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Kingston, Jamaica

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Did You Know … ?

  • Spanish Town is the oldest continuously occupied city in the Western Hemisphere, from about 500 A.D.
  • Kingston is the largest English-speaking city in the Americas south of Florida.
  • The city’s Hope Gardens, at 2,000 acres, is the largest botanical garden in the Caribbean.
  • Port Royal, once a haven to pirates, is the only sunken city in the Western Hemisphere.
  • The 1819 Old Naval Hospital in Port Royal was a prefabricated building; its cast iron sections were made in England.

Reggae’s birthplace

Kingston is Jamaica’s capital, as well as its business and financial center. It is the country’s largest city with features, the good and the troublesome, typically attached to large urban areas.

Viewed differently, Kingston has a tropical climate and its fair share of palm trees, boasts mountains and rain forests at its back and faces the world’s seventh-largest harbor. It sits on Jamaica’s southeast coast, and the Caribbean lies just beyond the harbor’s mouth.

So, it has some tourist appeal. It offers several sites for divers, plus a selection of beaches on the coast fairly close by — but it is not essentially a beach destination. Its main claim on the tourist’s attention relates to history and the arts, especially music. It has more good museums, galleries and historic sites than any other destination on the island.

Port Royal, at the mouth of Kingston’s harbor, was at the center of British merchant trade — and was known as the wickedest city on Earth. However, in 1692 a massive earthquake pushed two-thirds of the settlement into the sea. Survivors founded Kingston.

Itineraries with a history focus take in the above-ground remains of Port Royal, which include the 17th century Fort Charles. Such itineraries include Spanish Town to Kingston’s west, the former capital first settled by Europeans in 1534, and Kingston’s downtown heritage, including architectural showpieces like Headquarters House, the former seat of government, and Devon House mansion.

Cultural institutions include uniquely Jamaican theater and folk choirs, the National Art Gallery and museums devoted to local science and history. Shoppers also may meet resident artists and buy original artwork. The Bob Marley Museum celebrates Jamaica’s favorite son and his music, reggae.

Visitors animate their evenings listening to reggae in the city where it originated. The Trinidadian soca and other popular music forms also inform the city’s nightlife.

Walking, bird-watching or biking in the city’s gardens, parks and nearby mountains are additional options for tourists in Jamaica’s capital.

Crime is a concern in Kingston. The best advice says use taxis not public transport, beware of pickpockets, don’t walk alone at night and don’t wear expensive jewelry or watches.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Take to the streets with other revelers at the Carnival. Highlights include the soca/calypso artists and the concluding Road March, a costume parade, again with music aplenty.
  • Attend a soccer match, or a game of cricket. Place your bets (on horses, that is) at Caymanas Track Limited in Portmore.
  • Don scuba gear and explore the Texas, a U.S. Navy ship that sank in 1944. There are other reef diving sites near Lime Cay.
  • Join a guided mountain bike tour into the Blue Mountains.
  • Head to the clubs to hear reggae where it was born and soca, music imported from Trinidad — after getting guidance from your concierge on choosing safe spots and areas of town.
  • Buy the work of local artists. Arrange for private showings and tours of artists’ studios.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Call ahead to arrange a guided tour of the plant where the Daily Gleaner, Jamaica’s top newspaper, is produced.
  • If a reggae lover, visit the Bob Marley Museum. It is in a house where he once lived, and many of his songs were recorded there.
  • Follow the self-guided Downtown Kingston Heritage Tour. Do the same thing in the historic Port Royal at the mouth of Kingston’s harbor.
  • Get tickets to the National Pantomime, a far-from-silent local folk theater tradition presented seasonally at the Ward Theatre from Dec. 26 into March or April of the next year.
  • Spot rare birds at the Hollywell Recreational Park.
  • Sign on for a guided tour to a coffee plantation, such as Creighton Estate or Mavis Bank.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Tour the 19th century Devon House, a mansion converted to a museum that reveals something of Kingston’s history. Eat in one of its restaurants, and shop on site, too.
  • See the National Dance Theater Company perform at the Little Theatre. Or, hear the Jamaica Folk Singers.
  • If a beach vacation is your main plan, take an escorted day trip into the capital city.
  • Shop at the Kingston Crafts Market. Also, buy spices and coffee to take home.
  • At the Institute of Jamaica, be enlightened by its Natural History Museum, as well as by the institute’s on-site herbarium, considered one of the finest in the world.
  • While away an afternoon or more in the Hope Gardens. Attractions include the Coconut Museum, Sunken Gardens, Orchid House, the Maze and Palm Avenue.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Jamaica Tourist Board at www.visitjamaica.com