This summer made it one year since I’ve been away from my tiny island – the longest I’ve ever spent away in my entire life. In that time, I’ve come to realise that Jamaica might not be the land of opportunity for all, but there are still many unbeatable experiences to be had.
As a tropical island, Jamaica shares many other characteristics with islands nearby – and even islands halfway around the world. The beaches are great, the food is delicious, the climate is warm, and the people are friendly. However, like any other country, there are some things Jamaica does better than anyone else.
So here are five great things you can only enjoy in Jamaica – whether you’re a national, an expat, or just visiting for the first time.
Jerk Chicken on the Roadside
Ask any Jamaican what they miss about home, and this will likely make the list. Jamaican jerk chicken is basically grilled chicken, but much spicier and far more flavourful than you’ll find anywhere else. For pesco-vegetarians like myself, there are also seafood options, which are just as good.
It might seem unhygienic to buy our food on the roadside from a random stranger, but nothing smells better to you than jerk chicken or roast fish after a long day at the beach, or while coming home from a party at 4 in the morning. I promise you.
In my 25 years of living on the island, I never heard of any instances where nationals, expats, or visitors became sick from eating jerked food from roadside vendors. However, if you’d rather not take your chances, restaurants do make jerk chicken, pork, and fish, which is usually as good.
While jerk chicken is almost guaranteed to taste amazing no matter where you get it from on the island, the absolute best jerk is made in Portland, Jamaica. The picture above is from Boston Jerk in Boston Bay, Portland.
When most people think of surfing, they think of Hawaii. While Hawaii, and other places like Spain, California, Fiji, and the Cayman Islands have a much more developed interest in kite-surfing, Jamaica does not.
This might sound like a disadvantage at first, until you realise how little competition you have for the open waters, when it’s time to catch a wave. This makes the experience much more pleasurable for beginners and seasoned professionals, alike. It also reduces the likelihood of accidents on the water.
Pier 1 on a Friday Night
This club is literally on a pier, and every Friday night it hosts its signature event, Pier Pressure. The admission is only about $5, and the drinks are cheap. In spite of the low prices, the club draws a classy crowd, for the most part. You can expect an interesting mix of wealthy expats, excited tourists, and friendly locals.
Because this is a tourist and expat-friendly location, you can bet the security is pretty good, too. What I love most about Pier 1 though – aside from its great prices – is the view of the Caribbean Sea. The club looks out over the ocean, and the pier does jut into the water. There are also several boats and yachts docked on the level below the club.
Real Rastafarian Culture
Bob Marley’s rise to fame made Rastafarians a famous and common association with Jamaica. However, it’s wise to note that Rastafarians belong to a subculture in Jamaica; much like hippies belong to a subculture in the United States.
If you’d like to experience the real Rastafarian subculture for what it is, then that’s something you’d have to see first-hand in Jamaica, where it originated.
Though I certainly don’t believe in, or agree with, their beliefs on religion, race, and women, I do find them interesting. In fact, in college I wrote my research paper for sociology on the Rastafari.
In Jamaica, a patty is not a round slab of processed meat, as is often the case in America. A Jamaican patty is actually a pastry containing spices and fillings that are baked into a flaky, outer layer. The most common filling used in Jamaican patties is ground beef. However, other common fillings include lobster, shrimp, soy, curried chicken, vegetable, ackee, and cheese.
I had one of these every morning with bread, and a cup of Jamaican Hominy corn porridge. It was a delicious breakfast, and one of the things I miss most from my daily routine back home. Cinnamon toast crunch and eggs simply does not compare.
While many stores – like Sams Club and even the Dollar Store – do sell Jamaican patties, nothing beats getting the real deal, freshly made, at 7:30 in the morning before work.
There are many things I miss about my island home, but these are the things that no other location can replace. If you ever do make Jamaica a travel destination, be sure to check out the items on this list. You won’t be disappointed.
Originally published May 30, 2016.