With its slow pace of life, beautiful sandy beaches, and great music scene, Jamaica is a perfect place for a laid back vacation. This Caribbean Island has plenty to offer to visitors of all types. The hurricane season ends around November, and that is when my husband and I, together with some friends and family, traditionally pack our bags and board Jet Blue for a quick flight to Sangster Airport of Montego Bay.
Accommodations – we have become big fans of the Couples Resorts in Jamaica, with Couples Swept Away being our favorite, followed by Couples San Souci, and Couples Negril. These resorts are all-inclusive, adults only, and Couples San Souci has both “prude” and “nude” beaches. The hotels are located about 90 minutes drive from Montego Bay airport (transportation from/to provided by the hotel, a tip for the driver is suggested (we usually give US$20/per passenger)). There are many other great hotels for every budget, but I’ll focus on the ones I have been to.
Transportation – we have never used buses in Negril and Ocho Rios regions, but taxis are easily available, can be booked through your hotel or hailed on the road, and the price can be negotiated. Many restaurants provide complimentary one way rides (you pay for the return; again, negotiable).
Food – the food options at all-inclusive resorts are great, but we still like to venture out from time to time for a laid-back lunch or a romantic dinner. Below are some of our favourite places (all outdoors, so, I suggest you pack a bug repellent especially if going at night):
In Negril area:
Ivan’s Bar at Catcha Falling Star – good for breakfast, lunch and dinner: the food is delicious (pricey thou, and not negotiable L), service is excellent, the views are phenomenal. The place is very romantic, with a beautiful rose garden.
Rockhouse Restaurant – good for breakfast, lunch and dinner: new Caribbean cuisine – excellent food, friendly and very accommodating staff, beautiful views. Very romantic, and they have a cool game area with giant chess set, some other board games, and funky art on the walls. This restaurant is part of the Rockhouse Hotel which also gets great reviews.
Office of Nature – a cool lobster shack on the beach in Bloody Bay – perfect place to chill with locals. Not pricey at all. Located walking distance from Couples Negril resort, can also be accessed by car/taxi.
In Ocho Rios area:
Miss T’s Kitchen – my favorite restaurant in Jamaica. Located in down-town Ochi, Miss T’s Kitchen is a popular stop for residents and tourists in search of an authentic Jamaican experience. The restaurant is owned by Anna-Kay Tomlinson, a chef known for her innovative food ideas. We heard about the difficulties Anna-Kay had to overcome before opening her business, and we are super happy to see that the place has become very popular. Miss T’s Kitchen is cozy, inviting and colorful, and the food is fresh, unbelievably tasty and reasonably priced.
Evita’s Italian – fine Italian and Jam-Italian dining, a great place with beautiful views of Ochi, visited by many celebrities (Anthony Hopkins, Keith Richards & the Rolling Stones, Brad Pitt, Shakira, LL Cool J to name just a few). The restaurant is owned by Evita Myers, easily one of the most recognizable personalities across Jamaica, who is considered to be the pioneer of pasta there. Evita is Italian by birth, fluent in Italian, German, French and English. She is very charming and attentive to her guests, I think she lives on the premises, so she greets her guests personally. A romantic place with great food at reasonable prices.
Bamboo Blu at Mammee Bay – this beachfront restaurant is part of the Mammee Bay Estate, which was once a haven for celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor and Frank Sinatra. The restaurant is known for its fresh lobsters, sea food dishes, and great drinks. Relaxed atmosphere, good for casual lunch or romantic dinner, with live music and fire show at night. Can be accessed through Riu Hotel, Ocho Rios, or by car (you’ll need to drive through the Mammee Bay property, pass the guards at the gate).
Activities – all-inclusive hotels offer a wide variety of activities for free, such as catamaran cruises, snorkeling, water skiing, tennis instructors and yoga sessions, shopping trips to crafts markets, etc. Also, jet skiing and parasailing are great, but these must be arranged with the vendors directly on the beach, for a fee. The prices can be somehow high. Key word – negotiable 🙂
Walk the Seven Mile Beach, Negril
Couples Swept Away is located in the heart of Seven Mile Beach famous for its white sand, the turquoise sea, and fiery sunsets. This beach is Negril’s center of entertainment, with weekly live Reggae, a constant stream of vendors, and countless restaurants. Note that Seven Mile Beach is a public beach shared by the resorts and locals. Also keep in mind that topless sunbathing is widely acceptable in Jamaica, especially at the adults-only resorts, so don’t be all shocked if you are strolling along the beach with your kids and they notice something peculiar.
Waterfalls – Located in Ocho Rios, Dunns River Falls are 600 feet up and are absolutely stunning. A couple of our friends took the tour and told us that the climb up the falls can be challenging for some. This is a very touristy place, where groups come from the visiting cruise ships. For a more casual experience, arrange a ride to the Irie Blue Hole (also in Ocho Rios area) where for a small fee you can hire a team of local guides who will accompany you on your climb through the waterfalls and let you dive into invigoratingly cool waters of blue lagoons (sunny day is an ideal time to visit; water shoes are a must; knowing how to swim is preferred; not recommended for young kids).
The Great House at Rose Hall in Montego Bay is definitely worth visiting. According to the legend, the infamous Annie “The White Witch” Palmer lived, killed, and died in this house. Be prepared for an entertaining tour through this circa 1700’s plantation, and hear the tales of how the White Witch grew her fortune, tortured her slaves, and finally was killed by her own slave. I have spoken to local ladies who told me that as little girls they were all afraid of this White Witch and didn’t dare walking past the house. Tours on a rainy day or at night time are the scariest.
So, here it is, a short recap of our favorite places to check out on your next trip to Jamaica. From my own experience, I know it is tough to fight sand gravity, but try to get out there and experience the local music scene and culture.