Jamaica is an island in the Caribbean, just south of Cuba. On a clear day, you may see the tip of Cuba from Jamaica's north coast. The island is the third largest of the Caribbean with land area of 10,972.7 km sq.
Jamaica is skirted with about 322 km of beach-friendly coastline, including the Seven Mile Beach in Negril. The high and low tide around the coast is said to never vary by more than 41cm. Most of the land area is over 300m above sea level, and has a varied topography. The variety includes carbon-dense and biodiverse jungles and rainforests, watersheds, rivers, tracts of distinct limestone formations, caves and mountainous ranges. The Blue Mountain is the highest and most famous of the mountain range (2,256m above sea level), and well known for farms of coffee with a certain distinguished aroma. The forest cover is about 31% of the land area, and home to some 406 recorded animal species (about 90 of which are endemic); and more than 3,300 vascular plant species (about 900 of which are native and endemic).
The country is divided into 12 parishes - each with a parish capital or main town. Cities, towns and communities make up parishes. Parish capitals are the commercial and municipality centres, and where you find the hospitals, courts and police stations. The capital city of Jamaica is Kingston, in the parish of the same name. Montego Bay in St James is the other city in Jamaica.
Kingston and St Andrew are two of the most urbanized parishes, and the people have a way to refer to both as Kingston. Most of the area between them, i.e., Kingston and urban St Andrew, is what is called the Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA). Besides, Kingston and Montego Bay, other major towns include Portmore of St Catherine.
The estimated size of the young but aging population of Jamaica is 2.7 millions.
Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA) with 584,000 residents, Portmore with 182,000 and Montego Bay with 110,000 are the major towns that account for over a third of the national population. The more populous settlements face the shoreline. You can feel the lift of the sea breeze on some days in the coastal towns of Kingston and Montego Bay.
Nearly every race or ethnicity is included but the racial mix of the people is predominantly Black. English is the national language, but Patois - a colloquial version with traces of African heritage, is more commonly used. Jamaica is mostly Christian in religious affiliation, and there are indigenous religions such as Pocamania and Rastafari.
Along with the towns of Ocho Rios, Negril and Port Antonio, Montego Bay (also called Mo Bay) is a resort town. Over 30% of stopover visitors go there to stay, more than any other area in Jamaica. The largest number of hotel rooms (5,909) and championship golf courses (5) are in Montego Bay. The Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay is the leading tourism gateway for Jamaica. Cruises stop in the Port of Montego Bay as well the pier in Falmouth, 35km or 30 minutes away. UN Habitat (2012) report claimed over 80% of the people of St James depended on tourism. There are attractions aplenty in Montego Bay including an icy adventure playground where visitors to the tropical Jamaica can do snowboarding, and the Hip Strip - a ‘full mile of restaurants, entertainment, shopping, fun and excitement'. Montego Bay Civic Centre is downtown in the Georgian-styled Sam Sharpe Square.
Jamaicans call Portmore the “Sunshine City”. It is home for a lot of people who work or go to school in Kingston, 14 km away, or Spanish Town that is much closer, and is linked to Kingston by the Causeway Bridge via a toll road, and the Nelson Mandela highway. The area known as Greater Portmore has over 10,000 housing units - a development initiative responding to the scarcity of housing in Kingston ("Brief history", Portmore Municipal Council). The only venue for horse racing in Jamaica is Caymanas Park in Portmore. The Hellshire Fishing Beach in the vicinity of Portmore is a popular weekend spot for Jamaican families to eat ‘fish and festival' and relax on the beach.
Kingston, the capital city for Jamaica, is the most cosmopolitan and biggest of the parish capitals and the centre for them all. Kingston has the seventh largest natural harbour in the world, and the Norman Manley International Airport that handles 70% of Jamaica's airfreight. The centre of Jamaica's business world is the New Kingston district.
So called Special Areas are socio geographic divisions used in the census administration to track parish capitals, other towns with 2,000 or more population, and selected rural communities. There are some 112 special areas in Kingston and St Andrew. These places include Ray Town, Tivoli Gardens, Vineyard Town and Norbrook. (See map of Special Areas in Jamaica).
Kingston has well-to-do and poor neighbourhoods. Sometimes they are contiguous and share a tense coexistence. There is a spatial pattern in Kingston where, the poor neighbourhoods are part of downtown, and the affluent areas part of uptown. The district of Cross Roads is an imaginary line in-between. The Kingston parties, sports occasions and public schools are sometimes melting pots for people from different sides of the line.
The cultural and education life blood of Jamaica is Kingston. You will find there museums, galleries, heritage sites, the botanical garden, universities, theatres, cinemas, restaurants, nightclubs, sports bars and gyms. The National Stadium is home ground for the long line of track and field stars including Usain Bolt, and the Reggae Boys - the first English speaking Caribbean football team to qualify for the FIFA World Cup. The Sabina Park teems with cricket and is the Jamaica home for the West Indies. President Obama's first stop in his historic visit to Jamaica was at the Bob Marley Museum. It is not uncommon in Kingston neighbourhoods to find open parties on a random day in the week with the most bizarre and entertaining of dancehall lifestyle.
The annual average temperature is 27ºC. This varies between the coast and high land, and time of day. Seaside temperatures range from 22°C and 31°C with chilly mornings and evenings. The highlands tend to be much cooler. Blue Mountain Peak, for example, has an average annual temperature of 13ºC.
The wettest months are May and October. The island receives some 198cm of rainfall annually but this varies. The east coast and some hilly areas get nearly 762cm a year, compared to south coast and parts of the western plains that get about 76cm. Between June and November, Jamaica is prone to hurricanes.
Kingston is landlocked by St Andrew, except along the south border where it is bound by the Caribbean Sea. The west border of the wider KMA, i.e., including Kingston and St Andrew, is locked by the parish of St Catherine, the north by St Mary and Portland, and the east by St Thomas.
The colder communities are in west and east rural St Andrew. This reflects the altitude which generally gets higher the further north one moves from Kingston and into St Andrew. There is usually more rainfall in the hilly interior relative to the flat areas and the coast. Dense areas on the lower elevation such as New Kingston and Havendale experience higher temperatures. Overall, the average temperature is 27oC.
Roads in the hilly regions are vulnerable to landslide and flooding following severe weather. The at-risk areas include (but not limited to) Gordon Town and Kintyre in east rural St Andrew. The high risk areas tend to be sloping roads passing through the watersheds. Blocked drains and overflown gullies contribute to flooding especially in the low lying sections of KMA nearest to the coast. This includes Harborview and, further north, places such as New Haven. Flooding alerts are issued and evacuation plans activated for the high risk areas in times of severe rainy weather.
Jamaica is on Eastern Standard Time. The time clock is set to UTC-05:00, i.e., five hours behind Coordinated Universal Time or Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Daylight saving time (DST) is not observed; hence, there is no clock change in Jamaica. Normally sunrise is 5:30AM and sunset 6:30PM.
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