Lay of the Land
It’s easiest, if oversimplified, to picture Jamaica as a rectangle, with Montego Bay, the de facto tourist capital, at the top left (i.e., northwest) corner and Kingston, the actual capital, at the bottom right (southeast). Most resorts are located on the north coast, the exception being the many properties in the Negril area, on the west coast. (These you can safely skip, as they’re generally oriented to singles, spring-breakers and budget travelers).
But no matter where you’re headed, the drive from Montego Bay airport won’t be too long, ranging from 15 minutes (to Half Moon, barely outside the city) to two hours (if you’re staying at GoldenEye, roughly half-way along the north coast). As you leave the Montego Bay airport, get ready to see the city’s unpromising environs (chickens on the roadside, concrete structures that may or may not be finished) and the all too usual but still saddening Caribbean juxtaposition of poverty and posh (resorts on one side of the highway, residents on the other). Also, expect to see the mass tourism flotsam that defiles shorelines the world over.
Montego Bay’s “Hip Strip,” home to yet another branch of the Margaritaville chain of clubs means only more cheesy bars, not cheeseburgers, in paradise, and on the north coast as you leave the city heading east there are several mass-market mega-resorts that rival shopping malls in size and aesthetics (including some that are part of the local Sandals resorts empire). Fortunately Jamaica’s ferociously verdant fields and mountains soon make their appearance and remind you that not all of Eden has been lost.