Parks & Sanctuaries
BOON HALL OASIS
4 River Road
Hours: daily 7-5; Free
This four-acre park offers picnicking, a plant nursery, waterfall and views of the hills of St. Andrews. There’s a brunch offered here for JA $760.
GUARDSMAN’S SERENITY FISHING & WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
40 minutes east of Kingston via A1/A2 west
A popular new stop with Kingston school groups, this sanctuary was established by the executive chairman of the Guardsman Group, a security company in Kingston. A visit to the site starts with a tractor ride through mango orchards and vegetable plots, then a visit to the animal collection, with exotic birds and a petting zoo. Food lovers will be interested in the sanctuary for another reason: local dishes are served for lunch and dinner in the restaurant. Curried goat, barbecue or jerked chicken, oxtail and other local dishes are available for US $8-10. You can even fish for red tilapia and have the restaurant clean and bag your catch for $4 per pound.
BOB MARLEY MUSEUM
56 Hope Road, Kingston
Hours: 9 am-5 pm, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday;
12:30-5 pm, Wednesday and Saturday
Marley fans shouldn’t miss this shrine to the legendary reggae superstar, housed in what was his home. A visit here includes a tour and a movie about Marley’s life. The museum is a must for Marley fans, although others may want to skip it.
INSTITUTE OF JAMAICA
12 East Street
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 9-4:30
This natural history museum and library covers the island’s rich history from its days as a home for the Arawak Indians to modern times.
26 Hope Road, New Kingston
Hours: 9 am-5 pm, Tuesday through Saturday
This restored great house is in the heart of New Kingston, near the Terra Nova Hotel. The home was built in 1889 for L10,000 by a Venezuelan gold millionaire, whose family lived here until the 1920s.
Today, the historic structure is filled with antiques and antique reproductions from the 1880s (done by Things Jamaican). Tours, given every 15 minutes, include a look at the master bedroom, the sewing room, with an illegal gambling room upstairs (the stairs are hidden in the ceiling), a sunny ballroom with relief ceiling, original chandelier and an English piano.
NATIONAL ART GALLERY
Roy West Building, Kingston Mall
Hours: 11-4:30 weekdays only
This downtown art gallery contains some real treasures. The best-known artists represented here are Edna Manley (an accomplished artist and wife of the former prime minister, Norman Manley) and Kapo, whose religious images have received a lot of attention.
ROCKFORD MINERAL BATHS
A-1 east of Kingston
Hours: daily, 6:30 am-6 pm
These natural springs emerged after the earthquake of 1907. Today you can soak in a whirlpool tub fed by the mineral waters; call ahead to book the baths.
JAMAICA CONVENTION CENTRE
Admission for tours
This is well worth a peek, even if you just drive by. The center is one of the Caribbean’s leading facilities for meetings that require simultaneous translation services due to its role as headquarters for the International Seabed Authority, an arm of the United Nations. It is capable of working with six languages: English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Russian and Arabic. Built to UN specifications, the building is located on the waterfront in downtown Kingston. Around-the-clock security protects the center, which includes a print shop, press area to accommodate up to 40 journalists, clinic, business services office, delegate lounges and a cafeteria with seating for up to 250 attendees.
WORLD’S END LTD
Hours: 10 am-4 pm, Monday-Friday; 12-4 pm, Saturday and Saturday
876-977-5941 or 929-3564
Even non rum-drinkers will find this tour worthwhile, thanks to the beautiful location. World’s End produces Sangster’s Old Jamaican Liqueurs high in the Blue Mountains. Factory tours are followed by a taste of the potent and well-respected rum. Worlds End is also recommended for birders, who may spot Jamaica’s national bird, the doctor bird.
BLUE MOUNTAINS-JOHN CROW NATIONAL PARK
B1 to Newcastle is the main route.
No telephone, free
At 300 square miles (193,260 acres), the park is filled with sites to challenge adventure travelers of all types – hikers, birders, mountain bikers. The country’s second largest national park has three distinct areas: the Blue Mountains Peak (the highest mountain in Jamaica); the Clydesdale Forest Reserve (a wilderness filled with mahogany, eucalyptus, and blue mahoe); and the easily accessible Hollywell Recreational Park (see below).
One of the best ways to experience the park (which in many areas is so heavily forested you need a machete to hack your way through) is with a guide. We’ve listed several qualified guides in the Guided Tours section above.
HOLLYWELL RECREATIONAL PARK
Two miles from Newcastle
Hours: 9:30-6:30 daily
Tucked high in the mountains, this park is a great place to escape from the heat. With great views, Hollywell offers picnicking and hiking.
CAYMANAS GOLF CLUB
Caymanas was Jamaica’s first major championship 18-hole course, dating from the 1950s. It was designed by Howard Watson and is six miles west of Kingston. A round of golf costs US $53; rentals are available. Facilities include a snack bar, carts and a pro shop.
This downtown course dates back to 1920, when it was designed by Scotsman Stanley Thompson, mentor of Robert Trent Jones. The short course is a par 70, and a round costs US $35; rentals are available. There’s a clubhouse, restaurant, bar and pro shop.
Tennis players can hone their skills at several courts, including:
Le Meridien Pegasus(876-926-3690)
Hilton New Kingston(876-926-5430).
Kingston’s beaches are busy. There have been some crime problems on them in recent years, so we recommend caution. The Hellshire area, southwest of the city, has some of the best-known area beaches, including Gunboat Beach and Fort Clarence.
