Kingston Mythbusters

Kingston Mythbusters

Getty Images

The capital and largest city of Jamaica is an excellent introduction to the country's cultural landscape, with an abundance of historical sites, museums, restaurants and easy access points to several day trips. But rife with tales and rumors of pirates, ganja, Bob Marley and violent uprisings, it can be difficult to decipher what is true when it comes to Kingston. Mythbusters interested in exploring the many sides of this forceful city can begin by separating fact from fiction among these commonly held beliefs and urban myths.

1. Kingston is a dangerous destination for travelers.

MOSTLY FALSE. This is the most damaging of Kingston urban myths, and has led to a decline in tourism for the entire country. Widespread media reports of violence arising from political demonstrations and gang warfare have led many people to assume it is not a safe travel destination.

What is not as often reported is that these incidents are centered on certain areas of Kingston that are listed on the U.S. Department of State travel guide, and not reflective of the entire city. There are few reports of violence affecting tourists, with petty theft being the greatest concern. Of course, it is important to take safety precautions when traveling to any large city. Hiring a local guide can offer a good introduction if you are concerned about venturing out alone.

2. Everyone is Kingston says "Ya Mon!"

FALSE. If you really want to stick out as a tourist in Kingston, respond to every question with an enthusiastic "Ya Mon!" or tell everyone everything is "irie" every chance you get. These are phrases that are pervasive in the majority of media depictions of Jamaicans and in the cheesy brochures that a travel guide might hand you, but certainly not in everyday conversations around Kingston. Mythbusters are advised to use these phrases sparingly.

3. Marijuana is legal in Kingston.

FALSE. This is quite possibly one of the most common urban myths. Kingston is indeed considered the cultural center of Rastafarianism, the syncretic religion that advocates the consumption of marijuana for spiritual purposes, and there is an abundance of churches, ital (strict vegetarian diet) restaurants and yearly gatherings. It is also a popular destination for Bob Marley enthusiasts seeking the "natural mystic" behind so many songs heard on repeat in college dorms. But despite widespread consumption and the sometimes open sale of the drug, possession, selling and use are still very much illegal. Many tourists assume the opposite to be true and are routinely arrested for possessing even small amounts.

4. Bob Marley was born and died in Kingston.

FALSE. Arguably the biggest tourist attraction in Kingston is the Bob Marley Museum, which is located in the former home of the world-renowned reggae star. For this reason, and because many songs reference Trench Town in Kingston, many people assume that it is where he grew up. In reality, Bob Marley was born on the North Coast in St. Ann, didn't move to Trench Town until his teens, and passed away in Miami before he could reach home.

Bob Marley Museum
56 Hope Road
Kingston, Jamaica
Mon-Sat 9:30AM-4PM
Adults $20, children 4-12 $10

5. Kingston was founded by the survivors of an earthquake that hit the "wickedest city in Christendom."

TRUE. This is not an urban legend. Kingston was founded in 1692 by the survivors of a massive earthquake that destroyed Port Royal. People believed that the earthquake was punishment because the town had a freewheeling reputation as a wicked and sinful place where pirates, brothels and all kinds of criminal activity reigned free.

6. There is buried treasure near Kingston.

TRUE. The earthquake that wrecked Port Royal also caused whole areas of land to disappear into the sea, and some locals make the creepy claim that you can hear the church bells of the sunken city ringing on dark nights. But don't get too excited – Jamaica has banned offshore treasure hunting since 1991, wanting to avoid the harming of delicate marine habitats and the commercial exploitation of shipwrecks. Nevertheless, you can obtain special permission from authorities to explore the underwater city by talking to a local dive operator.

7. The area around Kingston is haunted by pirates.

SORT OF TRUE. Speaking of Port Royal, it is an ideal stop for any Kingston mythbusters interested in the sordid histories of the swashbuckling buccaneers that once called the area home. While it is impossible to confirm rumors that the spirits of infamous bandits like Captain Henry Morgan, Blackbeard and Calico Jack still wander the streets, it is true that their real-life personas once ran amuck.

The old pirate town was featured as one of the locations for Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean, and reminders of its sleazy history remain. For instance, you can view the silver communion set at St. Peter's Church, believed to be spoils donated after a notorious raid on Panama, and you can see scales of ships used by notorious privateer Captain Morgan at Fort Charles.

Fort Charles Maritime Museum
12 Long Lane
Port Royal
Kingston, Jamaica
Daily 9AM-5PM
Read Full Story

From Our Partners