Back to the Caribbean we go! To the island that made one man and his reggae tunes famous worldwide, jerk a tasty word instead of a not so nice one and all-inclusive resorts the way to stay and play in the islands.
By now I am sure you have guessed that I am talking about Jamaica and I am thrilled that my colleague Tamara Christie, Business Development Manager in the Southeast for Visit Jamaica agreed to come chat with me about this beautiful pearl of the Caribbean. Completely surrounded by the Caribbean Sea making for a fabulous destination in terms of location – here every day is a beach day thanks to the abundance of beautiful beaches.
Ready for a glimpse into why they say it is the heartbeat of the world? Shore – pun intended – you are! Let’s talk about Jamaica Mon!
Getting There: Getting there is super easy from the US or Canada thanks to an abundance of nonstop flights – and even if you are behind the gateway – it’s so easy to connect smoothly. And the airlift available comes from numerous airlines including American, Delta, United, JetBlue, Southwest and more. And – keep in mind that even if you are not near a gateway city that doesn’t mean I cannot get you a non-stop flight. I work with certain vendors who give me the opportunity to book direct flights via charters from many different departure cities.
VIP? Why Yes! Jamaica is home to two international airports – Montego Bay and Kingston and one of the things that I love about arriving in Jamaica the best is Club Mobay and Club Kingston. The idea behind these clubs is that when you arrive at the airport you are treated like a VIP. Imagine that moments after stepping off the plane you come across your escort holding a sign with your name on it for that personalized meet and greet service. From there, they fast track you through immigrations and customs – meaning once you are met with the sign, they take you straight through both without having to wait in what can sometime be incredibly long lines – especially if several planes arrive at the same time. Once you are done with arrivals, they have a premium bar on the inside of their private lounge that they will escort you to. And it makes no difference the nature of your travel – they cater to everyone whether you are there on business, getting married, traveling with family or a corporate group, are an unaccompanied minor or a senior citizen – they have a personalized service for you. Bonus – they do this for departures as well! And both myself and Tamara agree – once you experience it you wonder how is it that you used to fly without this service, and you’ll insist on booking it every time you travel. And trust me – I always offer this to my clients – in fact, I don’t recommend booking Jamaica without it because it saves you from spending so much time in the airport and will expedite your arrival to your final destination – the resort.
Destinations: The three most popular – or should I say well-known – destinations are Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Negril. But there are others that you definitely need to consider when we create your itinerary. Read on for an overview of each.
- Montego Bay: Home of the Sangster International Airport – Montego Bay resorts and hotels are anywhere from just a ten to a 30-minute drive from there. Montego Bay provides visitors with easy access to shopping, activities and restaurants and is a complete resort area great for romantic rendezvous, family holidays, golf trips and more.
- Sightseeing and Activities: Well, there are those spectacular beaches – meaning you will find every different water activity imaginable here. There are also five championship golf courses in the area – so for my peeps who love to go golf Montego Bay is an excellent option to consider. Many of the resorts are located right next door to the golf courses which often overlook the Caribbean Sea making for spectacular scenery while you hit the links. They also host several championship golf tournaments throughout the year if you prefer being a spectator.
Did you know that you can ride seahorses? Not the seahorse that is a fish – but rather actual horses who absolutely love the water! Tamara shared that she has done this tour and said that you once they’re getting close to the beach you feel that pep in their step because they know they’re going to get to swim making it absolutely joyous for both you and the horses.
How about a leisurely float down the river on a bamboo raft? Per Tamara – do this and all of your troubles will melt away as you just lay there and relax and let someone else take you on a ride. You can even opt to do a nice spa experience while you are on the raft. Be prepared for a history lesson along the way too as you’re going through areas that have much history behind it them and most of the rafter guides have been around for many years and can’t wait to tell you all about the area that you’re rafting through. It really is quite a lovely experience.
For a totally unique wellness experience there is something called Stush in the Bush. Fun Fact: In Jamaica Stush means posh. This is one of those experiences where you truly feel like you are on an island far away from the real world. It is a holistic, health and wellness experience right down to the organic farm to table food. This is a must do for those of you who are into wellness as it’s something that’s unique to the island and that you won’t find in any other place.
Where there are rainforests there is zip lining! Jamaica is so green and lush and zip lining gives you the chance to view it from up high as you glide over rivers and streams. Here too your guides can’t wait to relate to you the history of the area and teach you about all of the flora and fauna that you see around you – making it both fun and educational.
