Guide to Montego Bay

Montego Bay is Jamaica’s second city in size and importance, but it is the island’s tourism capital. It boasts the most hotel accommodations, the most transport facilities and is, in fact, a cosmopolitan holiday centre, offering a wide choice of amenities.

Montego Bay is divided into three fairly distinct parts. There is the city itself with its crowded streets. There is the “hotel area” which is the mile-and-a-half strip running from the town, past the celebrated Doctor’s Cave Beach and out to the Dead End Bar. Thirdly, there are the outlying hotels and villas on beach or hillside.

City streets are crowded, colorful and lively. Country folk flock in to visit markets, shops and banks. Guests from hotels and cruise ships make their way to in-bond shops and Crafts Markets. Housewives, office girls and market higglers promenade round bar-front discussion groups and sidewalk domino games.

Compared to Palm Beach, it is not exactly an elegant town. Ergo, don’t compare it to anywhere. Enjoy its noisy, untidy, lively Caribbean charm.

Architecture is a mixture of last-century “gingerbread” wooden houses interspersed with modern buildings, many of which harmonize because Georgian facades never really went out of fashion.

Sam Sharpe Square, a pleasant cobble stoned hub of activity, is roughly the centre of the town where stands the Cage, formerly a jail for runaway slaves, and the ruins of the Courthouse, built in 1804 and destroyed by fire some 20 years ago.

It is only now in the process of being rebuilt.

City Centre, in true Jamaican tradition, is not the centre of the city but it is the centre of in-bond shopping where all the major in-bond stores are situated.

The main Crafts Market is on Harbour Street close to Sam Sharpe Square, but there are two smaller ones in the hotel area, one next to Fantasy Hotel and another on Fort Street on the site of a 17th century fort.

There are a number of other shopping arcades in Montego Bay where the visitor can shop for souvenirs: St. James and Fantasy Plazas are situated in the hotel area and Montego Bay Plaza and Bay West Plaza are on the waterfront in town. Further a field lies the Montego Freeport Shopping Centre to the west of town and the Blue Diamond Plaza to the east.

Holiday Village, also to the east, in front of Holiday Inn, is the largest shopping centre in Montego Bay, with an extensive selection of in-bond stores, souvenir and craft stores, all within easy walking distance. It also boasts an art gallery.

Half Moon Shopping Village, is a very luxurious shopping area, attached to the Half Moon Hotel.

On the western side of the harbour, Montego Freeport has been developed on what was once the mangrove swamps of the Bogue Islands. Here are the deep water piers where cruise boat passengers and freight are unloaded. Here too is the site of the Montego Bay Free Zone, which employs a great number of Montegonians in the manufacture of such things as T-shirts and sportswear, all for export. Jamaica Digiport International, a hi-tech telecommunications centre, is also at Montego Freeport.

The name Montego Bay derives from the Spanish name Manteca Bahía or Bay of Lard, so called because of the lard-making industry made possible by the hunting of wild boars which abounded in the surrounding hills.

Montego Bay was a sugar and banana town but the sugar factories have closed down and bananas are now shipped out from Kingston and Port Antonio so the picturesque sight of women carrying bananas on their heads and singing the TallyMan song while carrying out their back-breaking work, is a thing of the past.

Montego Bay’s original claim to resort fame was the fabulous Doctor’s Cave Beach which attracted celebrities and socialites from all over the world. The Beach is said to be fed by mineral springs and it certainly rejoices in the most uncommonly clear and sparkling water.

In recent years, other beach clubs have been developed in the area, each with its own special character. Walter Fletcher Beach is closest to town on Gloucester Avenue. Cornwall Beach is just a little beyond Doctor’s Cave, Tropical Beach and Rose Hall Beach lie further out of town.

Montego Bay boasts a wide selection of accommodation, from the older, well-established luxury hotels and the newer all-inclusives to the many small and much more intimate places. Villas await those who want to get away and do their own thing.

Other Facts About Montego Bay

Jamaica is an independent nation and a member of the British Commonwealth. After enjoying full internal self-government for a number of years Jamaica achieved independence in August of 1962. Queen Elizabeth II however, is still Queen of Jamaica by tradition and the titular head of state is her representative on the island is the Governor General. It is similar to Canada.

Geography: Jamaica is the third largest Caribbean island, measuring 146 miles at its widest point. Primarily of volcanic origin, the lush island features a mountain ridge that peaks at Blue Mountain which is 7,402 feet high. Many white-sand beaches and clear seas ring the island.

Democracy is complete, with an elected Parliament, a Prime Minister, an elected House of Representatives and a Senate. It works on similar lines to the British parliament. The constitution embodies absolute safeguards to personal liberties and democratic rule of law.

Parliament sits at Gordon House on Kingston’s Duke Street and visitors can watch proceedings from the visitors’ gallery.

Population standing at 2,731, 832 at the end of 2005 is made up of the following approximate ethnic groups: African 76.3%, Afro-European 15.1%, European 0.8%, Chinese and Afro-Chinese 1.2%, East Indian and Afro-East Indian 3.4% and others 3.4%.

Arawak Indians were the original inhabitants exterminated by the Spanish after Columbus discovered Jamaica in 1492. The Spanish were defeated by the British in 1655.

Snakes are extremely rare. They were killed off by the mongoose, imported to exterminate canefield rats.

Climate is year-round summer with no definite rainy season, although it usually rains most in May and October. North-easterly trade winds blow continually.

Obeahism the Jamaican form of Voodoo exists but is seldom heard of. The Obeah man is supposed to marshal evil spirits to bring good or bad fortune. The practice of Obeahism is a still considered a crime punishable by imprisonment here.

Industries in order of importance are tourism bauxite, agriculture (sugar, bananas, coffee, pimento, cocoa and tobacco). No other country in the world produces pimento, also known as Allspice.

Orchids grow wild all over Jamaica—200 species of them, 73 of which are found nowhere else. There are also 500 species of fern and 1,000 species of trees.

Blue Moons happen in Jamaica. Sapphire-colored moons have been observed half a dozen times during the last 40 years.

The Coconut Palm is not native to Jamaica or the West Indies. Surprisingly nor are sugar cane, bananas, mangoes, breadfruit or bamboo. They were all brought to the island at various stages in its history. The original Arawak inhabitants lived mainly on corn, fish and yams.

Unexplored country still exists in the Cockpit Country, part of which is inhabited by the Maroons, slaves turned loose by the Spanish before they fled the island, and who went to this wild country to form settlements. They later harassed the British so much they were granted independence in a treaty of 1734 and still govern themselves today.

Miscellaneous Departure Tax-Most important to remember, you will be asked to pay a departure tax of US$22 unless it was already calculated into your ticket when you bought it.

Official Matter Entry Regulations- No passports are required of Canadian or U.S. Citizens/Residents entering as tourists for any period up to six months provided that they have a return ticket and identification such as a social security card or driver’s license. All other visitors must carry a valid passport.

Your home country may however impose other travel requirements in order for you to leave and return. Please check with your local officials for more information and to prevent any confusion.

Marriage Licenses- Visitors can obtain a special licence after a 24-hour period on the island. You must produce your passport and two witnesses. If either party has been divorced or widowed, necessary documents must be produced to vouch for their current status. Young people under 21 years of age must produce written consent from a parent, signed by a notary public.

Bank Hours- From 9am to 2pm every day except Friday when they open 9am to noon and again from 2pm to 5pm. A few banks are open on Saturday mornings.

Currency- Jamaica’s currency is the Jamaican dollar, not to be confused with the U.S. dollar. The value of the Jamaican dollar fluctuates but in November 2004 it was approximately JA$61 to US$1