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 the sort of tourist brochures that promise 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 tunes. 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.
Jamaica was directly hit by Hurricane Ivan in early September 2004, causing widespread damage and ongoing travel disruptions. While by now normal travel services have resumed, there is small chance travellers may experience an occasional disturbance due to the hurricane's aftereffects.
Full country name: Jamaica
Area: 4,411 sq km
Population: 2.65 million
People: 76% African descent, 15% Afro-European descent, 4% European, 3% East Indian & Middle Eastern, 1% Afro-Chinese & Chinese
Religion: 80% Christian, including revivalist cults such as Pocomania and Rastafarianism
Government: independent state within the British Commonwealth
Head of State: Governor General Sir Howard Cooke
Head of Government: Prime Minister Percival J. Patterson
GDP: US$8.8 billion
GDP per capita: US$3,300
Annual Growth: -2%
Major Industries: Tourism, bauxite, sugar, bananas, rum, coffee, yams and chemicals
Major Trading Partners: USA, Canada, UK, Netherlands, Norway