15 Apr Jamaican me Crazy
Think of a typical destination in the Caribbean and Jamaica is most likely near the top of your list. Jamaica is the quintessential Caribbean island: long stretches of brilliantly white beaches, impossibly blue waters and a lush canopy of tropical forest, all to be explored and enjoyed in the slow, languorous pace so typical of this part of the world, preferably with a rum cocktail in hand and sand between your toes. Jamaica has an outrageous abundance of these and much more, but there’s nothing typical about the island. If you think Jamaica is just about refried beans, resorts and reggae, then a visit will confound your expectations.
The fifth-largest island in the Caribbean lies in the northwestern bit of the Caribbean Sea, about 145km south of Cuba and 191km west of Hispaniola, home to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Jamaica shares the same time zone as New York City, or five hours behind Greenwich Mean Time, which means the nine-hour flight will only really cost you four hours in holiday time.
Where you go in Jamaica depends on what kind of holiday you’re looking for. The northwestern coastline between Ochos Rios and Negril, on the island’s westernmost tip is the heartland of tourist Jamaica. This is especially so around beautiful Montego Bay, which is also home to Jamaica’s biggest airport and largest cruise terminal. It’s where you’ll find many of the island’s most beautiful beaches, the widest selection of activities and most of the big resorts, usually converted sugarcane plantations. The island’s major player is the Sandals group, which has three options in Montego Bay alone: the all-inclusive Sandals Montego Bay the Sandals Royal Caribbean and the five-star Sandals Carlyle (for those looking for even more romance).
Yet there’s lots more to MoBay than just white sand beaches and resort tourism. Just south of here, in the mountainous jungle that hides countless crystalline waterfalls, is the hilltop town of Lethe, an activities playground where you can go whitewater rafting or zipline across the forest canopy. It gets its name from a river in Greek mythology – crossing it on the way to Hades meant you lost all memory of your life up to that point. Spend enough time in Lethe and you risk forgetting that there’s a world you left behind.
West of Montego Bay is historic Falmouth, a Tropical-Georgian gem hardly changed since the early 19th century when it was an important port thanks to the twin trades of slaves and sugar: the town was so wealthy that it had running water before New York City did. Even the construction of a cruise terminal has done little to disturb the easygoing atmosphere of one of Jamaica’s most interesting towns, and the best way to explore it is by taking one of the community-led walking tours that really brings its history to life.
Cruise traffic disembarks at yet another cruise terminal to the east in Ocho Rios, a beautiful fishing village that is now one of Jamaica’s tourist hotspots. Yet beyond the tacky souvenir stands and gift shops is one of the island’s best dining scenes and some of the best nightlife outside of Kingston. You can take your pick from the all-inclusive beach parties or get to grips with the grooves of Jamaican dancehall at one of the town’s nightclubs. ‘Ochi’ is also a good base for the adventure activity visitor and there are plenty of operators who will organise rafting trips, waterfall climbs, zip-line tours and excursions on horseback.
Western Jamaica is all about slowing down even more. Negril is perfectly designed for long, lazy days on the soft sands of Seven Mile Beach. The most frenetic activity round here is scuba diving: you can get PADI-certified in a perfect sea surrounded by sea turtles. Or you can just play around the surface with a snorkel…and a school of multi-coloured fish. Sunsets here are the kind you photograph for a postcard, especially as it descends over the cliffs at the southern end of the beach. North of the beach, just off Rutland Point, Booby Cay is a small coral island used as the setting for Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – the name comes from the birds (‘boobies’ in local patois) that nest here. On the far side of the point is the colourfully named Bloody Bay; the beach here is a quieter alternative to Seven Mile, and it’s where you’ll find the Couples Negril resort.
A lot of visitors to Jamaica never bother with the capital, Kingston, dismissing it as too dangerous a place for sun-seeking tourists. It’s noisy, bustling and full of traffic – and yes, the western neighbourhoods of Trench Town and Tivoli Gardens that Marley sang about are laws unto themselves. But to miss Kingston is to miss the island’s cultural heart and its fine collection of historic buildings, museums and street markets, which are all Downtown. Uptown is all about fine hotels and restaurants – and the Bob Marley Museum, one of the key stops for anyone with even a passing interest in reggae’s most famous son.
Jamaica is a year-round destination. December to March is high season: the weather is warm and there’s very little rainfall except in the northeast. June to November is the low season because of rainstorms and the threat of hurricanes, but most of the island’s best festivals, including Reggae Sumfest –a very big deal in Montego Bay in late July – take place during the European summer. April and May are a good time to go as the weather is still very good but there are fewer tourists and the resort rates are lower than in high season.
Flights to Jamaica
From the 12th June – 17th July there is a brand new weekly charter flight from Dublin to Montego Bay on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
London Gatwick – Montego is operated by Virgin Atlantic and flights operate on a Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. British Airways operate services from London Gatwick – Kingston and these operate Monday, Tuesday & Thursday. Convenient connections are available from Dublin to Gatwick, however customers from Cork to Gatwick will need to fly to London the night before.
Connections via the US to Montego Bay give Irish departing customers the exciting opportunity to do a twin centre holiday option where you can spend a few nights in the US before hitting the Jamaica beaches.