Bigger, brasher and more intoxicating than other Caribbean islands, Jamaica lives on its wits and the talents of its people. It’s gorgeous, too, and offers a contrast of landscapes – from the idyllic beaches to the curious limestone Cockpit Country and the glorious Blue Mountains (a great hike to the summit, best climbed at night to meet the dawn). ‘Jamaica: We’re more than a beach, we’re a country’ was an apt advertising slogan of the 1970s and one that’s still relevant.
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Jamaica has a small landmass of 10,800 square kilometres, of similar size to the Gambia. The island nation is found in the North West of the Caribbean, directly south of Cuba. As of 2015, Jamaica had a population of 2.8 million – the forth largest of the Caribbean nations.
Kingston, the capital, has a sadly dangerous reputation (Jamaica has much poverty and infamous ghettos), but it doesn’t have to be like that. The Bob Marley museum is in Kingston as is the National Gallery of Art (a fabulous collection which tells the story of the island’s art history). Music is at the heart of the culture – Jamaica, of course, is the home of reggae, the great music form with a worldwide reputation, and its sounds are everywhere.
In 2013, Jamaica welcomed more than 2 million international tourist visitors for the first time. Jamaica has a long tourism tradition; but, latterly, all-inclusives have come to dominate. The north coast, around Montego Bay, and Negril, originally cultivated by hippies, are the main tourist drags. Jamaica, however, is much more than the sum of its resorts. Apart from the cities of Kingston and Montego Bay, Jamaica have wonderful examples of Georgian architecture, such as at Falmouth, great plantation houses, and the former homes of expatriates such as Noel Coward and Ian Fleming, who lived a sybaritic bohemian lifestyle. Jamaicans, too, take their pleasures seriously and open their lives and culture to tourists with great generosity.
Ethical Travel Issues and advice
Cruise ships & workers rights:
In the Caribbean, for example, which is the world’s busiest cruise zone, many cruise lines employ European officers, with North American and Western European staff in the business and entertainment jobs, supported by a crew from the poorest parts of the developing world. These workers are often paid low wages and labour in shoddy working conditions. ‘Conditions for workers below deck haven’t improved in decades’, said an inspector with the International Transport Workers Federation.
‘Many are reluctant to come forward and complain. To most people, workers on cruise liners are nonentities. They have an almost invisible existence.’
Cruise ships are also caught up in issues relating to the economic exclusion impacts on port destinations, along with various environmental issues. The Cruise ship industry has a poor reputation for its waste-dumping practices which can create pressure on small countries with limited refuse sites, or can contaminate the sea.
According to the Bluewater network, now part of Friends of the Earth, a typical one-week cruise generates 50 tonnes of waste and thousands of gallons of grey water (waste from sinks and showers and so on) and sewage. Almost all is dumped: some is treated, some is not. And while the powerful cruise companies claim that they have done much to reduce pollution, the laws are lax, regulations often ignored and the majority of the big companies have convictions for dumping. Environmentalists are also increasingly worried by larger and larger cruise ships visiting such pristine environments as Antarctica and the Galapagos.
To learn more, check out the following Tourism Concern articles on Cruise ships:
All-inclusives & Economic Leakage:
All-inclusives can alienate tourists from the destination they are visiting and the people who live there. Positive cultural exchange is hampered, while resentment builds among local people who are blocked from being able to benefit from the tourism economy.
Various negative issues have been identified, including poor working conditions and huge environmental impacts such as water wastage & domestic waste. The largest concern is the decreased patronage to local businesses, such as restaurants, shops, taxi drivers and small guest houses – as guests are deterred from leaving the hotel grounds.
The way in which the industry is organized means that, for the most part, consumers spend much of their holiday cash in buying the package – before they leave home. Much of that goes into the pockets of foreign owned companies in the host countries: not many nationals of poor countries get to own marble-floored hotels, shopping chains or flashy restaurants serving fusion food.
Statistics vary; but some people argue that what is known as economic ‘leakage’ – the extent to which local economies lose (or never receive) the revenue generated by tourism – is as high as four-fifths the cost of a holiday. Even if it’s not that high, leakage remains a serious problem for most host countries.
