A Guide to Jamaica's Best Neighbourhoods
This section was written by Jamaican rapper and singer, Sean Paul.
The historical city of the pirates and home of Sir Henry Morgan. This place is where the whole "Pirates of the Caribbean" story comes from... there was a massive earthquake and 3/4 of the city sank into the sea. They say its cuz the city was so wicked, but now its a quiet town where you can eat great seafood and catch a boat out to the cays
This section was written by Jamaican writer, Gina Hargitay.
The parish of Portland is situated in the north east of the island and is famed for its lush vegetation and variety of natural attractions. You will want to spend a few nights here to explore the area. Portland has tourism, but it is also a place where locals go to relax, giving you a sense of the vibe of the people and a true feeling of being in Jamaica. The lack of large resorts puts locally owned businesses in the spotlight, meaning you are directly stimulating the Jamaican economy and not lining the pockets of some faceless conglomerate. Start the day at Blue Lagoon, head over to the famous Boston Jerk Centre for lunch and continue on to spend an afternoon on Winnifred Beach. Floating down the Rio Grande on a bamboo raft is a unique experience, but if you’re an adventure seeker don’t miss out on climbing Reach Falls and jumping through the Rabbit Hole to discover the underwater cave.
Two parishes away from Portland, on the Southern Coast of the island is the famous Hellshire beach. Located about an hour drive from Kingston, in the neighbouring parish of St. Catherine, Hellshire is the ultimate day trip experience. Hellshire beach is a popular Sunday destination for locals, but its black sand and clear, clean water is breathtaking any day of the week. Hellshire is also famous for seafood, with dozens of cute spots throughout the area where you can eat some of the most delicious and freshest seafood of your life. Screechie’s serves up its legendary fried parrot and a curried king crab bowl which you will dream about for days afterward.
Ocho Rios, known to locals as “Ochi”, is a tiny town nestled in the Parish of St. Ann, which sits on the northern coast. Known as the Garden Parish, it is also the birthplace of music legend Bob Marley. If you have a car whilst in Ochi it’s worth taking a day trip to Nine Miles to spend a day walking in the same place where Marley took his first steps. Ochi is a hub for cruise ships and resorts, meaning two things: it is great for duty free shopping and it can be very easy to get caught up in the tourist traps. Nevertheless, there are more authentic experiences to be found nearby. Stush in the Bush is an organic farm-to-table culinary experience nestled in the nearby mountains and The Ochi Craft Market offers arts and crafts by local artists that make excellent keepsakes from your trip. For those interested in the history of the island, the nearby Rio Nuevo battlesight, and the Spanish settlement of Port Maria with its remaining colonial structures give a glimpse into 18th century Jamaica. There are also plenty of small hotels, villas and apartments which offer direct beach access and help you dodge the resorts. Some great options for villas and apartments are in Mammee Bay, a peaceful little area no more than a five-minute car ride away from Ochi.
Whilst Montego Bay has long been dubbed Jamaica’s best beach destination, Negril is where it’s really at. Negril is about a three-hour drive from Ocho Rios, located on the western-most tip of the island in the parish of Westmoreland. The vibrant and lively Rastafari culture is felt in the air and you truly feel the epitome of “Irie” (Jamaica’s version of Hakuna Matata). Here, it is worth giving in to the resort lifestyle. There are dozens of hotels, restaurants and apartments located along the Seven Mile Beach (cue, Skylark), and this is exactly where you want to be. More on where to stay in Negril later. Spend your days ambling along the beach, stumbling upon local cuisine, fresh seafood, and bars playing live music. Hop on a catamaran tour and spend the evening getting to know strangers, drinking rum punch, snorkelling by the coral reef and testing your nerves cliff jumping, or simply enjoying the sunset at Rick’s Café. Vegetarian or not, paying a visit to Rasta Ade Refreshments, a small vegan restaurant along the beach, is a down-to-earth culinary experience not to be missed.
St. Elizabeth, affectionately known as Senty, is an underrated area of the island ripe for discovery. Sitting just next to Westmoreland, with which it shares the south-eastern coast, this parish is known as the “Breadbasket” of Jamaica. It’s very humble and not overly touristy. Black River offers a showcase of habitats for birds, crocodiles as well as diverse and untouched plant life. In the northern hills, the village of Accompong tells the story of the Maroons, a settlement of escaped slaves who fought for their freedom before the British took over the island in the 17th century, giving you a living lesson in Jamaican culture and spirit. Treasure Beach is the local beach experience you need to feel the true spirit of an authentic Jamaican fishing community. For nature lovers, this largely untouched, unspoiled parish is a dream come true.