Montego Bay

Known fondly as MoBay, Montego Bay is the second-largest city in Jamaica and the country's lively epicenter of tourism: Cruise ships frequent its port, and many of the visitors who arrive in Jamaica by plane land just east of Montego Bay at the Sangster International Airport. Because it's a much larger city than Jamaica's other tourist areas, Montego Bay offers more in the way of sightseeing, shopping and nightlife

The waterfront is lined with white-sand beaches, hotels and elegant resorts. Its main attractions include championship golf courses, excellent beaches, the Montego Bay Marine Park, and some classic Georgian architecture downtown. Gloucester Avenue, known locally as the Hip Strip, parallels the shore and is the commercial tourist hub.

You can easily explore downtown Montego Bay on foot if you have tolerance for vendors (keep your sense of humor). The town is almost always crowded with local shoppers and noisy with the sounds of reggae music wafting from the clubs and from car radios. Much of MoBay consists of modern structures built on land reclaimed from mangrove keys in the 1960s, but there are many fine historic buildings of note concentrated around Sam Sharpe Square.

Several elegantly restored homes from the 1700s now contain restaurants. One example is the Georgian House on Orange Street, which also has an art gallery. Northeast of downtown are the meager ruins of Fort Montego, built in 1752 on a hill overlooking the harbor. Three of the fort's 17 original cannons are still pointed out to sea.

Two of Jamaica's best-known "great houses," Rose Hall and Greenwood, are near Montego Bay. Built and lavishly furnished by English aristocrats, they recount the island's plantation history better than any history book or tour brochure. Tours of both houses are offered.

Negril

Negril, Jamaica, on the island's west coast, has morphed from a sparsely populated fishing village to the island's most popular fun-in-the-sun city. The laid-back vibe harkens back to the hippie era of the 1970s, and today Negril maintains its reputation as the most chilled-out corner of Jamaica.

The 50-mi/81-km drive southwest from Montego Bay to Negril takes about an hour along the renovated A1 Highway. The road snakes past emerald-green pastures and charming fishing villages that are nestled into coves and bounded by mangroves. Boasting the island's longest stretch of powdery white beach, Negril also lays claim to some of the finest chefs in the Caribbean, lively nightlife, spectacular underwater life and a do-as-you-dare attitude.

The famed Seven Mile Beach is home to an array of hotels and resorts, and farther down, the rocky bluffs overlooking the sea provide grandstand seats to awesome sunsets.

There are a variety of things to see and do in Negril. For natural attractions such as the Great Morass swamplands, arrange tours directly with tour companies or through your travel agent or hotel concierge. Also, excursions to areas farther afield should be planned through tour companies and resorts.

For a particularly scenic view, visit the Negril Lighthouse perched on high cliffs just southwest of town. Beneath it, snorkelers and divers can explore the dark caves. Advance notice or arrangement is not needed.

Ocho Rios

Ocho Rios, Jamaica, would seem to be Spanish for "eight rivers," but it is most likely a corruption of the Spanish word chorreras , which means "waterfalls." Jamaicans refer to it fondly as Ochi. The second-most important tourist town on the north coast, it offers the island's best shopping, plenty of regional attractions, varied nightlife and fairly good (though often crowded) beaches. It sits on the edge of the jungle in a sheltered bay with a mountainous backdrop—truly lovely.

Ocho Rios is one of Jamaica's most-visited cruise-ship ports, and many non-cruisers frequent the all-inclusive resorts in the area. Our only regret is that Ocho Rios can be crowded, especially when the cruise ships are in port, and as it continues to develop, it is losing the charm that made it so popular in the first place.

Though Ocho Rios, the garden parish, is surrounded by natural beauty—waterfalls, tropical gardens and jungled mountains—the town itself is little more than a hodgepodge of modern strip malls and shopping centers catering primarily to tourists. You can easily tour the town on foot in an hour or so, and if shopping is what you're after, everything is conveniently located on Main Street.


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