The thought of traveling to Jamaica instantly conjures relaxing thoughts of lounging on the iconic white sand beaches. It is a popular destination for honeymoons, weddings, and romantic getaways but also great for adventure travel or for those of us who just want to slow down to the pace of “island time.” But it does require some planning so here are some tips on how to keep it as stress-free as possible.
Travel in the Off Season
If you are looking for a bargain, the best time to go is June-August which is Jamaica’s rainy season. Flights and hotels are less expensive during their off-season and everything is less crowded with tourists. Although the thought of rain might scare you off, it generally only rains for about an hour and is a welcome and cooling break from the afternoon heat and humidity.
We opted to stay in Negril which is known for its 7 Mile white sand beach. Our flight landed in Montego Bay but you can also fly into Kingston. Upon exiting customs we were instantly confronted with figuring out transportation. Many hotels offer shuttles for a fee but we thought we could get a cheaper deal by talking to people. Turns out the price was about the same -$100 for two people one way – but our taxi driver was well worth it. He basically gave us a mini-tour and history of the area and even stopped at a small fisherman’s bar so that we could have our first Red Stripes of the trip.
Where to Stay
Accommodations vary greatly depending on how much you want to spend and how you like to travel.
Giant all-inclusives, hotels, guest houses, and hostels are all available. We found a killer deal on LivingSocial for a small, boutique all-inclusive resort at 66% their regular rates so figured that we would start our trip off with a little luxury.
Sunset at The Palms was much smaller that the larger resorts that surrounded it (Sandals, Couples etc.). In fact with only 85 treehouse style rooms it was downright intimate. The price included all meals, all beverages, a private beach, and gratuity. The rooms were beautiful and included a private deck with a sunbed. If you’re not a beach person, the pool was large with a swim-up bar with plenty of sun or shady spots.
If you’re looking to party this was definitely not the place – although they do have live music many nights. While it was super-relaxing and luxurious it was definitely not our style. It felt a little too sanitized and like we were missing out on a lot of the culture and the great people that make Jamaica so interesting. Although gratuity was included we tipped our bartenders a small amount per day and also left a tip for the housekeepers.
For the rest of our time there we opted to stay at Kuyaba which was a small hotel with a restaurant and bar located near the public beach. Not as lavish but totally clean and very comfortable. The staff was extremely friendly, the food and beverage were reasonably priced and delicious, and the beach had plenty of lounge chairs if you wanted one. Kuyaba had much more flavor due all in part to its location. Nearby there were several jerk stands, restaurants, bars, a couple of clubs, and the craft market.
Tours to Take
There are tons of tour companies to choose from and most taxi drivers will offer tour services as well. We opted to go with Rocky’s Taxi and Tour Service on his Rocky Thursday Tour. While he does offer private tours for smaller groups, this option is more economical at $100 per person as long as you don’t mind going with several other people. The cost included transportation, hotel pick up and drop off, entrance fees, and lunch and light refreshments.
Rocky picked us up at our hotel and we were met with 15 other people on the tour and Georgia, who served as the tour guide. As we set towards our first destination – The Black River – Georgia gave us information about the areas we were traveling through, Jamaican history, and even a short lesson in Patois which is Jamaica’s local language. The bus was comfortable, Georgia’s information was great, and Rocky even stopped at one point to pass out beer, soda, and water to his thirsty group.
Our first stop was at the Peter Tosh Memorial. Located on the beach the memorial houses Tosh’s remains, a small museum, and a Rasta bar and restaurant. It was a quick stop but we had a great chat with Tosh’s cousin, Pablo, who gave us a little background on Tosh and his music.
We arrived at the Black River shortly after and piled onto a small boat. The Black River is in the middle of a nature preserve and is the longest navigable river of Jamaica. It hosts over 150 species of plants, three of which can only be found along its banks. But most notably it is home to over 400 fresh water crocodiles. We entered a mangrove covered corridor and spotted our first croc! The boat driver tossed some fish over and soon enough we spotted 3 more. We were told that they were non-aggressive towards humans and that we were welcome to swim with them, but none of us were brave enough.
After the Black River we set off inland towards YS Falls. Located on a private estate, YS falls is considered one of Jamaica’s most beautiful natural attractions. Upon arrival we were not let down by that description. It boasted seven cascading falls with natural pools, tropical flora and fauna, and a paved pool with river water. The park provides guides to take you through the various areas – these guys are great! They will even hold onto your camera for that perfect photo op under the falls. The deepest pool has a rope swing from an above ledge for thrill seekers. The park also offers a zipline for an extra charge for those so inclined. My only complaint was that we didn’t get to stay longer. I could have easily spent all day here and were there for only an hour or so.
From there we headed off to The Pelican Bar. We pulled up to a small beachside bar and walked straight to the beach where a small motor boat was waiting. We hopped in and in about 10 minutes pulled up to the bar which is built up on stilts in the middle of the ocean on a sandbar. It is a small circular hut with a pier jutting out from one side. Since it’s on a sandbar snorkeling is ideal but the water is so clear that you can see creatures from the pier. You can catch a ferry from almost any fisherman if you are along the beach in St. Elizabeth.
On the ride back to Negril, Rocky put on some music and let us relax after a long day out and about. If you opt to go on tours or need transportation around the island, I highly recommend getting in touch with Rocky. His tour was professional, informative, and we never felt unsafe.
Now that you know the basics, tune in for next week’s post, 5 Things to Know About Jamaica.