Travel Destination: Jamaica
By Kemba Banton
From its deep, blue lagoons, to its glittering beaches to its high, mist-shrouded mountain peaks, Jamaica is a trove of treasures promising a magical and awe-inspiring experience to the starry-eyed traveler. If a trip to Jamaica is somewhere on your horizon, here are a sample of vacation options that will whet your appetite.
A place to lay your head
Whether in the mountains, on the coasts, or in the hearts of dynamic, colorful cities, where you choose to rest your head will depend on how you want to spend your time in Jamaica. You may fancy a quiet, meditative getaway in a charming, private stone cottage just steps away from the sea, or maybe you see yourself relaxing in a hammock in a rustic, reggae-themed villa on the beach. Check into a picturesque countryside inn, or take your pick of one of the major luxury resorts equipped with world-class amenities and all entertainment options at your fingertips. For an alternative experience, consider a family-run guesthouse that may add a more local or authentic flavor to your visit.
In terms of food, Jamaican cuisine is a mouth-watering affair – the coconut flavored rice and peas and well-seasoned red snapper; the cassava bammy and the yellow ackee fruit with saltfish; the sweet and smoky jerk chicken and perfectly ripened plantains; the roasted and fried breadfruit and the curried goat; mangoes, sugary pegs of sweetsop, giant jackfruit and small round guinep, the list goes on and on – but, no fear, there are also dining options more typical to an American palette. Either way, you won’t go hungry.
The Way of the Tourist
In Jamaica, there’s no shortage of carefully tailored experiences from which to choose – tourism is one of the island’s largest industries and there are numerous professional guides and outfitters ready to take you through a smorgasbord of experiences. A list of time-proven tourist attractions includes the popular Dunn’s River Falls in the northern coastal city of Ocho Rios. The Falls offer an exhilarating climb up terraces of natural limestone. At the top you can play in gentle pools, as the waters rush the 600-foot length to the bottom before emptying into the sea. Another iconic destination is Appleton Estate, the oldest sugar estate in the country, located on Jamaica’s south coast. Daily tours introduce the estate’s fascinating and complex history. You will learn how rum is crafted and aged and will also be treated to a tasting session. In Kingston, you can visit the Bob Marley Museum and savor the brilliant legacy this reggae superstar left behind. History buffs will probably also want to visit Port Royal, a tiny fishing village south of Kingston. Once dubbed the most sinful city on earth, Port Royal used to be a central Caribbean shipping port centuries ago, and was a regular base for pirates. When a devastating earthquake struck in 1692, a large portion of Port Royal sunk into the sea. There’s a modest museum you can peruse, intriguing fort ruins, and a seafood restaurant called Gloria’s that is a local favorite.
Off the beaten path
Beyond the resorts and traditional attractions are opportunities to see a side of Jamaica rarely witnessed by the average traveler. A visit to one of the Maroon villages nestled in the lushness of the Blue Mountains will offer a glimpse into Jamaica’s profound past as you learn about the Maroons’ resistance during slavery and formation of free enclaves in the hidden regions of the island.
Another road less traveled is through Kingston’s thriving performance poetry scene. Often called “word sound” or dub poetry (especially when the poems are spoken to reggae rhythms), poetry events occur frequently in Kingston, whether on a beach with a live band under a starlit sky, or in a funky uptown jazz cafe or in a hip, progressive, local bookstore.
An excursion to ancient Taino caves at Farquar’s Beach is another highly rewarding activity, especially if you’re planning a trip to the nearby Milk River Mineral Bath (see below). The pottery shards scattered on the cave grounds and ancient petroglyphs drawn on the walls are sacred remnants of Jamaica’s first peoples.
Although the annual Reggae Sumfest, Jazz and Blues Festival and Calabash International Literary Festival have high entertainment value, there are many other local festivals that feature Jamaican art, folklore, and culture that may otherwise be inaccessible. Fi Wi Sinting, the Accompong Maroon Festival and the KOTE (Kingston on the Edge) Urban Arts Festival are a few celebrated examples.
What’s a tropical island without an adventure or two? Go horse-back riding across dazzling beaches. Or pump up the adrenaline on a zipline tour and soar above the treetops. Embark on a biking or hiking excursion through Jamaica’s diverse and contrasting terrain. Go caving in the geologically-stunning Cockpit Country. Swim with dolphins at the Dolphin Cove marine park in Ocho Rios or at the Half Moon Resort in Rose Hall. Go snorkeling, kayaking or camping. Take a safari boat tour through the tranquil waters of the Black River where crocodiles and exotic birds abound and mystical Red Mangrove trees stretch up out of the water. Consider that the delight of a nighttime rafting trip for two down the Rio Grande under the shimmer of a milky moon is an experience you will never forget.
Spa and Relaxation
Most major resorts in Jamaica offer tantalizing whole-body therapies and treatments for the traveler who yearns to rejuvenate her senses and reconnect with her spirit. Options like the 5 star Grand Palladium Jamaica Resort and Spa offer pampering like none other amongst exquisite architecture and lavish surroundings that capitalize on the beauty of the tropical environment. Services offered include hydromassage, maternal massage, reflexology, hot stone therapy, aromatherapy, shiatsu, deep body waxes and scrubs and a host of other wellness and beauty treatments.
For yoga lovers, the Spa Retreat Boutique in Negril – one of the most prestigious spa destinations in the country – hosts its 4th Annual Yoga and Wellness Retreat in November 2015. Enjoy seven days of morning and sunset yoga, learning meditation and visualization techniques, and finding your sense of inner balance.
Before leaving the island, consider a trip to one of three natural mineral springs, world renowned for their therapeutic properties – the Bath Mineral Springs in St. Thomas, the Milk River in Clarendon and the Rockfort Mineral Bath in East Kingston.
Your journey awaits – check out the Jamaica Tourist Board’s travel site, Visitjamaica.com, for comprehensive descriptions of a multitude of attractions, places to stay, activities, programs and service providers.
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