Take a taxi to Doctor's Cave Beach for a refreshing swim. You can rent snorkeling equipment or take a glass-bottomed-boat ride to explore the offshore reef. Treat yourself to a midmorning repast of fresh mango or pineapple at one of the beachfront stands.
Duck into the shopping plazas and little shops along Gloucester Avenue or find a cafe for lunch. (Note: Opportunistic pickpockets occasionally operate on the streets and beaches, so carry your gear in a zippered tote or pocket, and keep your eyes open and your valuables out of sight.)
Take a taxi to Rose Hall, the elegant 1770s plantation house east of town that's famous for its reputedly murderous mistress, Annie Palmer. There's a cozy pub and a good gift shop to inspect after the narrated tour.
Birds and Buildings
Make a call to Rocklands Bird Sanctuary where Fritz Beckford has been ruling the roost for more than two decades. He entertains with limitless trivia about the national doctor bird with its noteworthy black crest and tail that resemble the top hat and long coats doctors wore in the old days. Then hire a taxi and set off for the preserve. After touring the property, head back to Montego Bay and have lunch at Marguerite's or the Pork Pit.
Afterward, see the sights downtown, preferably on an organized tour. If you want to try it on your own, start at Sam Sharpe Square and make your way to the Old Court, St. James Parish Church and the unusual Gallery of West Indian Art. Several local eateries and bakeries dot the streets. If you have time for some shopping, visit the Montego Bay Crafts Market. If you'd like to see the sunset from the beach, it's just a short walk to Walter Fletcher Beach.
The two restaurant strips in Montego Bay are Gloucester Avenue, on the waterfront, and Queen's Drive, on the hillside overlooking Montego Bay and the harbor (a spectacular view, but you pay for it). Prices are generally moderate compared with much of the rest of the Caribbean, although lobster will lighten your wallet. Many restaurants provide free transportation for dinner guests. You can request this service when you make your reservation—ask about the dress code, too.
Expect to pay within these guidelines for a meal for one, not including drinks, tax or tip: $ = less than US$10; $$ = US$10-$20; $$$ = US$21-$50; and $$$$ = more than US$50.
Local & Regional
Butterflake Pastries An authentic local spot famous for homemade meat-and-vegetable patties and delectable sweets. $. Cash only. 2 Union St., Montego Bay. Phone 876-952-0070.
Day-O Plantation Restaurant & Bar In a house on a former sugar plantation, Day-O serves wonderful Jamaican food, with plantation-style chicken, seafood, vegetarian dishes and other specialties. It's a popular venue for wedding receptions. Live music nightly. Transportation from Montego Bay hotels provided. Open daily except Monday for dinner only. Reservations recommended. $$-$$$. Most major credit cards. Barnett Estate Plantation, west of town on Highway A1, Montego Bay. Phone 876-952-1825. http://www.dayorestaurant.com.
Jamaica Bobsled Cafe Try the spicy jerk burger or the shrimp pizza at this popular Hip Strip hangout that stays open until 2 am and delivers to the resorts. A second location is in the airport departure hall. $. Most major credit cards. 69 Gloucester Ave., Montego Bay. Phone 876-940-7009.
Ma Lou's Gourmet Food Shack This restaurant features upscale Caribbean cuisine that's not too spicy and is made with ingredients that change with the seasons. It only seats 35, so reservations are advisable, and it has an enviable reputation for repeat guests. Open daily for dinner. $$-$$$$. Most major credit cards. Coral Cliff Hotel & Entertainment Resort, 165 Gloucester Ave. (across from Margaritaville), Montego Bay. Phone 876-952-4130. http://www.coralcliffjamaica.com/dining.htm.
Marguerite's You can dine formally on Jamaican and international seafood at Marguerite's (the chef's flambe grill is a highlight). Views of the Caribbean Sea are divine. Free transportation provided. Open daily for dinner only. Reservations suggested. $$$. Most major credit cards. Gloucester Avenue, Montego Bay. Phone 876-952-4777.
