It’s official – according to new figures from the Jamaica Tourist Board, an estimated 231,104 British tourists visited the island’s beach-lined shores in 2022, the more popular Barbados than ever, making Jamaica the number one destination in the Caribbean for UK travelers.
So what brought us back? For starters, it’s easy to get to with Virgin Atlantic, which flies from Heathrow to Montego Bay three times a week; British Airways operating a direct service from Gatwick to Kingston with the same frequency, and the tour operator Tui offering flights from several British airports.
It’s also comfortingly familiar. The ties between our islands date back to 1655, when forces sent by Oliver Cromwell wrested Jamaica from Spanish control. Today, the island is divided into three counties – Cornwall, Middlesex and Surrey – and its lush landscape is dotted with famous place names such as Falmouth, Cambridge and Wakefield. Last August, the nation celebrated 60 years of independence from British rule, but remains – for now – part of the Commonwealth and, as the then Prince of Wales stated, “the contribution of the Jamaicans to the life of this country has been immeasurable”.
That’s not all – its climate also suits us. With a year-round thermometer hovering between 24-27C, Jamaica promises guaranteed warmth for winter sun-seekers looking to unwind on the white sands, which, in the case of Negril on the west coast, stretch for seven miles. Meanwhile, the east offers cool breezes, forest hikes and panoramic views in the Blue Mountains, a World Heritage Site where the eponymous mild coffee is produced.
Jamaica is also very good at all-inclusive resorts, thanks to the genius of Gordon “Butch” Stewart, who opened the first Sandals Resort in Montego Bay in 1981. Power. However, you should still venture beyond the bougainvillea-strewn walls. Tui, which sells holidays at 29 all-inclusive resorts across the island, offers tours from as low as £8. Unfortunately, hostile attitudes and archaic laws do not encourage LGBT+ people to travel; the island has one of the worst scores in the Caribbean on the Gay Travel Index.
Of course, you can’t talk about Jamaica’s appeal without mentioning Bob Marley, who shares a special bond with Britain after his time in England in the 1970s. The enthusiasm for his songs attracts countless admirers to the island, most of whom go to the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston, home to the house he moved into in 1976 and the studio where Buffalo Soldier recorded.
Don’t be put off by the prospect of exploring the capital on a guided tour – while the harbor has some off-limits and the island’s crime rate remains high, there’s plenty to see and do, including the Coronation Market and Devon House, a mansion built in 1881 by George Stiebel, Jamaica’s first black millionaire.
Since the 1940s, stars such as Errol Flynn, Katharine Hepburn and Noël Coward have brought glamor to the north coast. Jamaica Inn, where Marilyn Monroe spent her honeymoon and where Winston Churchill painted, is the best place to get an early jet vibe; celebrates its 65th anniversary this year.
It would be negligent to end any discussion of British love for Jamaica without mentioning a certain spy. Ian Fleming wrote all of the James Bond novels in Goldeneye, his home in Oracabessa, and the island locations have received invaluable prominence in numerous 007 movies, including the latest No Time To Die. If that’s enough for Daniel Craig…
How to do it
Seven nights at the Royalton Negril in Negril starts at £1,722 per person all-inclusive, with TUI Airways flights from Birmingham and transfers departing on March 25. For more information, visit visitjamaica.com