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  • Flag                                   Coat of Arms                           Tourist Board
    Geography
    Jamaica is the largest English-speaking Island in the Caribbean and the third largest in the region. With a total land area of 10,991 sq. Km (4,442 square miles), the island is 235 km (146 miles) long with widths varying between 35 and 82 km (22 and 51 miles).

    Situated ninety miles south of Cuba and six hundred miles south of Miami, Jamaica is 18 degrees north of the equator. More precisely, Jamaica lies between latitudes 17 degrees 43 minutes and 18 degrees 32 minutes north and longitudes 76 degrees, 11 minutes and 78 degrees, 23 minutes west.

    Jamaica is divided into three counties, Cornwall, Middlesex and Surrey. These counties are further subdivided into parishes with Kingston, the smallest of the 14 parishes, as home to the capital city.

    The People
    Nearly every race is represented here – African, English, Spanish, Irish, Scottish, Indian, Chinese, German and Syrian. They came – to conquer, colonise, unwillingly or in search of a better life, settling over time to call this island home. They've jumbled and fused, creating the most extraordinary racial and cultural medley, the Jamaican people.

    In Jamaica, smiles beam from faces in hues ranging from rich coffee to condensed milk-sweetened cocoa. These warm faces bear physical features that are seldom duplicated. There are small noses, proud noses, strong chins, blue eyes and dark ones too, full lips, fine mouths, corkscrew curls and unruly locks. To appreciate these shapes and shades, and to understand Jamaica’s rich history and heritage, is to think on a global scale.

    Offering handshakes, hugs and hearty hellos, Jamaicans are naturally warm, friendly and entertaining. Often Jamaicans’ humour cannot be contained by simple smiles, and breaks loose into contagious bouts of laughter and gesticulation. Jamaicans seldom cry, choosing to laugh instead at whatever comes their way. Jamaica’s complex past, marked by slavery and the struggle for independence, has made us proud, resilient and strong. Jamaicans refuse to be restrained, choosing instead to break the boundaries of its small island, gaining worldwide recognition in areas like music and sports.

    Jamaicans, although soft-hearted, are sometimes not tactful or overly sensitive, and very often, not politically correct. Jamaicans always say it like it is. Don't be offended if on the streets you are called "Browning", "Redman", "Coolie", "Whitey", "Blacka" or "Miss Chin". It's the way Jamaicans acknowledge and make light of Jamaica’s diverse racial heritage.

    African and European influences dominate Jamaica’s people. There is Africa everywhere – in the faces of nine out of ten Jamaicans, in its language, food, craft, religions and customs. Europe is here too. The Spanish, English, Irish, Germans and Scots have all left their mark. You’ll see it in its place names, legal, educational and governmental systems, language, architecture and religion. The Chinese, Indians, Lebanese, Syrians and Jews all have pieces of their homelands here as well. They fuel Jamaica’s entrepreneurial spirit while the aromas and flavours of these Eastern cultures waft in Jamaica’s food.

    Jamaicans have transformed the ways, traditions and customs of its foreign ancestors into something so special it could only be Jamaican. Jamaicans have mixed and mingled, breaking down barriers, to become one people out of many, living one love.

    History
    Jamaica’s first inhabitants were the Tainos, an Arawak-speaking people, believed to be originally from South America. The Tainos called the island "Xaymaca" meaning "land of wood and water". These peaceful, seafaring people greeted Columbus when he first visited the island in 1494.

    Columbus described Jamaica as "the fairest isle mine eyes ever beheld …" His arrival marked the beginning of nearly 500 years of European occupation and governance. Initially, the Spanish settled near St Ann's Bay at "Sevilla Nueva" (New Seville), but eventually moved to "Villa de la Vega" (the city on the plains), now called "Spanish Town". Their new city swiftly flourished, becoming the island's centre of activity.

