Not much is known about life and times on the island of Jamaica, the third largest island in the West Indies, before the time of Christ. The first evidence of settlement in Jamaica is thought to have occurred around 650 A.D., when a group of Arawak Indians emigrated from South America, They settled on the island, and relied on growing crops and fishing to survive. The Arawaks named the island "Xaymaca" or "the land of wood and water".
Christopher Columbus came across "Xaymaca" in 1494 during his second voyage to the New World. He explored several bays and coves in hope of finding gold, but there is no written record of his finding anything of value on this trip.
Spanish colonialization followed, and under Spanish rule, a protected bay on the south-central coast was transformed into to military base, a hub for incoming and outgoing shipments of supplies going to other settlements in the Americas.
Established in 1518, Port Royal (a peninsula off the coast of modern day Kingston) was a bustling city that provided plenty of potential and perfect positioning for pirate attacks. With access to trade routes coming in from all over the Spanish Main, buccaneers like Henry Morgan and Christopher Myngs used Port Royal as a haven and home base for their above the law industry. Gaining a reputation as a pirate sanctuary, the town gained a reputation for debaucherous dealings. A one-two punch of an earthquake and tsunami wiped out a good portion of the city and submerged portions of Port Royal.
The Spanish retained possession of the island nation until 1655 when the British took over. Under British rule, Jamaica's sugar industry grew into a profitable business which remains economically important to this day.
On August 2nd 1962, Jamaica gained its independence and became a member of the British Commonwealth meaning that the country's affairs were now the responsibility of the country's prime minister and cabinet.
The Jamaica's first foray into tourism came in 1890, when the government began to offer financial incentives for the construction of hotels. The drive to expand lodging options for visitors stemmed from the Jamaican International Exhibition, a World's Fair like expo held in 1891 designed to highlight the country's burgeoning industries.
The western end of Jamaica, home to Montego Bay and the breathtaking Doctor's Cave Beach, was the site of the first hotels developed for the tourism industry, starting just after World War I. Properties like Casablanca and The Staffordshire were pioneers, providing guests access to the lovely beaches that dot the coast of Montego Bay.
In the 1930s, a number of factors played into Jamaica's uptick in tourism. Cuba had been a vacation destination for some time, but its increasingly rocky political climate left vacationers looking for other "safer" Caribbean options. While most visitors had previously arrived by sea, Pan Am began flying to the island as early as 1938, and plans were drawn for the Sangster Airport, just outside of Montego Bay around the same time.
World War II might have put a damper on Jamaica's tourism industry but fortuitously brought James Bond author Ian Fleming to the island. While working for British Naval Intelligence, Fleming visited the island for an intelligence summit. After clocking in enough secret missions to provide the basis for 15 James Bond novels and nine short stories, Fleming bought a piece of property on the island's northern coast, not far from Ocho Rios, and built his Goldeneye estate. Not only did Fleming pen 12 of his novels at Goldeneye, the country also provided the backdrop for the films, Dr. No and Live and Let Die.
Even after Fleming's passing, Goldeneye remained a place that housed a uniquely Jamaican sort of royalty. Bob Marley bought the property in 1976, and Chris Blackwell, founder of the British-Jamaican record label, Island records then purchased and began transforming the grounds into a resort.
Remnants of Jamaica's 1950s era hotel renaissance are well preserved at classic Montego Bay spots like the all-inclusive resorts at Half Moon Bay and Round Hill House, favorites of the Kennedys and Sir Noel Coward respectively.
The harsh hurricane season of 2017 was kind to Jamaica, leaving the island with minimal damage and nearly all properties open and welcoming guests back to this unique paradise.
Plan Your Jamaica Vacation