With Kingston in the southeast of the island, but the popular holiday resorts scattered along the north coast between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, planning a trip to Jamaica can seem overcomplicated to organise. Although I try to make a point of always visiting a country’s capital city, Jamaica’s identity and culture is so rich and prominent throughout the country that on this occasion I let a visit to Kingston slip by and don’t at all feel as though I missed out.
The passion, energy, spirit and love of possibly every Jamaican person that I met is a true credit to their county. Although we stayed in a 5* all-inclusive resort, there wasn’t an hour that would pass without us being reminded that we were in “the heart of the Caribbean”. The endless reggae music, jerk chicken, rum punch, and the constant reminders to “relax” and be “ire” encompassed the hotel in a true Jamaican spirit.
Dunn’s River Falls
Featured as a classic scene in James Bond’s Dr. No, the famous ‘climbable’ waterfall near Ocho Rios in the paris of St. Ann is one of Jamaica’s top attractions visited by tourists and locals alike. Although popular throughout the year, tours do not need to be booked far in advance and there is plenty of room for photo opportunities and for less confident climbers to take their time.
– Wear comfortable trainers that you don’t mind getting wet and potentially a little scuffed.
– Take a bottle of water from your hotel, as prices around the falls are extortionate in comparison to other areas of Jamaica.
– Purchase either a waterproof camera (GoPro Hero4 recommended) or a waterproof phone cover (which can be bought at the falls) as anything you take to the attraction is guaranteed to get soaked.
Rafting the Martha BraeFollowing in the footsteps of HRH Queen Elizabeth II on one of her trips to Jamaica, rafting the beautiful 20 mile Martha Brae is an affordable way to experience an afternoon of Caribbean culture. Take swimwear and a towel along, as although your things will stay dry on the raft, there are multiple opportunities to jump in the river and swim alongside the raft.
– Do consider tipping your guide if you enjoyed the experience, as most of their wages come from the generosity of their customers, and a little does mean a lot to them.
Appleton Estate Rum DistilleryTaking pride of place in the Caribbean section on the spirit isle of UK supermarkets, Appleton rum is a big part of Jamaican culture and history. The oldest distillery in Jamaica, where all of their rum distributed around the world is made, is situated in the region of Santa Cruz. An organised tour can take up 3/4 of a day, where free samples are handed out generously (even with some bottles to take home), along with a tour of the distilery and a lesson in the making of my favourite spirit created by English pirates.
– If you like rum, take plenty of money, as there is a gift shop with 12-year-old bottles that aren’t on supermarket shelves for sale.
YS Falls & Black RiverAn adventurous two-in-one trip that only needs to take up half of your day, we paired this trip with the Appleton Estate Rum Distillery tour and felt like a true Pirate of the Caribbean! Although the YS Falls are too steep to climb, there is still opportunity for plenty of activities including swimming and rope swinging from different levels of the falls. (Allow 20 minutes to get back to the entrance on the shuttle bus provided.)
A cruise along the Black River is only a 15 minute car journey from the YS Falls and these two activites are usually parcelled together, where you are almost 100% guaranteed to see plenty of crocodiles up close!
Falmouth (Usain Bolt’s hometown!)
Difficult to explain, and even harder to show, in the region of Falmouth lies an area where salt water meets natural water, creating the perfect environment for certain microorganisms to live. Magically, when these microorganisms move or react with other bodies, they emmit a UV glow. There are only a few places in the world where this astonishing occurance takes place, and luckily, not far from Montego Bay is one of them! The tour available offers a nighttime boat ride and a 20 minute swim in the shallow water, where you feel and look like some kind of aqua superhero.
Zion HillCompleting the famouns 9 mile journey up to Zion Hill where the music legend Bob Marley was born, lived, and laid to rest is another one of Jamaica’s popular cultural activities. Multiple versions of the tour are available but if you are into your Reggae music, I would highly recommend travelling in the Zion Bus Line. The entertaining driver plays a selection of “King Bob’s” 230 songs and tells great stories of his life along the way, stopping at amazing view points and a toilet stop come snack bar come souvineer shop.
Visiting Zion Hill gave me enough satisfaction that I had experienced the heart of Jamaican society, that I decided against the 8 hour round-trip to Kingston.
– Grand Bahia Principe, Runaway Bay, where this guy pulls up every lunch time after spending the morning catching fresh lobster, crab, and shrimp, to cook the seafood feast of a lifetime for $30.