Forget the All Inclusive Resorts and the Island Tours through the window of an air-conditioned vehicle. Jamaica is the land of wood and water, and its’ beautiful and diverse scenery and people demand to be explored.
What makes Jamaica unique goes to the very heart of our shared experiences. Whether you’re visiting for the first time or back on the rock yet again, you can’t truly say you’ve been to Jamaica without doing these things:
6. Take a minibus, coaster bus or Taxi
I’m not talking about a taxi or bus that you call to take you to your destination in air-conditioned comfort. No Uber around here. I’m talking about true public transportation, where you stand on the side of the road and wait for a vehicle. Be warned, though, that this Jamaican experience is not for the faint-hearted. Jamaican taxi and bus drivers are notoriously crass and can be “shottas” on the road, dilly-dallying through traffic and making roads where none previously existed.
Driving with many of these taxis and buses can be an almost spiritual experience, as you may spend most of the time begging God to bring you home in one piece. What makes travelling with them memorable though is the people. With such a mix of individuals coming together, the journey can either be filled with laughter, drama or contention – you just never know what you’re going to get!
5. Attend a “Dance”
Dance in this context is not referring to a formal with tuxedos and gowns. “Dance”, in a Jamaican scenario, means a party; more specifically – a street party; on the side of the road – not in a club or any such type of establishment. It may sound like quite a stretch for a good time, but don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!
Dances in Jamaica attract fun-loving citizens from all walks of life, with the highlight of these affairs being the selectors (Disc Jockeys), cameramen and the dancers. High energy and full of vibes, a street dance will expose you to facets of Jamaican culture, music, night-life and fashion that can’t be replicated elsewhere.
Consider this Jamaican experience even more complete if police officers show up and “lock off the dance” (Shut down the party), or if a patron “busses a blank” during the affair.
Check out Boomshots for a visual of the Jamaican Dance scene:http://www.boomshots.com/index.php/2016/05/kingston-nights-robert-cooper-photo-essay/
4. Try Devon House “I Scream”
In 2011, National Geographic named Devon House “the 4th Best Place to enjoy ice cream in the world“. You read that right. In the whole, wide world. This is no small feat. Once you taste any of their over 20 flavours of ice cream, though, you will see just how this accolade was earned.
Devon House “I Scream” is also an institution in Jamaica. Families, friends, lovers and colleagues alike can be seen congregating at Devon House on any given day of the week. The lines are mostly long, but operations are organized and the servers are quick. There is a park on site too, so it is definitely a great hangout spot.
Even if you are unable to visit the actual site in Kingston for the full experience, there are several distributors across the island who serve this chilled treasure. Ask anyone, and they can lead you in the right direction.
3. Climb Dunn’s River Falls
No doubt you’ve heard this one before. Dunn’s River Falls is one of Jamaica’s premier tourist attractions, but it is treasured and frequented by locals as well. The falls extend across approximately 183 metres and it is quite a satisfying experience to make it to the top!
Along the way up there are mini falls. When you run into these, stop, find a space, sit, and enjoy a relaxing waterfall massage. Ensure that you climb the falls with a guide, though, as it will be difficult to navigate as a first-timer. This will make your experience better and more importantly – safer. Get water shoes too as sections of the rocks can be slippery.
Even if you don’t climb the falls, the water at the bottom is cool, clear and beautiful. The beach is quite scenic as well. It is often crowded though, so bear that in mind. All in all, admission prices are fairly reasonable and the experience is well worth it. Check out admission info on their website: http://www.dunnsriverfallsja.com/
Word to the unfit – be prepared to take several steps down to the beach/to the bottom of the falls.
2. Eat a Beef Patty
With crust on the outside and seasoned minced beef on the inside, the concept of the patty is simple, yet the result is absolutely divine! Every Jamaican has their preferred “brand”, whether it be Juici Patties, Tastee or Mother’s. Each of these companies puts their own spin on this classic, so, wherever you decide to have your patty eating experience, you will not be disappointed.
We’ve gotten creative with the patty too so no doubt you’ll see many spin-offs. Cheese, Shrimp, Callaloo, Bacon and Cheese, Curry Goat, Jerk Chicken, Chicken, Ackee etc. No worries – you can experiment with these later. Start with the original and work your way through. Best of all, a beef patty costs approximately $200 JMD – a small price to pay for a filling treat and an authentic Jamaican experience.
1. Partake in Sweet Treats & Old Faithfuls
To have an authentic Jamaican food experience, you must try the following:
- Jelly coconut (Meat & all) – “wash off yuh heart”. Full of electrolytes and minerals, and simply refreshing!
- Bag Juice – Not quite in the same category as the Jelly, but still an Island staple. Costing in the ballpark of $20 – $30 JMD, this is a go-to for Jamaicans of all ages and stages. As the name suggests, it is simply juice in a bag. It’s sold frozen or thawed and can be found in corner shops, supermarkets and on the roadside.
- Sweet Treats
- Gizzada, Grater Cake and Peanut Cake are all Jamaican sweet treats that every visitor should try. Both Gizzada and Grater Cake are made from dried coconuts. The latter is grated with traditional red and white colouring, and the former made with a pie-like crust. This is filled with sugared, grated coconut. Its Peanut Cake counterpart is a mixture of peanut, sugar and ginger. Cheap (between $150 – $300 JMD) and easy to find, these treats will satisfy any sweet tooth while giving a true taste of Jamaican history and heritage.
- The Old Faithfuls
- Jerk Chicken, Jerk Pork, Curry Goat, Ackee & Saltfish with Ripe/Green Plantains, Callaloo & Fried Dumplings, Rice and Peas and Mannish Water (Goat Soup) have all had their praises sung time after time, and with good reason. Flavourful and bold, these meals exemplify the richness of the Jamaican experience and culture. If you do nothing else, ensure that you have at least one of these meals before leaving the island – you won’t regret it!
Bonus Experience: Get your Hair Done
This one is specifically for the ladies. Though hairdressing did not originate in Jamaica, we have certainly perfected the art. In every nook and cranny of the island, there is a hairdresser who can slay whatever style you choose. Braid, wig or weave, short, thick, thin or difficult hair – no worries. A real Jamaican hairdresser can “ketch” it. Whether it be on the streetside downtown or in a parlour, by the time you get out of the chair, the transformation will be undeniable!
Best of all, a Jamaican hairdresser will do it for a fraction of what it costs abroad. I personally know of people who refuse to get their hair done before coming to Jamaica. They either tie it up or put on a wig, then the first stop after landing is the hairdressing parlour!