April 6, 2011
It may be known as a place to kick back, but Le Cool London’s Chloe McCloskey finds there’s plenty to explore in Jamaica. Why not start by making the most of Montego Bay and the surrounding area?
“There are countless reasons to visit Jamaica and Mo’Bay, as it’s commonly known, is the perfect base from which to explore this remarkable island. As Jamaica is only about 230km in length and 80km from top to bottom at its thickest, it’s easy to bounce around from place to place. Here are our top ten suggestions for the best of West Jamaica.”
There is nowhere better to find your bearings upon arrival than the elegant Round Hill Hotel and Villas, a 25-minute drive from Sangster International Airport. Splurge for a stay and you’ll feel like 1950s glitterati: Clark Gable and JFK are among those who have relaxed here. The hotel consists of 27 villas plus 36 rooms in the Ralph Lauren-designed Pineapple House. Views feature turquoise water along a private white beach, and the sunsets could make you weep.
Etched into the rocky cliffs just past the (in)famous Rick’s Café, The Caves is a seductive little venue with a cater-to-your-every-need service policy. If you’re craving a burger and it’s not on the menu, just ask and the amiable staff will make it happen. Dive off a cliff into the deep azure ocean, puff a Cohiba in the unique limestone Cigar and Rum Bar, get an incredible spa treatment or just bask in the sunshine without a single worry.
If you’re after some jerk then many will send you straight to Scotchie’s, but our preference is the Pork Pit on Gloucester Ave, the city’s tourism centre also known as the Hip Strip. Choose chicken or pork and some rice & peas, then smother it in as much of the house’s scotch bonnet sauce as you can handle. Try the red pea soup, as its subtle flavour can help to calm the fire in your mouth.
For excellent street food-inspired cuisine and cliffside dining with a fantastic soundtrack, The Pushcart Café is the place. Found adjacent to Negril’s absolutely gorgeous Rockhouse Hotel, the laid-back attitude and great service accentuate the stellar menu. If you’re lucky then the acoustic band the Overtakers will be performing popular reggae songs done mento-style. A predecessor of reggae, mento is Jamaican folk music similar to, and often confused with, Trinidadian calypso.
A very bumpy one-and-a-half hour drive from Montego Bay, Mayfield Falls is a stunning and quieter alternative to the popular Dunn’s River or YS Falls. Make your way down a rickety staircase and over a bamboo footbridge to get to the ‘reggae style’ camp, where you’ll get your own thatch hut in which to change into a bathing suit. Then walk or swim through emerald-coloured rapids, jump off a tree into deep pools, or just watch in terror as your guide does a backwards somersault off the highest branch.
Most of the local cabbies are happy to negotiate a price to take you to various destinations around the island. Our driver, Keith Robinson, was charming as heck and really made our trip. Try him at +1 876 852 1006, he’ll pick you up at the airport and is not afraid to tell it like it is.
Taste raw cane sugar juice at this famous rum distillery, where photography is banned due to “industry espionage”, and learn about the history, processes and current state of affairs of the company. Another highlight is the lunch; ours included a delicious sweet potato and calaloo casserole alongside some juicy pan chicken, salad and, naturally, rice & peas.
To see a side of the island that is relatively untouched by tourism, venture down to Treasure Beach where Jake’s calmly awaits. Owned by Jason Henzell, the son of the director of famed Jamaican film The Harder They Come, the compound of quirky and colourful bungalows is set against a glorious natural backdrop. Indulge in a treatment at the in-house spa and dine on seafood pizza next door at Jack Sprat’s.
If you’re after an authentic dancehall vibe, watch the roads for signposts advertising upcoming raves or listen to local radio stations. Otherwise head to Montego Bay’s Pier 1 around midnight when things really get moving. The pier stretches right out into the port and things get nice and wild as the night progresses.
Negril is divided into two areas – Long Bay and West End. The former’s long white sandy beach draws droves of tourists and is pretty tacky, although that’s not to say that fun can’t be had. Ignore calls to check out Roots Bamboo and instead wait till midnight before heading out to On the Rocks, a semi-open air party spot that starts banging in the early hours.
Chloe McCloskey is the Managing Editor of Le Cool London.