Kingston, Jamaica’s capital, lies on the fertile plains of Liguanea (pronounced Lig-a-nee — an ancient Arawak Indian name) between the cays and banks of the eastern coast and the towering Blue Mountains. In this picturesque setting has grown a city of over half a million people: a bustling, sprawling city which is a place of deep and striking contrasts.
Kingston is not the sort of resort paradise to be found on the north coast but it offers a great deal more to the traveler who seeks to gain more than a sun tan from a holiday in Jamaica.
Jamaica’s first capital under the Spanish occupation was at Spanish Town, some ten miles inland, whereas the island’s major centre of trade was at Port Royal at the edge of the harbour which is the seventh largest harbour in the world.
ACCOMMODATIONS IN KINGSTON
Visitors should not miss the rewarding drive into the Blue Mountains, home of Jamaica’s famous coffee. The route via Hope Road and Papine will take you to Newcastle, a historic fort which, in the past, has housed many famous British regiments and today is a training centre of the Jamaica Defense Force. A mile further on is Hardwar Gap in the Blue Mountain/ John Crow National Park. At Hollywell, a little further on in the park you will find trails and magnificent views which will make you glad you made the effort.
Mavis Bank, a coffee farm high up in the Blue Mountains, invites visitors to come and see how the world famous Blue Mountain Coffee is grown and processed. The drive up into the mountains is spectacular and the tour of the factory is extremely interesting. A cup of Blue Mountain Coffee sampled on its own home soil, so to speak, must be every coffee lover’s dream but Nature lovers too will enjoy this trip. 977-8005/8015
City Tours of Kingston
Any tour company in the city will offer you a tour of Kingston’s cultural and historic points of interest or you can make arrangements with an individual taxi driver. Agree to a price before setting off. Devon House should be included on every visitor’s itinerary. Situated on Hope Road, it is an old colonial mansion of outstanding elegance and architecture. King’s House next door is the residence of the Governor General. Further up Hope Road lies the Bob Marley Museum which attracts thousands of fans each year. Still further up Hope Road is Hope Botanical Gardens which also houses a small zoo with birds and animals from all over the Caribbean and the Americas. In the same area lies the campus of the University of the West Indies, surely one of the prettiest campuses in the world, nestling in the foothills of the Blue Mountains.
Lime Cay, Jamaica
Morgan’s Harbour Hotel at Port Royal offers an excellent trip out to the offshore island of Lime Cay, a favorite spot of local yachtsmen. The white sand beach and clear water that abounds with fish make skin diving and swimming memorable. 967-8075
Port Royal, Jamaica
Most of the old city of Port Royal, once the pirate capital of the New World, sank beneath the waves in a violent earthquake in 1692. Over the years much excavation work has been done to recover artifacts from this rich, but wicked town. Fort Charles, where Lord Nelson once strode the quarterdeck, still stands and the silent cannon still keep watch from its battlements. The Maritime Museum is located in Fort Charles itself while the Port Royal Archaeological and Historical Museum, which houses artifacts salvaged from the sunken city, is situated in the old Naval Hospital. To get there you can drive beyond Norman Manley International Airport or catch the ferry across the harbour.
Revolution Gallery offering ceramics, sculpture, textiles, jewelry, prints and photographs by Jamaica’s leading artists. Upcoming exhibitions not to be missed include “Scandalous Pleasures of Myth & Memory” in March 2002. In June experience “Heavy Metal.” 929-0045
This gallery at Devon House carries unique pottery pieces from its studio in Ocho Rios (see the Ocho Rios section for details of the studio tour).
Mayfair Day Spa; a day spent here will rejuvenate body and mind.
Parks & Sanctuaries
BOON HALL OASIS
4 River Road
Hours: daily 7-5; Free
This four-acre park offers picnicking, a plant nursery waterfall and views of the hills of St. Andrews. There’s a brunch sold here
GUARDSMAN’S SERENITY FISHING & WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
40 minutes east of Kingston via A1/A2 west
A popular new stop with Kingston school groups, this sanctuary was established by the executive chairman of the Guardsman Group, a security companyin Kingston. A visit to the site starts with a tractor ride through mango orchards and vegetable plots, then a visit to the animal collection, with exotic birds and a petting zoo. Food lovers will be interested in the sanctuary for another reason: local dishes are served for lunch and dinner in the restaurant. Curried goat, barbecue or jerked chicken, oxtail and other local dishes are available for US $8-10. You can even fish for red tilapia and have the restaurant clean and bag your catch .
