Jamaica: Don’t miss a beat on your getaway

Reggae isn’t just the addictive anthem of Jamaica. It’s a metaphor for the island’s outlook on life—at once relaxed and energized, realistic and optimistic, lyrical and empowered. This uplifting spirit—alongside the photogenic beaches, lush nature, rich culture and warm hospitality—is part of what attracts so many travelers to pursue their #vacationgoals here.

Turquoise shores in Jamaica

But there are more reasons to put Jamaica at the top of your list this season, starting with this: thanks to airport upgrades and ever-expanding flight service (20 U.S. airports offer nonstop routes), it’s a destination where your getaway can start from the moment you touch down. Once you’re on the island, Jamaica’s always-on attractions are the ideal ingredients for a much-needed reboot. Meanwhile, authentically Jamaican summer and fall events give culture-, cuisine- and live music-seeking travelers a reason to plan a trip ASAP.

From start to finish, here’s how to soak in maximum vacation vibes on your getaway.

The airport is part of the vacation

Let’s start by pointing out that Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay is consistently ranked among the top airports in the Caribbean—it’s been named the “Caribbean’s Leading Airport” by the World Travel Awards 15 years in a row, for example. But rather than rest on its laurels, MBJ keeps investing in enhancements and expansions. In 2023, the airport moved over to a more efficient digitized passenger experience and added the world’s first Bob Marley-branded restaurant to its lineup of dining options. It made improvements to its runway and taxi areas, too.

Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay

The icing on the cake, though, is the airport’s relatively affordable VIP lounge and fast-track service (also available in Kingston), which makes arrivals and departures here feel like unwind time rather than a chore. This service literally begins at the gate, where a designated greeter whisks you through an expedited security, customs and immigration process so you can begin your vacation (and get the VIP vibes flowing) sooner.

The service is even more necessary for departures, where you’ll enjoy both fast-track service and the opportunity to extend the vacation pampering with access to a complimentary premium bar, newly expanded buffet, a kids playroom, small spa and even shower facilities (clutch if you came straight from the beach and still have sand in your toes).    

A new direct route to Ocho Rios

Jamaica was already one of the most accessible Caribbean destinations for American travelers. Now, a brand-new American Airlines flight route from Miami to Ocho Rios has made it even more convenient to explore the island’s diverse regions.

Blue Hole, Ocho Rios

Set on Jamaica’s north coast, about 60 miles east of Montego Bay, Ocho Rios is a former fishing village turned resort area. It’s home to a variety of boutique inns and beach hotels—including a handful of luxury all-inclusive resorts. Meanwhile, nature attractions like the epic Blue Hole—a turquoise swimming hole found within a series of waterfalls and natural pools—plus famed Dunns River Falls make it an ideal spot for those eager to explore the island’s raw beauty.   

Feel the heartbeat of Jamaica at signature events

It’s no secret that the people of Jamaica have an intriguing and proud cultural heritage—just ask UNESCO, which added the island’s reggae music to the Representative List of the Tangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2018. In addition to creating rhythms and melodies that have captivated the world, Jamaican people are known for their cultural diversity, embodying the nation’s motto: “Out of Many, One People.” From food to art, architecture to language, you’ll find influences from the island’s indigenous Taíno people, African countries, India, Spain, China, Portugal, Britain and many more cultures.  

Reggae Sumfest in Montego Bay

If you can steal away this summer, there’s still time to join in on events that bring the music and culture of Jamaica to the fore. Reggae Sumfest (July 14-20) is one of the most anticipated festivals on the island, and one of the largest reggae events in the world. The mega-fest includes two nights of shows on the main stage (held at the 7,000-capacity Catherine Hall Stadium in Montego Bay), where legends of the reggae and larger music world will demonstrate their craft. YG Marley (Lauren Hill’s son and Bob Marley’s grandson), Babyface, Capleton and many more internationally known acts are currently slated to demonstrate reggae’s diverse sounds during the 31st edition of the showcase.

