Out of Many, One People . . .
It’s no wonder that when Christopher Columbus first saw Jamaica he considered it ‘the fairest isle that eyes beheld’ and it is indeed beautiful. Jamaica is blessed with an abundance of natural beauty with its magnificent mountain ranges, spectacular waterfalls, rivers and soft sandy beaches and craggy cliffs. For the holiday maker, this island offers a huge variety of experiences. Whether you are looking for a laid back luxurious beach holiday, an all-inclusive package, an activity packed family holiday or a private villa away from it all, you will find it here. And if you love reggae then then you will think you’ve died and gone to jammin’ heaven in Jamaica. Home to Ska and Reggae, the irresistible beat is in the air.
Jamaica is the smallest island of the Greater Antilles at about 4,411, square miles. It’s about 600 miles south of Florida. The island itself is mountainous with coastal plains to the south. The whole island is ringed with beaches and bays, some particularly dramatic where the mountains tumble down to the sea to the north. The southern coast lands are a mixture of Savannah, swamps and fertile farmlands, punctured by the occasional mountainous finger pointing down to the shore. Inland the island rises up to several ranges of mountains, the most notable being the Blue Mountain in the East (where the famous coffee is grown) climbing to its highest peak of 7,402 feet. Cockpit country, whilst not as high, is highly dramatic with its craggy limestone formations and sinkholes are ideal for intrepid bikers.
The natural beauty of the island has always attracted the rich and famous including such luminaries as Noel Coward, Errol Flynn and Ian Fleming, who all had homes here. In fact, Firefly, Coward’s old home, has been made into a museum and is well worth a visit.
Jamaica has always been a popular destination for the all-inclusive, resort-based holiday. But there are a host of attractions and different experiences to encounter on this beautiful island. By hiring a car, a two-week holiday will give you a great opportunity to explore further afield especially inland and give you a good idea of what this island is about. If diving abroad is not your thing (and Jamaican driving is an exciting experience), the bus infrastructure is not bad (contact the JTB for destinations and timetable). Alternatively, you could hire a taxi and driver/guide to take you on a day’s excursion. Island Car Rentals ((876) 929-5875) offer a personally chauffeured tour or join one of the other group tours. ‘Juta Tours’, have many different group tours on offer (876 952 0813). For a list of major attractions contact the Association of Jamaican Attractions on (876 940 0704 or email them on: firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are looking for some thrills and spills such as horseback riding, river tubing, canopy walking or a jeep safari, the people who have really got the market cornered and offer a great adventure are Chukka Cove.
In Jamaica you will no shortage of beaches to enjoy. The most famous is in Negril, which is 7 mies long and is equally famous for its nightlife. Around Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, on the north Coast, you will find some of the more exclusive hotels and resorts. Great for a bit of luxurious living. And also, the opportunity for duty free shopping. Most flights arrive at Donald Sangster International Airport which is only a few minutes from the centre of Mo’ Bay, which means a quick transfer to your destination if this is where you intend to stay.
Further along the Northern Coast is Port Antonio. This former ‘banana capital of the world’ offers top of the range villas for rent but the beaches in the town itself are not appealing. Better beaches like Frenchman’s Cove or SanSan can be found a few miles east. A little further on is the stunning and aptly names Blue Lagoon, made famous by Brooke Shields in the film of the same name. The area around Port Antonio has for years been popular with the Jet Set. Many of the beaches are private and there is still an air of opulence about the area.
For the younger, more Boho traveller who perhaps seek a laid-back approach to life, Treasure Beach, on the South Coast, offers an offbeat destination. This quiet fishing village and agricultural area, with its tranquil coves and relaxed and friendly residents, doesn’t have much in the way of restaurants and nightclubs but serenity and peace is in abundance.
Hopefully, it will remain so, but with a new all-inclusive Sandals resort that has been opened along the coast in Whitehouse, things may well change.
Each year the Calabash Literary Festival takes place at Jakes in Treasure Beach, where you can hear some of the best International and Caribbean authors and poets reading their work. Last year, Andrea Levy, British author of Small Island was amongst their guest readers. What is unique about this festival is that it is totally free, so it is open to everyone and is a wonderful opportunity for visitors to meet and mingle with Jamaican people. There are many other opportunities throughout the year to experience the wonderful cultural heritage of Jamaica, for information when these different festivals take place get in touch with the Jamaican Tourist Board on 020 7225 9090 (London).
If Treasure Beach is a little slow then Negril must be the alternative. The seven-mile Long Bay with its stunning white sands is fringed with palm trees and sea grapes. All along the beach there are eateries and hotels for sunseekers. It’s all very relaxed during the hot hours of the day, come nightfall, after a spectacular sunset and a few sundowners, the nightlife comes alive with the sound of Calypso and Reggae. The place is jumping until the early hours of the morning.
But Jamaica is not about the beaches. Kingston, the capital, may not be a hugely popular tourist destination but it does offer a change of beat. It’s worth a day trip to get a feel of some other aspects of Jamaican life and there’s a lot to see. Check out The Bob Marley Museum (56 Hope Road). The musician’s studio has been turned into a shrine and offers a good insight into his life, his art and his beliefs. Sit in the forecourt and try a bowl of Ital Irie Stew (Rastafarian vegetarian dish) from Bob’s café. Down on Ocean Boulevard, a tour of the National Gallery presents amongst other works, a wonderful collection of Jamaican art from the 1920’s to the present day.
