Population: 2,847,232 (July 2010 estimate)
Area: 4,243 square miles (10,991 sq km)
Coastline: 635 miles (1,022 km)
Highest Point: Blue Mountain Peak at 7,401 feet (2,256 m)
Jamaica is an island nation in the West Indies located in the Caribbean Sea. It is south of Cuba and for comparison it is just under the size of the United States' state of Connecticut. Jamaica is 145 miles (234 km) in length and 50 miles (80 km) in width at its widest point. Today, the country is a popular tourist destination and it has a native population of 2.8 million people.
History of Jamaica
The first inhabitants of Jamaica were the Arawaks from South America. In 1494, Christopher Columbus was the first European to reach and explore the island. Beginning in 1510, Spain began to inhabit the area and by that time, the Arawaks began to die off due to disease and war that came with the European settlers.
In 1655, the British arrived on Jamaica and took the island from Spain. Shortly thereafter in 1670, Britain took full formal control of Jamaica.
Throughout most of its history, Jamaica was known for its sugar production. In the late 1930s, Jamaica began to gain its independence from Britain and it had its first local elections in 1944. In 1962, Jamaica gained full independence but still remains a member of the British Commonwealth.
Following its independence Jamaica's economy began to grow but in the 1980s, it was hit by a severe recession. Shortly thereafter however, its economy began to grow and tourism became a popular industry. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, drug trafficking and the related violence became a problem in Jamaica.
Today, Jamaica's economy is still based largely on tourism and the related service sector and it has recently held various free democratic elections. For example, in 2006 Jamaica elected its first female Prime Minister, Portia Simpson Miller.
Government of Jamaica
Jamaica's government is considered a constitutional parliamentary democracy and a Commonwealth realm. It has an executive branch with Queen Elizabeth II as chief of state and a local position of head of state. Jamaica also has a legislative branch with a bicameral Parliament consisting of the Senate and House of Representatives. Jamaica's judicial branch is made up of a Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, Privy Council in the U.K. and the Caribbean Court of Justice.
Jamaica is divided 14 parishes for local administration.
Economy and Land Use in Jamaica
Since tourism is a large part of Jamaica's economy, services and the related industries represent a significant portion of the country's overall economy. Tourism revenues alone account for 20% of Jamaica's gross domestic product. Other industries in Jamaica include bauxite/alumina, agricultural processing, light manufacturing, rum, cement, metal, paper, chemical products and telecommunications. Agriculture is also a big part of Jamaica's economy and its biggest products are sugarcane, bananas, coffee, citrus, yams, ackees, vegetables, poultry, goats, milk, crustaceans and mollusks.
Unemployment is high in Jamaica and as a result, the country has high crime rates and violence related to drug trafficking.
Geography of Jamaica
Jamaica has a varied topography with rugged mountains, some of which are volcanic, and narrow valleys and a coastal plain. It is located 90 miles (145 km) south of Cuba and 100 miles (161 km) west of Haiti .
The climate of Jamaica is tropical and hot and humid on its coast and temperate inland. Kingston, Jamaica's capital has an average July high temperature of 90°F (32°C) and a January average low of 66°F (19°C).
To learn more about Jamaica, visit Lonely Planet's Guide to Jamaica and the Geography and Maps section on Jamaica on this website.
Central Intelligence Agency. (27 May 2010). CIA - The World Factbook - Jamaica. Retrieved from: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/jm.html
Infoplease. (n.d.). Jamaica: History, Geography, Government, and Culture - Infoplease.com. Retrieved from: http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0107662.html
United States Department of State. (29 December 2009). Jamaica. Retrieved from: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2032.htm