YV&C News Desk
Land of Irie
Jamaica offers visitors natural adventure and a peek into a flavorful culture
Apr. 25, 2007 09:15 AM
While the Caribbean Sea is full of treasures, perhaps none are as rich and diverse as Jamaica. Sure, it has the beaches, beautiful weather and resorts to make it a popular winter destination, but veer off the beaten path, and you will find a vibrant culture and natural wonders to excite any adventurer. Is it any wonder that Jamaica was once the destination of choice for 007’s creator, Ian Fleming?
In fact, it was on Jamaica, not England with its “serious” literary culture where Fleming was inspired to write some of Bond’s greatest adventures – beginning with Casino Royale and totalling13. Fleming found the landscape so inspiring he set major parts of three of the novels which were later made into films in Jamaica – Dr. No, Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun. His estate, Goldeneye on Jamacaica’s North Coast can now be enjoyed by visitors. An 18-acre property on a seaside bluff surrounded by tropical forests and gardens, Goldeneye contains both a luxurious resort and a collection of unique residences for those who want more than a vacation on the stunning grounds. Tropical architecture showcases outdoor living as best enjoyed in a location of lush foliage and sea breezes. Modern amenities like wireless internet access in the primary resort areas and a DVD library connect you to the mainland world (if you’d like) while the dramatic landscape transport you to a place that could only be Jamaica. For the true Bond enthusiasts – or families looking for a larger rental – Fleming’s original house is available to rent, complete with majestic views, a media room, a swimming pool, sunken gardens and garden baths and showers. Like many resorts on Jamaica, active adventure is encouraged – glass bottom boats, kayaks, windsurfers, snorkeling equipment and jet skis are available.
The North Shore of Jamaica offers beaches, but more notably, a rugged coastline of bluffs. From the dramatic cliffs, adventurers can go cliff diving, climb down for a swim, or swim out to the occasional island bars for the requisite Red Stripe. Water activities are a must on the Caribbean – snorkeling or glass bottom boat tours are a great way to peek into the underwater world surrounding the island. While windsurfing and jet skiing are popular for those who are more interested in racing across the water than exploring its depths. Popular land activities include horseback riding on the beach – the Country Western Horseback Riding Stables in Savanna-La-Mer are a good facility if you’re staying in or South of Negril - and hiking. Serious nature walks are commonly rewarded by the delight of happening onto a shaded waterfall. Mayfield Falls in Negril offers hikers and campers five acres of exploration including, of course, a waterfall view. After the hike, reward yourself with a dip in the natural Jacuzzi, a massage or a traditional Jamaican cooking lesson.
Perhaps more than any other area of Jamaica, Negril provides a wide range of accommodations from resorts on the beach to rustic cliff-side villas. For kiddie-free beach goers seeking a no headache, all inclusive, full-service experience, Couples Swept Away and Couples Negril provide all the basics and more. Daily yoga and pilates classes, water sports and unlimited food and drink of top quality set Couples above the bar. Perhaps a more unique experience in the Negril area, however, is the local variety of cliff-side villas found at beloved establishments such as the Rock House Hotel, Tensing Pen and Jake’s. Situated on Treasure Beach, Jake’s has attracted decades of notable visitors looking to get away from it all including Marianne Faithfull and Kate Moss. Not luxurious in an urban sense, what Jake’s lacks in terms of high tech amenities and plushy spas it makes up for with unique interior design, a memorable cast of local characters and the incomparable experience of feeling like the first to discover such a strikingly beautiful landscape. Not overdeveloped, the idea behind Jake’s is to experience a slice of local culture in the culinary practices and the relaxed pace of life.
In contrast to Negril’s casual and carefree spirit, Montego Bay is full of active and playful energy. Golfers and gourmands alike are drawn to its plethora of restaurants and golf courses. Townhouse by the Sea serves in both a dining room as well as spacious beachside deck, perfect for a post-swim meal while Jasmine’s at Montego Bay’s Ritz Carlton provides a more formal dining experience. Those looking for the spicy local cuisine in a friendly, fuss-free environment, can’t go wrong with Chillin. The name says it all!
