With its lush mountains, waterfalls, stunning beaches, all-inclusive resorts and a history rich in buccaneer mystique, Jamaica is a swashbuckling cut above many Caribbean rivals. Sara Macefield explores the island whose famous son Bob Marley gave the world reggae music
et your legs up, up, up”, screamed my Jamaican guide. It wasn’t the usual sort of command you’d expect, but as I was racing along a zip-wire at full pelt towards the landing platform – it seemed a sensible request! Only a few seconds earlier, I’d stood at the top of the tropical river gorge, knowing I would be skimming across the treetops held up by nothing more than just a cou-
ple of cables hundreds of feet up in the air. Having reached the other side in one piece, my trepidation was swiftly replaced by elation and I felt ready to tackle anything. After all, this is just one of the adrenalinbusting activities designed to tempt holidaymakers off Jamaica’s beautiful beaches and into its rugged, jungle-filled interior. As the third-largest island in the Caribbean, Jamaica offers much to entrance visitors, from the misty peaks of the Blue Mountains with their beautiful landscapes of rivers and waterfalls, to the rocky cliffs and wide open sandy beaches of the laid-back resort of Negril, the coolest of all chill-out zones.
6 The Travel & Leisure Magazine
getting to KNOW
Jamaica Tourist Board Sandals
I At your service – a Sandals butler
I A taste of Jamaica
I Hanging around on a canopy tour
Jamaica is where you’ll find historic old plantation houses rubbing shoulders with luxurious hotels and sprawling all-inclusive resorts; where you can hide away in chic boutique hotels tucked into rocky cliffs or on lush mountain slopes. It is a place of local legends of buccaneering pirates and murderous witches, of romance tinged with royalty and old Hollywood glamour. But underpinning it all is the raw reggae vibe that dominates this island and envelops its culture, stemming from Jamaica’s most famous son Bob Marley, who planted his distinctive beat across the world.
Most of Jamaica’s tourist resorts are along the north coast, though one or two resorts have sprung up on the lesser-developed south coast. These are the island’s tourist areas: Montego Bay – Jamaica’s second city after the capital, Kingston – which is bigger and busier than the other tourist resorts. The
hub of the city is Gloucester Avenue, the socalled “Hip Strip” full of restaurants, bars, art galleries and duty-free shops. Mo Bay, as it is called by the locals, has its own marine park which covers 10 miles of coral reefs. There is also the famous white-sand Doctors Cave Beach and its mineral spring, said to have therapeutic powers. Nearby is the attractive town of Falmouth, noted for its well-preserved Georgian buildings, dating from the 1700s. Ocho Rios – “Ochi” as it is affectionately called, is more tourist-friendly than Montego Bay with its craft market, duty-free shops, restaurants and cafes and more relaxed atmosphere. Visitors should aim for the outdoor Island Village shopping
Jamaica’s waters have healing powers. The most famous – and touristy – are at Doctors Cave Beach where the mineral springs are said to be therapeutic. Then there are the mineral waters of Milk River, said to be the most radioactive in the world with high levels of magnesium, calcium, sulphate and natural chloride. The baths here date from 1794, but users are warned not to stay in the waters for more than 10 or 20 minutes at a time because of their potency. Jamaica even has a town called Bath which was founded because of the nearby mineral springs which are high in sulphate. In the 18th century, Bath was popular with the European elite who flocked here for the healing powers of the scalding hot waters and elegant botanical gardens – the first on the island.
I Frenchman’s Cove
Image: Jamaica Tourist Board
The Travel & Leisure Magazine
Jamaica Tourist Board
I Diving off Jamaica
With more than 600 miles of coastline and over 100 rivers Jamaica offers ample opportunity for water sports fans to make a big splash. From river tubing and river rafting to diving, sailing and under-sea tours on a semi-sub reef explorer, Jamaica has plenty of watery attractions. As well as the usual range of water sports and boat trips, there’s the Kool Runnings water park in Negril, which claims to be the largest in the Eastern Caribbean and is packed full of thrilling aqua rides. Alternatively, sun-worshippers wanting to bare all can choose from a wide selection of naturist spots – Jamaica claims to offer more nude beaches than any other Caribbean island.
