Montego Bay with part of the Sangster International Airport in the background.
Montego Bay, or MoBay as the locals like to call it, is a city on the northwestern coast of Jamaica. It is one of the two large cities in Jamaica with an international airport (Sangster MBJ Int’l), the other being Kingston on the other side of the island. It is the second largest city on the island, but it seems to be the number one city for revelry and tourism; its local airport (MBJ) and cruise ship port (Freeport) can attest to this, for they are both the busiest of their kind on the island.
Montego Bay is a relatively poor city, as is much of the country. Though it is located on several miles of beautiful coastline, much of the city is in disrepair and there seems to be trash everywhere. The majority of tourists are keen to steer clear of the inner city, opting instead for their all-inclusive resorts; this is a shame, as the people and country can never be understood this way. When travelers do fly in to Sangster and stay in the city, they mainly won’t go past Gloucester Ave, which is commonly referred to as the “Hip Strip.” Most of the tourist resorts of this city are located here. Numerous beach-type water activities are also available catering to tourists, such as kite boarding, jet skiing, scuba diving, and snorkeling tours.
MoBay can be hard on the senses, especially for travelers hailing from the western world. Like a small slice of some Indian cities, the traffic can be bad, the people yelling, streets covered in litter, and street vendors push their goods forcefully. Jamaicans also seem to have two volume settings, and Montego Bay is no exception – music in stores is either deafeningly loud or completely off. Most travelers will get approached numerous times throughout their tour by people seemingly taking initiative and being very helpful, but then expecting a tip at the end.
Though this city is about as opposite as one might get from the green Caribbean paradise they may have envisioned when booking a tour of Jamaica, it offers much insight into the Jamaican culture. If you take the time to actually walk down the streets, haggle with the vendors, ask directions, and try the food from the numerous stalls, you will no doubt learn much and gain a new respect for the people.
Things to See & Do in MoBay:
- Doctor’s Cave Beach – Though it is tiny (300 yds in length), it is rated by most as the best beach in Montego Bay.
- Downtown – As stated above, heading to the heart of the city is a great way to get a taste of the real culture of Jamaica and Montego Bay. Things may appear chaotic and loud, but don’t worry – an enterprising hustler will no doubt find you in minutes and answer any questions, then they’ll hold out their hand for a tip.
- Gloucester Ave. – Commonly known as the “Hip Strip,” most of the hotels and resorts are located here, as well as dozens of shops, bars, and restaurants. Much of the nightlife that MoBay has to offer takes place here, though it’ll undoubtedly be more tourists than locals.
- Museum of St. James – Housed inside the Montego Bay Civic Centre at Sam Sharpe Square, the Museum offers a look at the long history of the city and the island, from thousands of years ago through the slave trade until now.
- Croydon Plantation – Take a tour of this working plantation nestled in the foothills of the Catadupa mountains, near Montego Bay. It will provide a beautiful panoramic view of the surrounding countryside, and you can visit the birthplace of Sam Sharpe, one of the country’s heroes in the fight against slavery.
- Scotchies – Located 10 minutes (by car) east of Sangster International Airport, Scotchies is known for their authentic Jamaican cuisine. Make sure to try the jerk pork and/or chicken; it is slow-cooked over an open fire on top of pimento logs.
If you plan on only staying in the city of Montego Bay, it may be easier to just hail a cab or take public transportation. Driving can be a bit difficult and chaotic, so it is best to have all your mental faculties at the ready if you attempt to rent a car. A taxi from the airport to somewhere within the city starts at around $10, a bit expensive by Jamaican standards, but typical of most airport pickups wherever you go.