Jamaica is a land with a very distinct personality, so much so that much of its culture has filtered down to some of the smaller islands of the Caribbean; everything from the music to the fashion and lingo. Jamaican culture has also gone international, seen in the most significant way on the entertainment scene, with international musical acts being influenced by Jamaican Dancehall and Reggae. The result being an ever-evolving musical contribution that is a fusion of places, cultures, and people. Aside from music, some of the other things Jamaica is known for are sports, amazing beaches, its abundance of waterfalls, and so much more.
Read on to find out more about the top 17 things Jamaica is most known for. This list should give you a broad idea what Jamaica is about and what you can expect when vacationing here.
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Jamaica is home to so many big names in Reggae including Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Greggory Issacs, Shaggy, and Sean Paul, that you might even say Reggae music was born in Jamaica. Reggae legend Bob Marley for example has many popular international hits such as ‘One Love’, ‘Three Little Birds’, and ‘Redemption Song’. Reggae music has always served as a tool for empowerment, and expression of political and social views. It is connected to the Rastafari movement, which began in the 1930s in Jamaica. While in Jamaica, visitors have a chance to learn about the beginnings of Reggae music, to experience the entertainment scene of which Reggae is a huge part, and even to embark on rum and Reggae tours, or visit the popular Bob Marley Museum where there are opportunities to take a closer look at the life of the revered Jamaican musician.
The Rastafarian movement started in Jamaica in the 1930s, and since then has spread across the world to varying degrees. It is considered a religion, and incorporates Protestant Christianity, mysticism, and elements of pan-African political consciousness. Rastafarians believe that people of African descent living around the world are exiles, living in Babylon. The ultimate objective is the return home to Zion, a reference name for Africa (the original birthplace of mankind) drawn from the bible. Rastafarians believe most tribulations from slavery, to economic injustice, and racial discrimination, are all tests from Jah, and that one day, all will find liberation, and deliverance from all forms of captivity. Many Rastafarians hold in high esteem late Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie, even considering him the second coming of Christ. It is important to note though, that not all Rastafarians share that view. Even still, Ras Tafari is the emperor’s pre-coronation name, which is the name under which the movement is known. The population of Rastafarians in Jamaica is less than 5%.
There’s gotta be something in the water in Jamaica that causes the small island to keep producing some of the best athletes in the world. This Caribbean nation is known to be the birthplace of several world-renowned sprinters, including the fastest runner in the world, Usain Bolt. Bolt is a three-time Olympic Champion and former World Record Holder. Other famous sprinters from Jamaica include former 200m World Champion Merlene Ottey, two-time 200m Olympic Champion and 100m World Champion Veronica Campbell, former 100m World Record Holder Asafa Powell, and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who at 21 years old in 2008 became the first Caribbean woman to win 100m gold at the Olympics. Fraser-Pryce won the 100m and 4 x 100m relay titles at the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships held in Doha, Qatar. Another Jamaican sprinter to watch is Elaine Thompson who at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro won double gold, in the 100m and 200m. At this year’s Pan American Games in Lima Peru, she won first place in the 100m.
There are hundreds of videos on the internet which claim they can teach a person to speak Jamaica Creole, also known as Patois. These videos are popular with people who want to learn to speak like a Jamaican, whether for the purposes of throwing in a word here or there within their conversations for comedic effect, or simply to know more about the language of the destination before travelling there. It is surprising to many people to find though, that Jamaicans don’t always speak ‘Patois’, and that most can speak as ‘eloquently’ as the average Joe, in some cases even more so. Even though it is hugely popular around the world, Jamaican Patois is not a written language. However, if you really want to learn it won’t be hard to pick up a few words during your Jamaica vacation; the locals will be happy to teach you. Read our blog post for some popular Jamaican sayings and phrases!
Jamaica is known for its exceptional Blue Mountain Coffee, which is grown in the Blue Mountains, the highest mountains in the Caribbean. Blue Mountain Coffee can be a little pricey, depending on when and where you buy it, but it is one of the most sought-after coffee brands in the world. The coffee is handpicked, and locally roasted, and its creation is part of a very intricate process. Overall, it is one of those things you just must try while in Jamaica!
Tip: Drink unlimited freshly roasted Blue Mountain coffee at all all-inclusive Beaches Resorts and Sandals Resorts in Jamaica.
Picture: Sandals Negril all-inclusive resort in Seven Mile Beach.
