It’s not often you get to go to a new place that you know so little about, and looking back I was pretty clueless about Jamaica. Of course I’ve met a lot of wonderful Jamaicans here in Toronto, tried a few patties at the few places with a veggie options and sipped rum punch (lots of rum punch), but when it comes to the geography, language and vibe of the country itself I sort of had my head in the sand. Air Transat invited me on a press trip just over a month ago and though the trip itself was only a couple weeks later I immediately agreed – after all, you guys know how I love saying yes to everything!
For a small island, Jamaica is more rich in beauty and culture than one can’t really imagine without being immersed in it themselves. The sun is SO hot, like the biggest warm hug you’ve ever felt wrapped around you 24/7, and even at night no jackets are needed. The stars are bright and beautiful from almost any vantage point, especially when you’re near the beach (which you basically always will be). Evenings are filled with reggae music blending perfectly with the sound of the ever-present crash of waves and sunrise seems to call thousands of birds from the jungle to a wake up call.
Transat worked with the Jamaican Tourism Board to build out a go-go-go schedule for our time there, and I am so grateful so how much I got to see in just five days. I know I usually make a list of favourites, and don’t worry I’m going to do a whole separate post about what and where to eat as a vegetarian, but I thought it made the most sense here to go through a summary of the adventures day by day!
Day 1 //
We arrived in Jamaica mid afternoon and all at once we were shedding our layers like snakes, revealing our pale winter skin beneath. We met Dwayne, our awesome driver for the week, and our amazing guide from the Jamaican Tourism board and headed to the hotel.
We stayed at the Royal Decameron Cornwall Beach and though it wasn’t outrageously luxurious, it was a truly wonderful experience from start to finish. We welcomed with fruit punch in pineapples, the rooms were impeccably clean and minimal, and the staff was out of this world friendly – I cannot sing their praises enough. Except that time they tried to rope me into a dance lesson on the way to the bar… not cool guys! In all seriousness though everyone was so friendly, kind and helpful. I felt welcomed, safe, and at home our entire stay.
After checking in we met for our first dinner buffet, which actually had a lot of vegetarian options like callaloo rice and spicy mixed veggies every night! A couple plates later (a second serving and a separate dessert plate is crucial at a buffet) and we were ready to head out to our first location: Rose Hall Great House.
In all honesty this attraction wasn’t my favourite – the history was interesting but the theatrics weren’t really in my wheelhouse. That said the *awesome* dive bar in the basement most certainly was! Aptly named Thursty Spirits, this spot had the best craft cocktails in town and the vibe/music/decor was killer (no pun intended). Whether you tour the spooky home at night or the daytime to visit the gorgeous gardens, make sure you stop by the basement bar for a couple glasses of witches brew, and don’t forget to tell them Alyssa sent you!
Day 2 //
When we headed to the Martha Brae River to “raft” I had blow up boats and rapids in mind, but upon arrival it became clear that was NOT the case. In Jamaica rafting means drifting down a beautiful green river through the jungle on a handmade bamboo raft with a “captain” steering at the front (though if you have good balance you might be able to take over as captain with enough polite requests!) It was one of my favourite experiences on the entire trip and a must-see in my books. Don’t forget to stop for a rope swing on the way down and bring cash to tip your captain!
Switching gears from laid back to a bit more wild we drove to Hampden Estate for a rum tour, and my gosh, that rum was STRONG! If you make it out that was be wary of the Rum Fire – it will make your mouth burn for the rest of the day.
Last but not least we toured the historical town of Falmouth. A hub for cruise ships, this town has beautiful Georgian architecture, amazing fruit stands and good non-tourist shops to stock up on hot sauce and jerk seasoning (buy it here, not at the airport!)
Day 3 //
We had a slightly later start on day three so I spent the morning shooting before heading out to Zimbali Retreats, an incredible organic farm complete with cooking school, yoga, tours and options to stay overnight! We wandered through bamboo forests, under banana trees and around cabbages, learning about this organic farm’s inspiring philosophies, like sharing more means growing more. After the tour (/hike) we returned to the kitchen for the most delicious meal of the whole trip and a cooking demo. I seriously could’ve stayed forever!
Next we drove to Negril’s Seven Mile Beach for margaritas, swimming, and some much-needed tanning time. I really loved this community, with all of its music, colours, and the hilarious rule “no building shall be taller than the tallest palm tree.”
We ended the day with sunset at Rick’s Cafe, named one of the very best places to watch the sun set in the whole world! There’s also a couple crazy fun cliffs to jump off, and you better believe I jumped from every single one!
Day 4 //
The last day was meant to be mostly free, but we wanted to get out there and try some of the local foodie favourites! We went wild for Jerk at Scotchie’s and discussed the polarizing debate on who makes the best Jamaican Patties (Juici or Tastee?) before heading to our final attraction, Dunn’s River Falls. The Falls themselves were crazy beautiful and perfect for an afternoon dip, plus we got to zipline over them! It was my first time ever on a zipline and by the end I was convinced I need to pick up doing zip treks on my own. SUCH a fun way to get around!
Day 5 //
I woke up early for some final swimming and beach lounging before we headed to the airport to say our goodbyes. It was pretty tough to part ways not only with such a special country, but with each other too. At least we had our Option Plus upgrade to get us through the line ups crazy quick amongst our tears! Also, don’t skip out on the in-flight chef’s meals by Daniel Vézina – I generally avoid airplane food at all costs but the Orzo dish was so delicious! Exactly the kind of comfort food I was craving on the journey home.
I have a feeling I’ll be back in Jamaica REALLY soon – what did I miss?!