With lulling turquoise waves lapping powdery white beaches, some of the Caribbean’s finest duty-free shopping and a raucous “Hip Strip,” Montego Bay, Jamaica, leaves little to be desired from this island paradise city. MoBay, as the locals call it, hosts Jamaica’s largest airport and cruise port, which allows for a constant influx of leisure visitors and business travelers. As the tourism capital of Jamaica, this city is a pleasant balance of laid-back and breezy island atmosphere and a pumped-up nightlife and reggae music scene.
Running parallel to the beach and the driving force behind Montego Bay’s popularity is Gloucester Avenue – the “Hip Strip.” The strip is home to some of the best waterfront dining spots in Jamaica, serving Caribbean and international cuisine and boasting dazzling views of the bay. The bay not only provides for pristine beaches, but miles of coral reef and a vast marine park that can be explored and admired while snorkeling or partaking in the many available water sports. In addition to checking out the natural beauty of this port city, Montego Bay offers a plethora of attractions and entertainment options from reggae clubs and Rastafarian art galleries, to gaming lounges and endless tax-free shopping.
Beyond Gloucester Avenue is the downtown section of Montego Bay. Though most tourists don’t bother to venture beyond the strip, this is where the genuine essence of the city courses through the streets. The maze of pot-holed streets and avenues are littered with eager pushcart peddlers and competing storefronts that fuel the everyday Jamaica not found in the colorful resort brochures. Downtown attractions include Sam Sharpe Square, which is riddled with pedestrians, brightly painted old Gregorian buildings and the Museum of St. James, which bears witness to the tragic slave history of the city.
Jamaican cuisine is a fusion of Spanish, British and Afro-centric influences. The most popular style of cooking native to the country is called jerk—a spicy and smoky seasoning on barbequed meats such as chicken, pork and beef. Some of the best jerk dishes can be found at places like the Pork Pit overlooking the waterfront, and Belfield 1974 at the Barnett Estate downtown. For a fine dining experience offering a romantic atmosphere and Caribbean cuisine, check out the Sugar Mill Restaurant. Dine by candlelight or on the terrace and enjoy classic dishes such as pumpkin soup, smoked marlin and curry chicken. For a panoramic view of the bay and some of the freshest seafood in town, try the open-air restaurant Pier One Seafood on Howard Cooke Boulevard.
One of the largest airports in the Caribbean, Montego Bay’s Sangster International Airport (MBJ), serves many major airline carries and handles 9 million passengers yearly. This airport is used as the Caribbean hub for many airlines and has three terminals with accessibility to ground transportation. While in Montego Bay, it’s best to walk along Gloucester Avenue, which is lined with hotels, resorts, restaurants, bars and shops. This area is always packed with tourists, and is considerably safe. When venturing further into town, it’s best to take a taxi or local bus. Be sure to ask the concierge in your hotel or resort to assist you in arranging the safest and most efficient mode of transportation.
Montego Bay’s tropical climate is most appealing during the dry season from mid-December to mid-April. This is considered the best time to go, as it avoids the intensely humid summer months and the rainy autumn season when hurricanes are known to blast through. The peak season of winter to early spring brings in the highest volume of tourists, and in turn can raise prices on accommodations and attractions. That said, there isn’t a truly bad time to visit this island city, as the beautiful beaches and friendly, easygoing attitudes of the locals are present year-round.