The original inhabitants of Jamaica were gentle, pleasure loving people
who liked dancing and playing ball games. They believed in an afterlife
and sometimes strangled a dying chief to speed him into paradise. They hunted,
cultivated a few crops and fished. Their canoes were made by burning and
chiseling out the trunks of silk cotton trees, a method that is still used
today. Another legacy of the Arawaks is bammy, a thick pancake made from
cassava and delicious fried with fish.
226 Arawaks sites have been mapped throughout the island. Excavations
have yielded tools, jewelry, pottery and middens of seashells. The only
gold artifact extant was discovered by Dr. James Lee, a former President
of the Jamaica Archaeological Society, and is displayed in the Coin Museum
at the Bank of Jamaica. The national Arawak Collection can be seen at the
Arawak Museum at WHITE MARL, 3 miles from Spanish
Town (turn L off the Kingston to
Spanish Town highway). This is an Arawak site and the building is a facsimile
of an Arawak dwelling.
MOUNTAIN RIVER CAVE near GUANABOA
VALE in St. Catherine has Arawak pictographs: some 200 paintings
in black pigment of birds, turtles, lizards, fish, frogs, humans and abstract
designs done on the ceiling of the cave. They are estimated to be between
500 and 1300 years old. The site, known since 1897, was re-discovered by
Dr. Lee in 1954 and later acquired by the Archaeological Society and donated
to the Jamaica National Heritage Trust who now maintain it. Call JNHT on
(809) 922-1287-8 for information. To find Mountain River Cave
turn left just past the roundabout west of Spanish Town, travel through
Guanaboa Vale and approximately 5 miles up the hill to the home of the authorized
guide which is indicated by a sign. From here it is a stiff hike but less
than a mile down to the river, across it and up the other side to the cave.
The guide will have a key to open the grill gate.
The NATIONAL GALLERY on the Kingston Waterfront
has a collection of important Jamaican paintings and works of art. An annual
exhibition of new works is held here annually. There are many private galleries,
where you can view exhibitions and purchase pieces, listed in the Yellow
pages of the telephone directory.
There are hotels where friendly "cling-clings" will
hustle you for food, and some visitors complain that the birds wake them
up in the morning so you do not have to go far to birdwatching in this country.
Bird lady Lisa Salmon of Rocklands Birdfeeding Station near Montego Bay,
Robert Sutton of Marshall's Pen in Mandeville, Catherine Levy or Audrey
Downer of the Kingston based GOSSE BIRD CLUB
can all advise you on the habitats of some rare species and give you more
information. Birds of Jamaica by Audrey Downer with colour illustrations
is a useful guide and is obtainable at most bookstores.
Limestone areas abound with caves, sinkholes and under-ground
passages, many of them containing streams, waterfalls and mini-lakes. 380
sizable caves have been mapped by the Geological Department and there are
many more awaiting exploration. Many of the larger caves are inhabited by
colonies of bats (locally known as rat-bats) and yield manure available
fertilizer. Several caves (for example the Jackson Bay caves in Clarendon)
were frequented by Arawaks and contain traces of tools and carvings. The
Mountain River cave (see above) has Arawak paintings. Caves developed as
tourist attractions are: Green Grotto in Runaway Bay,
NonSuch in Portland and Two Sisters in Hellshire. Others that are frequently
visited are Windsor Caves in Trelawny and the Ipswich and Oxford caves in
There are many certified scuba operations on the island. The
Jamaica Association of Dive Operators has strict standards. Members all
offer basic and advanced courses and certification. Some will film your
underwater exploits for a souvenir video. The Discovery Bay marine laboratory
has a Decompression Chamber.
There are 4 annual Marlin tournaments. Deep sea fishing boats
can be chartered in most resorts. Boats or canoes or tackle can also be
hired by negotiation at fishing beaches.
