History of Jamaica

Jamaica Flag

Jamaica, the third largest Caribbean island, was inhabited by Arawak natives when it was first sighted by the second voyage of Christopher Columbus on 5 May 1494. Columbus himself was stranded on Jamaica from 1503 to 1504 during his fourth voyage. The Spanish settled in Jamaica in 1509 and held the island against many privateer raids from their main city, now called Spanish Town, which served as capital of Jamaica from its founding in 1534 until 1872. In 1655 Jamaica was conquered by the English, although the Spanish did not relinquish their claim to the island until 1670.

Jamaica became a base of operations for privateers, including Captain Henry Morgan, operating from the main English settlement Port Royal. In return these privateers kept the other colonial powers from attacking the island. Following the destruction of Port Royal in the great earthquake of 1692, refugees settled across the bay in Kingston. By 1716 it had become the biggest town in Jamaica and was designated the capital city in 1872. Until slavery was abolished by Parliament in 1833, the island sugar plantations were highly dependent on slave labor, based on Africans who initially were captured, kidnapped, and sold into slavery from peoples of West and Central Africa. By the eighteenth century, sugarcane became the most important export of the island.

Many slaves arrived in Jamaica via the Atlantic slave trade during the early seventeenth century, the same period when the first enslaved Africans arrived in North America. By the early nineteenth century, people of African descent greatly outnumbered ethnic Europeans. Due to the harshness of the conditions, there were many racial tensions. Jamaica had one of the highest number of slave uprisings of any Caribbean island.

After the British Crown abolished slavery in 1834, the Jamaicans began working toward independence. As the island still had a strong agricultural economy, planters imported East Asians as indentured laborers for many years. Since independence in 1962, there have been political and economic disturbances, as well as a number of strong political leaders.


Jamaica Map Jamaica Map - Click for larger view

Jamaica lies 140 km (90 mi) south of Cuba and 190 km (118 mi) west of Haiti. At its greatest extent, Jamaica is 235 km (146 mi) long, and its width varies between 34 and 84 km (21 and 52 mi). With an area of 10,911 km2 (4,213 sq mi), Jamaica is the largest island of the Commonwealth Caribbean and the third largest of the Greater Antilles, after Cuba and Hispaniola. Many small islands are located along the south coast of Jamaica, such as the Port Royal Cays. Southwest of mainland Jamaica lies Pedro Bank, an area of shallow seas, with a number of cays (low islands or reefs), extending generally east to west for over 160 km (99 mi). To the southeast lies Morant Bank, with the Morant Cays, 51 km (32 mi) from Morant Point, the easternmost point of mainland Jamaica. Alice Shoal, 260 km (160 mi) southwest of the main island of Jamaica, falls within the Jamaica–Colombia Joint Regime.


Jamaican culture represents a combination of cultures that have inhabited the Greater Antilles island, Jamaica. The original Taino Settlers, followed by their Spanish conquerors (who were in turn conquered by the British), all made major contributions. However, it is the blacks and slaves who became the dominant cultural force as they suffered and resisted the harsh conditions of forced labor. After the abolition of slavery, Chinese and Indian migrants were transported to the island as indentured workers, bringing with them ideas from the Far East. The official local language is English, however a local dialect called Patois(pronounced 'patwa') is spoken by some residents.


By far the largest religion in Jamaica is the Christian faith. The Anglican Church, Baptist and the Church of God are throughout the country. Many old churches have been carefully maintained and/or restored. The Rastafari movement is a derivative of the larger Christian culture, but its origins were influenced by rising consciousness of Africa and an awareness of political events in that continent. There are also a small number of Jewish synagogues in Jamaica, dating from 17th century. Elements of ancient African religions remain in remote areas throughout the island, most of which practices are described generally as Obeah, Kumina or Pocomania. Though the congregations are small, they are visited by many Christian and non Christians seeking an experience that they have not found in the churches. It is estimated that as much as 40% of the population secretly seek the services of the African traditional religious healers when confronted with serious problems that conventional society cannot remedy.

The Bahá'í Faith in Jamaica begins in 1942 with the arrival of Dr. Malcolm King. Public recognition of the religion came when Governor General of Jamaica, Sir Howard Cooke, proclaimed a National Bahá'í Day on 25 July in 2003 and held annually since. In 2005, the community of about 5000, celebrated their activity and presence in Jamaica with the international Bahá'í choir Voices of Bahá. The choir performed at Ward Theatre and the University's Chapel with proceeds earmarked to two Jamaican charities serving families of policemen slain in the line of duty and the Denham Town Golden Age Home.