Jamaica is such a beautiful island, that it would be surprising if the island didn’t have gorgeous beaches to complete its tropical paradise profile. Around the island you’ll find at least 50 public beaches, including the sprawling Seven Mile Beach, and Doctor’s Cave Beach in Montego Bay. Much like the island has its own personality, every beach is a little different, and knowing the kind of experience you’re looking for will help you choose the right one. When beach hopping in Jamaica, keep in mind that most of the popular beaches charge a small admission fee, so bring along a small amount of cash just in case. The most spectacular beach is without a doubt Seven Mile Beach in Negril, so that’s a good place to start!
Planning a romantic trip with your partner to Negril? Stay at all-inclusive resort Sandals Negril, which was designed for couples! Bringing the family? Beaches Negril features a spectacular water park.
What good is travelling to a foreign country without sampling the local beer? Leave Jamaica with no regrets, and (if you are a drinker) try at least one Red Stripe beer. This is one place where you won’t have to worry about settling for mediocre local beer, as Red Stripe is refreshing, crisp and delicious. A lesser known fact is that the recipe for Red Stripe was produced in Illinois, in the United States. The recipe was purchased and brought to Jamaica, and the beer has since been brewed on the island. All Beaches and Sandals Resorts include unlimited Red Stripe beer during your entire stay! Even the mini bar in your room is free of use and filled with Red Stripe.
Jerk sauce is something you’ll hear a lot about while in Jamaica, because plain and simple – Jamaicans love spicy food! Pretty much anything can be spiced up with jerk sauce, from pork and ribs, to fish tacos and chicken. The recipes for jerk sauces vary, as does the application to meats, fish, and other dishes, but the name and effect remains the same. If you try a good jerk spot in Jamaica, it is almost guaranteed that you’re going to want to take some jerk sauce back home with you to try to recreate your meal!
Tip: Don’t be afraid to try out the local Jerk Shacks along the road but know that every Beaches and Sandals Resort has a Jerk Shack as well - and it’s all included. In fact, the Jerk Shack is one of the more popular restaurants on-site. See more restaurants that are included at Beaches Resorts.
Rum connoisseurs will be happy to know that Jamaica has one of the highest numbers of rum bars, or rum shops as they are called in the Caribbean, per square mile. The island is also known for being the place that refined the already established rum making process, making it into its own resulting in the creation of numerous full-bodied and rich rums. Jamaica takes credit for having the most expensive rum in the world, in the form of Jamaican distiller J. Wray & Nephew’s product bottled in 1940. It said to be priced as high as $54,000. While a rum that pricy may not be what you’re looking to go home with, you can find lots of options of great local rums to take back home after your vacation. Don’t forget to try out some Appleton Rum. Great as a mixer in tropical cocktails or drink it ‘neat’ to enjoy its full flavors.
Port Royal in Jamaica has quite a wicked pirate history, nothing that you would be able to tell by looking at it today; it once belonged on the list of the most dangerous cities in the world. That was back in the 16th century, and around that time the city had been occupied by pirates led by the legendary Henry Morgan. By the 1660s Port Royal had a reputation for being a ‘pirate utopia’, even being called the ‘Sodom of the New World’. For the pirates there at the time, Port Royal was the ideal operating base, particularly for its proximity to the trade routes. Pirates played a significant part in defending the city at various points in history as Port Royal transitioned from significant highs, to grazing lows. Anti-piracy laws were passed in 1687, and the years that followed saw the city no longer being a safe haven for pirates. Port Royal was destroyed in 1692 by a tsunami, and again in 1907.
Every time bobsledding in Jamaica comes up, ‘Cool Runnings’ comes to mind; that popular Jamaica flick with the jovial bobsledding team that helped build the courage of underdogs everywhere. A Disney flick, ‘Cool Runnings’ will always be one of the classics, and it is loved even more by fans because it is based on a true story. It tells the story of the Jamaican bobsled team who participated in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada. In truth and in fact, Jamaica was the first tropical country to send a bobsledding team to the Winter Olympics. The team had been coached by Howard Siler, an Olympic bobsledder for the United States. They were hardly prepared for the event, and winded up borrowing spare sleds from other countries to compete, but their presence encouraged the unity of the participants who demonstrated admirable sporting camaraderie. They did not finish the race after losing control of the sled and crashing in a final run, but their bold move would inspire other Jamaican bobsledding teams to participate in the event in years to follow.
Almost every country has its own national dish, and Ackee & Saltfish is that of Jamaica. This traditional dish is made with the ackee fruit, and salted codfish, with assorted spices for added flavor. While various versions of this dish exist on the international scale, there’s no better place to try it for yourself than in Jamaica. The dish was once ranked by National Geographic as the second-best national dish in the world, directly under the United States hamburger!
Picture: Beaches Negril all-inclusive resort and waterpark located at Seven Mile Beach.