    During the 1650s, the British captured Jamaica from the Spanish. In a last-ditch attempt at defiance, the Spanish settlers freed and armed their slaves, who sought refuge in the island’s interior. The Maroons, as these ex-slaves came to be called, continuously defied the island's new colonisers. The only army ever to defeat the mighty British, the Maroons still exist in modern-day Jamaica. Under British rule, Jamaica became a busy and wealthy colony. By the 18th century, the island was "the jewel of the British crown", producing 22 percent of the world's sugar on large, lucrative plantations. This success came at great cost to the African people, thousands of whom were forcefully brought to the New World as slaves.

    As a result of the cruel and oppressive slavery system, Jamaica had more revolts than other West Indian islands. Reports of frequent slave uprisings and other forms of resistance, coupled with brutal planter-militia reprisals, troubled the European conscience. In time, anti-slavery sentiments grew strong in Europe, culminating in the Emancipation Act of 1834. The Act made provision for all slaves under the age of six to gain immediate freedom. All others were to serve a period of apprenticeship for four to six years. The apprenticeship period worked well in theory. In practice, however, it was little better than slavery. Planters continued to abuse their apprentices, and withheld guaranteed provisions and wages. Subsequently, full emancipation was granted in 1838, two years earlier than planned.

    Eager to sever connections with the symbol of their enslavement, many labourers left the plantation, settling across the island. To provide an alternative, affordable workforce, the planters recruited indentured workers from China and India. After their period of indenture, many Chinese and Indians stayed on the island, adding to Jamaica’s eclectic mix of cultures.

    After 1838, sugar productivity and profitability declined, forcing Jamaica to diversify its economy. Although crops such as bananas and coffee provided sound substitutes, other industries eventually became the driving force of Jamaica’s economy, outgrowing agricultural exports.

    Like the changing economy, Jamaican politics also transformed with the end of slavery. In 1866, the island implemented the crown colony system of government. Under this new system promises of education, health care and other social reforms gave hope to a newly freed generation. But decades later, social disappointment festered, leading to a spate of incidents of civil unrest, and heralding the birth of the trade union movement.

    Two important and significant changes – universal adult suffrage in 1944 and independence from Britain in 1962- set the stage for a people once conquered, controlled and constrained, to become themselves the architects of a new nation.

    Economy
    Jamaica is classified as a developing country. Jamaica has a mixed, free-market economy consisting of a combination of state-owned entities and private-sector organisations. Jamaica’s two most important economic sectors are tourism and mining, with agriculture and manufacturing also contributing to the economy. Tourism and mining are responsible for earning most of the valuable foreign exchange needed for trade.

    With its unparalleled beauty and year-round vacation opportunities, Jamaica is an ideal tourist destination. Each year over one million visitors flock to Jamaica to experience the delights of its exciting resort centres – Kingston, Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, Negril, Port Antonio and the South Coast.

    Jamaica is one of the world's main producers of bauxite, a precious ore used in the manufacture of aluminium. As a result, bauxite is Jamaica’s second industry and the second best foreign exchange earner. Jamaica ships its bauxite to the USA, Canada, Norway and other countries for production.

    The agricultural sector revolves around the farming and exporting of crops such as sugar, banana, coffee, citrus, cocoa, coconut, pimento (allspice) and a variety of root crops (e.g., yams). The coffee industry is very labour-intensive, providing much needed employment for Jamaicans living in the island's mountainous regions. Currently Jamaica is experimenting in aquaculture (mainly fresh water fishing, oyster and shrimp farming), and the growth of special delicacies such as mushrooms and strawberries not normally grown in tropical climates.

    To learn more about Jamaica’s national symbols, visit the Jamaica Tourist Board.

    Government
    Jamaica is an independent country, completely self-governed since 1962 when the island ceased to be a British colony. After independence, Jamaica chose to be a part of the British Commonwealth, and to keep the Queen of the United Kingdom as the constitutional monarch, the titular head of the country. The government of Jamaica was patterned on the Westminster model of government, and is composed of the Queen as head of state, and a bicameral parliament. In Jamaica, the Governor General, who is appointed by Her Majesty upon the recommendation of the Prime Minister of Jamaica, represents the Queen.

