Known for its strong sense of self identity expressed through its music, food and rich cultural mix, Jamaica's influence extends far beyond its shores.
With luminaries such as the black nationalist Marcus Garvey and musician Bob Marley, Jamaicans are proud of their cultural and religious heritage.
Jamaicans have migrated in significant numbers to the United States, Canada and Britain and their music stars are known around the globe.
The island is the birthplace of Rastafarianism, a religious movement which has been adopted by groups around the world who venerate the former Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie. Once regarded as a revolutionary threat, Rastafarianism became a cultural force, reflected in art and music.
With its roots in the island's ska and rocksteady forms, reggae made Jamaica a leader in music, with Bob Marley as its most famous ambassador.
The island is also known for its beauty, political stability and plentiful resources in the form of bauxite and sugar. However, these features contrast with widespread poverty and crime.
Since independence from Britain in 1962, power in Jamaica has alternated between the social-democratic People's National Party and the conservative Jamaica Labour Party.
While elections have often been marred by violence, their results have always been accepted and, on the whole, political institutions have managed to retain their legitimacy.
But political stability has not turned into social and economic harmony. Contrasting with the luxury tourist resorts are densely-populated and impoverished ghettos.
The government has at times deployed army units to suppress violent unrest. There were more than 1,300 reported murders in 2006 and there have been accusations of extrajudicial killings by law enforcers. The police have secured outside help to deal with what is one of the world's highest murder rates alongside South Africa and Colombia.
- Full name: Jamaica
- Population: 2.7 million (UN, 2011)
- Capital: Kingston
- Area: 10,991 sq km (4,243 sq miles)
- Major language: English (official), English patois
- Major religion: Christianity
- Life expectancy: 71 years (men), 76 years (women) (UN)
- Monetary unit: 1 Jamaican dollar = 100 cents
- Main exports: Bauxite, alumina, garments, sugar, bananas, rum
- GNI per capita: US $4,980 (World Bank, 2011)
- Internet domain: .jm
- International dialling code: + 1876
Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II
Prime minister: Portia Simpson-Miller
The opposition People's National Party (PNP), led by Portia Simpson-Miller, won a closely-fought general election in December 2011 by a wide margin.
Mrs Simpson-Miller is serving her second term as prime minister
The snap poll was called by the incumbent leader, Andrew Holness from the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), who was seeking a new mandate after replacing Bruce Golding as party leader in October.
Jamaica's deep economic problems dominated the election. Mrs Simpson-Miller has vowed to appeal to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to extend the period Jamaica has to repay its loans.
On taking up office in January 2012, she said she intended to make Jamaica a republic, and that 50 years after the country gained its independence from Britain, the time had come for it to break with the British monarchy and have its own president.
Portia Simpson-Miller was Jamaica's first female prime minister in 2006, but was narrowly defeated in elections in 2007, when Golding led the JLP to victory and ended 18 years of PNP rule.
A political veteran, Mrs Simpson-Miller is known for her plain-spoken style and portrays herself as a champion of the poor. She was born in rural poverty and grew up in a Kingston ghetto.
Jamaica enjoys a free press and its newspapers frequently criticise officials.
The broadcast media are mainly commercial and are open to diverse comment. There are three terrestrial TV stations as well as a handful of local cable channels. The main newspapers are privately-owned.
There were 28 radio stations on air by late 2010. BBC World Service radio is available on FM.
Jamaica had 1.6 million internet users in June 2010 (via Internetworldstats).