Growing up in Trinidad, I believed that intra-Caribbean traveling wasn’t necessary.When you’re born and raised in a place with 80 degree weather, coconut trees and sandy beaches of its own and you’re the last of 5 kids, a “vacation” is a trip to someplace foreign and exotic like…New York. Or Los Angeles. Or Miami (all places we visited as a family when I was growing up). I do remember going to Barbados when I was 4 or 5 and of course I’ve been to the sister island, Tobago. That’s about it for my island adventures. But despite all of that, even as a little girl growing up in Trinidad, I wanted to visit Jamaica someday. The seed was planted by my father.
My dad went off to Jamaica, to pursue a masters degree at the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies. I remember he came back in 1982 with a big stack of vinyl. 45’s by Michigan and Smiley, Ini Kamoze and Lone Ranger. Almost all of Bob Marley’s groundbreaking LP’s. I grew up steeped in reggae music and have always had a love for Jamaican culture. So why did it take me SO long to finally visit Jamaica? I asked myself that question so many times last week, during my first ever trip to Montego Bay. Now that I’ve been, I already want to go back! Jamaica is an intoxicatingly beautiful place with unique culture and cuisine. Jamaican culture is appreciated around the world, but it’s a whole ‘nother thing to go there, be there, and experience the lifestyle.
Last week, I was part of an incredible experience. I was brought to Jamaica with a fabulous group of beauty editors for an indulgent getaway courtesy of the Strength of Nature family of hair products, in conjunction with the Jamaican Tourism Board. We were flown to Montego Bay and accommodated at the Royalton White Sands Resort. We experienced amazing excursions thanks to Island Routes, and dined at Pier One. It was a spectacular first visit to a place I want to visit again and again. In fact, my husband was so jealous of my Jamaican experience that we’re planning a couples trip for our anniversary! I can’t WAIT to go back to Jamaica. Let me give you the top 5 reasons to book a trip of your own.
1 – The weather!
I took 80 degree weather for granted for more than half of my life. But now that I live in Chicago, I TOTALLY understand, respect and value the need for a warm weather escape in the midst of winter. When your skies are gray and your streets are covered in ice and snow, you really begin to realize how beautiful and beneficial sunshine, blue skies and leaves that are green can be. Literally I moved to Chicago and wound up with a Vitamin D deficiency. Getting off the plane in Montego Bay, taking off my heavy black coat and boots and changing into a maxi dress back at the hotel, just the PROCESS of leaving winter behind feels like sweet relief to the senses. You deserve that indulgence right about now. Especially if you live in Boston, you have my sympathies. The temperature in Jamaica was absolutely perfect during our visit – in the low 80’s, so hot but never TOO hot, with soothing cool beach breezes in the evening (so consider packing a light cardigan or jacket for your outdoor meal).
2 – The music.
Reggae music is and always will be my everything, and going to the mecca of the music was a wonderful experience. Every night at the Royalton White Sands resort, there was some kind of live entertainment. Steel pan, a live band, something. For our special welcome reception with Strength of Nature and the Jamaican Tourism Board, we were treated to a live performance by Etana which was AMAZING. Look. Listen.
Etana is SO talented, and she’s proof that Jamaican talent goes beyond the artists who get mainstream recognition and airplay. Bob Marley will always be Jamaican music’s top ambassador, but there’s so much that’s new, fresh, current and surprising on their music scene. Looking for more Jamaican music to explore? Besides the heavyweights of reggae and dancehall that you may already know, like Bob Marley, Barrington Levy, Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, Tanya Stephens and Buju Banton, you may want to check out some of my current faves – Konshens, Tarrus Riley and Popcaan. Also don’t sleep on ladies like Sezi Yesi, Tessanne Chin, Queen Ifrica and Etana. they’re making beautiful music in a variety of genres.
3 – The food. The drinks.
