While Jamaica is a popular sun destination, it offers much more for event planners than beautiful beaches. To create awe-inspiring events, historical sites, mountain adventures, culinary experiences, fashion, film, and sports await.
Photo Credit: Jamaica Information Service
Jamaican culture reflects influences of the Taino, its original inhabitants, colonizers from Spain and England, and the Africans who were captured and enslaved. In fact, over 90% of Jamaica’s population is of African descent. There have also been waves of immigration from Scotland, Ireland, China, India, Lebanon (which was, at the time, part of Syria), and Germany.
The 1890 opening of The Titchfield Hotel in Port Antonio ushered in the era in which Jamaica was a playground for royalty, the rich and famous. Today, beyond the beaches of Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, and Negril, groups can enjoy excursions to historical sites, mountain adventures, the culinary arts, fashion, film, and sporting events.
Here is a quick tour of Jamaica.
8 Incredible Experiences for Groups in Jamaica
1. Step Back in Time.
Historical sites and places and that reflect Jamaica’s diversity are never far away. Arrange tours of century old churches and plantation great houses with priceless antiques. Devon House, the perfectly preserved mansion built in 1891 for George Stiebel, Jamaica’s first black millionaire, is also a popular attraction.
Photo Credit: Jamaica Tourist Board
Historical towns include:
- Oracabessa, which takes it name from “oro cabeza”, Spanish for “golden head”
- Port Maria, the site of a Taino settlement, was the 2nd town to be established when Jamaica was under Spanish rule
- Port Royal, the notorious pirate haven founded in 1509
Spanish Town, the original capital, established by the Spanish as Villa de la Vega in 1534, and
- Falmouth, with Georgian architecture from the 1760s.
Excursions: On horseback, explore Seville, established by the Spanish as Sevilla la Nueva in 1509. Seville has a re-creation of dwellings from the original Taino settlement, ruins including the original cattle pen of the Spanish, and a great house built in 1745.
2. Head for the Hills.
Photo Credit: Jamaica Tourist Board
Almost half of Jamaica’s land mass is 1,000 ft. above sea level. The highest point is in the Blue Mountains at 7,402 ft. In 2015, UNESCO designated the Blue and John Crow Mountains as World Heritage Sites in 2 categories: natural and cultural. Jamaica has declared this region, which spans the parishes of Portland, St. Andrew, St. Thomas, and South-East St. Mary, as national park. UNESCO’s cultural designation recognizes the role the area played in providing refuge for the Taino after the Spanish conquest, and for runaway slaves who established 4 Maroon communities.
In Trelawny’s rugged Cockpit Country, some descendants of the Maroons who settled in Western Jamaica, still live in Accompong. This community has been autonomous and self-governing since the peace treaty with the British in 1739.
Mountain Excursions: In January, the Accompong Maroon Festival is an ideal time to learn about the history and culture of the Maroons. Good Hope Plantation and River Bumpkin Farm are historical estates in the Cockpit Country offering tubing, 4X4 jeep tours, and zip lining. In the Blue and John Crow Mountains, excursions include hiking, mountain biking, and coffee plantation tours. There is also horse riding from Seville to a 2,256 metres elevation in the hills of St. Ann. Eco-tours are offered at Coyaba Gardens, the location of the Mahoe falls, Turtle River Falls and Gardens with 14 gushing waterfalls, Cranbrook Flower Forest, and the Croydon Plantation.
3. Discover Film Locations.
Since 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was filmed in Negril in 1954, Jamaica has been a popular film and TV location. Dr. No and Live and Let Die from the James Bond were filmed at locations in Port Royal, Kingston, Ocho Rios, Falmouth, and Montego Bay.
More recently, international productions have included Cool Runnings, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, The Bachelor, and America’s Top Model.
Jamaica’s thriving local film industry was launched in the 1970s when The Harder They Come became a cult classic. In July, Kingston hosts an annual film festival.
Fun with Flicks: Groups can explore familiar film locations through Amazing Race inspired competitions. A mini-film festival with the screening of movies filmed locally would be a relaxing way to end each day.
4. Keep Abreast of Fashion Trends.
Jamaica has a flourishing fashion scene. Fashion shows have long been popular with residents and many resorts now offer them weekly. In June, local and international designers gather in Kingston for Caribbean Fashion Week.
Fashion Events: Jamaica is the perfect place to pick up ideas for incorporating fashion into events. For example, Karisma Group’s launch of the 136 suite Azul Sensatori in Negril presented a beachwear fashion show, through stunning 3D projection mapping.
5. Tickle your Palate with Culinary Creations.
The bold and vibrant flavors of Jamaican cuisine are a blend of Scotch bonnet pepper, pimento, thyme, scallion, coconut, Pickapeppa sauce, and jerk seasoning. Menu selections include patties, jerk chicken, curry goat, escovitch fish, and ackee and salt fish (cod), the national dish. During the 1840s, curry was added to Jamaican cuisine with the arrival of indentured servants from India. Chinese immigrants, who also arrived beginning in the 1840s, introduced Hakka cuisine known locally as “Jamaican Chinese food”.
