Most people visiting Montego Bay in Jamaica hide themselves away in all-inclusive hotels, but there's plenty to discover if you get out and about
Jamaica has long been seen as the slightly edgier paradise of all the Caribbean islands as a result of its highly publicised crime rates. This has, in turn, led to luxury five star hotels popping up along the north western coastline. Montego Bay boasts some of the most beautiful and expensive hotels in the Caribbean, such as the Half Moon and Round Hill. Although these resorts could probably provide everything you might need for a vacation Montego Bay does, however, have some real gems in terms of culture, food and entertainment.
For those of you who would like to explore some of the local history you can visit Rose Hall, the grand plantation which was once owned by the infamous White Witch, Annie Palmer. History says that Palmer practiced voodoo and that her three husbands all died under mysterious circumstances.
I recommend going rafting down the Martha Brae River. While sitting back and relaxing on the 30ft raft, you can take in the unique scenery and learn about the Indian legend, Brae and her secret treasure.
In addition, MoBay Undersea Tours offers you a dry alternative to looking at the unique Caribbean sea life. The tour leaves Margaritaville dock and takes you for a short cruise in a below deck glass-windowed boat, which allows you close-ups of the brightly coloured marine life and coral.
Hotels do vary, but most will be pricey and of a high standard. It can be also be difficult to find a place in the centre of Montego Bay, as the majority of resorts are based out towards the Rose Hall area, because of quieter, larger and whiter beaches and the enormous amount of available land which encompasses several golf courses. This includes Holiday Inn, Sandals and The Ritz. This can lead to challenges in exploring the city and the island further on your own. Most hotels will provide tours, but they can be expensive, and if you’re the more adventurous type you might not feel particularly fulfilled as you will be keeping to someone else’s schedule.
Car-rental is an option. You can hire a car from Dhana Car Rental for a week from as little as US$175.00 (approx £110.00GBP). Another option is Montego Bay Car Rental. Although a little more expensive, the car can be collected from Montego Bay’s Airport on your arrival to Jamaica. The car can be anything from a Renault Clio to a Ford Transit. Note that driving in Jamaica, especially in a city can be quite a challenge. Laws that apply to British roads are not always so in Jamaica. It can be dangerous and stressful, but worth it for some of the views which you will encounter.
Doctor’s Cave Beach Hotel is an affordable place to stay (US$130.00 a night for a double room), while also being located in the centre of downtown Montego Bay and on a beach, although it can be extremely busy at weekends.
Margaritaville is a popular place for families to eat. With a variety of fresh fish dishes and the usual Americanised fast food, children can entertain themselves on the large waterslide which shoots from the restaurant into the Caribbean Sea. Margaritaville is also a popular place for nightlife.
For alternative evening entertainment you can head to Blue Beat, a small and classy jazz club situated on Montego Bay’s main street. Although, expensive by Jamaican standards, the jazz performances can be very impressive and the cocktails are truly memorable.
If you fancy an intimate dining experience, then the Boat House is the place to go. Moored in the peaceful Marine Park Fish Sanctuary, the international menu is delicious and the service is good.
However, my personal favourite is Scotchie’s, a reggae-playing bar and shack, where they prepare and barbecue some of the best jerk chicken and pork I have ever tasted. The “festival” bread and sweet potato are a tasty side dish. You can either take your foil- wrapped meal home or to the bar and enjoy a Red Stripe beer. Scotchie’s is based on the highway towards Rose Hall between the Coyaba and Half Moon Resorts.
Shopping is not great in Montego Bay. There are the expensive shops found in the Half Moon Village and the new Baywest Shopping Centre, but general shopping is not easy to come by. The best time to visit is February – May when all the colourful flowers are out, it’s hot on a manageable scale and you miss the hurricane season and school holidays.
Don’t be put off by stories of constant harassment by locals on the streets or beaches. A straightforward yet respectful “No” will usually work.
Jamaica is a paradise, my advice would be to fully explore it.