Speaking of educational the Falmouth Heritage Walking Tour is a great history lesson in itself. Falmouth – 18 miles east of Montego Bay – is one of the oldest and best-preserved towns in Jamaica and was one of the first places in the Western Hemisphere to have electricity and running water – so it certainly dates back in time. It is filled with historical facts and building that have been there for many, many years as well. The tour is very professionally executed, and you really come away with a lot from it. Fun Fact: When Prince Harry visited Jamaica, he took this tour.
For my shoppers – you will find many craft markets in this area – most filled with handmade items made with the mahogany wood or redwood that can found on the island. One of the awesome things about this is that when you purchase these crafts, you’re actually helping locals who are entrepreneurs and small business owners like me – using their art to sustain themselves. What a great opportunity to give back and make your trip one of sustainable travel. And the best part is that you are getting unique one-of-a-kind piece of art plus you’re bringing back a piece of Jamaica with you.
- Negril: Located on the north coast, Negril is the western most tip of the island and is a majestic and breathtaking area that definitely makes you feel like you are in paradise. Featuring picturesque cliffs, a seven mile stretch of beautiful beaches and amazing sunsets, it’s a sun worshippers’ sanctuary that’s family friendly and ideal all types of getaways.
- Sightseeing and Activities: West End Negril is the cliff side of Negril and is an attraction in and of itself thanks to the beautiful layout of the landscape. This side does not have beaches but who needs beaches when have such spectacular views? You can still access the Caribbean Sea thanks to ladders that allow you to enter for a refreshing dip. And remember the waters are so calm in Jamaica. It’s not an overwhelming ocean like the Pacific Ocean – which is one of the things many things I love about Jamaica – the calmness and beauty of the waters that surround it.
Then there is the infamous Rick’s Cafe that is situated right on the water and is known for its front row seats to spectacular sunsets that are jaw dropping. As the sun starts to go down it’s simply amazing how everyone stops what they are doing and focuses on that orange glow over the blue water as the reggae band starts to play a serenade to the sun. And don’t forget the locals who put on cliff diving shows for their visiting guests and are often accompanied by some daredevil tourists too!
Another thing I really enjoyed here was the catamaran cruise which is the epitome of what a party boat should look like with dancing and eating and drinking and watching the sunset from the water – such a great experience! Just being on a catamaran sailing in the Caribbean Sea is the icing on the cake to a Jamaican beach vacation.
Negril has some great national parks where you can participate in safaris via boat that give you a great history of the area. What a lot of people are unaware of is that Negril has the wetlands as a backdrop, and this gives you the opportunity to see part of those wetlands that are very vital the maintenance of the beaches and the whole environment there.
And it’s also home to another type of park – Kool Runnings Adventure Park – a water park that sits right in the front of the beautiful scenery of the wetlands. With water slides, a lazy river and even paint ball – it’s fun for the whole family.
While the cliff side doesn’t have beaches never fear because there’s plenty of white sand elsewhere in Negril – seven miles to be exact hence the name Seven Mile Beach. And if you’re looking for something more private there’s the cove of Bloody Bay as well as several other coves scattered throughout. You’ll find plenty of activities near the water too. For instance, just as in Montego Bay you can take the horses for a swim in Negril as well because the horses here totally enjoy the water and love to swim too! There’s also an opportunity to Swim with the Dolphins in Lucea which is an area in between Montego Bay and Negril meaning you don’t have to drive all the way out Ocho Rios to enjoy these marvelous mammals. And don’t miss out on Island Lux Beach Park which is a lovely beach area featuring restaurants and ice cream shops and more. It a private beach so there is an admission charge but it’s well worth it!
Negril is great for nightlife too whether it’s visiting Margaritaville for dinner and drinks or strolling along the Caribbean Sea listening to the live reggae bands that perform nightly on the beaches.
- Ocho Rios: Moving more easterly into what Jamaicans refer to as their Garden Parish – Ocho Rios is located in the St. Ann area on the northeastern coast of the island. With over 30 attractions in a five-mile radius – not to mention all the beaches – Ocho Rios is a great area for couples as well as for families.
- Sightseeing and Activities: One of Jamaica’s best-known attractions can be found in Ocho Rios and that’s Dunn’s River Falls. Dunn’s River Falls is a cascading waterfall which you can climb with the help of a guide for a one-of-a-kind adventure of a lifetime. Gushing out into the Caribbean Sea you will encounter a beautiful beach there as well.
You can find bamboo rafting in Ocho Rios too on the White River. Or you can grab a tube and float down the White River in that as well. Be sure to stop at the rope swing for a jump into the river and some good old fashion fun!
