Food, Travel & Leisure

First recommends: See Jamaica away from the crowds

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 > Treasure Beach. It’s idiot proof and you’ll leave feeling like you actually experienced the country, lying on the beach included.

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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.

Since we live here, frankly we don’t know much about the hotels. But for something a little different try Mizuki Guest House (who also have places in Portland and Negril) or the Alhambra Inn.

When it comes to doing something in Kingston there’s actually plenty to do, especially when it comes to night life. Try one of the many street dances with Passa Passa in Tivoli Gardens being the best known but be warned that street dances of this kind don’t really get going till the early hours of the next morning.

Alternatively for something classic, and that actually happens the same day as advertised, 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 laugh at your dancing.

The community of Denham Town, which is adjacent to the similarly safe Tivoli – both are under one order – hosts the weekly Thursday Night at the Fights – a uniquely Jamaican experience. BBC even bought the footage; and to think they weren’t even beating gays in the ring.

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Back uptown for our future talent and the friendliest atmosphere in town try the Jamaica Vibes talent night at Weekendz each and every Wednesday.

Something tourists really miss out on the regular sessions, or parties. Just look out for them in our listings section, if we ever update it. You pay about US$50 which includes unlimited booze and food.

The women dress great, the music tends to be good and the atmosphere is better than any equivalent in the the UK or US; 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 Boys can also be seen during their current World Cup qualifying campaign.

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.

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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, to many to mention. But Red Bones Blues Cafe never fails, and also shows films, other cultural events and some live music. For everything – decent souvenirs, rum etc – head to Devon House which has the great Norma’s on the Terrace and Grogge shop restaurants plus The Brick Oven which makes the best patties, period.

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 famous Old Tavern Coffee Estate – the best we’ve ever drunk and on a clear day you can see Cuba from their Twyman’s family’s cottage.

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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. Butter after that.

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 on a weekend is an uptown Kingston institution. You’ll have to get the (affordable) ferry boat 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 dormitory city of Portmore. It’s a much larger beach, lively, and…just eat 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 North-West coast with its mega-resorts has since left Portland long behind, which is why we 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. It’s cheap, eat it with the hard-dough bread and whatever your usual preference, trust us and take the pork over the chicken.

Just as we’d advise you not to eat jerk in Kingston, except when you’re out at night, we’re kind of cool on Boston, the birthplace of jerk. You have a real choice of restaurants there but the place is full of hustlers who will twang at you – all tourists must be from America, right? – and overcharge you.

But buy the sauce still.

Take a visit to the parish capital of Port Antonio. There’s some kind of tourism-related redevelopment going on with the new marina and the town – it’s no bigger than one – is good for shopping and not just Bob t-shirts.

For accommodation try the once-hip, now commendably cheap 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.

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The beach, despite its beauty and fame, has few people on it and has a fishable freshwater river flowing into it. There’s further beauty a few miles down the road at the Blue Lagoon, which is undergoing some kind of renovation.

From here you can take overpriced raft rides or trespass a little and leap off the helipad into the Lagoon itself – a better idea.

Oh, and it always rains in Portland. But given the incredible lush greenery of the place, you wouldn’t want it any other way.

Treasure Beach: Easiest community in Jamaica

Do NOT do as we once did and drive cross-country from Portland – that led to a puncture, several arguments and a car-hire place that likely won’t deal with us anymore. Instead amble to the south coast via Kingston.

Here 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.

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 ever met.

Again, we’re not all murderers.

Be sure to check TreasureBeach.net, which is an amazing resource.

Jake’s, the little boho resort run by the Henzell family is a must. It’s best known for hosting the annual Calabash Literature 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.

Ask around for a guy called Aman Parchment. A community first-aider, fisherman and just about everything else, Aman also runs boat trips to places like the Pelican Bar.

Next…you’ll now have to drive back to the airport, sorry.

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0 thoughts on “First recommends: See Jamaica away from the crowds

  1. Andrewmcd says:

    Hi there-superb post with some great pics-really makes me wish i was back there!-We were lucky enough as a family (from the UK) to have our luxury holidays in Jamaica last year-i have to say that we had a superb time-the people (and the weather) was fantastic!-We actually visited Kingston and thought it was so vibrant-you are correct though, it isnt promoted enough.-Cant wait to return, need to start saving the pennies!

  2. It is too true about the need to dress up, always. I find that outside major American & Canadian cities night clubs the pressure to bust style disappears and you’ll get a mix of “hot” girls plus some frilly skirt & beach slippers. There is no session no where in Jamaica I could wear the latter outfit. Even if I considered it, friends would kill me first.

    JTB seems stuck in the Kingston-as-business-“hotspot”-only for the tourist market.

  3. Yes, treasure beach is great, although getting there was an adventure by itself, we drove overland from MoBay. We stayed at Jake’s Cottage…which was very special. Only there for a fortnight, but it was a real eye-opener in terms of seeing yet another variable on Jamaica’s “out of many, one” culture. Apparently there was a Scottish settlement there a hundred years ago. All the rastas have blond hair and blue eyes…it was trippy. Another place I’d recommend is Port Antonio. It was very popular back in the 20’s and 30’s, but now is some out of the way town that is still quite beautiful and lively. Plus its a bit closer to Kingston than Treasure Beach.

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