    The Parliament, or the central government, is charged with the responsibility of running the nation's business, specifically in the creation of laws, the maintenance of law and order as well as the allocation of finances to run the various social services provided for the citizens.

    Within the Parliament, the Cabinet, an executive body, which includes the Prime Minister and a select group of members of Parliament, holds the responsibility for the bulk of government policy making and policy execution through the various ministries that make up the Civil Service. The 12 cabinet members each hold a ministerial portfolio, and the Governor General, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, appoints each minister.

    Useful Links
    Visit the website of the Jamaica Tourist Board for more information about this Caribbean destination.

    Information provided on this page were derived from a combination of internal research and readily-available outside sources, such as destination tourism offices, official press releases and marketing media kits.

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    Fast Facts

    Capital: Kingston

    Motto: "Out of Many, One People"

    Anthem: "Jamaica, Land We Love"

    Royal Anthem: "God Save the Queen"

    Weather: The annual average rainfall is 198 cm (78 inches). Mountainous areas receive almost 762 cm (300 inches) of rainfall each year while sections of the island’s western region get as little as76.2 cm (30 inches).

    The annual average temperature is 27 degrees Celsius or 81 degrees Fahrenheit. The hottest months are in the summer, from May to September. The "winter" season (December to March) is appreciably cooler. Areas of high altitude have chilly times. For example, the Blue Mountain Peak has an average temperature of 13 degrees Celsius or 55 degrees Fahrenheit, and sometimes cooler, depending on the time of year or weather.

    Language: The official language of Jamaica is English, although most of us converse using ‘Patois', a dialect as colourful and intriguing as our Jamaican personalities. It may take some time for you to become accustomed to it. When that happens, though, you'll have fun trying the local expressions.

    Banks/Currency: Licenced cambio centres and commercial banks are accessible in all resort areas. Official currency exchange rates vary daily, so it’s advisable to shop around for the best rate before converting your cash. Most Jamaican ATMs accept international bank cards with Visa, MasterCard, Cirrus and Plus logos. Banks also give credit card advances, change traveller’s cheques among other financial services.

    Climate: Jamaica enjoys a tropical climate, characterized by high temperatures and humid conditions year-round. Average temperature ranges from 19 degrees Celsius (66 degrees Fahrenheit) to 32 degrees Celsius (99 degrees Fahrenheit). Though we’re known for our warmth and sunshine, the island sees two rainy seasons from May to June and September to November. Also, hurricanes may pass over the island primarily during the months June to September.

    Will it rain during your holiday? If it does, don't worry. Most times, the short tropical showers provide a welcome break from the afternoon heat – just look at it as liquid sunshine, not rain!

    Dress Code: Lightweight tropical clothing is best suited throughout the year. Shorts and swimwear are acceptable on beaches. A light sweater is suggested for evenings, especially in the winters months. Semi-casual wear for women and sports jacket for men are recommended.

    Communications: Jamaica is well connected to the rest of the world. Direct international telephone service operates in all areas 24 hours a day, and telephone operators will gladly facilitate collect, third-party or credit card calls. International faxes, cables and telegrams can be sent from most hotels and post offices. E-mail and Internet access is available too, usually at hotels and parish libraries, but also at local Internet cafes. There are three daily national newspapers and five weekend newspapers, all available island-wide. Some hotels and gift shops receive the international editions of The New York Times, TIME, The Economist and the London Times.

    Driving: The most important thing to remember when driving in Jamaica is that here, we drive on the LEFT, although some flexibility is required to avoid collisions with pedestrians, cows, goats, chickens and other domestic animals. We have over 17,000 kilometres of road networks connecting all major towns and cities; the speed limit is 50 kmph (30 mph) in built-up areas, and 80 kmph (50 mph) on highways. All drivers are required to carry a valid licence. Jamaica recognizes valid International Driver’s Licences, but visitors from North America may use their country's licence for up to three months per visit. Car rental is available in most major towns and cities, and usually, clients must be no less than 25 years old to rent.

