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Elizabeth Agboola: Why Jamaica Should Be Your Next Immediate ‘Escape’

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If Paul the Octopus had predicted a rollercoaster 2020 on the 1st of January, we would probably have laughed at him. After all, we had an amazing ‘Detty December’ in Nigeria and a phenomenal Year of Return in Ghana. We were truly hopeful for 2020 (the double 20 year) and we all had amazing plans to see the world and to conquer it.

Almost without warning, we were all subjected to a global lockdown from March, thanks to COVID-19. It saw people like me, who ‘catch flights not feelings’ at least once a month, become people who caught memories and movies for 5 months. 

When the global airspace finally reopened and we thought we could start flying again, our plans were constantly disrupted with things like self-isolation, quarantine, COVID-19 tests, travel corridors, entry restrictions, sanitizers and masks. People who used to book flights based on emotions and visa availability had to start doing so after adequate studies just to be sure they could enter without restrictions, exit with no obligatory self-isolation, and re-enter their country!

As if COVID-19 was not enough, many of us found ourselves deeply caught up in the #EndSARS protests. Painful sacrifices were made and sadly, several lives were lost. But we now have some light at the end of the tunnel; we have seen what can be achieved when we work together with a common purpose and this must continue for the greater good of Nigeria. 

By now, we might all be experiencing accumulated stress from the rollercoaster of events and would, no doubt, need an escape. With so many entry and exit restrictions now, it is more difficult than ever to spin the globe and choose a destination. Thankfully, I travelled to Jamaica last month and I can give a first-hand account of my weeklong experience and why you should consider it as your dream getaway this Christmas/New Year.  

Where is Jamaica?

Jamaica is a beautiful island paradise in the Caribbean. It is located between the continents of North and South America. Jamaica is 1 hour 20 minutes from Miami, Florida, and 2 hours from Cartagena, Colombia.

Though tucked far away from the continent of Africa, most of its population is of African descent. West Africa, especially, shares a deep historic connection with Jamaica from the times of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. For this reason, the good people of Jamaica refer to Africa as their motherland.

How do I get there?

Presently, the only ways to get to Jamaica are through the USA and Europe. 

Option 1: Fly from Nigeria into London and connect to Montego Bay via British Airways or Virgin Atlantic. The total journey with this option is over 15 hours long (the 10 to 15 hours layover not included). You would also need a UK visa for this route. Estimated flight cost would be between N850, 000 and N1,000,000

Option 2: Fly from Nigeria to Germany and connect Montego Bay by Condor Air. The total journey with this option is up to 16 hours (layover not included). You would need a Schengen visa for this route. Estimated flight cost would be between N700,000 to N1,000,000

Option 3: Fly from Nigeria to the USA and connect Montego Bay (there are several flight options). The total journey with this option is up to 16 hours (from 5 to 8 hours layover not included). You would need a US visa for this route. Estimated flight cost is between N800,000 to N950,000.

Option 4: Naijamaica – you can join the first direct charter flight from Lagos to Montego Bay 11 hours 30 mins direct flight organised by the Jamaican High Commission in Nigeria. There are no additional visa requirements with this option, just your Jamaican visa. Estimated flight cost is N792, 000 ($1650)

Jamaica is not a visa-free destination for Nigerians. The visa is relatively easy to procure, however, contrary to the myth regarding the difficulty in getting the visa. The challenges would usually be from the need for a UK, Schengen or US visa since those are the primary transit routes to Jamaica. 

Jamaican visas are non-appearance and you’ll only need to send the required documents to the High Commission in Abuja for a fee of $20 or procure the services of an agent for smooth processing (agency charges vary). 

Is it open to tourists during the pandemic?

 Yes, Jamaica has been open to tourists since the 15th of June and its COVID-19 infection cases have been relatively low. The Jamaica Tourist Board has been commended by UNWTO for its excellent measures in sustaining tourism amidst the pandemic.

Everywhere I visited, from hotels to tour sites, all COVID-19 prevention measures were enforced – temperature checks, the compulsory use of hand sanitizers before entering hotels, restaurants, bars and tour sites, and the compulsory use of masks. These provided a higher level of confidence, which explains why Jamaica has done so well in keeping its numbers low.

