5 Reasons to Love Jamaica

by Lebawit Lily Girma

When I share with friends that I’m headed to Jamaica, gasps almost always follow, even from those who have yet to cross it off their bucket list.The name stirs up thoughts of endless, idyllic beaches and postcard-perfect sunsets. It’s an image Jamaica’s tourism board has actively cultivated for decades, and summarized in their brilliant tag line: “Once you go, you know.” The numbers don’t lie: as of 2011, an average of three million visitors descend on the island every year. Summer is still the most popular season to visit. So what is it about Jamaica that sets it apart in the Caribbean? What’s beyond those imagined and advertised romantic scenes of rum and fun in the sun?

1. The people are warm

The average Jamaican is friendly, hardworking, and loves a good time. There’s a keen sense of awareness that tourism is a key part of the economy, and most in the industry go out of their way to welcome visitors and ensure their safety. But even away from the tourist hot spots, you’ll find humble, kind and hospitable folks. There’s an infectious “no problem, mon!” attitude that’s sure to take hold of you. I haven’t found Jamaica’s level of warmth anywhere else in the Caribbean. Throw in a few words of Patois and they’ll love you even more.

Credit: Lebawit Lily Girma

Credit: Lebawit Lily Girma

2. The culture runs deep

Proud of their African ancestry, Jamaicans celebrate it throughout the year. Various Afrocentric groups are at the forefront of these events, including the Rastafarians and the Maroons. The most colourful cultural celebrations are held south of the island: at Rebel Salute, Jamaica’s biggest all-nighter Reggae concert on Maroon Day in the hills of Accompong Town, and at the Peter Tosh Day in Belmont. Besides African descendants, there are also many other ethnic groups represented on the island. The Jamaican motto captures the vibe quite succinctly: “Out of Many, One People.”

3. It’s the birthplace of Reggae

The infamous music genre was born here, as was Bob Marley. You can visit the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston, or the late artist’s birthplace in Nine Mile Village in the northern parish of St. Ann. But an even better experience is to dance to live renditions on almost any corner of the island; barefoot on the beach or at the local “cool spot.” Live bands perform several times a week, and you’re likely to catch one or more of Reggae’s top recording artists, who often return home for local shows. And I can assure you that you haven’t listened to Reggae until you’ve heard it played live in Jamaica.

Credit: Lebawit Lily Girma

Credit: Lebawit Lily Girma

4. Life is more than lying on the beach

Jamaica’s interior is as stunning as its coastline. From waterfalls to mountains and rivers, coupled with the size of the island — one of the largest in the Caribbean — there’s plenty to explore and many opportunities to get close to nature. The highways are paved and now easier to navigate, particularly along the north and east coasts. Stay in a cabin up in the Blue Mountains, then head to the fishing village of Long Bay for an overnight and afternoon swim at Reach Falls, one of Jamaica’s most stunning waterfalls. If you’re out west, be sure to cool off in fresh river water, like the one running through Steven’s Aqua Nature Park [] in Williamsfield, about an hour’s drive from Negril.

5. The food is delicious and affordable

It’s a well-known fact that Jamaica is the birthplace of jerk cuisine. Aside from getting an authentic taste of this spicy flavour thanks to plenty of roadside grills and chefs, there is much more to sample. Try the curries, the soups — from conch to cow foot — and the Ital or vegetarian dishes, usually for no more than $5 a plate. Wash it down with a cold Red Stripe Bold or, like the locals, with a warm Guinness.