This Caribbean island with a population of 2.8 million has been, and is still the playground of North American tourists throughout centuries. Most prefer to spend their winter vacation in Jamaica’s resort towns to escape the freezing colds in northern climes.

Jamaica’s capital and largest city Kingston, fails to attract vacationers who are interested in sun, beaches, tranquility, sex and rest, but Ocho Rios, Port Antonio, Montego Bay, and Negril are some of the most popular.

When Christopher Columbus arrived in Montego Bay in 1494 the Taino and Arawak people from South America had already settled in Jamaica for more than 5000 years. He called the bay Fair Weather Bay (El Golfo de Buen Tiempo) but later the English administrators changed it to Montego Bay.

Regardless, he claimed the island for the Spanish king, who was financing his “expeditions”, but the English captured the land in 1655. Since their arrival, they introduced English, and made it the official language.

The English ruled Jamaica until its independence in the 20th century.

Today, there are practically no Taino or Arawak living. They perished due to neglect, diseases “white people” brought with them, and marginalization.

Ocho Rio (eight Rivers) is now mainly a port of call for enormous American cruise ships that stay in port for a day, inundating the small city with thousands of tourists.

There are several hotels that cater to tourists who stay for a week or two. Some enjoy the pristine, white-sand beaches, other tranquility, swimming, scuba diving, visits to distilleries and coffee plantations.

Ocho Rios still has fishermen who supply hotels and restaurants, and operates a cargo port for exports of tropical fruits (mainly bananas), sugar, and other commodities.

Montego Bay, on the north coast, is much larger than Ocho Rios with a well-developed tourism infrastructure and several international hotel chain hotels. The beaches are terrific, natives are friendly, liquor and cocktails inexpensive, and the coffee is strong. You can visit a distillery nearby, or arrange a taxi ride to the Blue Mountain famous for its coffee plantations.

Negril is a small, beautiful, typical Caribbean town, west of Montego Bay. It also houses Appleton Distillery, world famous for its rums in many levels of smoothness. Appleton Distillery offers visitors tours, and at the end, samples.

Negril is popular with tourists who want to experience Jamaican rural life at its best without the hoopla of Montego Bay and Ocho Rios.

Further west is the town of Port Antonio with its land-locked Blue lagoon, where the colour changes frequently, pending on weather. It gives a romantic feel to all who visit this natural wonder.

Fishing, hiking, swimming and scuba diving are the main attractions of Port Antonio.

Jamaica’s complex and diverse cuisine had been influenced by European, African, and Asian cultures.

The English brought slaves from Africa as workers for their sugar plantations.

Asians and some Middle Eastern people came as traders and skilled workers.

Today, a wide variety of tropical fruits and vegetables are grown on

the fertile soils of the island and all produce tastes terrific as everything is picked at the peak of ripeness and distributed rapidly. The island is relatively small.

As a tourist you can experience jerk chicken, beef, and pork. “Jerk” is a blend of Scotch bonnet pepper (very potent), ground allspice, fresh thyme, chopped ginger, diced onion, minced garlic, scallions, soy sauce, and pepper. Everyone proportions ingredients differently. It is a “sort” of marinade to flavour and partially tenderize meat.

When in Jamaica, you can taste truly fresh seafood prepared simply and tastefully.

Try any or all of the following – red peas soup, curried goat, jerk chicken, or beef, or pork, ackee and salt fish (salted cod), spicy shrimp, rice and peas, calaloo with garlic, pineapple coleslaw, and cassava flat breads (aka bammy).

When it comes to desserts don’t miss rum or coconut or chocolate cake, mango ice cream, banana fritter, and sweet potato pone.

Should you happen not to like, fully ripe tropical fruits like pineapple, ugli, and other citrus, sapodilla, guava, jackfruit, star apple, carambola, cashew fruit, watermelon, genip, golden apple, sour sop, tropical cherries, pending on season.

Most major North American airlines fly to Montego Bay ad most European airlines offer flights to Florida connecting to Jamaica . Few fly direct.