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TRAVELS TO MONTEGO BAY

Despite a large influx of visitors, Montego Bay retains its own identity. A thriving business-and-commercial center, it functions as the main market town for most of western Jamaica, supporting both cruise-ship tourism and a growing industrial center. Mo Bay, as it's known, is even served by its own airport, Donald Sangster International.

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This is the most cosmopolitan of Jamaican resorts, not as hedonistic as Negril but also not as crowded as Ocho Rios. As such, Montego remains the grande dame of island resorts. The draw of Mo Bay is its deluxe hotels, such as the Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon, Round Hill, and Tryall.

As in much of Jamaica, your choice of resort here often matters more than your choice of area. If you're determined to honeymoon with your sweetie, go for one of the Sandals properties; if you want to hang with the jet-set, take a villa at Round Hill.

If you're seeking authentic or traditional Jamaica, however, this area is probably not for you.

If you don't mind fending off hustlers, you can stroll through the center of Montego Bay. Allow about 1 1/2 hours to see the major landmarks.

We like to begin our walk north of Walter Fletcher Beach at:

1. Fort Montego
Above Gloucester Avenue and up Miranda Hill on Queen's Drive, the fort is long gone. Originally it had 17 cannons, of which only a trio remain. The fort never saw much action, and what it did see was of the comic variety-a Jamaican slapstick film.

Immediately south of the fort and reached by going southeast along Gloucester Avenue is a roundabout at the beginning of Howard Cooke Drive. This is the site of the:

2. Old Fort Craft Park
You'll be awash in T-shirts, woodcarvings, shell jewelry, baskets to fit cobras of any size, and vendors peddling fruits and vegetables.

Afterward, you can walk 1 block to the east along Union Street until you reach the landmark:

3. Georgian House
This 18th-century residence-really two buildings-was built by a rich tradesman who wanted one house for his wife and the other for his mistress.

Return to Fort Street, going only 1 block to the south to reach:

4. Sam Sharpe Square
Sam Sharpe was the local hero who spearheaded the Christmas Rebellion of 1831 that eventually led to the freeing of Jamaica's slaves. The cobblestone square bearing his name is still a rallying point for protests and political speeches.

At the northwest corner of the square is a bronze statue commemorating Sharpe, who was hanged in this very square.

In the northwest corner you can also see another grim monument called:

5. "The Cage"
This foreboding brick structure dates from 1806. Its name is apt: It was used as a lockup for both escaped slaves and drunks arrested on the street, most often British sailors on shore leave.

Leaving Sam Sharpe Square, head east along Market Street for 2 blocks until you come to:

6. Burcell Memorial Baptist Church
Dating from 1824, this church is named for its founder, the preacher Thomas Burcell; Sam Sharpe himself once served as a deacon here. The present church is a reconstruction, as slave owners burned the original church to protest Burcell's support of the emancipation movement. Sharpe's remains lie in the church's vault.

Continue to walk east along Market Street for another block until you approach the intersection with East Street. Take East Street south to Church Street. Once here, head west again in the direction of Sam Sharpe Square. On your left you'll come to:

7. St. James Parish Church
Shaped like a Greek cross, this is one of the best examples of mid-18th-century architecture on the island. The present church is a reconstruction; the original church was destroyed in the devastating earthquake that rocked Mo Bay in 1957.

Facing the church is the:

8. Town House Restaurant
If you're here at lunchtime, this is the best dining choice in the center of town. A wealthy merchant constructed this home of red brick in 1765. A bullet hole in the mahogany staircase can still be seen.

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