Wine & Dine
There is a huge range of eating experiences from the madly expensive to the modestly priced roadside stalls, where you can eat basic Jamaican food for as little as US$1. If you choose to eat from the stalls – use your own judgement on how clean they are – mostly they are fine. There are a lot of Jamaican dishes that you will find in the other islands such as stewed chicken or curried goat but one dish that is unique to Jamaica is Saltfish & Ackee, which is generally served at breakfast time. They are famous for their peanut porridge, which can be found in small cafes, or sometimes you will see it being sold in huge pots on stalls at the roadside during the morning. In fact, the Jamaican breakfast is not to be missed, they don’t waste time with cornflakes but will happily eat, Escovich fish, rundown mackeral, ackee, callaloo (like spinach) and Jonny Cakes (corn bread) and even stewed chicken.
Jerk is another Jamaican speciality. This is a term used to describe pork and chicken marinated with spicy mixture made from allspice (pimiento), hot Scotch Bonnet pepper and some other island spices then barbecued slowly in an outdoor pit or an old oil drum over a fire of allspice (pimiento) wood. You generally but it hot off the coals, priced by weight, wrapped in paper, accompanied by a sweet finger length of cornmeal-fried bread called festival. Fish is a firm favourite as well and there is nothing better than driving down to Hellshire on a late Sunday morning for a lunch of fried fish and bammy (fried steamed cassava bread). Driving through the island you will encounter many opportunities to sample the ‘street food’.
From bamboo, to fresh fruit, iced jelly coconuts, peanut and cashew nut vendors, roasted breadfruit and salt fish and many, many more delicacies are sold by the stallholders. If you are a food lover it’s worth a drive to Faith’s Penn, which is 17 miles south of Ocho Rios where are dozens of stalls selling all manner of Jamaican specialities. Another food haven is Middle Quarters, 8 miles north of Black \river on the South Coast where they sell pepper shrimps. These spicy, salt delicacies are addictive!
Sadly, Jamaica is littered with a whole range of fast food eateries – the usual suspects – selling hamburgers, pizza, fried chicken and sodas. One fast food outlet that is uniquely Jamaica though is Tastee or Juicy Patties. This is a staple throughout the country; these thin-crusted crescent shaped parcels are filled with highly spiced beef, vegetables, saltfish, chicken and even lobster. Restaurants I would recommend include, starting with my favourite:
Norma’s on the Terrace, Kingston; Toscanini, Harmony Hall, Ocho Rios; Cafe Aubergine, Moneague, near Ocho Rios; Red Bones Blues Cafe, Velissas, Kingston; & Little Ochi (though not upmarket) set right on the beach in Alligator Pond, makes the finest garlic crab on the island.
Where to Stay
Jamaica offers accommodations to meet every taste and pocket. The prices range from US$20 up to US$500. The prices soar during high season which is from mid-December to mid-April. There’s a plethora of five-star luxury resorts to choose from along the north coast.
The Ritz Carlton Spa & Resort, Round Hill: famous for its celebrity guests and villa owners.
Royal Plantation where they serve champagne and Caviar around the pool.
Then of course is the Jamaica Inn. built in the 1950’s. It doesn’t have as many facilities as some of the more modern and larger resorts but what it offers is the epitome of low key style and old-world charm. Croquet on the lawn, afternoon and superb service, plus a wonderful organic spa. Prices range from: US$235.00 upwards.
Island Outpost properties offers boutique style hotels, which attract the more Avant Garde clientele and quite a few celebrities. Their prices range from moderate up to pricey, depending on which room. one of their most lovely tranquil properties is Strawberry Hill, which was the site of Chris Blackwell’s own home and was the place where Bob Marley went to recuperate after he was shot. Set high in the Blue Mountains it has spectacular views down into Kingston and is quiet, breezy and beautiful. It has a totally brilliant Aveda Spa on the Property as well. Price Range from US$346.50 per day.
These resorts generally offer the best deal, everything all in. You pay a set price and don’t spend another penny. They offer good food, endless booze, lots of activities and entertainment and a good standard of accommodation but the down side is that guests seldom leave the complex and therefore never get to experience the ‘real’ Jamaica.
www. Sandals.com, many people, who just want to be taken care of, opt for this type of holiday. Their main competitor, is www. SuperClubs.com, they offer a good alternative.
Prices at Sandals for 3 nights US$473.00 per person, prices do vary according to the length of stay.
Rockhouse could not be more different from its all-inclusive Negril neighbours; this is the place you go if you prefer your Jamaican vacation served literally ‘on the rocks’. Recently renovated the hotel is built on, in and of the rugged coral that forms the West End peninsula, at the end of the legendary seven-mile Negril beach. Thatch roofs cap the pine and stone air-conditioned huts, newly refurbished with mosquito-draped four poster beds and refreshing open air showers. Gangplank style footbridges connect outcroppings; stone steps and iron ladders plunge into coves of snorkel-perfect water. There’s a new Zen pool and an open sided dinging pavilion offering various degrees of sun or shade. Prices: range from US$100 per night.
Within the range of budget accommodations there are Guesthouses, B&B’s, Self-catering and Homestays.
Ital Rest will appeal to a young crowd on a budget. Ital Rest offers peaceful, simple living. The property comprises two thatched cottages with candlelight. The shared self-catering facilities is set in the lower floor of one of the cottages and the land is well-fruited with over twenty different trees including pomegranate, guava, mango, naseberry, star apple and soursop.
An added bonus for visitors is Shirley Genus (the sister of the owner), who is a masseuse. She provides her services on property. It’s an ideal arrangement and an interesting set-up. Under a thatch roof, herbal baths and massages are available by appointment. Many of her clients have heard about her healing work and come from all over the island. She also produces a secret concoction of herbal juices for sale. Prices from: US$30 per day.
Language: English and Jamaican Patois
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