Jamaica is one of the more popular tourist destinations in the Caribbean with 3+million visiting each year. However, most visitors know very little about Jamaica beyond it having beautiful beaches and being the home of reggae legend Bob Marley. With that said, here are 10 interesting facts about Jamaica that visitors should know.
Facts About Jamaica
Despite the popularity of the Jamaican dialect known locally as patois (Patwa or Patwah), English is the country’s official language. Nearly everyone speaks English as it is the language of instruction in all schools, from the kindergarten level all the way up to university. Jamaican patois is a mixture of English, Spanish, and some African words, and while the majority of the population speaks it, most people are also fluent English speakers. In fact, Jamaica’s capital city, Kingston, is the largest English-speaking city south of Miami in the Northern Hemisphere.
Not all of Jamaica is scorching hot. While temperatures along the coastline and urban areas can reach as high as 100ºF in the summer, the island’s hilly interior is noticeably cooler. The annual average temperature in the Blue Mountain Peak, for example, is as low as 55ºF. Across the island, temperatures are usually mild during the winter months of December to March, averaging around 77ºC.
3. Accompong – Maroon Descendants
Accompong, in the southwest parish of St. Elizabeth, is home to the descendants of valiant slaves who fought relentlessly against the British in the 1700s until the colonizers were forced to sign a peace treaty to bring an end to a brutal civil war. Known as Maroons, they were so successful fighting the colonial masters with their guerilla-style warfare, that they were able to fend off any attempts to re-enslave them. The fighting came to an end when the British forces wary of the fighting approached the Maroons with a treaty that granted them full self-governance and 1500 acres of land to establish their own communities. The terms of the treaty are still officially recognized by the Jamaican government.
Jamaica: Kindah Tree of Accompong near where the Maroons signed their treaty with the British in 1739. Photo Credit: © Angra / Wikimedia Commons.
When it comes to religion, Jamaica is perhaps most famous for the Rastafarian religious sect which hails as its prophet the late Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie. But although a lot of people sport the dreadlocked hairstyle commonly associated with Rastafarianism and made popular by the late Reggae superstar Bob Marley, only a small number of Jamaicans are actual devotees to the religion. Most Jamaicans observe Christianity and there are many different Christian denominations on the island including Adventist, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist. Existing in much smaller numbers are Jewish, Muslim, Hindi, and adherents to several indigenous African religions.
Jamaica has been winning in sports on the world stage for decades, earning its first Olympic gold and two silver medals in 1948. Since then, the country continues to churn out notable international athletes in several sports including track and field, cricket, swimming, boxing, football, and tennis. It is a common practice for the sports-loving Jamaicans to watch spectator sports in groups, and corporate sponsors usually work together to show live feeds of cricket, track and field, and football in public squares so that people can keep up with the scores as they go about their business. It goes without saying that Jamaica’s most famous athlete is Usain Bolt, and he actually tops the list for Caribbean athletes.
Prized for its aroma and unique flavor, Jamaica’s Blue Mountain Coffee is one of the most expensive coffee in the world. The beans are cultivated in a small area of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Blue Mountains, where it is thought that the constant cool temperature helps to seal the flavor. About 80% of Jamaica’s coffee is exported to Japan. Around the world, Blue Mountain coffee is mostly blended to add flavor to less aromatic beans.
7. Giant Swallow Tail Butterflies
With a wingspan of up to six inches, the Giant Swallow Tail butterfly is the largest butterfly in the western hemisphere, and can only be found in Jamaica. It is one of many species that is unique to the island, including the striped black and yellow ‘Zebra’ butterfly. The Zebra butterfly has become known for a most unusual habit, forming large swarms to roost on the same tree every evening.
8. Pimento Tree – Allspice
The world gets its supply of Allspice from the pimento plant which is indigenous to Jamaica. The pimento tree is grown in the hilly areas of Jamaica, and here, every part of the tree has a purpose. The allspice comes from the dried pimento berry, while the leaves are used to make pimento oil, which counts as an ointment for pain among its many uses. The wood or bark of the pimento is known for its strength and is used to make furniture, as well as a key ingredient in cooking Jamaican jerk.
9. Port Royal
The ruins of Port Royal in Kingston have a lot of history connected to the days of pirates and Buccaneers. In the 1600s, Port Royal was once the headquarters of English buccaneers who amassed great wealth from plundering passing Spanish ships. It was once dubbed “the wickedest city on earth” until 1692 when a great earthquake and subsequent tidal wave (tsunami) destroyed over two-thirds of the city. Much of the sunken city remains underwater today. A visit to Port Royal will see the old Fort Charles with its canons that once protected the city from would-be invaders.
10. Cool Running
The movie ‘Cool Runnings’ was based on the true story of Jamaica’s bid as the first tropical country to send a bobsledding team to the 1988 Winter Olympics. At the time, most Jamaicans had never heard of bobsledding – a winter sport in which teams make timed runs down narrow, twisting iced tracks in a gravity-powered sled. The Jamaican bobsledding team’s hopes were dashed early in the competition, but their tenacity captured the hearts of people around the globe.
Were you aware of these interesting facts about Jamaica? What other ones would you recommend that we add to the list?