MoBay is what the locals call it. Jamaica's second-largest city is its primary tourist port and it is full of energy and excitement. Cruise ships visit the docks here and the airport is the way most tourists arrive. Montego Bay's waterfront is the Jamaica that most know best: golf courses, great beaches and resorts.
The town of Montego Bay is divided into three districts: the city itself with its historic center and streets crowded with tourists and vendors, the hotel and resort area closest to town and then the outlying hotels and villas on the beach and hillside.
The streets of Montego Bay are noisy and unkempt, but carry with them the excitement and energy of the real Caribbean: colorful and alive. As people from the countryside come in to ply their trade and to visit markets, guests from the hotels and cruise ships make their way through the shops as market higglers work the crowds amid the domino games and street chatter.
It was in Montego Bay that the slaves of colonial Jamaica first rebelled. Sam Sharpe in 1831 initiated a strike against the plantation owners that turned violent. Sharpe and others were arrested and then hanged. Today, a statue in Sharpe Square honors the rebellion and Sharpe.
Tourism began here at Doctor's Cave Beach, where the waters had supposed healing powers. By the 1980's the all-inclusive resorts were being built and the natural harbor provided a deep water port for the cruise lines.
Visitors to Montego Bay spend most of their time on its beaches, and it's easy to see why. The snorkeling and diving at the Marine Park and Doctor's Cave Beach are excellent. There are other water sports in abundance here, sailboarding, fishing, snorkeling and boat tours. River rafting on the Martha Brae River is available in nearby Falmouth. Several boats offer party cruises out off Montego Bay as well as the opportunity for deep sea fishing.
The great houses of the area are packed with history. The history here has its roots deep in the plantation culture and slavery, on display at Rose Hall (home of the infamous "White Witch" Annie Palmer), Greenwood Great House and Barrett Plantation. Jamaica's musical heritage can be found at the Bob Marley Reggae Experience Museum where the tradition of reggae and its impact on world music is documented. The historic downtown area, easily explored with a casual stroll, and the tours of the historic houses and plantations are a worthwhile experience to fully appreciate a side of Jamaica. MoBay's Hip Strip is its center for food, trendy bars and nightlife.
Although Montego Bay is one of the largest metropolitan centers in Jamaica, nature is never far away on the island. The Montego Bay Marine Park offers excellent snorkeling and diving and the Rocklands Bird Sanctuary is famous for its hummingbirds.
The many local golf courses are open to the public and have great views of the water. There are four championship golf courses that offer very challenging fairways and greens: Half Moon Golf Club, Tryall Golf, Tennis and Beach Club, White Witch and The Wyndham Rose Hall Resort and Country Club. Non-golfers can play tennis for a fee at most of the local hotels.
For horse lovers, there are several opportunities for rides along the beach and through the countryside. Good Hope Country House and the Half Moon Equestrian Center both offer popular rides through spectacular terrain.
The local craft markets on occasion turn up a good buy, especially the local artisan wood carvings and paintings. Visitors will find the main crafts market close to Sam Sharpe Square on Harbour Street, but two smaller ones have cropped up in the hotel area. Larger items such as carved furniture and wooden bowls are available as is some local handmade clothing items. Naturally, there is no shortage of stores catering to the cruise-ship crowds and spices, rum and jewelry are in abundant supply. Some of the street vendors can be aggressive in their tactics, but they also respond well to a smile, a nod and being ignored. Bargaining is accepted and expected, but do so good naturedly and remember that while you are bargaining for a souvenier, the vendors are bargaining for a living.
When arranging tours, stick with established tour operators or licensed cabs. Use the ones with red license plates with the "PP" designation on them. Drivers will often drop you off at your destination and offer to return. This is a reliable form of transportation and a good way to get a guided tour if your driver is a talker (and he will be), but don't pay the return fare until the trip is over. Don't accept tours from hawkers on the street.
For those looking for the fast side of Jamaican life, MoBay is where it's at!
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