We are calling for tour operators and hotels to take a rights-based approach to sustainability, and to undertake due diligence throughout their supply chains in order to identify and address the negative impacts of the all-inclusives power play, and race to the bottom that this entails.
You, the tourist, can also make a difference by opting for holidays that offer a fair deal for local businesses and people. In many cases half-board or Bed & breakfast options are cheaper options and provide you with a far greater level of freedom & choice!
Tourism Concern has extensively campaigned around the impacts of all-inclusives and have published various reports on the topic. To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles on All inclusives:
Travelling presents an opportunity to photograph in lots of different destinations and situations, but sometimes there may be culturally sensitive issues to think about before reaching for the camera or other photo-taking device. There are lots of people in the world who do not have clean water, electricity, schooling or enough to eat, let alone access to mobile telephones, the internet and printed media, so they have no idea where their photograph may end up or how it could be used. Sadly, in this day and age, child prostitution, child trafficking and other crimes against children are facilitated via the Internet, and photography can play an unwitting and innocent role. Photography and its use is no longer straight forward, so perhaps it is time to stop and think a little about the ethics of photography.
Taking photos of friendly local people can be a highlight for many travellers and photographers. Smiles are universal ways to engage, as is showing people the photo you just took of them. If you show an interest in their work or ask them questions, they’ll be happy to have their picture taken. In some touristy places it has become common for people to ask for money for their photos to be taken. Do as you wish, but a photo of someone you shared a laugh with may have a better lasting impression than one you paid for. Don’t forget the same holds true for any porters and guides that may help you along the way. Take an interest in them and you’ll be rewarded with more great photo opportunities.
To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles on ethical photography: https://tourismconcern.wpengine.com/ethical-photography/
Swimming with wild Dolphins, sharks and Sting rays:
Located in Lucea, Jamaica is home to the largest natural dolphin lagoon in the world. Visitors have the opportunity to interact and “Swim With” dolphins in their natural sea environment. This appears a very natural and fun activity for both humans and wildlife, however, please consider that the dolphins, stingrays and sharks are attracted by baiting (feeding the local area) and therefore do not forage across their range changing the local marine ecosystems.
See more at Right Tourism; http://right-tourism.com/issues/marine-activities/swimming-with-wild-animals/#sthash.Zf22GZRa.dpbs
Coral Reef biodiversity & Diving:
From Egypt to Australia to Jamaica, snorkeling and scuba diving have long been popular tourism activities. Coral reefs are very delicate ecosystems and can be upset by the smallest change in ocean temperature or human contact. According the WWF, coral reef’s occupy less than one quarter of 1% of the marine environment, yet they are home to more than 25% of all known marine fish species.
Tropical coral reefs are among nature’s most diverse ecosystems, composed of thousands of species of fish, plants, corals, invertebrates, and microorganisms. Snorkeling in the emerald waters off the coast of Jamaica to explore the beautiful living coral reefs and see the exotic fish that dwell therein is a popular activity. Although most coral reefs require a boat to get to them, all major tourist resorts in Jamaica such as Port Antonio, Montego Bay, Negril, Ocho Rios, and St. Elizabeth offer daily snorkeling trips.
Increasing ocean temperatures from human induced climate change and toxic run-off from sewage or agricultural waste have the ability to alter the balance of a coral reef ecosystem and result in coral bleaching. In many cases, inexperienced divers cannot control their buoyancy or improperly secured gear can damage the coral.
If you are considering a snorkeling or diving trip, look for ‘coral friendly operations’ that practice reef conservation in a number of ways. These include giving environmental briefings, using available moorings rather than anchoring to fragile reefs, using wastewater pump-out systems and participating in local conservation projects. Anything that you take with you on the boat should be kept safe and disposed of once you return to the shore, not in the water, including cigarettes!!
See more at Right Tourism; http://right-tourism.com/issues/marine-activities/diving-snorkelling/#sthash.P0Ald51J.dpbs
Jamaica has the ideal climate for anyone chasing the sun and warmth. Temperatures are generally high all year around, maximums hover around 30c and minimums don’t drop much less than 20c. The hottest month is usually July, and the coolest month is January. The wet season is May to June, and also in October. The dryer times range from December through to March.
