Photo Credit: Lyncoln Miller
13 Things To Remember Before You Get Ready To Visit Jamaica
If you’re planning to visit Jamaica, you’re in for a treat, as it’s a star on the Caribbean stage. The people are friendly, the scenery is gorgeous, and the food is chock-full of flavor. The island was initially inhabited by the Arawaks, who tried to hold their own against colonial invasion, but were vanquished by violence and disease. It was first conquered by the Spanish, before they were defeated by the English and sent packing to Cuba.
While some remnants of the colonial era remain, Jamaica has its own, distinct personality, and takes pride in it. It’s the birthplace of reggae and dancehall, and quite a few artists in these genres attained international stardom. Aside from Bob Marley, easily the most famous, there’s Shaggy, Sean Paul, Elephant Man, Beenie Man and others. The list of tourist attractions is also pretty extensive, including Dunn’s River Falls, YS Falls, the Blue Mountains, the Appleton Rum Estate and Rick’s Café.
Sip a rum punch or a Red Stripe while reading these 13 things to remember when you visit Jamaica.
1. The Island Has Rich History And Symbolism
The motto of Jamaica, which is printed on its coat of arms, is Out Of Many, One People. Most of the inhabitants are of African descent, but there are also those of Asian, European and Middle-Eastern heritage.
Jamaica gained independence from British rule in August 1962, allowing it to elect its first prime minister, and take charge of its own affairs.
For now, Jamaica remains part of the British Commonwealth, but that may change should it decide to follow Barbados’ lead. Barbados cut ties with Britain, and is on track to become a republic.
A saying that sums up the resilience of the Jamaican people is, wi likkle but we tallawah! It means we are small but mighty, and we shouldn’t be underestimated.
The national flower is the blossom produced by the Lignum Vitae, Latin for “Tree of Life.”
The national bird is the hummingbird, called “Doctor Bird” by locals for its long, needle-like beak.
2. You'll Hear Plenty Of Jamaican Patois
If you’ve ever heard a Jamaican speak Patois when they are in an excitable mood, it’s quite a treat for the ears. You’ll recognize some of what they say, as there are English words, but the African and Creole influences are heavy.
Here are some common Patois sayings to use on your trip:
Wah gwan? “What’s going on?”
Wait nuh!– “Hold on!”
Where yuh deh?– “Where are you?”
Mi deh yah– Literal translation is “I’m here,” but it means “I’m OK.”
When you are expressing disbelief or surprise, you can say: cockafart!
Need to swear? Bumbaclaat or rassclaat will do. Some Jamaicans will shorten these to bumba! or rass! Be careful who is around when you say them, as they are quite vulgar.
Jamaicans that live inna bush or in the country or mountains, have their own twist on Patois that even other locals have difficulty understanding.
3. There Are Some Great Proverbs And Sayings
Jamaicans have witty proverbs and sayings about life. Some include:
When yuh throw stone inna pig pen di one dat squeal is di one dat get lick. This is a variation of hit dogs holler.
Ben di tree while it young, cause when it old it a go bruk. Teach children discipline while they are young and impressionable, because if you do it when they’re older, it might be too late.
Duppy know who fi frighten. Bullies will pick on those who are defenseless. A duppy is a ghost.
Me old but meh nuh cold. I may be old, but I’m not dead, so don’t disregard me.
And just for fun. Sanka, yuh ded? Ya’ mon! Self explanatory.
4. The Beaches Are Gorgeous
Jamaica is home to beautiful beaches and coves, and this is just a fraction of an exhaustive list.
Negril offers Seven Mile Beach, Bloody Bay Beach, and Bourbon Beach.
In Montego Bay, there’s Doctor’s Cave Beach, Cornwall Beach and Buccaneer Beach (great for sunsets and families).
In and near Ocho Rios: Turtle Beach, and James Bond Beach (where Honey Ryder and Bond meet in Dr. No). There’s also Dunn’s River Falls Beach, which is often overshadowed by the falls.