Options abound in Jamaica when it comes to finding the perfect all-inclusive resort. Staying at the resorts is generally seen as a safer, more relaxing and fun way to experience Jamaica. There are three major areas that feature the most luxurious all-inclusive resorts: Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Negril. In Montego Bay you’ll be able to experience some nightlife in the city, in Negril most parties happen within the resorts. Ocho Rios is located conveniently near to some of the most popular attractions, but can’t compete with the amazing beaches in Negril. Visiting Jamaica for the first time? Start with Negril! Read more about this in our ‘Jamaica: Which area is best to stay in?’ article.
Tip: Not all all-inclusive resorts are equal. Make sure the resort of your choice truly serves high quality food and premium liquors 24/7. Getting day drunk in the sun, might give you a nasty headache if the resort is serving low-quality alcohol. Beaches (family friendly) and Sandals Resorts in Jamaica (adults-only) are a good example of serving a wide variety of gourmet food and premium liquors. Even watersports, scuba diving trips, golf and airport transfers are included in your stay!
Picture: Enjoy some of the most challenging golf in the Caribbean on our very own championship course in Jamaica at the Sandals Golf & Country Club.
With its laid-back nature, relaxing atmosphere, and accommodating topography, Jamaica has over the year’s been building its reputation on the golf scene. Starting with the establishment of the Manchester Golf Club in 1865 in the inland town of Mandeville, things have only progressed with the development of several other golf courses, including the Sandals Golf & Country Club. Located in Ocho Rios, Sandals Golf & Country Club is an18-hole course up in the hills with a driving range, putting and chipping greens, pro shop, restaurant and snack shack. Resorts near the Sandals Golf & Country Club are Sandals Ochi, Sandals Royal Plantation and Beaches Ocho Rios. The green fees for guests of the nearby Sandals and Beaches resorts are covered, as are transfers (it’s less than a 20-minute drive from all three of these resorts), so if you’re planning on enjoying a golf-filled vacation, this may be the perfect choice.
People who live in the islands sometimes take for granted that there are so many natural wonders all around them, including waterfalls. Visitors however, who are often only on island for a week at a time, for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity do not. In Jamaica there are several waterfalls just waiting for a refreshing dive including the world-famous Dunn’s River Falls where you can embark on a wet hike and dry hike, the Ocho Rios Blue Hole, Mayfield Falls, Reach falls, YS falls, and Konoko Falls. All these waterfalls offer natural pools that you can dip into for a refreshing splash, and Dunn’s River even has its own beach! Checking out at least one waterfall should be a priority while in Jamaica, as the breathtaking falls are one of those things Jamaica is most known for.
Picture: Understated elegance and exquisitely private, this is Sandals Royal Plantation.
There is something truly special about a place that preserves elements of its history, in order to share that with the world - no matter how harsh this history was. Jamaica has made several efforts to do just that, with its preservation of sites like Devon House, a historic mansion which was home to Jamaica’s first black millionaire. Other popular sites including the Rose Hall Great House (rumored to be haunted), Croydon Plantation, Seville Great House and Heritage Park, and even Sandals Royal Plantation, where the famous Tom Cruise movie ‘Cocktail’ was filmed. There are many other historic sites that are yours to explore in Jamaica, a land with a troubled, but rich history.
Both peaceful and exciting, Bamboo River Rafting is a must while in Jamaica. Some of the best spots to try this are on the Marta Brae, Black River, or Rio Grande River. You don’t need to have any experience to be able to go river rafting, but it is imperative that you have a love for adventure. As part of the tour, you’ll be led by a guide along the placid river, who will use a pole to navigate from the launch area. You can choose to go with a group, or have a more private affair, which honeymooners enjoy. During the Island Routes River Rafting Tour you’ll get to hop onto a 30-foot bamboo raft where you will be greeted with a fruit drink on arrival. Colorful birds, exotic flowers, and a river glimmering in the sunshine, all of it encapsulated in greenery, will surely be reason enough for you to fall more in love with Jamaica.
Blue Mountain Coffee is a great gift for yourself, or a cool souvenir. There are various types of Blue Mountain coffee that you can choose from including Jamaican Rum Flavored Blue Mountain Coffee and the new Decaffeinated 100% Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee (Swiss Water Process).
While in Jamaica there are many opportunities to learn authentic Jamaican cooking, it can be difficult to recreate some of the recipes without the right ingredients. A trip to the local market in downtown Montego Bay, or to any supermarket in Jamaica will lead you in the right direction when it comes to acquiring anything from spices, to Jamaican Jerk Seasoning. Buy enough jerk seasoning that you can share with friends or family, and still keep some for yourself!
