenter of Jamaican diving culture. By law, all dives in Jamaican waters must be guided, and dives are restricted to a depth of 30m.

Diving Costs

Exact prices vary from operator to operator, but expect to pay around:

One-tank dive US$65

Two-tank dive US$95

Snorkeling excursion around US$35

PADI or NAUI certification course around US$450

Rental of masks, fins, snorkels, buoyancy control devices and regulators usually adds an extra $15

Operators

Montego Bay

Negril

Ocho Rios

Port Antonio

When to Go

It’s best to go from January to April, when the weather is driest and least prone to storms.

Where to Go

Dive sites:

  • Airport Reef, Montego Bay
  • Rose Hall Reef, Montego Bay
  • The Throne, Negril

Snorkeling sites:

Fishing

Deepwater game fish run year-round through the Cayman Trench, which begins just over 3km from shore on the western side of the island. The waters off Jamaica’s north coast are also particularly good for game fishing; an abyss known as ‘Marlin Alley’ teems with game fish. Charters can be arranged for US$550 to US$650 per half-day or US$900 to US$1200 for a full day through hotels or directly through operators in Montego Bay, Negril, Ocho Rios and Port Antonio. A charter includes captain, tackle, bait and crew. Most charter boats require a 50% deposit.

Casual Angling

In Negril, anglers congregating by the bridge are often happy to take you down the South Negril River. On the south coast you can find local fishers at Belmont, Bluefields and Frenchman’s Bay in Treasure Beach who are willing to take you along for a fee (US$40 to US$80 depending on how long you want to be on the water).

Operators

When to Go

Summer is good for game fishing, but major tournaments go off in Montego Bay in late September and October.

Golf

Jamaica has 12 championship golf courses – more than any other Caribbean island. All courses rent out clubs and have carts. Most require that you hire a caddy – an extremely wise investment, as they know the layout of the course intimately. For more information on the island’s links, contact the Jamaica Golf Association.

Hiking

Hiking is a great way of seeing the Jamaican interior, but keep in mind it’s always best to head into the jungles and the mountains with a guide. It’s easy to get lost out here, and it’s good to have a contact who can vouch for you with locals. Expect to pay at least US$50 a day for local expertise, and possibly a good deal more to head into particularly difficult terrain.

Don't Wander Off Track

Wherever your walk carries you, be sure to stay on the established trails: the mountainous terrain in Jamaica is too treacherous to go wandering off the track as thick vegetation hides sinkholes and crevasses. You should seek local advice about trail conditions before setting out, and take a good guide even if you know the route.

If you’re heading into the backcountry, don’t forget the following:

  • hiking boots
  • mosquito netting
  • bug spray
  • drinking water
  • sunblock

When to Go

It’s best to go from January to April, when the weather is driest and least prone to storms.

Where to Go

The most developed area for hiking is in Blue Mountains-John Crow National Park, followed by the Rio Grande Valley in Portland parish, where some of the hikes venture into the Blue and John Crow Mountains. The remote Cockpit Country, with its jungle-clad limestone hills, is perhaps the most dramatic landscape on the island; small community-tourism outfits are growing in that region.

Best short trek The one to the summit of Blue Mountain Peak. Reaching it at sunrise is one of the Caribbean’s most exhilarating experiences. The view out over the entire island (and as far as Cuba if the day’s clear) more than compensates for having to get up at an inhuman hour.

Best medium trek A trek along the disused road from Kinloss to Spring Garden hike traverses some of the most beautiful yet roughest terrain in the country. You'll need a guide.

Best bird-walking Head out in the area around Windsor, in North Cockpit Country, with the guides of STEA. It’s a fun walk (although you need to be fit) and the accompanying scientific expertise is priceless.

Horseback Riding

Horseback riding is a popular attraction, particularly along the coast, where you can ride your horses into the sea, or to explore some of the larger plantations. Expect to pay around US$70 for a two-hour excursion. Reliable operators include the following:

Hooves, St Ann's Bay

Chukka Cove Farm, near Ocho Rios

Braco Stables, near Falmouth

Rhodes Hall Plantation, Negril

Rafting

Errol Flynn first saw the fun of coasting down the river on a raft of bamboo poles lashed together. Today, you sit on a raised seat with padded cushions, while a ‘captain’ poles you through the washboard shallows and small cataracts.

When to Go

The best time to go rafting is in the dry season (December to April), when the waters aren’t too swollen. If you want a white-water experience, head here in summer.

Where to Go

The best river-rafting in Jamaica is in the mountainous interior of the northwest, near the Great River and Martha Brae River. Both of these are within easy day-tripping distance of Montego Bay and Ironshore. On the other side of Jamaica, head to the Rio Grande Valley, which sits within day-trip distance of Kingston and Port Antonio in the east.

Surfing & Kiteboarding

The easterly trade winds bless Jamaica with good summer surfing.

Jamnesia Surf Camp Undoubtedly the sport's home on the island; operates a surf camp at Bull Bay, 13km east of Kingston.

Longboarder Further east, near Morant Bay; also has boards and lessons.

Boston Bay Surfing Fourteen kilometers east of Port Antonio, Boston Bay has consistent good waves and this small surfing outfit, which offers lessons and rents out boards cheaply.

Kiteboarding Jamaica At Ironshore near Falmouth, home to Jamaica's nascent kiteboarding scene.