Your choices aren’t limited to Jamaican cuisine. Casanova at Sans Souci Resort in Ocho Rios and Petit Pariz at Hyatt Zilara in Montego Bay specialize in gourmet French cuisine. Since 1989, restaurateur Eva Myers, who is originally from Venice, has served authentic Italian cuisine at Evita’s in Ocho Rios.
Food festivals include:
- Portland Jerk Festival and the Little Ochie Seafood Festival in July
- Jamaica Food & Drink Festival in October, and
- in November, Nyamjam Food and Music festival, and Restaurant Week with over 75 participating restaurants.
The annual Jamaica Observer Table Talk Food Awards, which take place in May, have recognized culinary excellence and top local food products for the past 18 years.
Culinary Experiences: Cooking classes and competitions can be organized for groups at many hotels. As Jamaica produces some of the world’s best coffee and chocolate, tours of coffee and cocoa plantations like Croydon Plantation will delight participants.
6. Make Music and Dance.
UNESCO has recognized Kingston’s contributions to music with membership in its Creative Cities Network.
Music festivals include Jamrock Summer from May to August, Reggae Sumfest in July, and jazz festivals in Ocho Rios and Montego Bay.
During the summer, the National Dance Theater Company of Jamaica’s presents its Season of the Dance in Kingston. Pantomime, which begins on Boxing Day, is a colorful presentation of music, dance, and theater performed in Jamaican patois.
Musical Moments: Groups with an interest in music can visit Bob Marley’s birthplace in the hills of St. Ann or his home in Kingston, which has been converted into a museum. They can also jam at the recording studio at Geejam Hotel in Port Antonio.
7. Horse Around.
Beach rides on horseback are on many bucket lists but they are not Jamaica’s only equestrian offering. Tours on horseback are available at historical plantations at Seville and Braco Stables near St. Ann’s Bay, and Prospect Plantation near Ocho Rios.
Polo dates back to 1892 when the St. Ann Polo Club, the oldest polo club in the Americas, was established. The Jamaican polo season runs from January to June.
Equestrian Events: Show jumping and dressage lessons are offered at equestrian centers and polo clubs in Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, and near Caymanas Estates. Polo lessons are available. Groups can get involved in the Hanover Polo Charity series and the DHL Open.
8. Stay Active with Sports.
Soccer, called football, is popular. The Bob Marley One Love Football Extravaganza honors the reggae king who was an avid soccer player. It raises funds for children’s homes and basic schools in low income areas.
Groups with an interest in sports will find no shortage of venues including sports complexes in Kingston, Montego Bay, Treasure Beach, Trelawny, and Saint Ann. With the international success of Usain Bolt and other Jamaican athletes, it’s not surprising that many schools have running tracks.
Near Negril, Jamwest Motorsports and Adventure Park offers the thrill of racing at its drag racing facility and 3.2 km racing circuit. Jamaican track and field Olympian, Warren Weir, captured highlights from various adventures, events, and attractions in his drone tour of Jamaica.
Of Special Interest to Event Planners
There have been significant upgrades to Jamaica’s infrastructure. New highways from Montego Bay to Port Antonio and linking Mamme Bay in St Ann with Caymanas in St. Catherine have significantly reduced travel time. Event planners who have not visited Jamaica in a while won’t recognize it.
The Montego Bay Convention Center offers 142,000 sq. ft. of flexible function space. On Kingston’s harbor, the Jamaica Conference Center, has a 2,400 sq. ft. Exhibition Hall. The largest conference room with a capacity of 1,200, has press galleries and simultaneous translation facilities for up to 6 languages.
Moon Palace Jamaica Grande Resort in Ocho Rios has the largest capacity with a 32,000 sq. ft. conference center. In Montego Bay, Half Moon has 27,000 sq. ft. of function space, and Hilton Rose Hall Resort & Spa offers 14,000 sq. ft. Eco-friendly Beach Huts have just opened at Goldeneye.
What’s Hot and New
On the Horizon
Jamaica will soon unveil excursions that include augmented and virtual reality. Hotel Riu Reggae will open in Montego Bay in December, 2016. Ocean by H10 Hotels is building a 425 room, all-inclusive resort in Trelawny with a scheduled opening in 2018. Taking shape near Ocho Rios, Karisma Group’s 4,000 room resort is also due to open in 2018.
When planning meetings, conferences, and retreats in Jamaica, enrich the guest experience by moving beyond the beach. Depending on group demographics and interests, tours of historical sites, mountain adventures, fashion events, culinary escapades, and sports will create events participants will rave about for years.