Beautiful, brash Jamaica is much more than beaches and swaying palm trees. A sensual land of bright colours, soulful rhythms and unfailing creativity, the island retains an attitude – a personality – that’s more resonant and distinctive than you’ll find in any other Caribbean nation. There’s certainly plenty of white sand and gin-clear sea to enjoy, but away from the coast are spectacular mountains and rivers, tumbling waterfalls and cactus-strewn savannah plains. This verdant natural environment forms the backdrop to a dynamic cultural history in the island’s towns and cities, illustrated most vividly by the explosive reggae scene, but also in the powerful expression of its artwork and the startlingly original flavours of its national cuisine.

Jamaicans are justifiably proud of a rich musical heritage imitated the world over, as well as their incredible sporting successes on the running track and cricket pitch. This prominent and vibrant culture has left scarcely a corner of the world untouched – quite some feat, and out of all proportion to the island’s relatively tiny size. In some respects it’s a country with a swagger in its step, confident of its triumphs in the face of adversity, but also with a weight upon its shoulders. An unsparingly tough history has had to be reckoned with, and the country hasn’t avoided familiar problems of development like dramatic wealth inequality and social tensions that occasionally spill over into localized violence and worldwide headlines. The mixture is potent, producing a people as renowned for being sharp, sassy and straight-talking as they are laid-back and hip. People don’t mince their words here; Jamaicans get on with life, and their directness can make them seem cantankerous, or even uncompromising or rude. Particularly around resort towns and the major attractions this can be taken to extremes at times, though the harassment of tourists that once bedevilled the island is much less noticeable these days.

The Jamaican authorities have spent millions making sure the island treats its tourists right, and as a foreign visitor, your chances of encountering any real trouble are minuscule. As the birthplace of the all-inclusive hotel, Jamaica has become well suited to tourists who want to head straight from plane to beach, never leaving their hotel compound. But to get any sense of the country at all, you’ll need to do some exploring. It’s undoubtedly worth it, as this is a place packed with first-class attractions and natural attributes, oozing with character. Jamaica’s food and drink are one of the island’s main draws, from a plate of grilled lobster served up by the sea to conch soup or jerk chicken from a roadside stall, not to mention a variety of rums and fine Blue Mountain coffee. And with a rich music scene at its clubs, sound-system parties and stageshows, if you’re a reggae fan, you’re in heaven.

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