Golf courses are located at Constant Spring and Caymanas in Kingston,
Rose Hall, Half Moon, Ironshore and, of course, Tryall (the venue for the
Johnnie Walker Cup every December) in Montego Bay, Negril Hills near Negril,
Super Clubs at Runaway Bay, Sandals at Upton near Ocho Rios. The oldest
golf course in the West Indies is in Mandeville and there is a course under
construction at San San in Portland.
Jamaica is a hiker's paradise. Despite the huge variety of flora
and fauna, no species is dangerous. One very enthusiastic hiker was a former
British High Commissioner, John Drinkall, who claims that the average hiker
can spend weeks or even months exploring the country around Newcastle, Holywell,
Clydesdale, Cinchona and of course Blue Mountain Peak. The usual way to
climb the Peak is from Mavis Bank via Whitfield Hall but it can also be
approached from Cedar Valley or from Somerset via Stoddart's Peak, which
is the way that Captain Stoddart pulled his swivel guns up to bombard Nanny
Drinkall's favourite trails are: From Clydesdale to Cinchona Gardens
(about 2 hours), and from here over Morces Gap and down to Claverty Cottage
and Chepstow where you can get a minibus back to the main road. From the
village of Hayfield above Bath in St. Thomas there is a trail over the Cuna
Cuna Pass (at 2,750 feet) and down to the source of the Rio Grande river
near Bowden Pen. This takes about 2.5 hours each way. It is steep but there
are streams to refresh you.
- On the other side of the valley above Bath another hike leads over
the Corn Puss Gap (at 2,250 feet) down to the Rio Grande valley. This is
- The first requirement for the arduous trip to Nanny Town is to pay
your respects to the leader of the Moore Town Maroons, Colonel Harris.
He will assist you in finding a guide. The starting point is at Windsor
on the Rio Grande and you will have to camp for one night either at Nanny
Town, or if you are afraid of ghosts, nearby. Ask to be shown Nanny's Pot
- a deep basin into which the Chatter Falls plunge. This is the place where,
according to legend, Nanny disposed of hapless British soldiers by throwing
them into a steaming cauldron.
- Also in the Rio Grande valley at Seaman's Valley you can get a guide
to take you acrossthe river to Belleview and from there to the hot springs
on the Guava River.
In Portland, the Eco-Tourism Action Group, affiliated with the Rio Grande
project can furnish trained guides. Call (809) 993-2543 for information.
When hiking in the Portland mountains be prepared for rain. The hills
abound in streams and waterfalls and have wildlife seldom seen elsewhere
in the island: birds like the Mountain Witch (it prefers walking to flying)
and shy little nocturnal creatures called Conies. Wild hogs are still hunted
in Portland but their numbers are dwindling as coffee plantations gobble
up more and more of the natural forest. The few people you will meet on
your mountain rambles are very friendly; the exception will be if you stumble
unawares onto a ganja cultivation, so try to be careful and discreet.
Other popular Hiking spots
There are many, including the hills around Malvern, Shooter's Hill near
Mandeville, Bullhead Mountain in Clarendon, and the Cockpit Country.
At Windsor Caves in Trelawny (where the nearby Great house is owned by
Mike Schwartz, reluctant host and a retired airplane mechanic), a guide
can take you across the Cockpits from Windsor to Troy above Balaclava. This
is a full day's hike and you should arrange for a car to meet you. On the
way you will traverse a district called Rest and Be Thankful (take the hint)
and you will pass a weird landmark known as Black Hole an immensely deep
cylindrical hole in black rock completely untypical of its surroundings.
Hiking Precautions: Hikers have been lost in the Blue Mountains
more than once. Never set out on any hike with less than three persons.
Choose experienced guides 'these can usually be recruited in village bars
if the district is remote. In the Blue Mountains, check the PARC roster
first. Sturdy walking or track shoes are adequate. And remember that in
this climate only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun ' without
There are horticultural societies in all parishes and each has
an annual Flower Show. The Mandeville Horticultural Society is 100 years
old and their show is always impressive. It is usually held in spring. The
largest and most spectacular show is that of the Jamaica Horticultural Society,
held at the National Arena in Kingston on the last weekend of April.