For adventure of the drier kind head to Mystic Mountain Park and try out the Sky Explorer which takes you up 700 feet above sea level for magnificent views of the Mystic Mountain tropical treetops and the nearby Dunn’s River Falls. Or you can hop on a Jamaica Bobsled on rails that plunges 3280 feet of twists and turns down the mountain overlooking the town of Ocho Rios and the blue hues of the Caribbean Sea. Or take a flight through the forest canopy via zip line for glimpses of the beautiful flora and fauna that’s growing wild. The choice is yours!
- Kingston: This is the capital city of Jamaica – located on the southern coast of the island and home to the island’s other airport – the Norman Manley International Airport where a lot of people fly into for business reasons. Tamara referred to Kingston as the heartbeat of their little island as it is where their government is located as well as a lot of their corporate offices. Here you will also find plenty of art and culture giving it a quite different vibe and feel than Montego Bay. This is an area I feel that everyone should explore especially now that there is a new highway connecting Kington to Ocho Rios which makes for a shorter transfer time and thus easier access. It is especially great for reggae lovers and culture seekers as well as foodies thanks to its international cuisine.
- Sightseeing and Activities: This vibrant city has a host of hopping nightclubs, fabulous restaurants, lots of art galleries and historical areas making it much more metropolitan than the other areas. However, it is home to the Blue Mountains – which offer a beautiful backdrop and provide you with the opportunity to go on a hiking or bicycling tour.
One of the things that I love is that Jamaica has tons of festivals and Kingston you will find the Reggae Carnival as reggae was born here and Bob Marley recorded his music here. And speaking of Bob Marley, you can visit the Bob Marley Museum here in Kingston – which gives you a great history of his rise to fame. You can also opt to take the Trench Town Tour which is actually a birthplace of reggae tour that gives you the history of Jamaica’s music and the role Trench Town played in the start of reggae. On this tour you will also get a chance to see where Bob Marley lived when his reggae first took off and he became a success.
Jamaica has amazing coffee – which has a different taste than what you are probably use to, but it is quite smooth and is very popular so be sure and visit a coffee plantation while in Kingston for a tour, a cup of java and a real farm to table meal.
Another area of Kingston not to miss is Port Royal – which has a great history to it and was the inspiration for the Pirates of the Caribbean movies with Captain Henry Morgan. For those of you who are not familiar – Henry Morgan was a pirate and plunderer who called Port Royal his home during the time when it was filled with – well – pirates and plunderers.
- South Coast: Home to white sand beaches as well as black sand beaches, rum estates and eco adventures – South Coast is one of the areas of Jamaica that you don’t hear about much as far as a vacation spot – but has so much to offer.
- Sightseeing and Activities: I personally love this area for it’s awesome Jamaican rum and especially the spicy rum fruit cake which is one of my favorites to enjoy. You can sample this fabulous rum at the Appleton Estates when you participate in the Joy Spence Appleton Estate Rum Experience Tour. On this tour you’ll learn all about the process of making the rum and how it is still stored the old fashion way in rum barrels – along with a great history of the estate and area.
Similar to Dunn’s River Falls – in South Coast the Y.S. Falls are the big attraction. They are a bit different in that these waterfalls are in a garden setting whereas Dunn’s River Falls is on the beach. Here you can take a guided tour of the entire area which includes lunch and plenty of background on the falls.
The Black River Safari which is the on the longest navigable rivers on the island – is an amazing adventure that gets you up close and personal to the friendly Jamaican crocodiles – but Tamara warned – don’t try feeding them – leave that to the guide! Fun Fact: It’s called the Black River because of the peat sediment at the bottom of it. It’s really crystal-clear water but the peat ignites when it gets really hot and makes it look black.
A trip to South Coast would not be complete without visiting The Pelican Bar which is a quirky and very charming bar that sits out on a sand barge in the Caribbean Sea. You need to access it via boat and once there you will see it has a very rustic feel to it, so you definitely get that Jamaica and island experience here.
- Port Antonio: Known as the Gateway to the Blue Mountains, one of the things that I love about Port Antonio is that while it’s on the northeastern coast it’s very secluded and is really for those travelers who want to have a true off the beaten path adventure. This is a place for total relaxation with plenty of great food and beautiful beaches and I really just sum it up as a great escape. Fun Fact: Tourism began actually for Jamaica on this side of the island in Port Antonio and a lot of the James Bond movies were filmed in this area as well.
- Sightseeing and Activities: From rafting on the Rio Grande to hiking through the beautiful flora and fauna or taking a dip in the Blue Lagoon – even though it is secluded there is still plenty to do! And Tamara noted that it is the only area on the island that you will get enough surf to do some surfing – fantastic surfing at that. Bamboo river rafting here takes place on the Rio Grande River – one of Jamaica’s longest rivers – and you have the option to stop for lunch or a swim along the way. And of course, it’s great for wellness as there is plenty of ways to relax and unwind including yoga on the beach.
