adventures from elle

Falling in love with Jamaica

It’s the month of February. Canada is freezing. I live in Toronto, and we are still in Lockdown. In short, I am stuck in a cold, and gloomy city. Every day, I dream of myself enjoying a cold beer on a beach, on a warm sunny day.

But hey, even though I can’t step out of my home, I can still plan a trip to a place that’s hot and sunny at this time of the year, right? But where? Thinking of Mexico? Umm… cliché. I am talking Jamaica.

I picked the brains of my friend Rochelle from adventuresfromelle, who lives in Jamaica, and I asked her everything I wanted to know about the country. Her answers have almost convinced me to pack all my belongings and move there asap. I wish I could.

What is it like to live in Jamaica?

Jamaica is a tropical maritime country, which means that it’s hot and sunny year-round. We don’t have any distinct seasons, but it tends to be a little cooler during the winter months due to the trade winds. The way of life is very laid-back, as Jamaica runs on “island time.”

The culture is also very vibrant and exciting, which comes out in the bold, spicy flavours of our delicious cuisine, abundant exotic fruits, reggae music and its raunchier cousin, dancehall.

We’re also a fun-loving culture that sees the light-hearted side of most issues. A concert, party, pub, beach or river is usually around the next corner.

What sets it apart from the rest of the Caribbean islands?

Jamaica shares many similarities with its Caribbean neighbours, such as common geography, history of colonialism, slavery and indentureship, climate and economic activities. However, Jamaica’s culture is a lot bolder and more distinct than many of the other islands. The music genres of reggae, ska, dancehall and rocksteady originated here, and Jamaica pulsates to the palpable beat of these riddims. You hear it everywhere– on the radio, in the streets and in the clubs.

Jamaica is the largest English-speaking Caribbean island and the third largest Caribbean island overall, so the landscape is a lot more varied than on the smaller islands.

In addition to postcard-worthy beaches, Jamaica is very mountainous and rich in limestone, giving rise to hundreds of caves, rivers and waterfalls. On those steep hillsides, we grow some of the world’s most highly sought-after coffee, Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee.

Is it an ‘expensive’ destination, or someone like me, who’s always on a budget, can easily afford a vacation there?

Suppose you stay at the luxurious all-inclusive hotels. In that case, Jamaica can prove to be very expensive, but thankfully, there are many budget-friendly options. These include Airbnbs, hostels, boutique hotels and small villas in just about every corner of the island.

Our best beaches and waterfalls tend to come at a cost, but if you go where the locals go, you can find lots of free or affordable options that are just as enjoyable.

For instance, it’s possible to explore the city of Kingston in a day or two for free. You can also check out some off-the-beaten-path gems, which are either free or inexpensive. All you’ll have to pay for is the transportation and perhaps tipping a local at your discretion who may give you directions or act as an informal guide.

If you had to pick between the beaches and the mountains, what would you choose?

I spend more time at the beaches because they are readily accessible, but I’d gladly trade in the beach for the mountains any day. Our mountains are cool and misty with gorgeous ferns, conifers and bromeliads not seen in other parts of the island.

There are numerous hiking trails, bird-watching opportunities, and lots of pristine rivers, streams and waterfalls nestled away on the Jamaican slopes to explore. This is my favourite pastime.

My other favourite thing to do in the mountains is enjoying Blue Mountain coffee straight from the source while admiring breathtaking views. Our mountains also hold loads of history and culture, such as the self-sufficient Maroon and Rastafarian villages that live off the grid in the Blue Mountains and Cockpit Country.

 

What’s one of the most memorable experiences of your travel in Jamaica?

One of my most memorable experiences was hiking to the Blue Mountain Peak, Jamaica’s highest point, 2,256m (7,402 feet) above sea level. The peak can only be reached on foot after a four-to-five-hour long hike on one of Jamaica’s steepest trails. I started the hike at 2 am by flashlight after camping at the closest rest stop overnight so I could reach for sunrise.

The Milky Way views and admiring the trail in the soft morning glow was an amazing experience, and that sunrise was the best one I’ve ever seen in my life.

What is it that international tourists mostly miss out on when they visit the island?

International tourists often miss out on the real authentic Jamaica, which you can’t experience through the rose-coloured lenses of an all-inclusive resort. These include the energy at a local bar or party, the spicy kick of a jerk chicken over pimento wood, haggling for souvenirs and fruits at a local market and hearing modern reggae music, not the decades-old Bob Marley classics which the resorts have on repeat.

The true charm of Jamaica can only be experienced by mingling with the locals outside of the resort towns.

Sunrise from blue mountain peak jamaica

Can I visit Jamaica with my family? Or is it only popular amongst the young crowd?

A happy resounding YES! Jamaica is great for families. There are adventures to appeal to all ages, such as waterparks, climbing waterfalls, scuba diving, snorkelling, culinary tours and exploring various museums, farms and estates.

How many days should one spend in Jamaica to fully enjoy all the place and its culture?

Fourteen days would be the perfect amount of time to experience both cities, namely Kingston and Montego Bay, and a few other hot spots such as Negril, Ocho Rios, Portland and Treasure Beach. Jamaica is starkly different in each of these locations. I think visitors leave with a false idea of what the country is like if they limit their vacation to only one or two of these places.

 

Do you have any tips/advice for travellers in general?

Jamaica often gets a bad rap for its high crime rate, and understandably so. However, these crimes are mainly targeted and limited to some regions of the country, such as the inner cities, so don’t let that discourage you from vacationing here and experiencing what the country offers. Exercise the same caution in Jamaica as you would anywhere else– hold your belongings securely when out in public, be wary of strangers, and don’t go out alone or rely on public transport after dark.

Do your research on where to stay and go before booking. When purchasing food or trinkets, don’t be afraid to haggle.

If the price sounds unreasonable, it probably is. Either try to bargain or go somewhere else. Stay safe, and try all the new dishes and foods that you can! There’s no point in visiting a new country and eating the same food you can get back home.

Pina-Colada

See you soon in Jamaica. Cheers!




We usually run behind places are that are popular and miss out on the beauty of other travel destinations that are equally stunning. 12 Months 12 Places is a series in which I will feature 1 unique travel destination each month. This will eventually become a list of amazing destinations that people can add to their travel list. Stay tuned for more.

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