I Sailing a catamaran
centre in the heart of the resort which English-speaking city in the Waterfalls houses the Reggae Xplosion Caribbean. It sits at the head of The island’s scenic beauty and colourful museum that tells the fascione of the world’s biggest history have always helped it to attract nating story of how natural harbours which in legions of visitors, but in recent years Jamaican music has years past was home to Jamaica has turned up the thrill factor to influenced the world. buccaneering pirates offer an adrenaline-pumping alternative to Negril – the sowho based themselves adventure-seekers wanting to explore the called “capital of at nearby Port Royal. stunning rugged interior. The top natural casual” is famous for The old city, described attraction has to be Dunn’s River Falls having the best beach in the 17th century as (www.dunnsriverfallsja.com) near Ocho on Jamaica and the the “wickedest city in the Rios. These 600ft falls were just made for most beautiful sunsets. west”, was destroyed by climbing, and it is great fun to scramble over This is a place to kick off earthquake and now lies huge boulders and plunge into the tempting I Sunset over Jamaica your shoes, sit back and chill underwater in the bay. Kingston pools. out. Some of the hippest boutique Jamaica Tourist Board may have a tough reputation, but its You need to be reasonably agile and you hotels in the Caribbean are tucked into the location on the south of the island means it have to concentrate, especially at some of rocky cliffs behind the beach, offering a real is far removed from the main tourist areas. It the steepest points, but the reward is the laid-back escape. However, more active trav- also has a number of its own visitor great sensation of standing ellers can take advantage of the excellent attractions under one of the many choice of water sports or try out the local South Coast – this is one of waterfalls and gasping restaurants. the most unspoilt parts of for breath from the Port Antonio – set on the north-east coast, the island and one of the sheer power of the this is the romantic heart of Jamaica where most beautiful with its torrent. the Blue Mountains sweep down to the sea. deserted beaches, tiny If you only do Less touristy than the other resorts, this lush fishing villages and tradione thing when retreat is known for its beautiful setting tional towns. This is the you’re in Jamaica – which decades ago attracted film-stars, most place to come crocodiledo this. It’s unique, notably Hollywood swashbuckler Errol spotting on wildlife safaris invigorating and Flynn, who declared it “more beautiful than along the Black River or unforgettable. Just a few words of any woman I have ever seen”. splash around in the cascading I Romantic bridge warning….try to avoid visiting Kingston – Jamaica’s capital is the largest waters of the 120ft YS Falls.