Other religions practiced in the country of Jamaica include Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam.

Weather and Climate

Jamaica Weather


Generally the Jamaican climate is delightful. The average temperature is 77°F (25.5°C) in the winter months and 82°F (28°C) in the summer, but the island's climate is strongly affected by the sea, which can produce cloud cover, rain and wind, and have a sudden effect on temperatures.

The coastal plains of the north shore benefit from the Trade winds that blow off the Atlantic. These are supplemented by morning and evening breezes caused by the land heating up by day and cooling at night. In the mountains, the evenings may be a little cold, so you might want to take a light wrap or jersey.

Rain-showers are frequent, particularly in the northeast, though the sun usually comes out immediately afterwards and dries up all the rain.

The winter season (December to April) has the nicest climate, hot and sunny by day and warm at night. In July, August and September particularly (but in fact any day when it is still and there is no cloud) it can be very hot.

There are two rainy seasons, in May, and from August to October, but even then it doesn't rain every day. If you do go walking in remote places or in the mountains, then you will probably want to take a waterproof jacket.



Entry Requirements

Citizens of the USA, including those visiting by cruise ship, require only an identification, no visa is required. If you travel by plane, the passport book is required by the US for travel; otherwise it is possible to use a US passport card.

Permanent Residents of the USA (ie, Green Card holders) can also visit Jamaica without a visa, even if otherwise they would require a visa. They typically need to present a valid passport of their country of citizenship and their valid Green Card or Re-entry Permit issued by the USCIS.

Canadian citizens require

  • a passport or
  • a birth certificate and ID card.

Passports can be expired and still be considered valid to enter Jamaica. However, they cannot have been expired for more than year to still use them to travel to the island. No visa is required for a stay of up to six months.

Citizens of countries in the Commonwealth of Nations require a passport valid for at least 6 months, a return ticket, and sufficient funds. No visa is required except for citizens of Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Sierra Leone.

Japanese citizens can stay for 30 days without a visa.
German and Italian citizens can stay for 90 days without a visa. Similar terms apply to other countries in the Schengen union; French and Czech citizens can stay for 30 days without a visa, and Hungarian citizens get a visa on arrival.

Most other nationalities need visas, either prior to arrival or on arrival.

Public Holidays

Public Holidays Jamaica 2015
New Year's Day Thursday, 01 January 2015
Ash Wednesday Wednesday, 18 February 2015
Good Friday Friday, 03 April 2015
Easter Monday Monday, 06 April 2015
Labour Day Saturday, 23(25) May 2015
Emancipation Day Saturday, 01 August 2015
Independence Day Thursday, 06 August 2015
National Heroes' Day Monday, 19 October 2015
Christmas Day Friday, 25 December 2015
Boxing Day Saturday, 26 December 2015

Please note that date(s) in bracket represents date(s) on which holiday is actually observed.

Travel Advisory

There is no nationwide advisory in effect for Jamaica. However, you should exercise a high degree of caution due to the high level of violent crime.

The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The purpose of this Travel Advice is to provide up-to-date information to enable you to make well-informed decisions.

Take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before you travel.

Travel Tips
No matter where in the world you’re traveling, it’s important to read the news, stay safe, travel in groups when you are unsure of where you’re going, and keep an eye on your property at all times. Here are some tips to make your Jamaican vacation safe and fun.

  • Make sure you travel with a valid passport or visa (if required). Also, bring another valid form of photo I.D., and photocopies of both I.D.s. in case of loss or theft.
  • Read up on local laws and practices before you get here.
  • Give friends and family your contact information and itineraries in case of emergency.
  • Register with your country’s embassy or consulate before you travel. That way your country is aware of your whereabouts in case of emergency.
  • Keep luggage, handbags or backpacks in view at all times.
  • Keep possessions close to your body.
  • Don’t take around large amounts of cash.
  • Avoid wearing expensive jewelry on road trips or excursions.

Currency, Banks and Cash
Jamaica use the Jamaican dollar as their currency.
Licensed cambio centers and commercial banks are accessible in all resort areas. The official currency exchange rates vary daily, so it's advisable to shop around for the best rate before converting your cash. Most Jamaican ATMs accept international bank cards with Visa, MasterCard, Cirrus and Plus logos. Banks also give credit card advances, change traveler's checks among other financial services.