Rum is considered by some to be the ‘national drink of Jamaica’, and it has been an important part of the island’s history since the 17th century. Some of the best Jamaica rums include Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum from Appleton Estate, Rum-Bar White Overproof Rum from Worthy Park Estate, Hampden Estate Pure Single Rum 46% ABV and Appleton Estate 12-Year-Old Rare Blend. Any of these would make for a great holiday souvenir from Jamaica.
While in Jamaica you may be approached by vendors either on the beach or out in the city trying to sell you wood carvings, among other craft items. Some of the carvings are exceptionally done, but you may notice that prices vary depending on the vendor, and location. Some visitors recommend negotiating for the best price, which may end up being as little as half of the original price. If you really want a good wood carving, Jamaica is a good place to buy one, just watch the size of the item you’re purchasing as you’ll have to carry it back home in your luggage, unless of course you decide to ship it separately. It may be worth finding out whether there are restrictions in carrying these items onto your flight, especially if your carving is made of unfinished wood.
Calabash bowls are one of those things that may very well come to mind when you return from a trip to Jamaica, only to be left wishing you’d purchased just a few, for that nostalgic Jamaican home cooked dinner using your new Jamaican seasoning. Make a note to pick some up at the local craft market ahead of your trip back home. You can pick some up for yourself and give some out as gifts. Some vendors sell these calabash wooden bowls filled with seasonings and other spices that may also come in handy.
Jamaican island dolls are the perfect souvenir and can even be a good gift for some of the younger members of your family, or even you. They’re usually culturally attired, but nowadays you can find some more modern ones, even dawning athletic wear featuring symbols of popular Jamaican athletes, like Usain Bolt. You can even get Patois Speaking Jamaica Reggae Dolls from Island Dolls, a company that sells "sweet, culturally empowered ethnic dolls". When you press these dolls in specific places, they speak in a distinct Jamaican accent, some talking about how amazing Jamaica is as a destination! Whether you’re able to get the Patois speaking dolls, or something more traditional, a Jamaican island doll is still a great keepsake to remind you of your amazing Jamaica vacation.
Jamaica oil paintings tend to have that unique look that makes them the perfect addition to your art collection, or a great beginning if you’re just getting started. While in Jamaica, it’s a good idea to look around at the local art galleries to find the sort of piece you’re looking for, or to receive inspiration to commission your own piece by a local artist. Depending on the size, you can have your painting mailed directly to your house or take it along as a carry on.
The knowledge that Ian Flemming found so much inspiration in Jamaica that he was able to write so much of the James Bond series on these shores is enough to motivate any aspiring writer or script writer to head to the island just for that burst of creativity. It is a known fact though, that just being away from the familiar, wherever that is, is usually enough to refresh one’s imagination, which is precisely what Ian Flemming did. He owned an estate previously known as Goldeneye in Oracabessa Bay on Jamaica’s northern coast. In his years while living there, he brought many visitors to the island, including film makers, musicians and other celebrities. The property was located near what is now known as James Bond Beach in Jamaica. Today, Flemming’s home and additional cottages on the property make up the sum of the Goldeneye Hotel and Resort. In addition to being able to write most of his James Bond material on the island, two Bond movies, ‘Dr. No’ and ‘Live and Let Die’ were filmed on the island. These are just two of the many famous movies filmed on Jamaican shores!
Feeling “irie” is a real thing while in Jamaica. Like many of the islands in the Caribbean, Jamaica is known and appreciated for its laid-back lifestyle. For some it’s like time literally slows down while on the island, and they’re finally able to kick back and take in the little things, which for many coming from a fast-paced lifestyle, is a breath of fresh air. There are many things in the islands which contribute to this laidback atmosphere that filters down to the people and the appreciation for life they never seem to lose, despite challenges or hardships, and all of this is worth taking notice of and appreciating while in Jamaica. For some, it even serves as that wake-up call they never knew they needed!
Believe it or not, there are at least 1,600 churches in Jamaica, an island nation 4,244 mi² in size. Interestingly, Jamaica also had electricity before most of the United States, and Falmouth, the capital of Trelawny Parish is known to have had electricity long before New York City! Perhaps this was the boost that gave Jamaica the head start in developing its churches as it has. Additionally, like many Caribbean islands, most of the population is Christian. Religious knowledge is a part of most school curriculums, starting from infant, primary, or even kindergarten, with bible songs and stories for children. Public prayer is the norm in Jamaica, including at national events, and within schools.
17 of the things Jamaica is most known for, and some other little tidbits that might just make your Jamaica explorations that much more interesting. If you’re already packed and ready to go, we wish you safe travels along your way! If you are still looking at a place to stay, check out the all-inclusive family resorts and adults-only resorts in Jamaica!