While many islands in the Caribbean are off the radar (Saba, anyone?) Jamaica is a destination that just about everyone wants to go to at least once. Known most for its reggae-vibe thanks to homegrown hero and Rastafarian Bob Marley, the West Indies country boasts long stretches of beautiful white sand beaches and turquoise waters. Most tourists stay at all-inclusive resorts in either Negril, Ocho Rios, Runaway Bay or Montego Bay, and can easily go on excursions around the country from any of them.
When I visited, I stayed at the beautiful Hotel Riu Montego Bay which had just opened. All of the buildings are lavender (first time I’d seen that) and the beautiful guest rooms have granite countertops, outdoor space and fully-stocked bars. The resort is huge so you’ll get a workout walking from your room to breakfast to the pool, but all of the on-site amenities make up for it. One thing you’ll quickly notice is that if you want peace and quiet, you’ll have to stay on the beach. Buskers aren’t allowed on resort beaches, but the water is fair game, so you will definitely be approached if you venture out for a swim.
You can’t really go wrong booking Mo’Bay versus Ocho Rios for example, but try to decide on what kind of vacation you’re looking for before deciding on your destination.
Montego Bay is more of a party place (though nothing spring-break worthy, don’t worry!), Ocho Rios is close to attractions like Dunn’s River Falls and Margaritaville, while Negril features the most stunning coastlines—and prices reflect this.
One of the most popular ways to spend a day in Jamaica is with a trip to Dunn’s River Falls. Close to Ocho Rios, 55 metre high waterfalls are terraced through natural stairs in the rock, and include little lagoon-like pools. Thousands of visitors head there every year to climb up—and it’s not as hard as it sounds. There are also guides on hand to help those who find themselves off-balance. Entrance costs $20 for those age 11 and up.
Another option is to book an excursion to the capital of Kingston. You’ll likely have to get up really early since it takes a few hours to drive there, but this will give you a great overview of the country. The scenic route passes by the beautiful Blue Mountain, home to some of the world’s most expensive coffee.
The drive can be a bit dicey though: think hairpin turns on cliffs with no barriers, along roads so narrow that you can just barely fit two vehicles.
This makes for an interesting scenario when someone breaks down halfway up the mountain (yup, that happened). When you finally arrive in Kingston, it’s an exercise in contrasts. Grimy slums and suspect characters greet you on the way in, but soon you are looking at grand houses perched high on hills overlooking the cities—homes belonging to those that come from old money.
Many tour groups start off with a visit to Devon House, a charming 11-acre property that dates back over a century. The heritage site features a beautiful plantation house that visitors can walk through, lush lawns and gardens and a few shops. Stop and grab an ice cream cone, then wander around to learn more about the home that was built by Jamaican millionaire George Stiebel.
Your guide will likely drop you off at a nearby mall to fend for yourself in the food court, before continuing on to the Bob Marley Museum. You can wander around the property for free, or pony up $20 a head for the hour-long tour. It will take you through the site, which is Marley’s home that was converted into a museum after his death. There is also a theatre where you will watch a 20-minute film, gallery and gift shop. The museum is open Monday through Saturday, from 9:30 am-4 pm.
All in all, Jamaica is a fantastic choice for those looking for some R&R, has a great dose of culture and some beautiful scenery. While not as hoity-toity as other islands like Turks and Caicos or Barbados, it’s a good choice for families and couples wanting to get away from it all.
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