MoBay Proper This is a great place to just relax, have a beer, play some pool or sample jerk chicken, pork or fish. Both locals and tourists enjoy this local food joint. Open daily for lunch, dinner and late-night. $-$$. Most major credit cards. 44 Fort St. (at the beginning of the Hip Strip), Montego Bay. Phone 876-940-1233.
Native Restaurant The Boonoonoonoos (patois for plentiful) platter is chockablock with curried goat, lip-searing jerk chicken, ackee with salt fish and golden-brown plantains. Open to the breeze on a veranda overlooking the Hip Strip, it raises liming with the locals to a fine art. Highly recommended for local food and local vibe. $$-$$$. Most major credit cards. 29 Gloucester Ave., Montego Bay. Phone 876-979-2769.
Nyam 'n Jam Next to the downtown craft market, this local favorite serves authentic Jamaican lunch and dinner such as jerk meat, cow foot and oxtail. $. Cash only. 17 Harbour St., Montego Bay. Phone 876-952-1922.
Robbie Joseph's Seahorse Grill at Montego Bay Yacht Club The views are ridiculously fabulous and are the perfect backdrop for the seafood-centric menu. The wings & Red Stripe special on Tuesday and the international buffet on Friday attract feisty sailors who watch the sun sink below the horizon as if they were seeing it for the first time. $$$. Most major credit cards. Freeport Peninsula, Sunset Drive, Montego Bay. Phone 876-979-8038.
Rosella Bistro at Wexford Grill This MoBay institution is frequented by local families. It specializes in surf and turf. Daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. $-$$$. Most major credit cards. Wexford Court Hotel, 39 Gloucester Ave., Montego Bay. Phone 876-952-6673. http://thewexfordhotel.com.
Scotchies This no-frills roadside eatery serves up a bonanza of roasted breadfruit, frosty Red Stripe beer, and chicken, fish and pork blackened to perfection in a marinade of Scotch bonnet peppers. Umbrellas shade the communal wooden tables and beer keg stools. $. Visa accepted, cash preferred. Coral Gardens Main Highway, Montego Bay. Phone 876-953-8041.
The Pork Pit A good choice for spicy Jamaican jerk pork, fish or chicken in a lively setting. This informal eatery with indoor and outdoor seating is located on the Hip Strip. Daily for lunch and dinner. $. Accepts Visa and MasterCard only. 27 Gloucester Ave., Montego Bay. Phone 876-940-3008.
The Royal Stocks Traditional pub fare includes Irish potato soup and bangers-and-mash. $$. Most major credit cards. Half Moon Village, Montego Bay. Phone 876-953-9770.
Town House by the Sea Located on the Hip Strip, this is a favorite with visiting celebrities. It is located at the Casa Blanca Hotel and offers both indoor and outdoor dining. Serves Caribbean specialties, including a variety of seafood and vegetarian dishes. The fish in parchment is highly recommended. Open Monday-Friday for lunch, daily for dinner. Reservations recommended. $$-$$$. Most major credit cards. Located on Gloucester Avenue (next to Doctor's Cave Beach), Montego Bay. Phone 876-952-5584.
The Brewery The relaxed, publike atmosphere is a great setting for burgers, salads and sandwiches, as well as some Jamaican dishes. Thursday is karaoke night. Daily for lunch, dinner and late night. Lunch buffet noon-3:30 pm. $$. Gloucester Avenue (in the Miranda Ridge Plaza), Montego Bay. Phone 876-940-2433.
Akbar This Indian restaurant serves excellent food in an air-conditioned dining room with tasteful Indian decor. Thai food is also served, and there is a pleasant garden area. Daily for lunch and dinner. Reservations recommended. $$$. Most major credit cards. Half Moon Shopping Village, Montego Bay. Phone 876-953-8240.
Dragon Court This restaurant offers a range of Cantonese specialties. There is also a sushi bar. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Sushi bar open Wednesday-Saturday for dinner, Sunday for lunch and dinner. $$-$$$. Most major credit cards. Located at the Fairview Shopping Center, Montego Bay. Phone 876-979-8822.
