The fair isle of Jamaica

The Caribbean island of Jamaica is truly an ideal destination for a UK student interested in taking a gap year.  In most of the world’s exotic destinations, volunteering means first and foremost learning quite a bit of the local language.  Jamaica, on the other hand, is an English-speaking country by virtue of its centuries long association with the British Empire.  Independent since 1962, Jamaica today remains a member of the Commonwealth.  This means another advantage for British citizens, who are allowed to enter Jamaica without any sort of visa for stays as long as six months.

Getting to know the real Jamaica

Those who spend a few months or longer volunteering in Jamaica find it a simple matter to immerse themselves in authentic island life as opposed to the tourist scene.  A gap year experience often means staying with a local family and living as they do in terms of meals, daily schedules, and a host of other cultural issues.

Gap year programmes in Jamaica can accommodate a wide range of interests since the service opportunities are so varied.  Teaching is a popular option, but so are running sports or music programmes for local youth.  Still other projects focus on infrastructure improvement in remote communities or providing improved health care to underserved populations.

Jamaica’s lush natural beauty

Jamaica is quite literally a tropical paradise; described by Christopher Columbus himself as the “fairest land” his eyes had ever seen.  Today’s tourist may well still react the same way.  Not only is Jamaica home to beaches gently lapped by turquoise waves, it also features mountains covered with lush vegetation and temperatures that remain warm and sultry even during the winter months.  Rain is possible at any time, though it predominates during September and October as well as during the late afternoons during other months of the year.

Things to do in Jamaica

Jamaica is a place where beach culture takes on a life of its own.  The entire island is ringed with beaches where ocean activities provide visitors with opportunities to scuba dive and snorkel; rafting and river tubing are also popular in coastal area.  The most famous tourist beaches are Ocho Rios, Negril, and Montego Bay where, visitors are welcome to relax in shaded hammocks and simply admire the sea if they need a break from more physical endeavours.

Negril, however, also features cliff diving along its western end.  The largest drop is more than 30 feet, and while tourists are invited to participate in the thrill of the sea rushing up to meet them, locals are also content to have them watch and admire.  Along the south coast of the island, a popular activity is wading in YS Falls, a cascade featuring seven tiers that is widely regarded as one of the islands most photogenic spots.

A classic experience of Jamaica also includes visits to the reggae clubs that have made the island famous.  Music festivals are a regular occurrence throughout the year.

Jamaica allows students on a gap year to enjoy both the satisfaction that comes from helping others in need and the opportunity to explore an island that remains one of the true jewels of the New World.


Top image by Marc Veraart