Jamaica Rum Festival in Montego Bay

The events leading up to the concerts are wide ranging—kicking off with a family-friendly community fair, heating up with a DJ-fueled “street party” and lighting up with an all-white dress code soirée, to name a few. Also on the weeklong agenda is a day-long rum festival (July 18), starring immersive Jamaican rum culture experiences and also shining a spotlight on the nation’s cuisine. Music at the rum event will be headlined by Jamaica native Beenie Man of “Who Am I (Sim Simma)” fame, performing under his given name, Moses Davis, plus a mashup of music styles, including EDM, Afrobeats, dancehall and—of course—reggae.

There’s a big summer festival in Negril, as well. Now in its 15th year, the music- and fashion-focused Dream Wknd events (Aug. 2-6) alternate between all-day and all-night parties at various venues along the turquoise shoreline of Seven Mile Beach. Each gathering has its own themed dresscode (all-white, swimwear or sportswear, for example). But if you’d like a taste of Jamaica’s Carnival atmosphere outside of the larger festivities traditionally held in April, you’ll want to attend the final night of the extra-long “weekend,” when Carnival wear is the prescribed garb.

Jamaica Food & Drink Festival

More interested in exploring Jamaica’s gastronomic traditions? Kingston’s Jamaica Food & Drink Festival (Nov. 7-10) is just the ticket. The island’s most celebrated chefs—along with wine and spirit connoisseurs—converge at the picturesque Hope Botanical Gardens to put on a 4-day smorgasbord of authentic Jamaican and global flavors. Details of the 2024 happenings are still in the works, but previous events have included fire dancing and other dazzling visual acts on top of the delicious bites and libations—plus, of course, live music performances. 

Experience more of Jamaica’s greatest hits

Even if you’re not able to sync your trip with one of the island’s famed annual events, authentically Jamaican experiences await any time of year. The electric-blue waters that ring the island are one of the main attractions—presenting as gentle waves on the island’s western and northern shores and surf-ready swells on the eastern end of the island.

Jamaica is home to seemingly endless beaches

The nature-rich South Coast, on the other hand, is home to laidback fishing villages and tranquil beaches where the pace is deliciously slow. In each of these regions, you’ll find a variety of accommodations: 5-star adults-only retreats, family-friendly resorts, boutique inns and sprawling vacation villas.

A Montego Bay resort

Many hotels and all-inclusive resorts provide ample opportunity to experience Jamaica’s signature culinary creations: besides jerk chicken, the island’s ever-popular masterpiece, don’t miss the opportunity to try more adventurous dishes like ackee and saltfish—the national dish, composed of the ackee fruit (a member of the soapberry family, as are lychees) and salted cod. It’s not uncommon to find this savory combination on breakfast menus, though the versatile meal can be eaten any time of day.

Fresh tropical fruits in Jamaica

You’ll taste the island’s Indian influences in recipes like curry goat and roti flatbread, and get a sense of its love for satisfying stews and soups with bowls of hearty oxtail stew plus rich and spicy pepper pot soup, among others. At beach bars, street stalls and restaurants, you’ll have the chance to sample island specialties fresh from local kitchens—patties stuffed with spiced meats or vegetables (vegetarians, take note: there are quite a few veg-friendly Jamaican foods), crispy and aromatic escovitch fish (spiced fried snapper) and toasty slices of bammy, a flatbread made from cassava root—a snack that hearkens back to the island’s Native inhabitants. All this flavorful fare pairs exceptionally well with a bottle of Red Stripe or a Jamaican rum punch. 

Devon House in Kingston

Historical sites like Seville Heritage Park in St. Ann’s Bay, the site of the first Spanish settlement on the island and a former plantation; plus Devon House in Kingston, a colonial-style mansion built by the island’s first Black millionaire, offer the chance to peer into Jamaica’s layered past. Meanwhile, outposts like the Rocklands Bird Sanctuary in Montego Bay and the Black River Safari on the South Coast allow nature-seeking travelers to connect to the island’s diverse animal and plant life

At your journey’s end, the airport’s pampering fast-track service and VIP lounge can soften the sadness of your departure—plus give you a quiet moment (cocktail in hand) to start plotting your return trip. 

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