Chilitos This is the family-run Montego Bay location of the Kingston Mexican restaurant. It's on the Hip Strip, and the spicy menu of "Jamexican" specialties includes the signature 12-in/30-cm burritos. Wireless Internet access is available. Open Monday-Thursday 11 am-10:30 pm, Friday and Saturday until midnight. $$. Most major credit cards. 2 Gloucester Ave. (entrance is through the Vista Ambassador Hotel), Montego Bay. Phone 876-952-4615.
Groovy Grouper On the Hip Strip, this waterfront eatery excels with a seafood menu that includes just-caught lobster and fresh fish. The bar is lively during happy hour with a local crowd of businesspeople and savvy tourists. Open 9 am-1:30 am. $$. Most major credit cards. Gloucester Avenue (down from Doctor's Cave Beach, on the same side of the street), Montego Bay. Phone 876-952-3680.
Houseboat Grill International Restaurant Dine on the water on this picturesque houseboat on Bogue Lagoon. It's decorated in a lively motif. The creative fusion menu, which changes frequently, is dominated by seafood, with a few Jamaican meat dishes. The bar draws hipsters for the two-for-one happy hour 5:30-7 pm. Open daily for dinner. Reservations recommended. $$$-$$$$. Accepts Visa and MasterCard only. Freeport Road, Montego Bay. Phone 876-979-8845. http://www.thehouseboatgrill.com.
Pelican This longtime favorite serves seafood and Jamaican specialties at bargain prices. Daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. $. Most major credit cards. Gloucester Avenue, Montego Bay. Phone 876-952-3171.
Pier 1 on the Waterfront At Pier 1 you can choose to dine on a covered deck or the rooftop terrace. Downstairs the facility's seats are hewn from barrels. The extensive menu has seafood specialties. Seafood Sunday starts at 5 pm and allows customers to purchase fresh seafood from the open market, then have the meal prepared by the chef. At night, this place turns into an energetic club scene, with disco and live dance music. Wednesday night features a fashion and talent show, Friday is disco night and Sunday night offers live bands. Daily for lunch and dinner. $-$$. Most major credit cards. Howard Cook Boulevard, Montego Bay. Phone 876-940-5408. http://www.pieronejamaica.com.
With an economy that depends on tourism, locals tend to be friendly and approachable. Unlike Kingston, which reports occasional incidents of mayhem, Montego Bay is a safe city. Crimes against tourists are virtually nonexistent: The resorts have security around the clock, and police patrol the Hip Strip with mobile monitors and closed-circuit cameras. The downtown district is safest for tourists during the day.
A polite "No, thank you," is generally all that's necessary to those who offer to braid your hair or sell you T-shirts.
Leave airline tickets and passports in the hotel safe, hire only JUTA-operated taxis (Jamaica Union of Travelers Association) and, contrary to urban legend, marijuana is illegal for use or export.
Exercise the same commonsense precautions you would in any city: Don't wear expensive jewelry, don't leave valuables in your rental car, and don't flash large quantities of cash. It's best to carry your belongings in a money belt or zippered tote. Don't walk alone on dark streets at night, don't pick up hitchhikers, and never go off with someone unknown to you.
The tap water is safe to drink, although many tourists prefer to drink bottled water. The food in the resorts, restaurants and hotels that cater to tourists is safe. Local restaurant food is generally safe if it's freshly prepared and served hot.
Consult with your physician about precautions if you plan to go outside the main tourist areas. A hepatitis A vaccination is recommended by many health agencies. Don't forget to take sunglasses, sunscreen, a hat and insect repellent (the mosquitoes can be vicious, but they don't carry malaria). Jamaica has no venomous snakes.
The main hospital is Cornwall Regional Hospital at Mount Salem (phone 876-952-5100). Doctor's Hospital at Montego Bay Freeport is a private hospital (phone 876-979-8874)—it also operates a clinic at 90 Barnett St. (phone 876-952-2847). The Hope Medical Centre in Half Moon Shopping Center offers 24-hour care. The Montego Bay Hospital & Urology Centre is located at Mount Salem just outside the Cornwall Regional Hospital (phone 876-952-4511). Fontana Pharmacy is the largest pharmacy in town (phone 876-952-3860).
