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Mellow pastels

Ever since Errol Flynn cavorted here with his Hollywood pals in the 1930s and '40s, travellers have regarded Jamaica as one of the most alluring of the Caribbean islands. Its beaches, mountains and carnal red sunsets regularly appear in tourist brochures promising paradise.

Unlike other nearby islands, it caters to all comers: you can choose a private villa with your own private beach; laugh your vacation away at a party-hearty resort; throw yourself into the thick of the island's life; or concentrate on experiencing the three Rs: reggae, reefers and rum.

Jamaica's character arises from its complex culture, which aspires to be African in defiance of both the island's geography and its colonial history. Jamaicans may have a quick wit and a ready smile, but this is not the happy-go-lucky island of Bacardi adverts and Harry Belafonte numbers. The island's sombre history is rooted in the sugar-plantation economy, and the slave era still weighs heavily on the national psyche. Rastafarianism may mean easy skankin' to some, but its confused expression of love, hope, anger and social discontent encapsulates modern Jamaica - a densely populated, poverty-ridden country that is struggling to escape dependency and debt.

Facts for the traveller
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Off the beaten track
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