Jamaica's tropical-metropolis capital is a mixture of the best of all possible travel adventures and, arguably, the worst. The latter is fuelled by widespread poverty. Nevertheless, evenings in Kingston feature almost surreal scenes aided by musical magic. Kingston, after all, is the city of ska, limbo, Calypso and of course reggae, made famous by the late Bob Marley. Jamaica was also the boyhood home of Harry Belafonte, the singer of songs about Jamaican banana boats and such.
Kingston has a wide selection of world-class hotels and restaurants. It is one of the best places to try the specialities of island cuisine. Ackee, a fruit that looks like scrambled eggs, is an island staple. Breadfruit was brought from Tahiti to Jamaica by Britain's famed Captain William Bligh. It is now Jamaica's starchy alternative to bread and potatoes. Then there is "jerk," the highly spiced chicken and pork for which Jamaica is famous. In addition to being a gourmet paradise, Kingston is also a viable convention venue.
Jamaica's capital is sprawling. Sadly, some sections are to be explored at your own risk. Jamaica's pirate-era capital, Port Royal, billed as "the wickedest city in the world," was destroyed by a 1692 earthquake in which as many as 2,000 people died in a matter of three minutes. The city's Fort Charles sank three feet; entire streets slid into the sea. Despite the devastation, residents continued to drink rum in between robbing corpses of any gold. Merchants rebuilt, but Port Royal was destroyed again, this time by fire in 1703. Survivors subsequently moved on to Kingston. Port Royal's pirate salad days played a major role in the 2004 hit film: Pirates of the Caribbean.
For the best of Kingston, check out the ultra-modern commercial centre called New Kingston, and/or the mansions and villas that cling to Kingston mountainsides. For a look at the rich lifestyle of the late 1800s, visit Devon House with its louvred balconies, antique furnishings, and palm-patterned silk wall hangings. Then there is Jamaica House, built in the 1960s to house the Prime Minister, and Kings House, official residence of the island nation's Governor-General. The city's zoo and botanical gardens are also highly recommended tourist destinations. Bob Marley fans will want to visit the Bob Marley Museum. The Mona campus of the University of the West Indies is another place worth visiting, as are the many art galleries. Kingston is ground zero for the nation's lively art scene. Jamaica produces some of the finest paintings and pottery in the Caribbean. National Heroes Park pays tribute to Jamaican political leaders Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamente. Also remembered is Simon Bolivar, liberator of Spanish South America. Bolivar spent time in Jamaica as an exile planning the liberation of his people in Venezuela, Colombia and elsewhere.
King Street, one of the capital's main shopping areas, leads to The Parade. That's where colonial soldiers used to parade, hence the name. The Parade serves as the main bus terminal, usually a scene of mass chaos with hagglers and hustlers by the score. The east section of downtown is somewhat rundown, many of the businesses having moved to New Kinston in the 1960s. Nevertheless, the area features many of the fine timber-frame buildings evoking Kingston's architectural past.