Jamaica is an island nation of the Greater Antilles, 234 kilometres (146 mi) in length and as much as 80 kilometres (50 mi) in width situated in the Caribbean Sea. It is about 620 kilometres (385 mi) northeast of the Central American mainland, 145 kilometres (90 mi) south of Cuba, and 190 kilometres (120 mi) west of the island of Hispaniola, on which Haiti and the Dominican Republic are situated. Its indigenous Arawakan-speaking Taino inhabitants named the island Xaymaca, meaning either the "Land of Springs," or the "Land of Wood and Water." Formerly a Spanish possession known as Santiago, it later became the British West Indies Crown colony of Jamaica. It is the third most populous anglophone country in the Americas, after the United States and Canada.
The original Arawak or Taino people from South America first settled on the island between 4000 and 1000 BC. Although some claim they became virtually extinct following contact with Europeans, others claim that some survived for a while. There is very little trace of the Arawak culture, and the Jamaican National Heritage Trust is attempting to locate and document any evidence of the Arawaks.
Jamaica was claimed for Spain after Christopher Columbus first landed there in 1494. Columbus used it as his family's private estate. The English Admiral William Penn (father of William Penn of Pennsylvania) and General Venables seized the island in 1655. During its first 200 years of English (then British) rule, post Spanish rule, Jamaica became one of the world's leading sugar exporting nations and produced over 77,000 tons of sugar annually between 1820 and 1824, which was achieved through the massive use of imported African slave labour. After the abolition of the slave trade the British imported Indian and Chinese indentured servants in the early 1800s as more cheap labour. Many of the descendants of the Chinese and Indian indentured servants continue to reside in Jamaica today.
Jamaica is the third largest island in the Caribbean, and the most populous English speaking island. The island of Jamaica is home to the Blue Mountains inland and is surrounded by a narrow coastal plain. Most major towns and both cities are located on the coast. Chief towns include the capital city Kingston, Portmore, Spanish Town, Mandeville, Ocho Rios, Port Antonio, and the city of Montego Bay.
The climate in Jamaica is tropical, with hot and humid weather, although higher inland regions have a more temperate climate. Some regions on the south coast, such as the Liguanea Plain and the Pedro Plains are relatively dry rain-shadow areas.