The Protected Areas Resource Conservation (PARC) project, is
a partnership between U.S.AID and the government of Jamaica with assistance
from international NGO's like The Nature Conservancy and Puerto Rico Conservation
Trust. It is administered locally by the Jamaican Conservation Development
Montego Bay Marine Park and the Blue Mountain/John Crow Mountain National
Park, established under the auspices of PARC, have established a conservation
framework: laws have been updated, rangers recruited, trained, given powers
of arrest and supplied with trail bikes and boats. One very positive feature
of the project is the rapport established with communities living or using
the park areas. This has been especially successful in the Blue Mountain/John
Crow Mountain park where local residents have established two tour companies
to develop the eco-tourism potential of their areas: The Top of the Mountain
Blue Mountain Tours, staffed by locals, can arrange guided tours to and
around the Peak while Blue
Mountain Adventure Tours can do the same for the Holywell/Hardwar Gap
area. To contact either call the JCDT office at (809) 922-2217, the PARC
office at (809) 927-5813-5, or the PARC mountain headquarters at Guava Ridge
at (809) 977-8044. An excellent guide to the Blue and John Crow Mountains
can also be had from PARC. It includes a table of trails with ratings from
Easy, through Moderate to Extremely Difficult and a map of the entire area.
The second phase of the PARC project will establish three more National
Parks: two marine parks in Negril and Port Antonio and a terrestrial park
covering the Black River Morass. Also scheduled for National Park status
is the Cockpit Country.
Film is expensive here; bring enough to last your stay. If you
are after human interest you may find reactions unpredictable. Many Jamaicans
object to being photographed unless they are dressed in their Sunday best.
Others object, period. Others demand a money. Others, especially schoolchildren
will ham it up for free. If you happen to have a video, you could be swamped
by people who want to get in the movies.
Horseracing has a long history in Jamaica and is still very popular.
Races at Caymanas Park draw large crowds every Wednesday and Saturday, although
there is currently much debate about the introduction of Sunday racing,
and thousands more play the Racing Pools or patronize the many off-track
betting stations. All the top trainers have their stables close to the track
and horse lovers may enjoy visiting Caymanas early in the morning to watch
Boats can be hired at most beaches and ocean front hotels. Bonafide
members of registered yacht clubs may use the facilities of the MONTEGO BAY YACHT CLUB at Montego Freeport and the ROYAL JAMAICA YACHT CLUB on the Palisadoes Road, south
of Kingston. They must produce proof of current membership and sign the
There are lighted courts and pros at most large hotels. The Manchester
Club's Tennis Week in August is one of the oldest open tournaments in the
Western Hemisphere. The governing body of local tennis is the Jamaica Lawn
Tennis Association with Headquarters at the St. Andrew Club on Marescaux
Road in Kingston.
Cricket is a national obsession, especially during a Test Match
when every ear is glued to a radio to check the fortunes of the West Indies
Eleven. International Test Matches and Inter-Caribbean Shell Shield and
Red Stripe Cup Matches are played at Sabina Park in Kingston. Other matches
are played year round and islandwide at Sports Clubs, on village greens
and sometimes in the middle of the road.
Kingston offers vibrant theatrical entertainment of high professional
standard. The WARD THEATRE downtown is the venue
for the annual pantomime which lasts from Boxing Day to April and for the
annual Ward Season of Excellence which includes dance and drama from overseas.
The LITTLE THEATRE on Tom Redcam Avenue is the
showcase of Jamaican talent and home of the internationally acclaimed groups
the National Dance Theatre Company and Jamaican Folk Singers. Year round
there is always a choice of three or four "rootsy" plays at small
uptown theatres like The Barn on Oxford Road. Visitors may have some problems
understanding the dialect. Persevere.