For dental emergencies, call or visit the Montego Bay Dental Clinic on Dome Street. Phone 876-952-2338
In an emergency, phone 110 for medical help or 119 for police.
Entrances to some buildings and shopping facilities do have ramps, as do some sidewalks, but it is not the rule. The main transportation companies offer modified vehicles.
Those who need information on handicapped access should contact the Jamaica Tourist Board. Phone 876-952-4425.
Dos & Don'ts
Don't openly display homosexual behavior, as some Jamaicans are homophobic. However, this is changing, and gay travelers are becoming increasingly welcome in the resort region and at upscale properties.
Don't take unmarked taxis. The legitimate ones (JUTA taxis) have red license plates with PP and four numbers listed on them.
Don't accept tours from just anyone; it's not safe.
Do buy jerk chicken from the pan vendors; it's much better than the stuff in restaurants.
Do check out the view of the city from Westgate Hills.
Do learn a few phrases of Jamaican patois, so that when you nyam (eat) your bickle (food) and don't labrish (gossip) with friends, you can jam (hang out) on the beach with your likkle boonoonoonous (someone you love).
Do enjoy a typical Jamaican breakfast of salt fish and ackee, a bright yellow tree-fruit. Add a side of callaloo and a dash of pepper sauce to kick-start your day.
Do dance until dawn during Reggae Sumfest in July. This is the largest reggae music festival in the world and attracts thousand of revelers each summer.
Montego Bay has a broad selection of places to stay, ranging from small guesthouses to deluxe all-inclusive resorts. In town, most hotels concentrate along Gloucester Avenue and atop Miranda Ridge, and guesthouses are mostly found closer to the airport, along Sunset Boulevard and Queen's Drive (Highway A1).
Most of the all-inclusive resorts line the white-sand beaches of the Atlantic shoreline north and east of the airport. The most deluxe options, such as the Ritz-Carlton Rose Hall, Round Hill Hotel & Villas and The Tryall Club, are farther out.
Montego Bay also has many rental villas tucked into their own private coves or nestling atop breeze-swept hills. Make sure to book accommodations far in advance.
Coyaba Beach Resort & Club Mahoe Bay, Ironshore WestIndies
50 Guest Rooms • 2 Meeting Rooms • Restaurant[s]
Location: On a private beach
Nearby Points of Interest: Rose Hall Great House (Historic Plantation) - 5 mi • Doctors Cave Bathing Club (Beach Club / Food) - 8 mi • Dunn's River Falls (Famous Waterfalls) - 30 mi
Doctors Cave Beach Hotel Gloucester Ave Po Box 94
82 Guest Rooms • 1 Meeting Room • Restaurant[s]
Location: 1 mi north of airport, adjacent to beach, 1.5 mi to town
Nearby Points of Interest: Doctors Cave Beach (Beach) - 1 blk • Rosehall Hall Great House (Great House) - 3 mi • Dunns River Falls (Eco Tour) - 60 mi
El Greco Resort 11 Queen's Dr Po Box 1624 W I
93 Guest Rooms • Restaurant[s]
Location: On a hillside plateau; 5 minutes from the beach
Nearby Points of Interest: Rose Hall Great House (Great House) - 5 mi • Appleton Estate (Rum Factory) - 15 mi • Dunns River Falls (Falls) - 67 mi
Holiday Inn SunSpree Resort Montego Bay Rose Hall
518 Guest Rooms • 2 Meeting Rooms • Restaurant[s]
Location: All inclusive beachfront resort featuring free kids and free WiFi
Nearby Points of Interest: Rose Hall Great House - 5 mi
Round Hill Hotel & Villas John Pringle Dr PO Box 64
110 Guest Rooms • 3 Meeting Rooms • Restaurant[s]
Location: 8 miles west of Montego Bay
Nearby Points of Interest: