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Jamaica 101

Stella, my 9-year-old daughter, and I are going to Jamaica next week. I know … awesome, right?! We are really excited, despite the realization that we actually know very little about this country.

So, won’t you join us as we teach ourselves a touch of geography, history, and social studies?

Where in the world?

First of all, the WHERE! Below is map showing the island of Jamaica in red. From our home town of Ottawa, if you were to catch a direct flight, you’d be looking at about 4 hours in the air. So, relatively speaking, it’s a quick and easy jaunt. About the same distance as Cuba.

Did someone say warm?

Like most other Carribean islands, the weather is extremely attractive to Canadians when the snow is flying. It’s a popular destination for tourists, with peak season ending in mid-April (you know, when Spring finally starts to hit here!). Temperatures range from 26 to 30 degrees Celsius year-round.



Yes, Mom and Dad, I promise to stay safe!

After figuring out exactly where a country is in the world, I then check out the government of Canada’s travel advisories (click here for Jamaica). Now, I know, these are not for the faint of heart — some people might not travel anywhere after reading these — but I like to be informed.

The first thing that you notice when you look at these advisories is that there is a scale of recommended caution for travellers. For Jamaica, the site notes “exercise a high degree of caution.” For comparison’s sake, Mexico and Costa Rica are also classified in the same category, whereas Cuba is noted as “exercise normal security precautions.”

The most sobering fact about Jamaica is that it has one of the highest murder rates in the world. I was also disturbed to learn that the country is considered “adamantly homophobic.”

Christopher Columbus sure got around!

This is about as much history I can absorb at this hour of the night, so forgive the brevity: In 1494, Christopher Columbus claimed Jamaica for Spain. Spanish settlers brought in slaves, and according to Wikipedia, by the 19th century (Britain had taken over in 1655), Jamaica’s heavy reliance on slavery resulted in a population of blacks outnumbering whites by a ratio of 20 to 1. It was not until 1962 that Jamaica attained full independence.

The place is incredibly beautiful

More than 1.3 million foreign tourists visit Jamaica every year and there’s a good reason for that! In addition to a strong culture of great music and food, the place is incredibly beautiful.

I’ll let a few photos from the National Geographic site speak for themselves …

Photo: Policeman riding motorcycle by ocean

Photo: Man leading horse on sandy beach

Photo: Guide leading four tourists through river in small boat

My photos won’t be spectacular like these due to my lack of photographic talent, but I will be sure to share our mother-daughter adventure with you!

Have you been to Jamaica before? What was your first impression, and what was your lasting impression?


  1. How fun! We went to Jamaica 2 years ago (our first travels with V) and I will admit I was slightly more tentative to venture out than I may have been if it had just been Bill and I travelling. Where are you staying? Resort/hotel/private apartment? I think the majority of the violent crime is centred around 2 cities, although drugs were readily offered even on our resort.
    While the numbers are shocking by our Canadian standards, things like the murder rate are getting much better in Jamaica –

    • Coffee with Julie says:

      Hi Neeroc,
      Yes, I should have perhaps included more details when I wrote the post last night. I did note that the murder rates are going down, and I also noted that tourists are rarely caught in these stats unless they are in a city and caught in a cross-fire of guns. Even when a tourist is approached by a criminal, it is for basic robbery and rarely ever turns violent (from what I can glean from reading online).
      As for us, we’ll be in a resort far away from the action of the city and I don’t actually feel concerned for our personal safety at all. However, it was a shocking stat to learn and read since I didn’t actually know about the high murder rates before. Also, that male homosexual acts are illegal! 
      Thanks for popping in to share some thoughts – really appreciate it!

      • Ah, so it sounds like you’ll have a similar experience then. We stayed at a resort in Ochos Rios and didn’t leave once, so while it was lovely temperature, surroundings, and people-wise, I felt we could have been anywhere, we didn’t really ‘experience’ Jamaica. The armed guard patrolling the resort grounds took a bit of getting used to though.
        We’ll probably go back in a few years (V still talks about the ocean!) and she’ll be old enough to appreciate any sightseeing we do.

  2. I am so very very very jealous.

    Some places that you visit never leave you. That is Jamaica for me (ok, and NYC).

    I was in Jamaica 4 years ago (with the girls) for a friend’s wedding in Ochos Rios.  The VERY best thing about Jamaica (besides the food of course) is the PEOPLE.  I came home and made a list of all the memorable people I met there, as  I never wanted to forget their names. They were so great.

    I can’t wait to go back  (Negril- 7 mile beach next time) with my kids.   My boys also really want to go as I talk about Jamaica so often, as I crank the Marley tunes in the car.  Then, at some point, I will sigh and say “oh…. Jamaica…”.

    As for safety, it’s just common sense really. I never felt unsafe but we explored the local markets etc during the day and as a group.  It was great!

    I hope you have an amazing time. If you have a chance to visit Dunns River Falls (sp?), I think you would both enjoy that.   Can’t wait to hear all about it, mon!! 


    • Coffee with Julie says:

      Hey mon! 
      That is such a nice recount of your impressions of Jamaica! I am even more excited now! 
      As for safety, yes, common sense is the name of the game! 
      I don’t know if we’ll get a chance to visit Dunn River Falls … it’s a very quicky trip (4 nights), but I will keep you posted!

  3. Wow! Lucky girls! 
    I’ve been to Jamaica and wrote about it extensively on the blog at the time. I staying in Kingston (now THAT was something) and also Montego Bay. It was gorgeous, and the people were wonderful. My advice, don’t wear shorts or shirts above the knee because it’s not considered proper. Women all wear pants and long skirts there!

    Oh, and watch for bats. 😉

  4. oh, how exciting! I’ve never been to Jamaica but my aunt and uncle have and they said it was AMAZING!! However, I’ll be jaunting about on the other side of those islands next week. I’m going on a cruise through the Caribbean, stopping at Nassau and St. Maartens.

    Have a fabulous trip! 

  5. the other neighbour says:

    Very nice! We went to Montego Bay last year for a family trip and had a wonderful time! We felt very safe and very welcome. The water was beautiful, the food good, and weather hot! We found lots of (live!) star fish on the beach which was exciting for the girls. Have fun!

    • Hello neighbour! *waves hello!* You just returned from a trip, right? Hope it was fabulous! Thanks for popping in and letting me know how Montego Bay treated you and your family! Oh, to swim in the salty ocean … I can’t wait! :)

  6. I have never been, many other islands around, but not Jamaica. My parents had been in the 80s and said it was spectacular. I’d love to go. Have fun!
    I remembered this post  that you might enjoy?

  7. i am so excited for you both!! also – if stella hasn’t found a dress, i have a great idea – find a white one and she and i can tye dye it!

  8. Chris Barrett says:

    Hey Julie!

      I’ve been there twice, last year and the year before, we didn’t find it dangerous.  Don’t go to Kingston at night and just use the general precautions.  And yes they are surprisingly homophobic.  Are you staying on a resort?  If so the resort can get you a taxi that will look out for you on an excursion.  Drop me a line if you want any specifics!

      Have a blast!


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