Lime Cay, south of the peninsula where Port Royal and the airport are located, can be reached by a boat from Morgan’s Harbor and is very popular with picnickers. This small island is a favorite weekend getaway with Kingstonians. The cay has a nice beach and a fun atmosphere, with weekend cookouts and lots of local fun. Swimming is good. Boat rides out here can be arranged through Morgan’s Harbour Hotel (876-967-8075).
With Kingston’s many cultural offerings, its dive opportunities are sometimes overlooked. The area has a good variety of sites, though, ranging from wreck dives to reefs. The Buccaneer Scuba Club, 876- 967-8061, is the local operator. Sites include :
- Cayman Trader. This wreck is good for all levels of divers. At 33-55 feet, the merchant trade vessel is covered in sea life and nurse sharks are often seen.
- The Edge. At over 100 feet, this is an advanced dive. It offers excellent visibility and great photo opportunities.
- Texas Wreck. This US naval ship was sunk here in 1944. Today it’s an advanced dive (over 100 feet), with lots of black coral.
- Wreck Reef. At 50-80 feet, this site has both natural and man-made attractions. Look for old cannons near the site.
CASTLETON BOTANICAL GARDENS
A3 north of Kingston
Hours: 9-5 daily
These longtime gardens feature many native species, as well as some that have been introduced. For the price of a tip, you can enjoy a guided tour of the extensive collection; you’ll also see plenty of birdlife here.
HOPE BOTANICAL GARDENS AND ZOO
Hope Road, next to the University of the West Indies Mona campus
This 50-acre getaway is the largest botanical garden in the West Indies. The small zoo features Caribbean wildlife. The site was originally the Hope Estate, founded by Richard Hope, an English army officer, in the mid-1600s. Featured exhibits include orchid gardens, cacti gardens and Palm Avenue, which displays sago palms. It’s a pleasant spot to spend an hour or so.
ROYAL BOTANICAL GARDENS AT HOPE
Hours: weekdays 10-5, weekends 10-5:30
These gardens were donated by the Hope family. Spanning 50 acres, the gardens are filled with tropical plants and trees, most labeled.
Kingston is a good home base from which to enjoy day trips, short drives out of the city that can give you a peek at the rich history of this island.
Follow Norman Manley Highway to the airport and continue as the road becomes Main Road, or take a ferry from downtown Kingston at Princess Street (call the Kingston JTB office for times).
Once a wild hedonistic pirates’ den (Hedonism II and III weren’t the first to fill those shoes on this island!), Port Antonio’s rollicking fun came to a halt on June 7, 1692, when a violent earthquake shook the region and pushed Port Royal into the sea. The city became the only sunken city in the Western hemisphere and has been nicknamed the “Pompeii of the Caribbean.”
The top attraction is Fort Charles (876-967-8059, open daily 9-5, admission charged). Built in 1662, this is the oldest building in Port Royal and is from the days of British occupation. The remaining portion of the fort includes a maritime museum and Giddy House, tilted by an earthquake in 1907.
14 miles west of Kingston on A1
This was once Santiago de la Vega, the island’s capital city under Spanish rule. Those early explorers came to Jamaica in search of precious metals and finally gave up the island to the English in 1655. Spanish Town is an excellent day trip for history buffs. Attractions include Jamaican People’s Museum of Crafts and Technology(home of many vintage farm implements, musical instruments and pottery) and St. James Cathedral(St. Jago de la Vega), the oldest Anglican cathedral beyond England’s borders. Built in 1523, the historic church is worth a peek and is open daily; admission is free. The cathedral is filled with memorials to former Jamaican governors; outside the chapel lie many historic graves dating back to Jamaica’s earliest days.
Located outside Kingston on the Rio Cobre
This bridge was built in the late 1700s by slaves. You’ll see that there’s no rail on the bridge – every time a rail has been added, the river rises and washes it out. Legend has it that two slaves were killed and their bodies added to the mortar; their ghosts are said to haunt the site.
South Camp Road
This park is the island’s test cricket center. For game times, call the Jamaica Cricket Association, 876-967-0322, or the Kingston Jamaica Tourist Board office, 876-929-9200.
CAYMANAS PARK RACE TRACK
The track is a favorite with locals and visitors who get their kicks from exciting horse races. Races are held on Wednesdays, Saturdays and on public holidays, 12:30 to 6 pm.
Because it sees fewer tourists than the resort areas, Kingston shopping is primarily aimed at residents. One area that tourists will find of interest, however, is Devon House. Surrounding the great house are numerous boutiques offering everything from Jamaican artwork to jerk sauces. Things Jamaican is one of the best stores if you’re looking to take back a taste of Jamaica. This shop sells sauces, cookbooks and even pewterware that reproduces patterns recovered by archaeologists at Port Royal. A second Things Jamaican shop is at Norman Manley International Airport.
Pick up some last-minute coffee supplies at The Coffee Mill, which also sells teas and sauces. Two Hampers and a Mule is another excellent stop and offers local artwork, cookbooks and more.
Kingston nightlife is legendary, starting with Friday Night Jam. This open-air street party begins when folks leave work on Friday night and go out into the street to buy the evening meal, to sit with friends and to take it easy. Ask for suggestions from your hotel staff before you head out on the town for the evening.
There are several well-known discos in Kingston. A top choices include Peppers (31 Upper Waterloo Road, 876-925-2219).