About twice the size of Prince Edward Island, Jamaica is one of the largest islands in the West Indies island group, which lies in the Caribbean Sea. The island's closest neighbours are Cuba to the north, and the island of Haiti and the Dominican Republic to the northeast.
Most of Jamaica is covered by several mountain ranges. The highest range is the Blue Mountains, which run through the interior, often at heights of over 1,500 metres; Blue Mountain Peak dominates the range at 2,255 metres. The mountains have a temperate climate; warm temperatures (16°C on average) and heavy rains feed the many rivers that rush from the mountains to the sea.
A distinct feature of Jamaica's interior landscape is its thousands of caves, formed by water eroding the soft limestone. In the northwest, the rugged Cockpit Country is pitted with steep hollows (cockpits). Some rivers, such as the Lowe and Quashies, sink underground in limestone areas.
The mountains descend into lush valleys, some of which roll down to sandy beaches with rocky headlands. Flatland areas are important for growing sugarcane and other agricultural products. Most of Jamaica's population lives along the coast. At sea level, the climate is tropical, with temperatures averaging 27°C and moderate rainfall; however, Jamaica lies in the Caribbean's hurricane belt and experiences storms during the rainy season (July to November).
Each group of newcomers to the island has contributed new plants, which flourish in Jamaica's rich soil. Jamaicans say their island is so fertile that "even the fenceposts grow." The Arawaks introduced maize, cassava, cocoa, sweet potato and tobacco. The ackee tree, which bears the national fruit, was brought by African slaves. The Spanish imported coconut, pineapple, citrus fruits, banana and sugar cane, while the British brought breadfruit. Ganja (cannabis) was brought by East Indian indentured servants, who used it as an aid to meditation.
Jamaica's lush landscape also supports an array of native flora and fauna, including 30 kinds of orchids and hundreds of species of ferns. Hibiscus, bougainvillaea and allamanda grow throughout the island. While the island has few indigenous mammals, it has over 250 species of birds, including the kling-kling, the patoo owl, and several kinds of egrets and hummingbirds.