Things to do in Jamaica
Excerpted from the book, Tour Jamaica, by Margaret Morris


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 St. Elizabeth.


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 Town.

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.

  1. 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 longer.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 a hat.


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 Trust.

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 exercise gallops.


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 Visitors Book.


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. 

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