Many people know Jamaica as a popular vacation destination, but the small island nation has much more to it than just tourism. With some 2.8 million people, Jamaica is the third most populous English-speaking country in the Americas. It is the birthplace of Reggae music, and is home to Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest man. Jamaica prides itself as a beacon of democracy, achieved after a tumultuous history of slavery and British rule. So where is Jamaica, and what all does it have to offer?
Where Is Jamaica?
Jamaica is an island nation located in the Caribbean Sea. With an area of 4,249 square miles, it is the fourth-largest island country in the Caribbean. 90 miles to the north of Jamaica is Cuba, and 119 miles east is the island of Hispaniola.
Much of the landscape of Jamaica is dominated by mountains, while a narrow coastal plain surrounds them. The two primary cities on Jamaica are Kingston, the capital and business center, and Montego Bay, a popular tourist destination on the north coast of the island.
Jamaica has a tropical climate, with hot and humid weather, though the inland mountains can be quite temperate. Jamaica is in the Atlantic Ocean hurricane belt, and is susceptible to hurricanes and tropical storms, some of which have caused significant damage.
The History of Jamaica
Jamaica had long been inhabited by indigenous Arawak and Taíno peoples prior to Spanish contact in 1494. After the Spanish arrived, many of these indigenous people would die of disease, and the Spanish began to bring African slaves to the island as laborers.
In 1655, Oliver Cromwell, the ruler of England, decided to try his hand at capturing some Spanish colonies in the Caribbean. An unsuccessful attempt to take Hispaniola would drive the English to poorly defended Jamaica (then known as the Colony of Santiago). They would ultimately conquer the island and rename it Jamaica.
Under British colonial rule, Jamaica would become a leading exporter in the sugar industry. The plantation economy of the island was driven by the labor of African slaves. In 1838, slavery was abolished, and many freedmen would establish their own subsistence farms, rather than continuing to work on the plantations. To fill this labor hole, the British began to recruit laborers from India and China. A South Asian and Chinese population continues to exist in Jamaica.
The 20th Century and Beyond
A rise in nationalism during the 1930s, coupled with many decolonization efforts after World War II, led to Jamaica slowly gaining increased sovereignty from the United Kingdom. In 1958, Jamaica, along with other British colonies in the Caribbean, joined the Federation of the West Indies. The idea was that this Federation of islands might become one single, independent state. However, due to internal political conflicts, the Federation would collapse. Still, Jamaica would be granted independence of their own in 1962.
The first decade of independence would bring with it strong economic gains for the country. However, a global economic downturn in the 1970s would hinder much of that growth, though things would begin to rebound in the mid-1980s.
Today, much of Jamaica’s economy continues to be driven by tourism. Many flock to the island each year to soak up the sun on Jamaica’s warm, sandy beaches. Visitors can also enjoy hiking and bird watching in the country’s inland forests. In the clubs of Kingston, one can find authentic Reggae music, while Montego Bay offers snorkeling and shopping. There is no doubt that Jamaica remains a country with a rich history worth exploring more.