The Land

Jamaica enjoys widely varied topography for its small size, ranging from tropical montane regions in the Blue and John Crow Mountains to temperate areas at the higher elevations of Manchester, to lush tropical coastline along much of the coast to near-desert conditions south of the Santa Cruz Mountains in St. Elizabeth. The variety of climatic conditions is what bestows on Jamaica its singularity. Not every island in the Caribbean can boast natural features and attractions in such abundance and close proximity. The most expansive wetlands area in the Caribbean, the Lower Black River Morass, for example, is a popular wintering ground for birds from across the continent, while Jamaica's various mountain ranges create distinct ecosystems that support high levels of endemism.

Land use in Jamaica was historically framed in the context of the colonial plantation economy, where overseers would control vast tracts of land on behalf of absentee landowners and slaves would not be granted title. The plains were coveted for growing cane, while the more mountainous regions produced timber and spices. The birth of the banana industry in the Northeast opened up large new areas to plantation agriculture, before plague virtually wiped out the crop.

After the abolition of slavery, migration made towns into cities, and a cultural aversion to agriculture and rural life persists today. As you drive across the island you still see vast cane fields in many parishes, with banana and citrus plantations in others. However, it's clear that, just as in many other parts of the world, farming as a way of life has fallen out of fashion, and much agricultural land is left unfarmed.

When the Jamaica Labour Party came to power in 2008 after being in the opposition for 18 years, a renewed emphasis was placed on agriculture by minister Christopher Tufton, who correctly recognizes the vital importance of the sector for country's growth and development. Nonetheless, Jamaica has struggled to bring its land-use policies into the modern era to encourage productive use of land, and squatting continues to be a problem throughout Jamaica. In the greater Kingston area, subdivisions are claiming old cane fields as the urban sprawl continues to fan outward from bedroom communities like Old Harbour, Spanish Town, and Portmore.


Jamaica is a relatively small island: 235 kilometers miles long and 93 kilometers miles at its widest point, covering an area of 10,992 square kilometers (slightly smaller than the state of Connecticut in the United States). Distances in Jamaica can seem much greater than they really are thanks to mountainous terrain and poor roads.


Jamaica has a tropical climate along the coast and lowlands, with average annual temperatures of 26\32°C. In the mountains, temperatures can drop down near freezing at night at the highest elevations. Jamaica has two loose rainy seasons: between May and June and then later, with heavier, more sustained rains and coinciding with hurricane season from September to November.