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Montego Bay, Jamaica

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Did You Know … ?

  • The Greenwood great house was built by the Barretts of Wimpole Street, London.
  • Rose Hall is a “calendar house,” with 365 windows, 52 doors and 12 bedrooms.
  • The city’s name is based on Bahia de Manteca, literally Bay of Lard.
  • Jamaica’s first tourist attraction (1906) was Doctor’s Cave Beach — which now has no cave.
  • The city’s Reggae Sumfest is the world’s largest reggae music festival.

Sun ‘n’ fun — and great houses

The largest city on Jamaica’s north coast, Montego Bay is the epicenter for the island’s tourism business, in large part because of its bay, beaches and the sea itself. Those were key factors in the popularization of the country’s first tourist attraction, Doctor’s Cave Beach — plus the fact a medical doctor claimed the waters had curative powers.

But, Montego Bay is one of those Caribbean cities with more attributes than meet the eye. Aside from the de rigueur sun and sand, as well as the bonus of mountains in the interior, it has history. Mimicking the country’s story, the city’s tale encompasses colonialism and plantations, slavery and a slave uprising, and finally, independence and development of a post-colonial identity.

Visitors may stroll the downtown to see classic Georgian houses, the 18th century St. James Parish Church and Sam Sharpe Square, which is named for the leader of the failed 1831 slave revolt. But, among historic sites, the area’s plantations and their great houses are the most popular with tourists. Some of the mansions are on working plantations, giving visitors an opportunity to look at plantation living in the 21st century.

Just the same, the main reasons North Americans visit are weather, beaches and a wide range of activities. They come for diversions as low key as sipping cocktails on a sightseeing cruise and swinging a golf club or as vigorous as mountain biking, scuba diving and windsurfing.

At night, there is the Hip Strip (on Gloucester Avenue) for restaurants, music, dancing and live entertainment. Most Monday nights, there are street parties. Montego Bay also hosts music and other festivals that add to the destination’s lure.

The city boasts a rich menu for shopping, including several craft markets where customers can bargain and pay with U.S. dollars.

Top class inclusive resorts, which accommodate most of the city’s North American vacationers, line the beaches, but the area is seeing growth in the number of visitors arriving via cruise ship. The Freeport pier is three miles west of downtown. A new cruise terminal opened in early 2011 at Falmouth, 25 miles east of Montego Bay.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Take an ATV or Jeep safari, or forget the motors and head to the hills on a mountain bike.
  • Make a long night of it at the Hip Strip. Hear lots of reggae or whatever rhythm keeps your motor running. (Come in July and make the Reggae Sumfest part of your plan.)
  • Take a dive and see the coral reefs and colorful fish at Montego Bay’s Marine Park.
  • Above-the-water choices include parasailing and windsurfing.
  • Eat a typical Jamaican breakfast of salt fish and ackee (a yellow fruit) along with a side of callaloo (a leaf vegetable) and pepper sauce. And, later in the day, sample rundown. That’s food, a dish made with fish, a sauce of coconut milk and seasonings.
  • Schedule your visit in January for the Air Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival or February for Bob Marley Week. Or, save your festival frame of mind for Jamaica’s Carnival, which can be March or April.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Get married at the Tryall Club resort, which is a former great house. The site was a coconut plantation and the property is anchored by the plantation’s Georgian great house, built in 1834.
  • Charter a fishing boat and angle for blue marlin.
  • At Rockland’s Bird Feeding Station in nearby Anchovy, let a bright green streamertail hummingbird perch on your finger and drink sugar water.
  • Go horseback riding in the mountains or at the beach, or both as part of the same outing.
  • Schedule a day trip to the inland town of Appleton in order to tour the rum distillery there. Sample the goods and bring some home (in checked luggage).
  • Buy fresh seafood from the open market at Pier 1’s Seafood Sunday event and tell the chef how you want your meal prepared.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Go river rafting on the tranquil Martha Brae River in Falmouth.
  • Play golf. The area abounds with championship courses.
  • Choose one or more of the area’s plantation houses for a sightseeing tour. One belonged to relatives of Elizabeth Barrett Browning; another, legend says, belonged to a notorious murderess. Some visits include a look at a working plantation.
  • Take a sunset cruise at a place called Luminous Lagoon, so called because it emits an eerie light at night.
  • This piece of Jamaican coast is noted for its beaches. Give them your time.
  • Take advantage of numerous options for duty-free shopping. In addition, shop for cigars, spices and the renowned Jamaican coffee.

Additional Resources

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