Entry Requirements 

Entry requirements during the pandemic vary from country to country. Jamaica is not exempt, but its requirements have been very pain-free. First, you need your COVID-19 PCR test, which you need to upload onto the online travel authorization portal www.visitjamaica.com not more than 5 days prior to your trip.

Is it safe? 

Jamaica has had a lot of bad press about its levels of violence and crime and this might cause you to have some doubts about visiting. However, we need to acknowledge the double standards when it comes to media reportage on crime. Countries like the US with random gun shootings are never termed unsafe but countries like Jamaica are. Moreover, places considered dangerous are not those that the average Jamaican and certainly not tourists would visit. 

There’s no doubt that Jamaica has got a lot going for it and should always be considered a worthwhile destination. Just look at the major global tourism awards it has won over many years or ask the more than 4 million tourists who have visited each year since 2017.

How much should I budget for a decent trip?

With flight costs ranging from N750,000 to N1, 000,000, you’ll also have to consider visa fees of N10,000 (equivalent) and one week accommodation (including all meals during off peak season) which would be around N200,000 to N600,000. Prices will be influenced by your choice from 3, 4 or 5 star accommodation. The airport transfers and up to 3 reasonable tours (e.g., bamboo rafting, swimming in the Luminous Lagoon and a visit to Bob Marley’s museum) at N150, 000.

For a decent vacation to Jamaica, you’ll need around N1.2 to N1.7 million.

Why Jamaica Now?

There’s so much more to Jamaica than just beaches and Bob Marley. Here are some interesting things that should make you get up and pack right away:

  • Golden Opportunity of a Direct Flight 

Many of us do not have the opportunity to access a UK/US/Schengen visa easily and would love to visit the Caribbean. Joining the Naijamaica direct flights this December is a historic opportunity you shouldn’t miss.

  • The People

You’d probably have met a Jamaican or two at some point in your life and formed your opinions (good or bad). However, when you visit Jamaica, you’ll get the opportunity to meet them in their own territory. You can enjoy, first hand, their warmth and accommodation during your stay and their joyful appreciation of life, despite all they might be going through. This should remind us of how we Nigerians always find a reason to celebrate, even in hard times. You’ll leave the island of Jamaica feeling there is definitely no problem and everything is ‘irie’ (all is good) because of their laid-back lifestyle.

  • History and Connection 

Jamaica and Nigeria share a long history from the time of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, over 400 years ago. Many aspects of our culture and traditions were transported across the waves, along with the people. These can be seen in similarities in our languages (some words in Jamaican Patois can be found in Nigerian Pidgin and some of the other major languages). 

Our connection can also be seen in the food – Yams, Breadfruit, Plantain and Callaloo (a variation of our vegetable soup). What this means is, you’ll never have to miss yam and egg whilst in Jamaica, because the breakfast buffet in your resort would most likely have Jamaican food options in its continental breakfast offering. 

My trip to Jamaica allowed me to experience many of these similarities and made it easy for me to connect with the people. If you haven’t watched the Netflix series ‘Journey of a Colony’, now might be the ideal time to do so. It will help you have a broader appreciation of the deep historical and cultural connections, including the places named after states and cities in Nigeria:

Calabar

A good example is Calabar High School located in the capital, Kingston. Calabar is a prestigious school not just for its academic achievement but also its sports and note-worthy alumni. The school was named after the city of Calabar in Cross River State. The slave port of Old Calabar was the origin of many of the persons who were captured and shipped to work as slaves in Jamaica and this explains why a school was eventually built to honour where they came from. 

Abeokuta

I also visited a little town in the Parish of Westmoreland called Abeokuta (named after the very same town in Ogun State). Nearly 200 years ago, after the end of slavery, indentured workers from Abeokuta went to work in Jamaica and settled in the town that looked like their home. The surrounding hills and mountains were like those in their homeland. Very few people live there these days.

The oldest swimming pool in Jamaica can also be found in a tropical park in this small town. The pool was built by the people of Egba land (Abeokuta) who settled there. The natural pool, with water flowing directly from the nearby river, is still present and is known to have rejuvenating powers.

  • Food and Drinks 

Did you really go to Jamaica if you didn’t return home with, at least, an extra 1kg? That’s how good the food is! The exotic fruits would titillate your taste buds. I trust you’ll find at least 6 fruits you’ve never heard of, fruits such as Guineps, Passion fruit, Yellow Watermelon, June plum, Naseberry, Starfruit and Soursop.