5. Driving Is An Experience
Driving in Jamaica is done on the left side of the street, and don’t be surprised if you encounter some winding roads, especially as you venture into the mountains.
If there’s been heavy rain, or some kind of natural disaster, these can make the roads even more perilous. Some of them are poorly lit, so avoid driving at night if you can.
Be sure to only take taxis from reputable, licensed companies recommended by the airport, resort, or your villa.
6. The Food is Varied and Delicious
The national dish is ackee and saltfish, which is typically served at breakfast, but some eat it later in the day. This can be accompanied by fried dumplings or roasted breadfruit.
Other culinary winners include oxtail, curry chicken, curry goat, jerk chicken, brown stew chicken and escovitch fish. You’ll find these just about everywhere.
They are commonly served with rice and peas or provisions, which refers to yams, green banana, plantain and cassava.
7. Its Flag Colors Are Unique
Jamaica is the only country in the world that doesn’t have red, blue or white in its flag.
According to Jamaica Information Service, “the flag was unfurled and hoisted” in the wee hours of August 6th, 1962. It had been designed about a year earlier in a national flag competition.
The black triangles represent “the strength and creativity of the people.” The green “signifies hope and agricultural resources.” Lastly, the gold indicates “the natural beauty of the sunlight.”
8. It Isn't A Gay Friendly Destination
If you go to Jamaica with your same-sex partner, discretion is your friend. Save the hand holding, kissing, and other PDA for when you have privacy.
The homophobia is a residual of British imperialism. There are still archaic laws on the books against gay sex, and disgust of gay men in particular is sadly common.
Gay women face their own share of prejudice, but it’s generally easier for them to disguise their romantic relationships as friendships. If two women want to book a hotel room together, few will think anything is amiss.
In 1864, the Offenses Against The Person Act was created, condemning “buggery” and “gross indecency.” It called for offenders to do hard labor and spend years in prison.
Human Rights Watch reported in February that “the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called on Jamaica to repeal laws prohibiting consensual same- sex conduct.”
Jamaica has the chance to turn a new page, but it won’t be easy. LGBT+ Jamaicans have reported ostracism and worse for years, and some have fled to other countries for safety.
Don’t be surprised if you hear references to killing batty bwoys (a derisive term for gay men) in popular dancehall songs.
9. There's Some Good Alcohol
Nothing like sipping an ice-cold Red Stripe on the beach on a beautiful afternoon. This crisp, light lager is in a stubby brown glass bottle.
As for the liquor, grab some Appleton Rum, Wray & Nephew and Myers’s Rum. Some can be used to make rum punch, or you can sip them straight.
10. Try Street Food, It's Delicious
There are fabulous restaurants on the island, but your experience would be incomplete without trying some roadside grub at least once.
Street side vendors sell fried fish, peppered shrimp, jerk chicken, festivals (a kind of sweet, fried dumpling), fried fish, bammy (a kind of flatbread) and sometimes desserts like gizzada, a coconut pastry.
11. Support Local Businesses Whenever You Can
Jamaicans at all levels of society have an entrepreneurial spirit.
Tourism is the lifeblood of the Jamaican economy, but supporting humble, local businesses is just as important.
This could be the man selling food on the side of the road, or the woman braiding hair on the beach.
The Jamaica Observer stated that small businesses are “paramount to moving the economy forward,” and therefore, it’s in the country’s best interest to support them where possible.
12. The Accomodations Are Diverse
All-inclusive resorts include: Moon Palace Jamaica, Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall, RIU Ocho Rios, and of course, Sandals, among others.
Are you an adventurous single person or part of a fun-loving couple? Check out Hedonism.
Looking for a place to take the family? The Franklyn D. Resort and Spa offers a free vacation nanny to all families with small children.
You can also check out Airbnb or stay at a private villa. It all depends on what you’re willing to spend.
13. Jamaicans Leave Their Mark On Athletics
We mentioned several famous Jamaicans already, but let’s shout out the athletes who changed sports forever.
Usain Bolt stunned the world as a track star. He made it look so effortless; flashing his winning smile as he cruised over the finish line, leaving his competitors in the dust.