Let’s begin with some geographical facts about Montego Bay to get a sense of what to expect. After all, this city sounds like a rather unknown, exotic destination to those who are not exactly world travellers. Montego Bay is a city in north-western Jamaica and the administrative centre of Saint James parish.
With a population of almost 500,000 inhabitants, Montego Bay is the fourth-largest urban area in Jamaica. It is also the second-largest Anglophone city in the Caribbean after Kingston. Montego Bay is also a very popular port for cruise ships and home to Donald Sangster International airport. The airport here is the busiest airport in the Caribbean region and where your trip is most likely to begin.
A Short Trip Through History of Montego Bay
Before your trip, it is important you know some things about the city’s history. This will help you understand the locals and impress them with your historical knowledge.
During Christopher Columbus’ second voyage in 1494, he landed on the Caribbean island of Jamaica and named the bay Montegos Golfo de Buen Tiempo. If you know a little Spanish, then you know this city, as the name suggests, has wonderful weather year-round. In fact, it’s believed that the name Montego Bay comes from a variation of the Spanish word manteca, meaning lard in English. So what’s the connection? Well, during the Spanish Colonial period, this port was a major stop for trading leather, beef and lard.
During its slavery period, from the mid-17th century to the 20th century, Montego Bay served mainly as a port for exporting sugar cane. As in many places during this time, Jamaica experienced rebellions by the exploited and oppressed slaves. One of the more well-known revolts, known as the Christmas Uprising or the Baptist War, took place in Montego Bay from1831 to1832 and led by Samuel Sharpe, an indigenous slave. Sharpe’s revolt was commemorated after his capture and hanging, years later, with the re-naming of the main square in Montego Bay in his honor.
Montego Bay struggled for a long time with its own recognition as a city. Even before the British colonisation, its city status was disputed and eventually revoked during the Colonial period. However, the city remained an essential part of the St. James community. Today, Montego Bay is a popular touristic attraction for many upper-class Jamaicans from Kingston, as well as North Americans and Europeans.
There are many restaurants, shopping malls and huge resort hotels, built on former, refurbished sugar plantations and mills. Their unique architecture is like a window to the past. The city infrastructure has also been expanded and increasingly modernised to make Montego Bay even more attractive for tourists and locals.
A Diverse Population in Montego Bay
The population of Montego Bay consists of different nationalities and backgrounds. Most of its inhabitants are of African descent from the slaves who were brought from Africa in the 17th and 18th century. There is also a considerable number of Chinese settlers, who came to Jamaica in the mid-19th century as indentured servants. As such, the cityscape of Montego Bay features many Chinese supermarkets and restaurants.
There is also an Indian minority in the city, which mainly owns jewellery and souvenir stores. Here you will find everything you need during your holiday and all kinds of souvenirs. So, don’t forget to stop by and check out the hand-woven bracelets, magnets, postcards, and the typical “I Love Montego Bay” shirts.
Some ethnic Germans also live in Montego Bay, since it is only 90 minutes away from the German settlement in Westmoreland. Other Europeans from Great Britain, Spain, Italy and Russia, have also found a home here. In addition, many North Americans reside in Montego Bay working in the tourism or the Business Process Outsourcing industry.
A Beautiful Year Round Climate
Climate is obviously an important factor when choosing your holiday destination. Especially in winter, when you desperately want to escape the dreary, cold and rainy weather. Nothing beats lying on a white sandy beach under a bright blue sky, sipping a margarita. Montego Bay is the perfect getaway!
From December to April, the weather here is dry and very warm – with an average temperature of 28 °C. In summer, it gets even warmer, with the temperature rising to 31 °C. In the months of May, June, September and November, you can expect one or two rain showers. However, there is no rainy season in Montego Bay. Also, with about 8 hours of sunshine per day, Montego Bay is a true paradise for all sun worshipers.
The Best Places in Montego Bay
Good Hope Estate
If you are a history lover, then this place is a must-see. Good Hope was a sugar factory, built in 1744 by Colonel Thomas Williams after being granted over 1,000 hectares of land. In 1767, the building was sold to John Tharp, a powerful land and slave owner in Jamaica. He owned other sugar plantations with about 3000 slaves working on them.
The estate later grew into a village to support the workers after their freedom. Today, the property is part of the Island Trading Group. Despite, its transformation into a luxurious villa complex, you can still see the Colonial stature and appeal.
During a guided tour through the estate, it may feel like you are travelling back in time. The location also offers awe-inspiring views of Jamaica and its exotic landscapes – you should not miss this. For brave adventurers, you can explore zip-lining, river tubing, kayaking, and bamboo rafting. Get ready for a massive adrenaline rush!
Doctor’s Cave Beach
This is one of the most popular beaches on Jamaica’s west coast, and a favourite relaxation spot for tourists. Doctor’s Cave Beach has everything your heart desires: clear turquoise sea, white sand, shallow waters, numerous restaurants, bars and water sports. Here, you can try out wave running, jet skiing or stand up paddling. Make sure to also take a sunbath in the sand with a good book and sunglasses on – live your dream.
Doctor’s Cave Beach is also part of the protected Montego Bay Marine Park, which has a wide variety of marine life among the coral reefs. So grab your snorkelling gear and get ready to explore Jamaica’s underwater wildlife in all its glory
Sam Sharpe Square
Named after the national hero, Sam Sharpe, the main city square bears great historical significance for Jamaica and also serves as a cultural hub. A monument here depicts the Emancipation War with the Jamaican heroes Sam Sharpe and Paul Bogle, preaching to three seated slaves.
A lot of small cafés and cosy restaurants line the Sam Sharpe Square, calling you to try out traditional dishes and watch the hustle and bustle of the city. You can take a stroll through the narrow alleys with a coffee-to-go, admiring the colourful buildings.
Montego Bay is the ideal destination for adrenaline junkies, passionate cultural tourists and those who simply want a break from their hectic routine. The crystal clear waters, white sandy beaches and hot summer weather invite people from all over the world for a thrilling experience. Not to forget, a trip to Montego Bay is incomplete without some relaxing reggae music. Enjoy a dance with the locals, forget your worries, and live in the moment.