Jamaica, Caribbean are hot spots

Jamaica, an island country in the West Indies is the third-largest island in the Caribbean Sea, after Cuba, Haiti/Dominican Republic (Hispaniola). It is located 90 miles south of Cuba. 

With the influx of Jews to Jamaica in the 17th century, multiple synagogues were constructed across the island. Originally, two synagogues were built and migrated to Kingston, the new capital city. These two congregations would later merge as Jews began to migrate to Kingston, the new capital city. In 1921, the Ashkenazi community merged with the Sephardi to form Shaare Shalom Synagogue, a united congregation, which continues to exist and is the only synagogue on the island of Jamaica.

The synagogue can accommodate more than 600 people in its sanctuary. Its sanctuary floor is covered in sand (from the Sephardi custom) to remind persons of the time when Jews covered their floors with sand to muffle the sound of their prayers during the Spanish Inquisition. The sanctuary also features a 52-stop pipe organ.

Though once an Orthodox community, the Shaare Shalom synagogue now allows for mixed seating and a liberal-conservative service incorporating prayers in both Hebrew and English. Additionally, there is a museum of Jamaican Jewish history adjacent to the synagogue. As a collector of historical Judaica from all over the island, it is considered one of the finest historical collections in the Caribbean. The synagogue can be reached at [email protected].

Today, Jamaica is known as the birthplace of reggae (ragged music), which was born in 1950s and 1960s, with Bob Marley, its most famous star. Jamaica has a colorful African vibe and boasts golden beaches, emerald mountains, turquoise seas, cascades, coral reefs, rainforests, rivers, and mineral springs. There are plenty of things to do, from hiking to horseback riding along the beach, diving colorful coral reefs and birding in the jungle. And there are visits to historical plantations and grand great houses.

The main tourist hubs are Montego Bay, popular resort town with golf courses, restaurant, shops, galleries and hotels and resorts lining the beaches. Ocho Rios attracts the cruise ships for attractions, and Negril has clear waters and coconut palms. Port Antonio is close to the spectacular Blue Mountains. Kingston is the capital with city museums and historical sites. 


One of the best beaches in Montego Bay is Doctor’s Cave Beach. In early 1920, a famous British osteopath declared that the water had curative powers after swimming here.

Good Hope Estate, 1755, was an old established coconut and sugar plantation.  Half Moon Beach is a peaceful crescent of sand and coral reefs.

Rose Hall is a restored 1770 plantation house. Annie Palmer the legendary (White Witch) ruled here and met a violent death. Visitors can choose from day of spooky evening tours with tales of ghost sightings.

Greenwood Great House, built in 1790 Richard Barrett, a relative of poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning is a museum with a rare collection of musical instruments and Wedgewood China.

One of Jamaica’s most popular tourist attraction is rafting the Martha Brae River on bamboo rafts poled by local guides. Or, raft the Rio Grande River, where once banana farmers used to transport their bananas along the river in 1911. 

At YS Falls, Jamaica’s largest and least commercial cascades, visitors can play Tarzan on the ropes and swing and plunge into the wading pool below fed by natural springs. Canopy rides and river tubing also are available.

Ocho Rios visitors can enjoy panoramic views of the town and sea on the Rainforest SkyExplorer, a chairlift ascending the mountain. Or zoom down the mountain on Bobsled, a single-person roller-coaster ride through the forest, or zip line through the treetops. There are nature walks, butterflies and hummingbird gardens, as well as an infinity pool and waterslides.

Dunn’s River Falls, 55 feet high and 600 feet long, is one of Jamaica’s most famous natural attractions.  Falls tumble over rocks and limestone ledges into the sea. Visitors can climb the natural tiers to the top of the falls with an aid of a guide or cool off in the refreshing pools at the base.

Port Antonio is set between mountains and a double harbor. It was once the center for banana export.  Visitors can explore the many art galleries, hike jungle trails, snorkel and scuba dive the coral reefs. 

A visit to Blue Lagoon, fed by freshwater springs, and was the site of the movie starring Brooke Shields.

Jamaica’s spicy “jerk-style” of cooking originated in Port Antonio and some of the best can be found at Boston Beach east of Port Antonio.

Navy Island, set between Port Antonio’s two harbors can be reached by ferry. It was once owned by movie swashbuckler, Errol Flynn. Today, the island is a favorite for picnic’s and day trips. Nearby, Daniel’s River plunges through a gorge of natural rock in a series of cascades and pools known as Somerset Falls.

There are several major airlines from Cleveland who fly, via a connection, to Montego Bay and Kingston.  And lots of all-inclusive deluxe beach front resorts and villas to pick and choose from. Montego Bay is a popular cruise ship port and a good stopping off point to enjoy all there is to offer in Jamaica.

Arlene Goldberg is president and owner of Action Travel Center in Solon.

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