Five world championship golf courses in Montego Bay provide a unique experience, although getting distracted by the Caribbean views is inevitable for even the most serious golfers. Architectural marvels abound in the area as it was home to centuries of colonial residents. Noteworthy sights to visit are the Rose Hall Great House, the18th-century Georgian style home of Annie Palmer who was known as the White Witch. St. James Parish Church established in 1782 existed in the service of wealthy plantation owners but now memorializes a bygone chapter in Jamaica’s history. A remembrance of the plantation history and the courageous rebellions by African workers is the Tryall Water Wheel, one of the few sugar works not destroyed by the 1831 Christmas Rebellion. The water wheel’s historical legacy as an oft-visited monument reminds residents of the hard-won freedom they achieved in the face of a plantation culture.
Perhaps lesser known to most American visitors than Jamaica’s other regions, Ocho Rios is fast becoming a destination in its own right. Horticulturalists, outdoor adventurers and sun seekers alike are drawn to Ocho Rios, which has a history of visitors from the United Kingdom including T.S. Eliot and Winston Churchill. Parts of Ocho Rios are a throwback to a bygone era of formality no longer common for beach destinations. St. Ann’s Jamaica Inn is an example of the family run variety of lodgings in the area that have a slightly more retro feel and are more likely to inspire seersucker than bodysuits and board shorts.
Explore Ocho Rios and you will find nothing stuffy or old-fashioned though. A combination of active sea and river water sports abound, such as diving, windsurfing, tubing and rafting. One destination not to miss is Dunn’s River Falls, Jamaica’s most renowned waterfall perfect for hiking and nature gazing. Another Jamaican landmark to be found in the region is Fern Gully, an old river gorge which now serves as home to over 500 species of fern, many of which are rare varieties to be found only on the island. Though Fern Gully may be the most spectacular, the area abounds with lush tropical gardens. The area is also known to reggae fans as the birthplace of the legendary Bob Marley. Serious aficionados appreciate the position Marley holds in Jamaica as not only an iconic musician but an activist and hero and can visit Nine Mile, the small mountain-side town where Marley was born and raised. Rustic (no running water) and friendly (Marley’s own family may greet you on a tour of the town), Nine Mile is interesting not only as Marley’s birthplace but also as a view into authentic rural life in Jamaica.
To travel deeper off the tourist path in Jamaica will lead you to the island’s Southern Coast. Fewer resorts and organized tours operate along the South Coast, offering a more authentically local feeling to the small towns. Agricultural life has abounded in this area for centuries and small towns such as Toll Gate evidence the fact that this way of life still predominates. The undisturbed Bluefield Mountains and woodlands invite long nature walks along the coast or Black River, the base of which once served as one of Jamaica’s most important sugar ports. With fewer hotels to choose from, the best way to stay on the South Coast is to rent a cottage or villa. Bluefield Villas provide the most luxurious offerings to enjoy, but more rustic accommodations can be found in the surrounding towns.
Whether a beach getaway, nature adventure or cultural exploration, Jamaica’s varied landscape offers more than meets the eye.
Kingston: The capital city
No region of Jamaica better memorializes the past and creates a new future than Kingston, the capital city. Jamaica’s bustling center of its political, economic and cultural life, Kingston is the most urban of Jamaican destinations. Kingston architectural landscape melds past and present – in one day visitors can walk through the Spanish Town Square and imagine an era of conquistadors, pirates and slaves, tour through Devon House, former home to George Stiebel, Jamaica’s first black millionaire, and then check out the aptly named New Kingston area, the commercial center of the city and home to many of its restaurants, nightclubs and bars. It is in Kingston’s nightlife scene that many of the world’s most famous reggae stars begin building a following. Kingston is also Jamaica’s annual Carnival. Every Easter season the streets are overtaken by a street fever comparable only to Rio or New Orleans in its energy and spectacle. For a more restrained dip into Jamaican culture, try a visit to the National Gallery or to one of the many theatrical performances in Kingston.