Jamaica’s celebration of 50 years of independence makes for a great excuse to visit

 

Only a short plane ride from Atlanta sits the fifth largest island in the Caribbean. The indigenous people of the island named it Xaymaca, meaning the “Land of Wood and Water.” Now the island, Jamaica, is celebrating 50 years of independence from British rule.

Over the centuries Jamaica passed through the hands of Spain and Britain, and most who live there now are descendants of generations who endured hundreds of years of colonialist rule before becoming fully independent in 1962. Now, many around the world are celebrating the country’s golden anniversary of independence with a variety of events.

Throughout the island during August residents and visitors are celebrating the country’s independence by attending reggae music festivals, street parades, beach-side soccer competitions, sailing regattas and more.

On Aug. 4-6, Jamaican transplants and residents in the metro Atlanta area held a Jamaica Day celebration hosted by the Jamaica Independence Jubilee Organization, featuring music, food and guest speakers. The event culminated in a flag-raising ceremony at Atlanta’s city hall.

Those interested in joining the celebration on the island may want to visit Jamaica Oct. 31-Nov. 2, and take part in the Jamaica Praise Fest 2012, held in beautiful Montego Bay. The festival will feature Jamaican artists and speakers from around the world with the cool clear waters of the Caribbean nearby.

Although Jamaica’s anniversary of independence will be celebrated nationwide, the quickest and easiest destination for metro Atlantans is Montego Bay (also referred to as MoBay). Both Delta and AirTran airlines offer daily nonstop service between Atlanta and Montego Bay’s Sangster International Airport, which is considered the tourism gateway to the country and such destinations as Ocho Rios and Negril.

Montego Bay, the second largest city in Jamaica, is a tourist destination with plenty of shopping, local cuisine and beaches. It is bordered by the country’s longest chain of mountains and origin of Blue Mountain Coffee, regarded as some of the finest coffee in the world.

The city is also known for its port facilities and as a place where many upper-class Jamaicans, North Americans and Europeans have relocated. The city boasts numerous resorts, many of which occupy the grounds of old sugar cane plantations. Although the resorts on the outskirts of the city are extravagant, the city also offers a range of experiences and accommodations for those on a budget.

In downtown Montego Bay there is certainly no shortage of options for accommodations, dining and sightseeing.

MoBay’s popular tourist destination, referred to as the Hip Strip, is renowned for its restaurants and bars and its proximity to Jamaica’s most popular beaches such as Doctors’ Cave. Along the Hip Strip one will find Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, a high-energy nightclub and restaurant with a tunnel-like sliding board that deposits those willing to take the plunge directly into the Caribbean. There is also Marguerite’s, a fine-dining seafood restaurant overlooking the ocean. And if dining, dancing and drinks are not enough entertainment, one only needs to cross the street to enter a multi-level, jungle-themed casino where the action runs nonstop until daybreak.

Just outside of town are numerous luxurious hotels such as The Ritz Carlton Golf and Tennis Resort at Rose Hall; three Iberostar all-inclusive properties catering to families, singles and couples; Holiday Inn; Hyatt as well as other widely known five-star chains. All hotels on the outskirts of Montego Bay feature private, pristine white sand beaches and fine dining options on the grounds.

Two dining options that are musts for anyone visiting MoBay are Scotchies Jerk Café and The Far Out Fish Hut. Scotchies lays claim to being the oldest continuously operated jerk restaurant in the country and offers an amazing variety of jerk chicken and pork with such common side dishes as Jamaica’s famous bammy bread, which is a flatbread of sorts made from cassava root. Also available at Scotchies are a variety of sauces ranging from mild and tart to clear-the-sinuses flaming hot. It’s a quaint place with thatch-covered dining huts and a wide assortment of cocktails and beer.

In stark contrast to the luxury of the surrounding hotels is The Far Out Fish Hut, a tiny open-air seafood restaurant perched along a seawall that serves fresh-from-the-water catches. Seating is limited to concrete patio tables nestled underneath an almond tree canopy, and diners may have to fend off the local chickens that seem to have a penchant for freshly prepared seafood. The hut’s specialty is rainbow fish stuffed with peppers, onions, diced okra and jerk seasonings, wrapped in aluminum foil and cooked over the open flame grill. In addition to amazing fresh seafood, guests experience a true taste of the island culture. There’s nothing the least bit fancy about the Fish Hut, but the food is delicious, service friendly and the island’s best known beer, Red Stripe, is ice cold and plentiful.

 

For additional information: www.visitjamaica.com or www.jamaicans.com

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