Almost everyone is familiar with the distinctive sound of reggae music, and many visitors to Jamaica will be fans of other genres of Jamaican music such as dub and ska. For music fans, a visit to Jamaica is an unmissable opportunity to acquire albums not available anywhere else. The thriving local music scene that gave birth to some of the all-time greats such as Bob Marley and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry is still in full swing. The Rasta community at Mount Debre Zeit near Papine, Kingston, is worth the journey for those seeking authentic original reggae. Ras Malekot, a devout Rastafarian, musician and poet who has toured the US and Europe and hosts a weekly radio show, runs Mount Debre Zeit Records and Variety Store. An internationally known reggae star, Ras will happily sip a locally made roots tonic with customers as he gives the low-down on the current crop of local reggae artists. Ras will play the music as he discusses the artists – all known to him personally. Pick up a unique musical memento of Jamaica and possibly something else from the huge range of Rastafarian accessories on sale.
Grown at elevations between 910 metres (3,000 ft) and 1,700 metres (5,500 ft), Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee is one of the most expensive and sought-after coffees in the world. Over 80% of all Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee is reportedly exported to Japan. Despite that, it is easy enough to find in Jamaican stores or direct from the coffee farms. We recommend picking up a few bags as it costs a fraction of what it does back home.
There is a big art scene in Jamaica, with a number of internationally known and exhibited artists. Top quality art is comparatively easy to come by and usually reasonably priced. There are regular public auctions which are fun and lively affairs when compared to their US and European equivalents. Along with these there are also a number of local galleries where it is possible to find works by local master painters for sale. Unexpectedly, it is absolutely possible to buy original works by the nation’s greatest artists such as Barrington Watson, Cecil Cooper, Albert Huie and Milton Harley when in Jamaica.
Jamaican rum is famous the world over and is the favourite tipple of locals. With over 265 years of experience, Jamaican rum producers have perfected a variety of rums to rival any of the world’s top wine producers. Some are as smooth as the best whiskies, while others are perfect with a mixer. The Appleton Estate is one of the few in the world to claim a terroir, and the special edition master blends can run to thousands of dollars a bottle. The 50 year rum released in 2012 to commemorate fifty years since independence in Jamaica is a snip at $5,000 a bottle, but you’ll be lucky to find one as only 800 were produced. Pick up a bottle of your favourite rum at one of the island’s many gift shops and, as they say in Jamaica, ‘sweeten up yuhself’.
The popularity of coconut oil in the West has soared in recent years but it’s long been hailed as a wonder oil in Jamaica. Rich in beneficial fats that protect the body and brain, it’s one of the healthiest oils available. Locally made cold-pressed coconut oil is the best around. There are numerous uses for this wonder oil including hair care, skin care, makeup removal, oil pulling (dental care) and as a moisturiser. Perfect for cooking, coconut oil is stable when heated, so remains healthy unlike other oils. Some experts recommend drinking a tablespoon of coconut oil daily for improved brain health. Jamaican cold-pressed coconut oil is available in most stores and even at the Kingston airport gift shop.
Recreate the taste of Jamaica back home and relive those halcyon days in the tropics. Jamaican jerk, that wonderful spicy meat seasoning, is perfect for livening up meals. Take a taste of the Caribbean home – it’s easy enough to make, but the locally made stuff makes a perfect gift or souvenir. Walkers Wood and Island Spice are two brands to look out for and are both readily available in gift shops and supermarkets.
Wood carvings are a popular Jamaican craft and a unique souvenir to remember any beautiful Jamaican vacation. Handmade across the island, Fern Gully near Ocho Rios has some of the most impressive carvings in the whole of Jamaica. Charming small bowls and beautifully carved trays make perfect gifts. Slightly less conventional are the life-sized carvings of naked men with huge erections that stand outside the Fern Gully stalls. Packing one into your suitcase might prove a bit tricky though…
The ubiquitous colours of the Jamaican flag are emblazoned on everything from tracksuits to footballs. Bob Marley’s face looks out from numerous T-shirts, and images of ganga plants are printed on mugs and beach towels. Rasta hats, belts and bracelets are easy to come by in gift shops also selling ‘I love Jamaica’ baseball caps. How far to indulge is a personal choice. There are plenty of tasteful souvenirs if a full-blown bright green and yellow Jamaica track-suit would be a bit too conspicuous back home.