BOB MARLEY MUSEUM
56 Hope Road, Kingston
Hours: 9 am-5 pm, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday;
12:30-5 pm, Wednesday and Saturday
Marley fans shouldn’t miss this shrine to the legendary reggae superstar, housed in what was his home. A visit here includes a tour and a movie about Marley’s life. The museum is a must for Marley fans, although others may want to skip it.
INSTITUTE OF JAMAICA
12 East Street
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 9-4:30
This natural history museum and library covers the island’s rich history from its days as a home for the Arawak Indians to modern times.
26 Hope Road, New Kingston
Hours: 9 am-5 pm, Tuesday through Saturday
This restored great house is in the heart of New Kingston, near the Terra Nova Hotel. The home was built in 1889 for L10,000 by a Venezuelan gold millionaire, whose familylived here until the 1920s.
Today, the historic structure is filled with antiques and antique reproductions from the 1880s (done by Things Jamaican). Tours, given every 15 minutes, include a look at the master bedroom, the sewing room, with an illegal gambling room upstairs (the stairs are hidden in the ceiling), a sunny ballroom with relief ceiling, original chandelier and an English piano.
NATIONAL ART GALLERY
Roy West Building, Kingston Mall
Hours: 11-4:30 weekdays only
This downtown art gallery contains some real treasures. The best-known artists represented here are Edna Manley (an accomplished artist and wife of the former prime minister, Norman Manley) and Kapo, whose religious images have received a lot of attention.
ROCKFORD MINERAL BATHS
A-1 east of Kingston
Hours: daily, 6:30 am-6 pm
These natural springs emerged after the earthquake of 1907. Today you can soak in a whirlpool tub fed by the mineral waters; call ahead to book the baths.
JAMAICA CONVENTION CENTRE
Admission for tours
This is well worth a peek, even if you just drive by. The center is one of the Caribbean’s leading facilities for meetings that require simultaneous translation services due to its role as headquarters for the International Seabed Authority, an arm of the United Nations. It is capable of working with six languages: English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Russian and Arabic. Built to UN specifications, the building is located on the waterfront in downtown Kingston. Around-the-clock security protects the center, which includes a print shop, press area to accommodate up to 40 journalists, clinic, business services office, delegate lounges and a cafeteria with seating for up to 250 attendees.
WORLD’S END LTD
Hours: 10 am-4 pm, Monday-Friday; 12-4 pm, Saturday and Saturday
876-977-5941 or 929-3564
Even non rum-drinkers will find this tour worthwhile, thanks to the beautiful location. World’s End produces Sangster’s Old Jamaican Liqueurs high in the Blue Mountains. Factory tours are followed by a taste of the potent and well-respected rum. Worlds End is also recommended for birders, who may spot Jamaica’s national bird, the doctor bird.
BLUE MOUNTAINS-JOHN CROW NATIONAL PARK
B1 to Newcastle is the main route.
No telephone, free
At 300 square miles (193,260 acres), the park is filled with sites to challenge adventure travelers of all types – hikers, birders, mountain bikers. The country’s second largest national park has three distinct areas: the Blue Mountains Peak (the highest mountain in Jamaica); the Clydesdale Forest Reserve (a wilderness filled with mahogany, eucalyptus, and blue mahoe); and the easily accessible Hollywell Recreational Park (see below).
One of the best ways to experience the park (which in many areas is so heavily forested you need a machete to hack your way through) is with a guide. We’ve listed several qualified guides in the Guided Tours section above.
HOLLYWELL RECREATIONAL PARK
Two miles from Newcastle
Hours: 9:30-6:30 daily
Tucked high in the mountains, this park is a great place to escape from the heat. With great views, Hollywell offers picnicking and hiking.
