Where to go in Jamaica?
June 16, 2006 2:26 PM   Subscribe

My friend and I are going to Jamaica at the beginning of August to do a service project in Kingston.

Once it's over, we'd like to hang out for a little while and check out the island.
We want to do something low key and inexpensive, and get a little culture in while we're at it.
However, we've been having an incredibly hard time finding out information on the island that doesn't have to do with resorts and all inclusives.
Could anyone point me in the direction to finding out more about Jamaica? We were thinking Ocho Rios or Negril, but I would like to find out more about them or any other interesting areas.
Personal anecdotes are always welcome, too ;D
posted by Dance Commander to Travel & Transportation around New York, Jamaica (11 answers total)
Ok, who else read it as "a service project in Klingon?"

Sorry, I have nothing constructive to offer.
posted by Skorgu at 2:32 PM on June 16, 2006

The goodness of Jah, learn about it. Ask one of the men with the big red, yellow and green hats to help you out.
posted by Meatbomb at 3:07 PM on June 16, 2006

Port Antonio on the East Coast is quite non-touristy, or at least it was a few years ago.

Ocho Rios and Negril are crawling with Euro campers looking for a nature experience, Canadians trying to get warm, and in August the Italians start showing up and ruin it for everybody by stealing all the hot chicks.
posted by Meatbomb at 3:11 PM on June 16, 2006

Big second for Port Antonio. Been there many times, the region has work, lots of outward african culture , obeah, pentacostal gospel music, and other internal values, so tourists are not so important, and people can be normal with visitors.

Porti had cheap guest houses. People had decent non-tourist local work in the banana export industry, not so many tourists ( it was the 1950s tourist magnet....) I used to go there and just hang out. Much less hassle then elsewhere.

Go to the market in the morning. If you get tired of legions of begging kids around the market, stop to talk to some of them. Then spend almost nothing and buy them all movie tickets for the afternoon. Buy them a cheese and bun for breakfast. Afterwards you have a gang/army looking out for you. No problem for the rest of the week - for the price of a burger and a beer at home. They saved me from several pot busts by becoming my "paid ears"...

Do not keep weed in your room. Port A cops like to "visit' tourist rooms peeking around - they do this everywhere in JA - so act like the local rastas and buy it, put it in a plastic wrap, and leave it in a hidden empty juice box or something out in a weeded lot under a tree stump where you can find it when you need it.
posted by zaelic at 6:02 PM on June 16, 2006 [2 favorites]

Everything I've heard is that Kingston is an extremely dangerous place for foreigners, and Jamaica overall ain't any too safe right now. Are you sure this is really a good idea?
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:24 PM on June 16, 2006

Jamaica isn't that dangerous if you just use some common sense-- like don't walk in certain areas after dark etc...
But certainly compared to places like Bermuda, Jamaica can be a bit iffy-- my advice to you is to get the Fodors guide and get a lot of info from locals too. Mo bay has some decent areas if you decide to leave Kingston. BTW-- Jamaicans are some the most laziest people on earth-- so don't expect the service people there to make any meaningful effort to help you.
posted by GoodJob! at 4:48 AM on June 17, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for all the advice!
I actually did have some reservations about going into Kingston, but I've been assured that it's not as bad as some make it out to be, especially if you use common sense like GoodJob! said.
Also, it's a fairly large group doing this, and they have a lot of experience with this type of thing.
But this has all been really helpful, so thank you.
posted by Dance Commander at 11:09 AM on June 17, 2006

Thirding Port Antonio. I can recommend Jamaica Heights Resort as a great place to stay in P.A.

I have been working/living in Kingston for the last 6 months. Nearly all of the violent crime happens in Downtown/Old Kingston, in the ghettoes. There is no reason for you to go to Downtown, and definitely no reason to go near the ghettoes. You will probably stay in Uptown/New Kingston, which I consider pretty safe. You can walk anywhere in New Kingston, quite safely, but a taxi to just about anywhere around New Kingston is J$200 or US$3.

The best beach in Kingston is Lime Cay, a tiny island 10 minutes boat ride (J$500 US$8-9) from Port Royal. Port Royal is a sleepy fishing town with a lot of history (pirates) out on the spit of land that encloses Kingston harbour.

A month ago I walked up the Blue Mountain Peak. I stayed at Forres Park, very nice place with good food and service. They organised a guide, drove me to the foot of the mountain and we walked up in about 4 hrs to watch the sun-rise.

To the east of Port Antonio are some lovely secluded beaches, Frenchmans Cove, Winnifred beach, Boston Bay (excellent surfing) and Long Bay. I often stay in Long Bay on weekends and love Yohimba, 3 beach huts right on the beach (US$65). There is absolutely nothing to do in Long Bay, except for the beach and a few bars that close at around 22:00.

Ochee, Negril, and Montego Bay are just tourist traps for Europeans, Canadians and Americans. They consist of all-inclusive resorts and not much else. Decent diving in Ochee (as the locals call it), had one of my best dives ever there.

