Jamaica is the largest English-speaking island in the Caribbean - making it a hot destination in more ways than just the tropical weather and balmy seas. This mountainous paradise offers a range of activities, as the island encompasses over 4,000 square miles of varied terrain and underwater fringing reefs. "Xamayca" is the name that the Tainos originally named the island; it aptly means "Land of Wood and Water“.
Miami is six hundred miles to the north, with Cuba the closest neighboring island - lying only ninety miles away in the Caribbean Sea. Visitors take advantage of the multiple sightseeing and hiking tours that this richly diverse island has to offer. The highest peak of the Blue Mountain Range rises up to 7,402 feet, and has world-class sunrise views after a challenging four-hour hike. Over 100 rivers flow throughout the islands interior; waterfalls and mineral spa resorts are popular land attractions.
The scuba diving in Jamaica is predominantly organized along the north and west coastline - this coincides with the major hotel and tourism areas of Montego Bay, Negril and Ocho Rios. Many visitors enjoy the sublime beaches for relaxation and leisure. Negril, on the west coast, is slightly more protected from weather, and experiences gentler currents; don't miss the best sunset views along the white sand Seven Mile Beach.
Many of Jamaica's shallow reefs are close to shore with short boat rides to many sites - perfect for beginners and novices. For the more experienced diver, the alluring Cayman Trench runs past the north coast, allowing deeper diving opportunities on the thrilling wall dives. The historical sunken site of Port Royale, purpose-sunk shipwrecks, and intriguing cave systems offer an alternative underwater experience to the coral reefs.
Jamaica established two marine parks in the 1990's, in an effort to restore and preserve the fragile underwater ecosystem of the fringing reefs along the north and west coastlines. The Montego Bay Park extends across the entire bay, down to a depth of 300 feet. Divers favor the marine life diversity in the Negril Marine Park, which covers over 60 square miles and stretches two miles out to sea. Divers need to be aware of the park regulations, which include no coral harvesting, no gloves to be worn in the park zones, and that sea turtles are protected by law. It is required that you dive with a registered scuba diving operator.
The tropical Caribbean weather makes Jamaica a good year-round destination. Average air temperatures range from 78 F to 90 F in the summer. The mountainous interior gets much cooler, differing by as much as 40 degrees. Jamaica is in the hurricane belt, with hurricane season being recorded as June to November. However, August and September are the most active months in this area.
The water temperature varies from 75 F to 82 F with the seasonal change - a short/long 3mm is adequate protection, although some divers prefer 5mm wetsuits. Underwater visibility is good in this region, averaging 70 to 100 feet on most dive sites.
The south of Jamaica allures divers with historical wrecks and the archeological remains of the notorious pirate safe haven - Port Royal. An earthquake in 1692 devastated the harbor, and many of the buildings were lost into the sea. With government permission, divers can explore the remains of the historic buildings and live to tell the tale. Kingston is home to two more recent wrecks; the Cayman Trader - a cargo ship that sank in 1977, and the Texas - an intact US Navy ship that sank in 1944.
The Throne Room in Negril is a favorite site for visiting divers. Entrance is through a wide crack at a depth of 40 feet, leading to a large chamber at a maximum depth of 65 feet. Plenty of light penetrates the 40-foot wide cave, and it is spacious inside - a narrow chute is of interest at the rear. Soft black corals and large yellow sponges, decorate the heavily festooned walls. Shrimps, nurse sharks, and crabs shelter inside the cave. Outside the cave, divers can find stingrays, barracuda, and eels. Negril has plenty of protected coral reefs, two Cessna airplanes, and a tugboat to explore.
Montego Bay also has an appealing cave dive called Widowmaker's Cave. Experienced divers enter the cave underwater, at 80 feet, and explore whilst rising upwards. The exit is through a 10-foot wide chute, at a depth of 35 feet. Adorned with colorful sponges and black corals, the cave is perfect for creative photography opportunities.
The Kathryn is a purpose-sunk, 140-foot long, WWII Canadian minesweeper. Laid to rest on the seabed in 1991, she sits at a depth of 50 feet, near Ocho Rios. The wreck has become a lively artificial reef with a variety of Caribbean reef fish, crabs, and morays; divers can enter the wheelhouse to explore the interior.
PADI has 38 registered dive operators on Jamaica; ranging from small, owner-operated shops to large, international resorts. As with any destination, it is a good idea to communicate with your chosen centre before travelling, to make sure they can meet your dive expectations while on vacation.
Jamaica is a good destination for beginners and novices looking to gain certification from PADI. Some resorts are very busy during peak season months; experienced divers may want to check that there will be a dedicated dive guide or separate boat to suit their level when diving.
The large luxury resorts usually have a dive centre on site; Sandals and the Beaches have scuba diving and rental equipment listed as all-inclusive. They offer the full range of PADI scuba certifications to guided diving – other water sports are also available.
If you are staying at one of the boutique-style hotels, they will organize an associated dive centre to collect you. TripAdvisor's 2013 Traveller's Choice award-winner for a small hotel, called The Caves, recommends the highly experienced Negril Scuba Centre for all your diving and snorkelling activities. Operating for over 25 years, they are well renowned for comfort and safety.
Jamaica has three major airports; Sangster International Airport (MBJ) in Montego Bay, Ian Fleming International Airport (IFIA) in Ocho Rios, and Norman Manley International Airport (KIN) located outside of Kingston. Domestic flights, taxis, buses, and rental vehicles are available to explore the island easily once arrived.
The Montego Bay airport is the main international connection for visitors staying in Montego Bay, Negril and Ocho Rios. However, if you are staying in Negril or Ocho Rios, you will have to transfer to your hotel via air or road. Travel via road takes about 2 hours to Negril, and 2-3 hours to Ocho Rios. Alternatively, there are short domestic flights available to Negril or Ocho Rios.
Airlines serving Jamaica from the US and Canada are: Air Jamaica, Delta, American Airlines, JetBlue, US Airways, Continental, Northwest, Spirit, West Jet, and Air Canada. From Europe and the UK: Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, Condor, Thomas Cook, and Thomson. From within the Caribbean: Caribbean Airlines, Cayman Airways, and Air Jamaica.
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The pool lessons were good and the instructors very nice. They recognized the more nervous/inexperienced people in the group and ensured that they felt comfortable. The only fault I would say is that they did not go over the pressurizing your ears very well, when on the dive I indicated to one of the instructors that I was having trouble with my ears and he more or less just pushed forward with everything. I highly recommend asking to practice pressurizing, although it may seem like a simple con...