Jamaica is equally home for those with a sweet tooth because there is an abundance of sugarcane and the snack companies don’t hesitate to show off all the sugar in their products. My favourites remain Gizzada, Coconut Drops, Grater Cake, Peanut Brittle, Tamarind Balls and Spicy Bun.

You must also check out the Devon House ice cream. This beats DJ Cuppy’s gelato a dozen times!  Many people have missed their flights while stopping for a last scoop of Devon House ice cream! Be warned!

For the foodies out there, you’ll spend each day with a full belly! Foods such as Jerk Chicken, Bammy (made from cassava), rice and peas, Breadfruit, Escoveitch Fish, Dumplings and Patties would rock your tummy.

Jamaica will make you appreciate the essence of coconut water. Every corner has a coconut stand or every grocery shop has a bottle of coconut water for you. Jamaica will also have you sipping ‘cocktails pon de repeat’ which means you’ll never run out of cocktail options. Multiple variations of drinks infused with Jamaican rum would make you not want to end your vacation. It’s even better when you stay in an all-inclusive resort where you can drink till you’ve had your fill – all included in your package price. Make sure you try the Bob Marley cocktail and lots of rum punch whilst at it.

Jamaica hasn’t left coffee lovers out. Make sure you experience the Blue Mountain Coffee, it’s truly world-famous and as the name suggests, it’s grown on the highest mountain range in Jamaica. Sipping this delightful brew while relaxing on your balcony with that new book you’ve promised yourself to read for months will definitely add to your rejuvenation.

Reggae music is Jamaica’s gift to the world. It is one of the lures for travel to Jamaica as you will hear its distinct rhythms and enchanting vocals in public areas, beachside restaurants and resorts around the island. I was fortunate to engage in a duet with my bamboo rafting sailor singing Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds. It’s an experience I won’t forget in a hurry.

Another way to experience the island’s music is by visiting a reggae bar just as the name suggests. Don’t forget to visit the Bob Marley museum and explore his legacy. Should you have more time, you should visit an authentic Rastafarian home or community. This would help you to better appreciate reggae music and its central role in Jamaica’s cultural evolution.

You won’t be short of ideas and options when you have the crystal-clear blue Caribbean Sea staring at you.  You’ll find yourself either swimming, snorkelling, jet skiing or just generally playing in the water. Jamaica is also known for the most amazing golden sunsets. Don’t forget to grab a drink or two at Rick’s Cafe in Negril (1hr 20 mins from Montego Bay) and catch the sunset. Should you wish to not chill on the beach or play in the sea, there is an abundance of waterfalls to chase and experience their natural, refreshing spring quality. If you are curious enough, you should visit the Luminous Lagoon and swim in it. The lagoon illuminates with a lovely blue colour.

Other water activities include bamboo rafting (one of my favourite things). Make sure you pick up some coconuts to refresh you whilst rafting on the calm river. For those who are adventurous, make sure you experience horseback riding in the water. This was definitely my favourite water sport, considering I don’t know how to swim. Riding the horse in the water, allowed me to get close to the middle of the sea without fear.

  • Home to Variety

All-inclusive experience

Jamaica is home to many all-inclusive resorts. This means you could be on the island without the need to pay for anything, especially food and drink because all is covered when you book the accommodation. This is one worry off your mind so you can concentrate on getting the most out of your holiday in paradise.

Weddings

Tourists can get married after 24 hours of arrival on the island. This makes it a favourable option for people to do their destination weddings without having to go through wedding permit bottlenecks. It is home to many beachfront venues, leaving your guests the sandy feet they desire during your ceremony.

Exotic sports 

Jamaica is known for its top-class sporting facilities. From golf, tennis and cricket to water sports and athletics, there is something waiting for you and your team.

With good weather all year round, you can visit at any time and still experience the best weather. The average temperature is around 27 degrees celsius.

For your ‘irie’ feeling, for the food and drinks, for the culture and history and unending activities, I’d say head down to Jamaica. This is the perfect destination for rejuvenation to kickstart 2021.


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Basic protective measures against the new corona virus

What you can do regarding this period or what you should do regularly
* Use tissue while sneezing

* Avoid Traveling

* Stay At Home

* Use mask if you go out

* Wash your hands frequently with soap

* Avoid Crowd

* Be Safe.

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