In getting back to my experience with Jamaica Tourism’s “Bucket List” trip, my first two days in Jamaica were spent in Kingston, its capital city. Kingston is surrounded by mountain ranges like the Blue Mountains and a long natural harbor.
Kingston is also the center of the country’s culture and commerce. Like many cities worldwide, Kingston has its public attractions, shops and nightlife yet there are good parts for visiting and other parts where it might be best avoided.
Mainly two sections of Kingston get a lot of attention: its Downtown area and its Uptown (or also known as New Kingston) area. Each area has its own significance. In Downtown, you’ll find historic buildings, marketplaces, shops, galleries, and the waterfront. Uptown (where I spent my time) is more cosmopolitan with public parks, nightlife, restaurants, shopping centers, and main tourist attractions.
Here are some highlights I recommend seeing:
– The Devon House: In Uptown, this beautiful Georgian-style mansion and national monument was the home of Jamaica’s first black millionaire George Steibel. Also on the property, former horse stables and blacksmith posts now either hold a bakery, restaurant, or shop. At the Grogge Shoppe, you can order a sit-down meal of local Jamaican fare. Even more so, the Devon House I Scream is an awesome ice cream shop with traditional and fruity flavors.
– The Bob Marley Museum. Unfortunately, the museum also in Uptown was closed for renovations when my group was there – we missed the reopening date by a few days – but it sounds like a good tourist attraction. Especially for reggae fans, you get to see Marley’s home up until his passing that’s now been turned into musical shine. See the musician’s awards, recording studio, and other personal belongings.
– National Gallery of Jamaica. I keep reading good reviews about this Downtown gallery, which features artwork by Jamaicans from throughout the country’s history, from the native Taino Indians through the colonial period to works by modern artists.
– Port Royal. Based at the mouth of Kingston Harbor, Port Royal was once a pirate’s haven in the 17th century, and in turn made this city pretty prosperous. Maybe too much, as the British navy ended up installing Fort Charles here. But Port Royal has seen hardship too, resulting from two major earthquakes, fires and hurricanes so much that a lot of the area was swept away. Fort Charles still stands, and visitors can walk through its lower and upper levels. Also head to the back of the fort to see, and attempt to walk through, a former artillery shed called the Giddy House. An earthquake in 1907 sunk part of the abandoned shed so when you walk through it, it’s literally like performing a balancing act.
For getting around Kingston, my group was lucky to have a local driver take us to and from places. If you are to rent a car and drive around yourself, it’s best to take an offensive stance. Traffic can get interesting as it often involves a mix of cars and pedestrians – sometimes together. I would recommend hiring a driver from a reputable company. This can help with not just getting from point A to point B, but someone who knows the area well can help in making more of our schedule.
From what I’ve read there are cabs available in Kingston too. They have a Red number plate with the letters PPV inscribed as their authorization to pick up passengers. Buses are also available, newer ones with A/C and older ones at different prices. Just do your research before you go!