I will say this, resort culture doesn’t always cater for local tastes. In general, I wish that all inclusive resorts would offer a restaurant on site that offers the notable dishes of the region. There was good food in general to be found at the Royalton, but if you’re on a jerk or curry quest you can find island-style food around the breakfast and lunch buffets, and there’s a jerk cart that rolls up on the beach in the afternoon until 3 pm. The drinks at the Royalton were free flowing and delicious, I especially loved the Jolly Rancher and Maxwell’s Royal Smoothie, a decadent blend of coconut rum and crème de coconut.
My request for authentic island flavors didn’t go unheeded! We went off campus to Pier One, a popular waterfront restaurant with delicious food. I fell in love with their mango salad dressing and the rum punch was good and strong. One of my favorite meals was served at the end of an amazing adventure – on the banks at the River Bumpkin Farm. We were served steaming bowls of Pumpkin Bumpkin soup, jerk chicken, rice and peas. Simple, authentic, delicious. That made for an experience I will never forget. On my next trips I definitely want to visit some of Jamaica’s famous food destinations like Scotchie’s and Mom’s in Ocho Rios, and Dave’s Lobster Shack. I love an authentic hole in the wall experience, and I’m excited to find a favorite jerk spot of my own.
4 – The ambiance. Montego Bay is beautiful. Lush and mountainous, with sandy beige beaches and aqua water. Ever car ride we took, I just wanted to hang my head outside the window like a dog just to drink in the atmosphere. The smell of the ocean. The cool breezes in the forested valleys. It’s so beautiful and the vibes are so nice. From what I experienced, Jamaica really appreciates its environment and realizes the potential of eco-tourism.
We got to see a little bit of country courtesy of Island Routes – seriously, if you’re going to the Caribbean and want a safe and scenic excursion you MUST check them out. They offer island tours in many Caribbean islands, from Aruba to Saint Maarten. In Jamaica they offer tours and excursions in Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, Negril and South Coast. Everything from dolphin swims to catamaran cruises, bamboo river rafting, ATVs and horseback riding – you’re in safe hands and locals who know the lay of the land are there to guide you.
On our River Bumpkin experience, we went on a tubing adventure led by a local guide who knows the ebbs, flows, shallow spots and rapids along the Martha Brae river. It’s such a lush and verdant and beautiful place. Along the route we were cut fresh sugar cane to enjoy, and our guide pointed out the black castor oil trees, mango trees, and other amazingly useful indigenous plants. Part of the experience involved lounging on the river banks while the tour guide massaged our legs with clay from the river bed, promising that it had purifying properties. I have been dreaming of River Bumpkin since the excursion and I can’t wait to go back with my husband, just so he can see how beautiful it is!
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5 – The shopping
One of my concerns in the brief Jamaican getaway was that I wouldn’t get a chance to go shopping. We came in quickly, had an itinerary of activities, and then my flight back was at an ungodly hour of morning where no stores would be open. Luckily the Jamaican Tourism Board kindly provided us with a basket of Jamaica’s most popular exports. Walkerswood jerk sauce, Golden Krust jerk sauce. Blue Mountain coffee. Appleton Rum. Two products I was somewhat surprised by – Benjamin’s Vanilla and Tops Jamaican Herbal Tea. I had NO idea that so many varieties of herbal tea were being produced in Jamaica, each for a specific medicinal purpose. So many more to buy and try!
This first taste was delicious and intoxicating. I already can’t wait to visit Jamaica again and have a more immersive experience!
Want to recreate my Jamaican experience? No problem! Here’s the details:
Where To Stay – Royalton White Sands Resort
Hire a Driver – Purcell Pusey, AKA Percy! Call 876-367-3157 to request his services. Percy have mercy – he loves to rhyme and chat on the mic – his flow reminded me of Dennis Alcapone! And he knows how to navigate the potholes of Falmouth. It was SUCH a fun bus ride.
Out to eat/drink – Pier One. We went at night, but I WISHED it was during the day because I’m sure the waterfront views are spectacular. I’ll return someday, for drinks and lunch. For sure.
I know I’ve got readers who are from Jamaica or who visit often, who are like “chile you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” So please tell me about your favorite places and things to do so I can plan for my next visit! Soon come again, Jamaica!
Thanks again to Strength of Nature and the Jamaican Tourism Board for an absolutely unforgettable experience!