Jamaica, the land of wood and water, is a stunning country full of natural wander. The stereotypical beaches are a must – there are various public beaches around Jamaica and most are free to use. However, there are a number of public beaches that charge an entry fee, such as Doctors Cave in Montego Bay. Jamaica is also surrounded by reefs which host a vibrant mix of tropical coral and marine life. In recent times there has been considerable effort made to preserve and improve the quality of the reefs and beaches in Jamaica.
In regards to mountains and national parks, look no further than the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park. This area was designated as a National Park in 1992 and includes the John Crow Mountains, the Port Royal Mountains and the Blue mountains. The Blue Mountains reach 7402 ft and with good visibility you are treated to spectacular views over Kingston and Cuba. The national park hosts many species of vegetation, including ferns, orchids and native flowering plants. You will also find a diverse range of local fauna, including butterflys, snakes and frogs. Birdwatching in the region is a treat, the park is the home of 30 endemic birds including the Jamaican Blackbird. In winter the national park is home of many migratory birds, and is one of the Caribbean’s largest habitats for migratory birds.
Jamaica has over 100 main rivers systems and host many waterfalls. Some of these waterfalls can be pretty popular on the tourist trail, so try to go a little further and avoid the tour groups at the popular YS falls and Dunns River falls.
In regards to environmental policy in Jamaica, there is a strong push towards moving away from fossil fuels and decreasing subsidies. Major environmental issues currently include deforestation and pollution of coastal waters by industrial waste and sewage. Air pollution in major cities from vehicle emissions is also an environmental issue.
Jamaicans have a stereotype of being relaxed, warm and laid-back people. When meeting a local person use a handshake with direct eye contact, and a warm smile. It is important to address people by their title (Mr. Mrs. or Miss) and their surname until a personal relationship has developed. It is advised to wait until invited before using someone’s first name, or nickname.
If you are invited to dine with a local, table manners are fairly informal. Do not sit down until you are told where to sit. Meals are often served buffet-style, however it is polite to wait until the host invites you to start eating. Always use utensils to eat, not with your hands. It is considered polite to finish everything on your plate.
Typical Jamaican foods include seafood, meats, rice and fruits which are flavored with spices such as ginger, nutmeg, and pimento (also known as allspice which is native to Jamaica). Many meals are also accompanied by ‘bammy ‘; a toasted bread-like wafer.
Seafood is plentiful in the Jamaican diet and ranges from lobster, shrimp, and various fish (red snapper, tuna and mackerel). The national dish of Jamaica is ackee and saltfish. Saltfish is usually cod dried and salted fish mixed with ackee; a local fruit fried with onions, peppers and tomatoes. Make sure you try this for breakfast!
“Jerking” is a native Jamaican method of spicing and slowly cooking meat to preserve the juices and produce a unique, spicy flavor. Make sure you try jerk chicken for lunch!
Jamaica’s tropical climate is perfect for growing exotic fruits. Mangoes, pineapple, papaya, bananas, guava, coconuts, ackee, and plantains are all on offer – most fruits can be found in dessert.
Interestingly, Patois (Creole), which is a combination of English and numerous African languages, is spoken in rural areas and is being used more in urban areas. Most Jamaicans can speak, or at least understand Patois, but it is not a written language.
This Caribbean nation has the highest number of churches per capita in the world. Therefore it is no surprise that religion is fundamental to Jamaican life – you will commonly find references to Biblical events made in everyday speech.
Protestants dominate the religious following in Jamaica. 61% of Jamaican people follow the protestant denomination, including the Church of God (21%), Baptist (9%), Anglican (6%), Seventh-Day Adventist (9%), Pentecostal (8%), Methodist (3%), United Church (3%), Brethren (1%), Jehovah’s Witness 2% and Moravian 1%. Additional common religions include Roman Catholic 4%, and several local spiritual organisations (such as Rastafarian) 35%.
There are also many Rastafarians in Jamaica, whom believe they are one of the lost tribes of Israel who were sold into slavery and taken to Babylon (Jamaica) and that they must return to Zion, which they hold to be Ethiopia.