For those who might get bored sharing the same square feet of beach with the same lardy sunbathers day-in, day-out: Kingston and surrounding area; Portland and Treasure Beach. It’s idiot proof and you’ll leave feeling like you actually experienced the country, lying on the beach included.
Kingston: Place to be
Kingston is the capital of the country, yes. But it’s also the last place most tourists seemingly want to go and neither does much effort go into marketing the place, which is a shame.
When it comes to doing something in Kingston there’s actually plenty to do, especially when it comes to nightlife. Try one of the many street dances with Passa Passa in Tivoli Gardens being the best known – the dance is also back to its beginnings as one that starts early and ends early.
Alternatively for something classic, try Rae Town Hits downtown on a Sunday.
You’ll discover that these events, especially Passa, although taking place in ghettos are easy to reach and the communities have a vested interest in everything passing off safely. Also ghetto people really know how to have fun and they’ll want you to as well, especially so they can (politely) laugh at your dancing.
Something tourists really miss out on the regular sessions, or parties, which happen further uptown or at out-of-town venues like Caymanas Golf Club. Look out for their advertisements in the newspapers, flyers and online. You’ll pay southwards of US$50 per person, which typically includes unlimited booze and food. You can also pay double that for the snootier parties where everyone might look like a tourist to you, but is actually a Jamaican.
The women dress great, the music tends to be good and the atmosphere is frankly better than any equivalent where your from; and because of our weather, they’re always outdoors.
Again dispense with your image of our country. You’ll find the parties can be quite refined, so dress up.
Sport is a big attraction. Jamaica has some of the world’s top track athletes and there are regular meets at the National Stadium where the Reggae Boyz play international matches.
The atmosphere is great and we don’t bother with European/South American-style crowd violence.
To really experience Jamaican sporting culture you’ll need to try out high school sports, support for which – believe it or not – far exceeds any other level in Jamaica, amateur or professional.
The atmosphere can be great and even the elderly still support their old school with a fanaticism that most countries reserve for their football clubs – the two biggest events are the annual Boys and Girls Champs (athletics) and the Manning or DaCosta cups (football).
For food there are a number of high-end restaurants in Kingston and frankly too many to mention all of them. But Red Bones Blues Cafe never fails, and also shows films, other cultural events and also live bands/performances. For everything else – decent souvenirs, rum etc – head to Devon House for The Terrace and Grogge Shop restaurants. The National Gallery downtown is tragically under-visited. Go know and you’ll also get to see firsthand the gradual redevelopment of the once-great area of the city.
Outside of the city: Blue Mountains, Lime Cay and Hellshire beach
Taking trips out of Kingston, which is a fast-paced place, you can’t miss the Blue Mountains, the view from Strawberry Hill Hotel and arrange a visit to the Tyman family’s famous Old Tavern Coffee Estate – the best we’ve ever drunk and on a clear day you can see Cuba from the cottage.
You can also hike up the mountain, if you really want to.
It’s only really a day trip but we’d recommend staying in one of the unique wood cabins at Holywell National Park but you can splash and try Strawberry Hill. And if you really want to win points with your lady companion, book her in for treatments at their spa.
Back down the hill…
Kingston is by the sea and while we don’t have any beaches, there are two great ones close to hand. Lime Cay (that’s the photo above) on a weekend is an uptown Kingston institution. You’ll have to get the (affordable) ferryboat out from Port Royal and reaching there’s oysters a bar/restaurant and…just relax.
Alternatively there is the frankly less uptown Hellshire Beach, which you reach by driving in the opposite direction out of Kingston and by the growing city of Portmore. Hellshire is a much larger beach, livelier with it; and just make sure you try the garlic-fried lobster.
Portland: Original but sleeping tourism resort
The parish of Portland started off as the original destination in the Caribbean with a wealthier kind of tourist like Errol Flynn making it famous (his widow still lives there; still dressing like the silver screen era). The northwest coast with its mega-resorts has since left Portland long behind, which is why many of us like it so much.
Reaching there is a three-hour drive from Kingston. You can go one of two ways but ignore the other and take the spectacular drive through Junction and the Rio Grande valley. Portland is famously the home of jerk and our favourite is on the way. Blueberry Hill is a really unassuming place on the left-hand side outside Buff Bay (there’s some good spots just before it on the outskirts of the town). It’s cheap, eat it with the hard-dough bread and whatever your usual preference, trust us and take the tastier pork over the chicken.
We’re a little cool on Boston, the birthplace of jerk. You have a real choice of eateries there but the place is full of hustlers who will twang at you (all tourists must be from America, right?) and the price is way too steep. But on the other hand, one of the best food experiences of this writer’s life was eating their jerk sausage with way too much pepper on it… and the several lifesaving cold Heinekens after.
Better yet make sure to buy ‘Tarie’s’ sauce, which is on sale there. Bring it home and use it without telling your family and friends. They’ll actually start eating your cooking.
Headling to the parish capital of Port Antonio, make sure to stop at the famous Blue Lagoon. In Port Antonio tourism-related redevelopment has been ongoing in recent years, not least with the new marina, and the town is also good for shopping (and not just Bob t-shirts).
For accommodation try the once-hip, now commendably cheap(er) Frenchman’s Cove resort. All the information is there on the website but the photographs don’t do the place justice. Make sure to get one of the villas on the cliff edge and we’re not giving away more that, albeit to add that the sunrise over the Caribbean Sea is stunning.
There’s probably an argument to have taken the other route (through St Thomas, Machioneal and Boston) to reach Portland in the first place and then save the drive through Junction for the way back. Either way, it’s your choice.
Treasure Beach: Easiest community in Jamaica
The St Elizabeth scenery is unlike anywhere else on the island – all parched earth and craggy cliffs. However the place has real charm and once in the fishing community of Treasure Beach you’ll find some of the nicest people you’ll ever met.
Again, we’re not all murderers.
Be sure to check TreasureBeach.net, which is an amazing resource.
Jake’s, the little bohemian resort run by the Henzell family is a must. It’s best known for hosting the annual Calabash International Literary Festival and a few other cultural events besides being featured in every up-market travel publication.
The seafood at their Jack Sprat’s restaurant is great value – she will also love the star-covered beach at night – and has the best pizza in Jamaica. Yes, we eat farin’ food also.
Even if you have to stretch your budget you should go ahead and book a room there for at least one night. It’s something else, waking in the morning with the shutters wide open, a view of the sea beyond the edge of your bed and the waves lapping against the rocks.
We usually stay at Irie Rest, which like Jake’s has friendly staff, but eases your budget and is a short walk away from the beach – where you need to spend at least one night huddled over a fire. Turn left and there’s a little bar a few hundred yards down the beach.
At Jake’s ask for someone called Aman Parchment. A community first-aider, fisherman and just about everything else, Aman also runs boat trips to places like the Pelican Bar.
Now it’s time to drive back to the airport. Sorry.