We could have quickly made a Top 100 list for Jamaica of the must-see and must-do activities, resorts, beaches, food, and so much more. So consider this list a sampler.
1. Rick’s Cafe
Voted as the Best Happy Hour by Caribbean Travel + Life readers, Rick’s Cafe is a Negril cliffside classic for two reasons: the island’s best sunset views and the breathtaking daily performances of daredevil divers, who plunge from heights of up to 100 feet into the turquoise waters below.
2. Dunn’s River Falls
It’s a communal experience at Ocho Rios’ Dunn’s River Falls as all creeds join hands and climb 600 feet up through the frigid waterfall that’s the island’s most popular attraction. The craft market at the top completes the adventure. To avoid it, take the path to the left. To avoid cruise crowds, come early Saturday through Tuesday. But no matter what, bring a towel.
3. Jamaica Bobsledding
With more time at the 700-foot summit, you might soak up the view of Ocho Rios’ curving bay, first glimpsed from the chairlift as it ascends into a canopy of dazzling trees. But Mystic Mountain’s one-person “bobsleds” (roller-coaster-like cars) quickly pick up speed, propelling riders on a wild journey along 3,280 feet of track. Hurtling through the forest and plummeting more than 300 feet down the mountain is cool runnings indeed.
4. Jamaican food
Yes, this is all-encompassing. You have to try jerk chicken, of course, plus the Tastee patties, the Blue Mountain coffee, and so much more. If you have to pick one place to sample everything, try Negril. As chef Steve Petusevsky wrote in his recent “Eating Negril” article for Caribbean Travel + Life, “The cuisine reflects the national motto, ‘Out of Many, One People.’
Almost every plate reflects the island’s rich cultural tapestry. The Spanish, first to conquer, left behind escovitch and other vinegary marinated dishes. From the English came the patty, the Jamaican turnover inspired by the English pasty. The Maroons, former slaves, cooked over open fires, contributing to the birth of jerk cooking over allspice wood.
Then there is curry, brought by West Indian indentured labourers, and Rastafarian ital cuisine — vegetarian, devoid of salt and highly flavorful. This is why I always return to Negril. ”
5. Strawberry Hill
You’re in Jamaica, so you gotta get high, right? Not that kind of high, people; I’m talking attitude. Sure, the island’s beaches are winsome and well worth a visit but venture 3,100 feet up from Kingston into the Blue Mountains, and an entirely different — yet equally enchanting — beauty reveals itself.
The capital’s Lego-like sprawl is cloaked in mist at this elevation, the gritty landscape below artfully blurred as if viewed from behind a gauzy scrim. And Strawberry Hill, the coffee estate turned resort in the mountains’ salubrious midst in the hamlet of Irish Town, is cool in every sense of the word.
From the celeb-studded guest list (Grace Jones and the Rolling Stones slept here; Bob Marley wrote “Natural Mystic” here) to its cluster of gingerbread cottages with four-poster beds dressed with heated mattress pads that temper the nighttime’s mid-50-degree chill, it offers a completely unexpected Caribbean experience. Which begs the question: Who’d ever have thought I’d be in Jamaica, quaffing a pre-dinner Blackwell rum punch while comfortably cozying up to roaring fire? Of course, but perhaps the better question is: What took me so long to get here?
For years Scotchie’s has lured the hungry to its ramshackle Mo’ Bay compound with tantalizingly aromatic, piping-hot, foil-wrapped bundles of pork, chicken or sausage. It’s all super spicy, but Scotchie’s also proffers the antidote: a frosty Red Stripe.
7. The Caves
This all-inclusive boutique resort is named for the immense grottoes that open up below the limestone cliffs atop which it is perched. There’s no beach here, but there is some of the world’s most astonishing water. It’s warm and transparent and bristling with fish of all sorts. And at key spots along the clifftop, cutouts in the stone wall reveal small platforms from which the brave can leap into space and — 30, 40, 50 feet later — plunge into the sea. Be one of those people.
8. Jamaican Music
The be-all, end-all of shows (held in Mo’ Bay since 1993), Reggae Sumfest is a proper stamina test, a three-night dusk-till-dawn musical extravaganza. Almost anyone who’s had a hit in Jamaica has graced the festival stage, cheered on by 10,000 fans from as close as Kingston and as far away as Japan.
So arrive early and stake your spot in a field ringed with vendors hawking everything from jerk chicken to CDs. Three days later, expect to be a little exhausted — and very exhilarated.
Outside of that famous festival, Bob Marley, master of “rebel music,” would surely have loved not only Rebel Salute’s name but also its vibe. For one night, Jamaica’s most prominent names in roots reggae perform for a primarily local audience, who greet them with blazing bonfires, chants of “Jah Rastafari!” and furious waving of red, gold and green flags.
The show, founded in 1994 by reggae singer Tony Rebel, is billed to celebrate all things rootsy, which means you won’t find meat or alcohol here. But you will find organic tofu stew (and plenty of, er, herbal remedies). It’s all staged alfresco in the parish of St. Elizabeth, which is to Montego Bay as Woodstock is to New York. What could be more irie than that?
9. Rose Hall
The White Witch of Rose Hall, Annie Palmer, supposedly still wanders her stunning estate, sometimes appearing in photos snapped by visitors to this evergreen Mo’ Bay attraction. The slave mistress’ story has all the elements of swashbuckling legend — witchcraft, romance, revenge and murder — yet it all actually happened. Dead men tell no tales, but even today, Rose Hall speaks volumes.
10. Appleton Estate Rum Tour
Jamaicans have been making (and drinking) rum for nearly 500 years. For more than half that time, Appleton Estate has distilled its brand on the same acreage, producing widely available varieties. Boasting flavours ranging from citrusy to broodingly rich, the rum is aged for as long as 30 years.