- Goldeneye: Goldeneye is actually a resort that overlooks the Caribbean Sea in the village of Oracabessa Bay on Jamaica’s north coast. It is owned by Chris Blackwell who was the manager for Bob Marley as well as the founder of Island Records. Originally the spot where Ian Fleming built a villa for himself – it is now is a collection of private villas, huts and cottages. All of Fleming’s James Bond novels were written while he was in Jamaica and you can visit the exact room where those novels were written at Goldeneye.
Accommodations: There are no shortage of accommodations throughout the island and you guys have plenty of fantastic choices of hotels and resorts – as well as opportunities to indulge in your own private villa, bed and breakfast or even a home. So really depending on where you want to be on the island, we have the opportunity to get you just about anything. For instance – in Port Antonio there are no all-inclusives – but it has my favorite – small, unique boutique accommodations. It’s very private so for those of you who are looking for major social distancing and connecting with nature you’re going to find a lot of that right here. And because this area also has smaller properties if you are looking to do a buyout for a retreat or a small destination wedding this is a great area to do so. And in Kingston as well, you aren’t going to find any all-inclusive resorts – but rather more of the brands like a Marriott or a Hilton and those types of hotels – as it is a big business and corporate traveler destination.
Gastronomy: You know it’s going to be good when you are on an island surrounded by the Caribbean Sea – right? Absolutely. You are going to get to eat the fresh catch of the day everyday thanks to the fishermen that go out and bring back that fresh fish – no frozen fish here!
And Tamara advises to be prepared to sample some food that you might not necessarily be used to – because it is all great food and they have got some great chefs. For instance, you must try their national dish – akee and salt fish – or even the akee and cod fish. She promises you won’t be disappointed and instead you will be happily surprised.
In Negril and South Coast, you are going to find plenty of restaurants where you can get some authentic Jamaican meals so be sure to try out the Jamaican jerk and Jamaican beef patties. Per Tamara they jerk chicken, lobster, fish, sweet potatoes – pretty much everything. Fun Fact: Port Antonio is where jerk first became popular – and is home to the annual jerk festival. In Ocho Rios my foodies will have the chance to do farm to table spice tours as well as an opportunity to take Jamaican cooking classes in the Yaaman Adventure Park.
Culinary events abound here as well! Among the most popular are:
- March: Blue Mountain Coffee Festival in Kingston
- Easter: Trelawny Yam Festival
- April: Westmoreland Curry Festival
- July: Portland Jerk Festival in Port Antonio
- August: Ocho Rios Seafood Festival
- October: Jamaica Food and Drink Festival in Kingston
Destination Weddings: As you all know I am here and oh so happy to help plan any type of romance travel – whether it’s a destination wedding or a vow renewal or a surprise engagement. And this island has amazing opportunities for all of these events thanks to the jaw-dropping views. Bonus – it’s also extremely easy to get married here making for a simple process that means you can start enjoying married life quickly and happily with no stress – and its legal in the US!
Festivals: Jamaica is passionate about partying, enjoying life and being happy and I think that especially now we should take a little bit of their culture and remind ourselves that we need just loosen up and just enjoy or as Tamara said – just be irie! There are a lot of different festivals that happen in Jamaica throughout the year and here’s a just a few of them:
- January: Music Festival’s Rebel Salute in Saint Ann
- The Week after Easter: Jamaica Carnival in Kingston
- July: Reggae Sumfest in Montego Bay
- August: Dream Weekend in Negril
- Various Times: Ocho Rios Frenchman Parties
Sporting Events: For my sports enthusiasts and especially my runners there are plenty of opportunities to catch major events or even to participate in a marathon or triathlon including:
- March: Kingston City Run
- March and April: Boys and Girls Athletic Championships in Kingston
- April: Jakes Off-Road Triathlon in South Coast
- May: MoBay City Run
- November: Jersey Mike’s Basketball Classic in Montego Bay
- December: Negril Reggae Marathon
Updated COVID-19 Information: As of this writing the CDC recommends travelers avoid all nonessential international travel to Jamaica.
So, mon – what do you think? Jamaica certainly is a fun-loving destination and when you are there – trust me – you definitely feel the vibe! And as you can see there is much to explore in Jamaica – and I am more than happy to help you narrow down what is important to you to experience while you are there and help you curate a trip to remember. Let’s get that conversation started and get you to Jamaica this year mon!
For more details on things to see and do in Jamaica, where to stay, it’s price points and more – contact your Travel Guru! Oh, and if you need a payment plan to fund your travel adventure – we got those too!