Jamaica Tourist Board
8 The Travel & Leisure Magazine
when cruise ships call, otherBob Marley wise the falls are mobbed But it’s the beautiful Blue with cruise passengers. Mountains that were made for Aim for the mornexploring and hikers; bikers ings too, as these and adventurers can distend to be less cover a rich array of flora busy than afterand fauna. noons. For serious walkers, For a quieter the seven-mile hike to the alternative, visit summit takes three to four Somerset Falls hours, while near Port Antonio, cyclists can get which are less-known, a lift up one of or the Mayfield Falls the mountains and I The Bob Marley Museum near Negril which are in a enjoy the 18-mile perfect area for cave diving, cliff- Jamaica Tourist Board downhill ride which finishes jumping or simply messing about in the with a refreshing waterfall dip. water. Wildlife fans can swim with And if you want a true chill-out, try river dolphins at Dolphin Cove rafting on one of the long bamboo rafts that (www.dolphincovejamaica.com) drift lazily down the Rio Grande or the Great near Ocho Rios or at the Half Moon or Martha Brae rivers. resort near Montego Bay Daredevils can visit Mystic Mountain (www.halfmoon.com/dolphin(www.rainforestbobsledjamaica.com), encounters.php). one of the island’s newer attractions near Alternatively they can splash Ocho Rios where they can soar through the around with stingrays at Stingray City treetops on a chairlift, hurtle through the for- (www.stingraycityjamaica.com) on est on a bobsled or swing through the forest James Bond Beach, near the north on a zip-wire. coast village of Oracabessa, a 25-minute
drive from Ocho Rios. Nearby is Goldeneye, the former hideaway of James Bond author Ian Fleming, and Firefly, the beautifully-located retreat of famous English playwright Noel Coward which has been preserved and is well worth visiting, if only for the views. Visitors looking for a more local flavour should step out on hikes in Maroon Country in the east of the island where there’s the chance to meet local maroons – descendants of runaway slaves who made their home in the mountains. But probably the most famous local is Bob Marley. He may have died nearly 30 years ago, but nowhere
Jamaica Tourist Board
All-out fun at Jamaica’s all-inclusive resorts
I Hedonism III disco and flume tube
It was almost midnight and I was being given a severe dressing down by the two girls manning the doorway I wanted to enter. So severe, they made me strip down to my underpants before they would let me pass. But then they were virtually as nature intended, save for some tiny scraps of cloth and strategic body painting. I should have expected nothing less. After all, it was the official opening night of Jamaica’s adult-only Hedonism III resort and the event I was trying to get into was the late-night disco following the Neptune-themed opening party. This was clearly not going to be a night for the self-conscious or prudish. A fact underlined by the sight that caught my eye when I stepped up to the bar. As the sea of near-bare flesh gyrated on the dance floor, a naked body suddenly flashed past just above the crowd’s heads in a large, clear plastic tube hung from the ceiling. The resort’s flume tube goes straight through the disco, and revellers had obviously decided to discard all their clothing to try it out. It may have been 10 years ago, but the experiences from that visit are etched vividly in my memory. Perhaps none more so than during the golf tournament the
10 The Travel & Leisure Magazine
does his spirit live on more strongly than in Jamaica. His birthplace and final resting place in the rural district of St Ann near Ocho Rios and the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston (www.bobmarley-foundation.com/ museum.html) are among Jamaica’s most
popular tourist attractions, drawing thousands of visitors wanting to pay homage to the music legend. The Bob Marley Museum is located in the superstar’s original recording studio in New Kingston where he recorded many of his songs.
One of his former homes in the Trenchtown area of the capital, called Culture Yard, is also open to the public. His final resting place is the Bob Marley Mausoleum (www.ninemilejamaica.com) which comprises the tiny house in the village of Nine Mile where he was born.
I Water sliding at Hedonism III
next day. Organised by the resort’s parent company, SuperClubs, it featured hospitality tents by the tees of several holes, each hosted by a different resort branch. At the first tee, chefs in white hats cooked up breakfast while uniformed masseuses gave golfers a pre-game massage in the tent hosted by its upmarket Grand Lido Resorts & Spas. A few holes along, the Cuban resorts were serving up lashings of rum while a salsa band laid down infectious rhythms. Then there was the Hedonism tent, hosted by the new resort and its more established and equally-outrageous sibling, Hedonism II. Outside, two bikini-clad models wearing giant angel wings sat on the edge of a hot tub, while inside another
