Montego Bay and the Northwest


Montego Bay is the capital of St. James parish. Commonly referred to by locals as "Mobay," it's a place buzzing with cruise ships and international flights brimming with tourists. Many of these tourists spend barely a day on land before climbing aboard to depart for the next port. Others stay with their families in private villas for months of the year. Mobay's bustling service economy serves a large middle class, many of who spend much of the year abroad. This contrasts with large squatter settlements and an urban squalor that permeates the downtown area. On the quiet peninsula of Freeport, the city has an active yacht club, whose members partake in exciting events throughout the year; world-class golf courses lie east and west of the city. It's little wonder that many hotels register high occupancy throughout much of the year. Yet because the economy is overwhelmingly dependent on tourism, there arises at times a tangible resentment between the local population, a proud lot with fiery roots steeped in a not-so-distant, brutal history, and the endless flow of transient visitors, often perceived as cogs in the local economic machinery. But the congested angst of downtown Mobay quickly dissipates beyond the city limits, where the landscape of rural St. James quickly transforms into forested hills traversed by the occasional river.

The bordering parish to the east along the North Coast is Trelawny, seemingly still reminiscing over a glorious but languished past when Falmouth, its ornate capital, had money and class. As sugar lost importance in the island's economy in the late 1800s, Falmouth faded from preeminent port to sleepy backwater. Today the parish is slowly showing signs of rejuvenation as the world begins to acknowledge its architectural treasures, with international funding being successfully sourced and funneled by local NGO Falmouth Heritage Renewal. Trelawny boomed during the years of the sugar trade but was an important strategic area even before the time of parishes--going back to when the Spaniards used the Martha Brae River as a thoroughfare to traverse the island from the South to North Coasts. Their first major settlement of Melilla is said to have been near the mouth of the river. Before the Spaniards, the Martha Brae was the lifeblood for the area's Taino population, whose surviving legends are evidence of the river's importance to them.

Cockpit Country occupies the interior between the North and South Coasts, covering some of the most rugged terrain in the world, where limestone sinkholes, craggy hillocks, countless caves, and underground rivers made pursuit of Jamaica's Maroons a difficult task for the British colonists attempting to establish order and dominion. Together with the island's mountainous northeast, Trelawny gave respite to the indomitable Maroons; the parish remains a Maroon stronghold and adventurers' paradise. At the same time, the parish has the most peaceful and romantic farmlands in Jamaica, the Queen of Spain Valley being a particularly beautiful crown jewel amidst rough, rounded hilltops, where a citrus plantation today stands on the sugar estate of yesteryear. Cruising on horseback through this part of Jamaica is exhilarating and timelessly romantic, with orange and coconut groves and picturesque misty hills making for breathtaking scenery. This parish is rarely explored by tourists beyond the coastal areas of Falmouth, the Luminous Lagoon, and the Martha Brae River. As remote as Trelawny may seem when deep inside a cave or otherwise immersed in the bush, you are never more than a couple hours from civilization, or some semblance of it, in Montego Bay.


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Spicy Nice

Spicy Nice sells patties, breads, pastries, and other baked goods.

In: Cafés & Pastry Shops

Jerk Island

Jerk Island (entrance to Rois Lagoon, Green Side, Falmouth,11am-4pm Sat.-Sun. and days when cruise ships are in port) serves jerk chicken and pork accompanied by festival, fries, rice-and-peas, along with rum ribs and jerk burgers.

In: Jerk

Falmouth Jerk Centre and Ganja Bar

Falmouth Jerk Centre and Ganja Bar serves jerk chicken, pork, fish, conch, lobster, and octopus (US$5-25). The ganja bar at the same location serves mixed drinks as well as herb brownies and ganja spread, in a hassle-free herb-friendly environment.

In: Food

Pepper's Jerk Centre

Pepper’s Jerk Centre (10am-10pm Mon.-Sat., US$5-6) serves jerk chicken, pork, fish, and lobster with sides like festival, bammy, and rice as well as a rotation of Jamaican favorites like baked, curried, and brown stew chicken, curry goat, oxtail, and roast fish.

In: Food

Wright Life

Wright Life (10am- 6pm Mon.-Sat., US$5-15) is an eatery serving salads, juices, and natural products in an impeccably clean minimalist restaurant beside Fontana pharmacy.


In: Food, Vegetarian

Mystic Thai Restaurant

From the same owners as Mystic India, Mystic Thai (noon-9:45pm daily, US$10-25) takes care with the food’s presentation and with the delectable fusion of fresh aromatic flavors from basil, lemongrass, spicy chili paste, and tangy dips. Staples like pad thai (US$10-14) are complemented with more adventurous entrées like the maple chili pork ribs with wilted spinach and kidney bean mash. A foray into Japanese cuisine fills a gap in Mobay’s culinary scene with rolls, sushi, and tempura.

In: Food

China House & Golden Dynasty Chinese Restaurant

China House Restaurant (32 Jimmy Cliff Blvd., tel. 876/979-0056, 10am-10pm daily, US$3-23) serves Chinese, Mongolian, Thai, and Jamaican cuisine, as does its neighbor, Golden Dynasty Chinese Restaurant (39 Jimmy Cliff Blvd., tel. 876/971-0459, 11am- 10pm Mon.-Sat., noon-10pm Sun., US$2-20). China House serves dim sum on Sunday.

In: Food

King Palace Chinese Restaurant

  Some of Montego Bay’s best Chinese food and great-value buffet combo lunch specials (US$5) are at King Palace Chinese Restaurant (11:30am-9:30pm Mon.-Sat., 1pm-9:30pm Sun., US$9-15).

In: Food

Steakhouse on the Bay

Steakhouse on the Bay (10am-10pm daily, US$6-25) serves the best steak in Jamaica's second city with al fresco seating on the waterfront just a few feet from the boat dock. The kitchen expertly prepares a range of items in addition to the signature flank steak, from burgers, sandwiches and salads to entrées like lobster and shrimp thermidor, snapper, lamb chops, seafood pasta, coconut curry chicken and zucchini pasta. A popular buffet dinner (US$14) with a rotating menu is served on Fridays.

In: Meat