The high/low guide to Jamaica
Whatever your budget, the Caribbean’s largest English-speaking island is awash with attractions. Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon shares her insider intel on everything from healing bush baths to beef patty ‘wars’ and the secrets of Jamaica’s Rastafarian traditions
High: What beats succulent chunks of Scotch bonnet pepper-spiked lobster served over linguini dressed in a bacon and cream reduction? The opportunity to enjoy this sumptuous dish at The HouseBoat Grill, the classic Montego Bay restaurant moored in the marine park. Once owned by actor Timothy Moxon (006 in Dr. No, which was shot on the island), it’s a decades-old local favourite.
Low: The patty is to Jamaicans what chips are to Brits: a portable, inexpensive and filling snack, beloved whether you’re living high on the hog or close to the bone. Tastee and Juici are the established brands, each with shops island-wide and fiercely loyal fans. Try both (there are veggie and seafood options, as well as the original beef) and taste for yourself which is best.
High: Twice a week Christopher and Lisa Binns invite guests (strictly by reservation only) to their acreage in the hills of St Ann for ‘earth walks’ through their organic farm, followed by lavish farm-to-table feasts of seasonal vegan cuisine. Dubbed Stush In The Bush (‘stush’ is a colloquial term that means ‘fancy’), each gathering is a rustic yet elegant affair. Dress accordingly.
Low: If you’re curious about Rastafarianism, a visit to Rastafari Indigenous Village near Montego Bay will answer all your questions. On a half- or full-day tour guided by followers of the religion founded in Jamaica in the 1930s, you’ll learn about its history and spiritual and culinary traditions, touring an organic farm and participating in an African drumming circle along the way.
High: Housed in a cut-stone cottage perched on the edge of a lagoon, FieldSpa at the Oracabessa boutique resort GoldenEye inspires relaxation at first sight. But it’s the treatments – purifying ‘bush baths’ drawn with local herbs; exfoliating rum, brown sugar and Blue Mountain coffee scrubs; massages with pimento and ginger oil – that slow you from 60 to zero in no time flat.
Low: The tranquil white-sand swathe at Frenchman’s Cove in the parish of Portland is Kingstonians’ go-to escape from the capital. A river runs through its lush beachfront gardens, bracing waters emptying into warm shallows where a rope swing sees plenty of action. When hunger strikes, enjoy a jerk chicken feast from the nearby town of Boston, where the spicy barbecue originated.
High: Whether you’re a serious art collector or simply an enthusiastic shopper, you’ll be enchanted by ceramicist Victoria Silvera’s sea urchin-themed collection of handmade crockery, teapots and decorative pieces. Delicate, eye-catching and seamlessly combining function and form, anything from the line would make an elegant memento of your visit. Find Silvera’s work in select shops island-wide and online at toucbyvls.com
Low: Cultivated in a microclimate ranging from 2,000 to 5,000ft high, Blue Mountain coffee is widely considered the best in the world, fetching up to £40 a pound internationally. But it costs less when you get it locally (and even less if you get it in a supermarket), so while you’re here seize the opportunity to take home a pound – or three.
High: Driving here isn’t for the faint of heart. But if you’re game, consider Island Routes’ private tour, which puts you behind the wheel of a MINI Cooper to explore the north coast between Ocho Rios and Falmouth. You’ll follow your guide’s lead into the hilly countryside, where you’ll board a bamboo raft and continue your adventure on the Martha Brae River.
Low: Journeying through tropical forest on a handmade bamboo raft gliding along Portland’s Rio Grande is a uniquely Jamaican experience, popularised in the 1950s by actor (and part-time resident) Errol Flynn. The reasonably priced two-hour trip through the river valley, bordered by mountains cloaked in a tangle of wild orchids and heliconia, offers an opportunity to see the island at its unspoiled best.
High: On the island’s south coast, near the bohemian beach town of Negril, YS Falls comprises seven waterfalls on the grounds of a former sugar cane plantation. Join Chukka Caribbean Adventures’ tour to the cascades and kids little and large can not only swim in the natural freshwater pools the cascades create but also zipline through the forest high above them.
Low: You really can’t say you’ve visited Jamaica if you haven’t climbed the falls at Dunn’s River in Ocho Rios. Meet your sure-footed guide at the beach, from where you’ll clamber hand-in-hand 600 feet up the cascades, pausing for ’gram-worthy photo ops along the way. Once you’ve reached the top, exit through the craft market, where vendors’ wood carvings make classic souvenirs.
Where to stay
Book a stay
High Life says
Overlooking clotted-cream sands and cerulean surf, this boutique retreat near Ocho Rios has laid out red carpets for everyone from Winston Churchill and Marilyn Monroe to Kate Winslet and Meghan Markle. It’s an oasis of manicured lawns, resplendent palms and pristine pools, where cocktails on breezy verandas offer respite from the ordeal of hammock-swinging and day-long sun basking. Minutes from shore, glass-bottom boat tours pootle above the regenerating reef nearby, where snorkellers will find technicolour fish and hawksbill turtles drifting among the coral. Come night-time, sip on martinis in the same lounge in which Ian Fleming coined the line ‘shaken not stirred’, and bop to a live reggae band in the warm evening air.
High Life says
Book a mind-bending massage at the Inn’s over-water spa, where a dip in the saltwater infinity pool will reset you for the day ahead. MC
Couples Negril, Negril
Book a stay
High Life says
Famed for its powdery-white sands and sultry sunsets, here on the western tip of Jamaica lies one of the island’s most stunning assets. Couples Negril, an adults-only resort set amid 18 acres of dreamy palms, sits on the shores of Bloody Bay, fringed by the Caribbean Sea. Live in the lap of luxury as you bask in the sunshine next to the freshwater pool, get seriously pampered at the Oasis spa or try your hand at a range of watersports, such as scuba diving and sea kayaking. Experience the adventure of a lifetime exploring the breathtaking coral reefs, before kicking back with an alfresco meal at Heliconia (one of five hotel restaurants), followed by a Jamaican rum punch and a boogie at the resort’s Terrace Bar as you watch the sun slowly slip below the horizon.
High Life says
Don’t miss out on experiencing the hotel’s complimentary excursions, such as a trip to the local Sunset Waterside Bar, plus catamaran cruise. ES
Discover Jamaica your
British Airways Holidays is here to help you find your perfect break. From carefully selected hotels to straightforward car hire, all costs are included in the final price, meaning there are no surprise extras. Plus, with a Customer Promise, ATOL protection and a 24-hour helpline, you’ll have total peace of mind when booking your holiday