In spite of the gorgeous beaches right on our doorstep, the Caribbean Islands still have a certain allure. The entire region, an extraordinary kaleidoscope of islands including Cuba, the Bahamas, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and the Virgin Islands, among others, is standard fare on any shortlist of the world’s most beautiful honeymoon spots.
All are gems of nature. As such, they’ve been contested for centuries, and the region’s colonial history is still barely disguised beneath the surface. The very name given to the overall region, the West Indies, betrays the region’s first encounter with European colonists, discovered “by accident” by Christopher Columbus who thought he’d landed in India. Even today, you’re able to visit the region without ever leaving the territory of a range of colonial powers, including America, France, England and Holland.
Jamaica, right in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, has a particularly brutal colonial history. This scenic island, formerly under British control, served as the stage for much of the slave trade from Africa’s west coast to the Americas. Many of the slaves of early America passed through Jamaica on their way, with the island's British masters buying some as well. Jamaicans, as a result, have some of the darkest skin of any of Caribbean islanders. It is also the largest English speaking island in the region. The society truly seems to be post-racial, with black, white, Chinese, Indian and everything in between mixing in easily and comfortably. It is indeed a delicious sign of the civilization muddle we find ourselves in, hearing perfectly inflected Rastafarian English coming from a ethnically Chinese Jamaican.
Many visitors to Jamaica choose to bypass the capital, Kingston. In light of the other glories on display around the island, this decision has some merit. However, it is a lively town with much to do and see, including the city’s groovy association with Bob Marley, whose reggae continues to inspire a dynamic and active arts scene. These days, Kingston is divided into downtown and uptown, the charm of the former diminished somewhat by its reputation for crime. This reputation these days is a bit exaggerated, but most visitors still tend to restrict themselves to the bland security of uptown.
Bypassing Kingston, chances are you’re in Jamaica for pristine beaches or unspoiled nature. And in these departments, Jamaica is truly blessed. The island is not much more than 100km east to west, and 50km north to south, but along the way there is a spectacular amount of natural diversity. Most people are drawn to the coasts and the beaches – those in Negril in the west or Ocho Rios in the north are some of the world’s best. The history of Jamaica’s coastline is synonymous with pirates, and fans of Pirates of the Caribbean will have much to keep them interested.
In between these coasts are the equally spectacular mountains. The Blue Mountain Peak rises over 2,000 meters just on the outskirts of Kingston, sprinkled with world famous coffee plantations. Throughout the hills, old cattle, mango (nearly as good as Egypt’s) and rum estates make for some pleasant meandering.
Socially, Jamaica is a very easy place to have fun. There’s a laid back vibe, headed by copious homemade rum and funky home grown music. The country is equally famous for its “jerk” spice, a flavorful take on the chili pepper, used to season barbecued meats. The Caribbean has many competing destinations, but Jamaica, with its natural diversity of mountains and beaches, English-speaking population (inflected, of course, through the distinctly flavored Jamaican “ya-mon” lilt), and laid back Rastafarian culture, is both lively and relaxing.