I have heard good things about Treasure Beach , but haven't been there yet.
posted by DelusionsofGrandeur at 10:55 PM on June 17, 2006

Jamaica is said to be very dangerous if you're gay.
posted by lukemeister at 1:08 PM on June 18, 2006

Jamaica will always be very much in my heart.

And golly, I absolutely agree with everyone who's recommended Port Antonio. We backpacked around Jamaica, and Porty was one of our favorite places. Especially if you're coming from Kingston, it's much closer than Ochee or Negril (we flew into Kingston [from Chicago] and hired a van to drive us to Porty). We found mostly young Dutch and German travelers, who were backpacking as well. You'll most likely get constant offers for "guides" -- if he's still there, look for a rasta named Joe Grain. He may take you on an excellent tour of the local coast in his friend Richie's fishing boat, and cook for you later. It will, of course, cost you (though not a ton) -- but he was wonderful (even got a friend with a car to drive us all the way to Negril [other side of the island, the long way] when the local cabbies were trying to rip us off). Also, they say that jerk was invented around there (Boston Bay?) -- either way, it's delicious and ubiquitous.

As Delusions mentioned, Treasure Beach is nice, too. It was our last stop, and as we had been all but walking for over two weeks we decided to splurge on a hotel room with air conditioning and a pool. While I can't remember the name of our hotel, we were immensely impressed with Jake's Place, and drank Red Stripes at sunset on their patio every night. Otherwise, it's an incredibly sleepy town, tourist-wise -- at least it was four years ago. A few caveats: the beaches are not the nicest in Jamaica and are not really ideal for swimming. The surf is rougher, and the water isn't as clear as in Porty or Negril. The climate is also much drier than in other places -- more desert-like. Perhaps something to think about at the end of August...

If you're willing to rough it at times, Jamaica is amazingly rewarding and very affordable. The place we stayed in Porty was (if I recall) $5US a night (yes, it had roaches, and the roosters woke us up at dawn, but we just pulled the beds away from the walls, and it had a bathroom with a shower and a lock on the door). Some places were pricier (like in Treasure Beach -- though I'm sure cheaper places were available). The thing is, only once did we ever see Americans who were backpacking -- the all-inclusives have done a really good job of scaring all of their guests into thinking Jamaica is dangerous unless you stay in a sealed-off compound. My experience (as a young white American woman, traveling with four other young white American women) was that, when in Jamaica, the word dangerous has three uses: 1) the actual life-threatening definition, as you could possibly encounter in Kingston (though there are bad parts and good parts, as in any major city); 2) the business-boosting rumor that the all-inclusives feed to their guests, who then go back home and tell all of their friends about how Jamaica is dangerous and scary, but Sandals is wonderful!; and 3) what Jamaicans from one town will tell you about other cities. Some people you might meet will not have been off the island, or even outside their city's region. As such, they're fiercely region-loyal -- the people in Porty will tell you that the people in Negril are "dangerous," by which they mean you're more likely to get ripped off (as in, tricked into paying too much for something). If you're savvy and street-smart, and will stand up for yourself but most of all be kind, you'll be rewarded a thousand-fold. Though the rasta on the beach may be trying to sell you a coconut with your name on it, or a wicker bracelet, if you tell him you're poor and can't afford it but if you will listen to him preach his life philosophy, he will oftentimes end up giving you one of his wares for free.

To risk waxing cheesy, that last sentence sort of sums up how Jamaica is: you will always be pleasantly surprised. Just when you think that this is it, that as someone who was, as of yesterday, a complete stranger, is leading you down a pitch-dark street "to a great party," to where you'll actually be mugged or killed or something, you'll reach a lighted backyard where someone will hand you a beer and be nothing but welcome, it will have exceeded even your hopeful expectations. It's funny -- I'm not at all of the "hippy" persuasion, and I don't smoke pot. But that island is so much more than inspiration for dirty kids who exclaim "jah, rastafari!" without really knowing what it means, or a beachy canvas for lewd college students... Please let us know how you find it (I think many who have posted to this question feel that Jamaica is such an amazing little place); as well, if you've any questions, my email is in my profile.
posted by penchant at 2:46 PM on June 18, 2006

If you want to brighten some kids' days, you could bring some children's books and/or learning materials with you to donate to the Trenchtown Reading Centre.

Their web site says they are looking for :
  • Educational Games: math materials, learning puzzles, MAPS, word games (crosswords ..)
  • Learning cards: math, alphabet, first words, colours, shapes, animals, the body‚Ķ
  • Curriculum books: particularily science, geopgraphy, nature, and reference (atlas, dictionaries ...)
  • Videos: educational, nature, childrens stories
  • The Basics: pencils, pens, pencil crayons, crayons, felts, paper (all types), art supplies, instruments, book dividers & spinners (circular racks that hold books) ....
and that "... no donation is too great or too small ..."

Their wishlist for books is here. If you have any questions you can email Roslyn Ellison.
posted by blueberry at 3:55 PM on June 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

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