Take a trip to Jamaica and you'll be surprised by how similar it is to many Latin American destinations, especially the Spanish Caribbean. From the spicy local flavors and dishes, to the love of song and dance, Jamaica will definitely feel like a home away from home.
The island has a surprisingly diverse landscape: beautiful beaches, rugged (and chilly) mountainous terrain, laid back fishing villages and bustling cities. I visited Ocho Rios, Kingston and Runaway Bay on my trip and along the way got a little taste of everything. And I mean that literally, I pretty much ate my way through the island, and managed to learn a thing or two about the history and culture of Jamaica in the process.
The combination of traditional indigenous, Spaniard, and African cultures is where the similarities with Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic originate. Colonized only about two hundred years ago by the English, Jamaica once had a strong Spanish tradition still apparent today in the names of rivers, towns and even some of the citizens! Christopher Columbus’s first glimpse of Jamaica was of the area around Runaway Bay, which also happens to be where I began my exploration of the island.
Stay The Gran Bahia Principe (Salt Coppers Villa, 876-973-7000) resort is absolutely breathtaking. With a huge pool overlooking a gorgeous view of the bay, it is total paradise. The traditional Spanish architecture and design only serve to the enhance the natural beauty of the area. Also on premises, you'll find a surprisingly diverse selection of restaurants from traditional Spanish to Sushi.
Do All the activities you could possibly want to engage in are provided by the resort. If you're the adventurous type, try your hand at windsurfing or catamaran sailing. In need of some retail therapy? Visit Pueblo Principe, an on-site open air shopping and leisure center. You can also take dance or horse back riding classes through the resort.
Play While you're in Gran Bahia in Runaway Bay be sure to participate in one of their snorkel, scuba diving or fishing packages and take full advantage of the pristine natural surroundings. Protected dive sites include sunken boats, a large underwater canyon, and an extensive coral reef. Dives start at about $45 per excursion and can be booked through the resort.
Stay Couples Resort Sans Souci (Route A3, St-Mary, 876-994-1206) is by far the most romantic option in Ocho Rios. They have a natural mineral spring pool on the grounds where you can find Charlie, the resident turtle who is more than 100 years old! Featuring fine dining and luxury spa treatments, you'll never want to leave.
Do Be sure to check out the Mystic Mountain Rainforest Canopy tour (midway between the cruise ship terminal and Dunn's River Falls) which gives you a chance to zip along the tree-line of the forest surrounding the Ocho Rio area. Before you leave be sure to re-enact your own "Cool Runnings" moment by taking a ride on the bobsled track. And you definitely can't say you've visited Ocho Rios without a trip to their number 1 tourist destination, Dunn's River Falls (Rte. A1, between St. Ann's Bay and Ocho Rios). Climb the falls and reward yourself afterward by stopping at one of the shops lining the path to the beach to pick up a keepsake.
Eat I had, hands down, the best pork I've ever eaten in my life at Scotchie's (North Coast Hwy., 876-794–9457) and coming from a born and bred boricua, this is a major declaration. They keep it old school at Scotchie's by cooking over specially selected woods and an open flame, and use real scotch bonnet peppers to give their jerk that kick that all great jerk needs. An unpretentious outdoor eatery, it may not look fancy, but the food is worthy of any 5 star restaurant. Be sure to check out our tips on how to make your own Jamaican Jerk Pernil!
Stay Although it has a reputation for being a bit dangerous, I didn't feel any differently in Kingston than I would in any other bustling, metropolis. Capital city Kingston is the hub of all commercial and financial activity and therefore has many hotels that cater to business travelers. I stayed at the Courtleigh Hotel and Suites (85 Knutsford Boulevard, 876-929-9000). With views of the city and Kingston Harbor, and a prime location on Knutsford Boulevard in the upscale commercial and shopping district of New Kingston it was perfect and affordable.
Do If you do absolutely nothing else while you're in Kingston, make sure to visit The Bob Marley Museum (56 Hope Rd., 876-927-9152). The museum is located in the house where Marley actually lived and worked for most of his adult life and holds a treasure trove of historical tidbits and memorabilia that give insight into the icons personality and motivations. The tour is capped off with a short documentary featuring Bob sharing in his own words why he thinks his music touched the hearts of people all over the world.
Eat The brainchild of famed Jamaican chef and entrepreneur Norma Shirley, Norma's on the Terrace (26 Hope Rd, 876-968-5488) is well worth the price tag. The food was out of this world delicious, combining traditional Jamaican spices with old world traditions, like Jerk Chicken Penne Pasta or Smoked Marlin. Housed on the patio of one of Jamaica's most famous tourist destinations, Devon House, this restaurant is a hidden jewel. Be sure to talk to Norma, as she tends to visit with guests at most every table.
Play I thought I could pretty much shake my booty with the rest of them until I stepped foot in a dance hall club and realized that any lady over the age of 12 in Jamaica could put me to shame on the dance floor. If for no other reason than to observe and learn you must head to a disco if you find yourself in Kingston at night. My favorite? The Quad (20 - 22 Trinidad Terrace, 876-754-QUAD), with 4 levels and 4 different vibes it allows you take a breather from the dance hall madness and retreat to the calmer, gentler atmosphere of the piano bar on the first floor or the more familiar rhythms of pop and hip hop on the top floors.
For more information on Jamaica, check out visitjamaica.com!