model had dispensed with her bikini and was being body painted by any golfers who fancied giving her a lick of paint. All very distracting as you tried to hit your ball from the nearby tee. Back at the resort, things continued in similar vein. A stage show ended with a member of the audience being covered in whipped cream and volunteers sought to remove it without using their hands. On the way to the beach, I walked I Fern Tree Falls at Half Moon underneath a see-through Jacuzzi – diverting my eyes from the naked German underpants, to the wind. guests whose bodily bits were wobbling in The two Hedonism resorts represent the bubbles.There were actually two one extreme of the all-inclusive scene in beaches: one labelled the Nudes Beach, Jamaica.There are family resorts, such as and the other the Prudes SuperClubs’ Starfish Trelawny Resort & Beach. Spa or the Beaches resorts Of course there operated by Sandals. Some are were many other romantic escapes popular with activities and honeymooners or couples parts of the getting married, while others resort that did appeal to the sporty and not involve active types.The choice is disrobing. It was yours. just an option if And of course, if you really you had no want to, you can let it all hang inhibitions and out... I Snorkelling at Hedonism III wanted to throw caution, and your Peter Ellegard
The Travel & Leisure Magazine
I Pool-side at Sandals Negril
All photos: Jamaica Tourist Board
I Jamaica’s waterfalls are among its top attractions
I Rafting on the Martha Brae
Where to stay
Large family-orientated resorts, chic upmarket retreats, trendy boutique hideaways and small independent hotels – Jamaica has them all. But it is most famous as the birthplace of the all-inclusive concept which started with the opening of the Jamaican resort, Couples, in the Seventies. Couples Resort is still open, but it has since been joined by a huge choice of other all-inclusives, namely those owned by the Sandals/Beaches group and SuperClubs – both of which are owned by Jamaican families and have several resorts on Jamaica and other Caribbean islands. More recently, Spanish hotel chains such as Riu, Iberostar and Barcelo have built a string of modern all-inclusive hotels, but holidaymakers wanting something more unusual should head for the mountains. Strawberry Hill in the Blue Mountains is an 18th century plantation house that became the hideaway of record mogul Chris Blackwell and the place where Bob Marley recuperated after being shot in the 1970s. It offers rustic, laid-back luxury along with stunning views over Kingston. Other one-off gems include Rockhouse, The Caves, Jake’s (described as the chic-est shack in the Caribbean) and Tensing Pen – built into the cliffs overlooking Negril’s stunning white-sand beach. Well established upmarket alternatives that still hold traditional charm include Jamaica Inn in Ocho Rios, plus Round Hill TL and Half Moon near Montego Bay.
Sara Macefield has been writing about the Caribbean for the last 15 years, visiting so many times she has been nicknamed the “Caribbean Queen”. She has been to most islands, but Jamaica is one of her favourite places to relax with a rum punch.
When to go The best weather is from December to April, which is the high season. July and August are also popular, but are in the hurricane season which runs from June to September/October. Visa UK passport holders do not need a visa for stays of up to 90 days. Getting there British Airways (www.ba.com) flies from Gatwick to Kingston and Montego Bay and Virgin Atlantic (www.virginatlantic.com) operates from Gatwick to Kingston and Montego Bay.There are also charter flights with Thomsonfly (www.thomsonfly.com) and Thomas Cook Airlines (www.thomascookairlines.co.uk). Flight time is around 10 hours. Tour operators UK operators featuring Jamaica include British Airways Holidays (www.ba.com),Thomas Cook Holidays (www.thomascook.com),Thomson (www.thomson.co.uk),Virgin Holidays (www.virginholidays.co.uk), First Choice Holidays (www.firstchoice.co.uk), ITC Classics (www.itcclassics.co.uk), Kuoni (www.kuoni.co.uk), Hayes & Jarvis (www.hayesandjarvis.co.uk) and Harlequin Holidays (www.harlequinholidays.com). Getting around Choose from domestic flights between Kingston and Montego Bay, local buses, JUTA tourist buses (www.jutc.com), taxis or hire cars.Travelling around can be an adventure, but it gives visitors a great flavour of the island. Make sure you travel only on licensed buses and taxis. Jamaica has a good network of roads but they may not always be in the best condition, plus other drivers tend to drive fast and furiously – so be warned! Tourist information Jamaica Tourist Office: call 020 7225 9090 or visit www.visitjamaica.com
12 The Travel & Leisure Magazine