CAYMANAS GOLF CLUB
Caymanas was Jamaica’s first major championship 18-hole course, dating from the 1950s. It was designed by Howard Watson and is six miles west of Kingston. A round of golf costs US $53; rentals are available. Facilities include a snack bar, carts and a pro shop.
This downtown course dates back to 1920, when it was designed by Scotsman Stanley Thompson, mentor of Robert Trent Jones. The short course is a par 70, and a round costs US $35; rentals are available. There’s a clubhouse, restaurant, bar and pro shop.
Tennis players can hone their skills at several courts, including:
Le Meridien Pegasus(876-926-3690)
Hilton New Kingston(876-926-5430).
Kingston’s beaches are busy. There have been some crime problems on them in recent years, so we recommend caution. The Hellshire area, southwest of the city, has some of the best-known area beaches, including Gunboat Beach and Fort Clarence. A LIST OF BEACHES
With Kingston’s many cultural offerings, its dive opportunities are sometimes overlooked. The area has a good variety of sites, though, ranging from wreck dives to reefs. The Buccaneer Scuba Club, 876- 967-8061, is the local operator. Sites include:
- Cayman Trader. This wreck is good for all levels of divers. At 33-55 feet, the merchant trade vessel is covered in sea life and nurse sharks are often seen.
- The Edge. At over 100 feet, this is an advanced dive. It offers excellent visibility and great photo opportunities.
- Texas Wreck. This US naval ship was sunk here in 1944. Today it’s an advanced dive (over 100 feet), with lots of black coral.
- Wreck Reef. At 50-80 feet, this site has both natural and man-made attractions. Look for old cannons near the site.
CASTLETON BOTANICAL GARDENS
A3 north of Kingston
Hours: 9-5 daily
These longtime gardens feature many native species, as well as some that have been introduced. For the price of a tip, you can enjoy a guided tour of the extensive collection; you’ll also see plenty of birdlife here.
HOPE BOTANICAL GARDENS AND ZOO
Hope Road, next to the University of the West Indies Mona campus
This 50-acre getaway is the largest botanical garden in the West Indies. The small zoo features Caribbean wildlife. The site was originally the Hope Estate, founded by Richard Hope, an English army officer, in the mid-1600s. Featured exhibits include orchid gardens, cacti gardens and Palm Avenue, which displays sago palms. It’s a pleasant spot to spend an hour or so.
ROYAL BOTANICAL GARDENS AT HOPE
Hours: weekdays 10-5, weekends 10-5:30
These gardens were donated by the Hope family. Spanning 50 acres, the gardens are filled with tropical plants and trees, most labeled.
Kingston is a good home base from which to enjoy day trips, short drives out of the city that can give you a peek at the rich history of this island.
Follow Norman Manley Highway to the airport and continue as the road becomes Main Road, or take a ferry from downtown Kingston at Princess Street (call the Kingston JTB office for times).
Once a wild hedonistic pirates’ den (Hedonism II and III weren’t the first to fill those shoes on this island!), Port Antonio’s rollicking fun came to a halt on June 7, 1692, when a violent earthquake shook the region and pushed Port Royal into the sea. The city became the only sunken city in the Western hemisphere and has been nicknamed the “Pompeii of the Caribbean.”
The top attraction is Fort Charles (876-967-8059, open daily 9-5, admission charged). Built in 1662, this is the oldest building in Port Royal and is from the days of British occupation. The remaining portion of the fort includes a maritime museum and Giddy House, tilted by an earthquake in 1907.
14 miles west of Kingston on A1
This was once Santiago de la Vega, the island’s capital city under Spanish rule. Those early explorers came to Jamaica in search of precious metals and finally gave up the island to the English in 1655. Spanish Town is an excellent day trip for history buffs. Attractions include Jamaican People’s Museum of Crafts and Technology(home of many vintage farm implements, musical instruments and pottery) and St. James Cathedral(St. Jago de la Vega), the oldest Anglican cathedral beyond England’s borders. Built in 1523, the historic church is worth a peek and is open daily; admission is free. The cathedral is filled with memorials to former Jamaican governors; outside the chapel lie many historic graves dating back to Jamaica’s earliest days.