Kingston, Jamaica - Stein Travel
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Kingston

The capital of Jamaica, Kingston jives to the beat of the infectious reggae music that was born here and has swept through the world. It is the largest English-speaking city south of Miami, lying on a wide plain with the world's seventh-largest natural harbour to the south, and the Blue Mountains behind.

Jamaica itself may have the image of being laid back and rather slow, but cosmopolitan Kingston moves at a fast pace, in keeping with its importance as the dominant force on the island politically, commercially and culturally.

Tourists tend not to stay in Kingston as such, generally heading for the northern and western beaches and resorts instead, but the city does have a wide array of historical and cultural attractions, not to mention a very sophisticated and sizzling nightlife.

Kingston was founded in 1692 after the demise of nearby Port Royal, the former capital, which was devastated by an earthquake. Port Royal was known as the 'wicked city', being the haunt of decadent aristocrats and swashbuckling pirates. Kingston has tried to be more dignified, but it is a little grimy and crime is rife. There are also some inner-city neighbourhoods to avoid, which are more prone to drug-related killings and gang violence.

Information & Facts

Climate

Jamaica has a tropical climate with year-round constant high temperatures and humidity and no seasonal variation. The city of Kingston lies on the dry part of the island, so rainfall is intermittent. When it does rain, showers are short, heavy and followed by sunshine. The rainiest weather occurs in May and June and later in October and November, sometimes extending into December. Tropical storms and hurricanes can occur between July and November.

Getting Around

Public transport is not recommended for visitors to Kingston due to overcrowding and unsafe conditions aboard the buses, and driving conditions are chaotic. Downtown is easily navigable on foot, but walking anywhere at night is not advisable. Taxis come in various shapes, sizes and vintages, but should bear a red licence plate with the letters 'PPV' indicating it is an authorised taxi. Passengers should negotiate a fare before setting off.

Language

The official language of Jamaica is English but a local patois is also spoken, a mixture of English, Spanish, and various African languages.

Money

The Jamaican Dollar (JMD) is divided into 100 cents. The island is well supplied with ATMs, banks and bureaux de change. Banking hours are usually Monday to Thursday from 9am to 2pm, and Friday from 9am to 4pm. Cambio exchange offices are found throughout the country, open later than banks and often offering better exchange rates. Retain receipts as proof of legal currency exchange. Exchange bureaux at the airports and hotels also offer better rates than banks. Major credit cards and travellers cheques are widely accepted. Both cash and travellers cheques are best taken in US Dollars.

Night Life

After a long day enjoying the Caribbean sunshine, what could be better than working up a sweat in one of Kingston's hottest nightclubs? Jamaicans love to dance and it doesn't take long for the rum to get flowing and the party to really kick off. Most of the nightlife is centred round the tourist areas, but the most popular strip is without a doubt Knutsford Blvd in Kingston 5, where the highly popular Asylum nightclub, synonymous with Kingston's hip and happening party scene, attracts revelers of all kinds. Quad is also hot on the club scene, with a jazz café, nightclub and Voodoo Lounge, perfect for shaking a tail feather. A variety of music bars and clubs offering all kinds of music abound, with everything from reggae, rock, jazz, latin and house to keep those hips shaking until the early hours. Kingston can be dangerous after dark so it might be worth finding out where to go from your hotel before heading out for a big night. Walking at night is not recommended, better to take a taxi.

Shopping

With everything from colourful beachwear and tropical shirts to locally-made crafts and jewellery, Kingston has it all and shopaholics won't be disappointed. The New Kingston Shopping Centre off Dominica Drive is the place to go for high quality and a wide range of products, while the Island Life Mall on St. Lucia Avenue offers a variety of shops, boutiques and even the Chelsea Art Gallery. Sovereign Centre is Jamaica's largest shopping centre and boasts a variety of western stores and boutiques, as well as a food court and two cinemas. Tuff Gong in Marcus Garvey Drive is the place to go for anything reggae, they even have a recording studio used by Ziggy Marley. Jubilee Market on Orange Street is great for souvenir shopping as just about everything is sold here, from Bob Marley mementos and local arts and crafts to fresh fruit and the usual tourist miscellany. Keep a firm grip on your purse as it's a haven for pickpockets. Kingston Crafts Market, on Harbour Street, is also a good place for souvenir shopping - look out for wooden crockery, pepper pots made from mahoe wood, masks, straw hats and baskets. There is a Farmer's Market at Market Square every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday throughout the year, where you can find local arts and crafts along with fresh produce. Or those happy to take it slow can head down Constant Spring Road and browse through the shopping plazas along the sides of the road.

Sightseeing

Sightseeing in Kingston has a split personality due to the city's colonial past. Visitors will find attractions like Devon House and Spanish Town with grand British and Spanish architecture next to bustling markets with a distinctly Afro-Caribbean flavour.

Despite Kingston's chequered past, visitors shouldn't miss touring the stately mansions and art galleries alongside the beaches and Bob Marley sights. Further from the city, the Blue Mountains offer a wild experience with waterfalls, hiking, and tours of thoroughly-modernised coffee plantations. Kingston has come a long way, and is sure to have something to do and see for everyone.

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