    Drugs: In Jamaica, the use, sale and possession of drugs such as ganja (marijuana), cocaine, crack, ecstasy, heroin and any other controlled substance is illegal. Violators are subject to severe punishments – specifically arrest, fine and imprisonment.

    Electricity: The electrical supply in Jamaica is 110 volts/50 cycles standard, and electrical appliances use plugs that are two-pronged and flat (such as those used in the United States and Canada). If your appliances do not use 110 volts or flat two-pronged plugs, bring the requisite adaptors and converters with you. Although adaptors and converters are available in Jamaica, they may not be easy to come by. Most laptop computers have built-in converters and can be used with an adaptor. If the idea of lugging all this equipment around seems daunting, leave it behind. Most hotels have hair dryers, alarm clocks, radios and clothes irons available, and in any case you probably won't need many appliances. You are, after all, on holiday…

    Holidays: Officially, Jamaicans celebrate ten public holidays per year: New Year's Day (January 1), Labour Day (May 23), Emancipation Day (August 1), Independence Day (August 6), Christmas Day (December 25) and Boxing Day (December 26), in addition to Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Easter Monday and Heroes Day (third Monday in October). On public holidays all government agencies, schools and most private businesses are closed, and much of the country "locks down" for the day. On holidays, Jamaicans throng to beaches and parks for picnics, fun days and outings, the celebrations continuing way into the night. Check the calendar of events for exact holiday dates this year, and if you’re here for one of these or for a public holiday, be sure to bring your dancing shoes!

    Pets: Rabies is not a danger in Jamaica and we'd like to keep it that way. So although we would love to host your pets, we must ensure that they're completely healthy before they can be brought on the island. In keeping with international standards, the importation of all live animals into Jamaica requires an import permit from the Veterinary Services Division of the Ministry of Agriculture prior to arrival in Jamaica. All animals must be rabies-free, and must never have been rabies vaccinated. Dogs and cats (with permits) are allowed into Jamaica only from Great Britain, Northern Ireland and Eire. For more information, contact the Veterinary Services Division: tel. 876-977-2489 or 876-977-2492. To secure a permit, fax a letter of request to 876-977-0885.

    Time Zone: Jamaica falls within the Eastern Time Zone (UTC/GMT -5 Hours) and does NOT observe Daylight Savings Time. At times in Jamaica, however, it seems as if we don't observe any time at all, so for the least amount of stress on your vacation, you may want to think about leaving your watch behind! At approximately 18 degrees north of the equator, the island falls within the tropics, and as such does not experience drastic seasonal changes in sunrise and sunset times. Year-round, the island averages between 11.5 and 12.5 hours of sunlight per day – always enough time to do everything, or never enough for anything!

    Water: "Xamayca" is the name that the first Jamaicans, the Tainos, gave to this country. It means "Land of Wood and Water", and for good reason; Jamaica has hundreds of spring and rivers, both above and under ground. Over the years, we have developed extensive water treatment and supply systems islandwide, so all drinking water in Jamaica is purified and filtered by modern methods. Our water is safe for you to drink, clean your teeth, bathe and wash clothing in. If you choose not to drink the water, rest assured; there are many brands of Jamaican spring water that meet or exceed the highest international standards, available at most shops and restaurants.

    Travel Information
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    Entry Requirements
    U.S. Citizens travelling to and from Jamaica must present a valid passport when leaving and or re-entering the United States. Residents must present their Alien Resident Card (Green Card) together with passport of country for which they hold citizenship. All visitors are required to travel with a return ticket or onward ticket for entry into Jamaica. For more information, visit the website of the Consulate General of Jamaica.

    Canadian Citizens
    Valid passport or a government-issued identification with photograph, along with an official birth certificate. Canadian residents must present a Canadian Permanent Resident Card and a passport showing country of citizenship.

    Click below links for more travel information:

    Jamaica Embassies and High Commissions

    Consulates and Consulates-General

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