Prior to the outbreak of Covid 19, I was most fortunate to visit Jamaica. Enthralled by the fascinating and colourful blend of culture and history, pristine beaches and the relaxed way of life embraced by her inhabitants, Jamaica continues to attract millions of visitors from all over the world.
When Columbus first visited Jamaica in 1494 he stated that she was ‘the fairest isle mine eyes ever beheld’ and she surely is one of the most beautiful and captivating of the Caribbean islands, surrounded by the twinkling azure waters of the Caribbean Sea. By the 18th century Jamaica was a ‘jewel of the British crown’ producing 22% of the world’s sugar but to the cost of the thousands of slaves forced to work tirelessly on the vast plantations. Emancipation came in 1838 and the plantation owners recruited labourers from China and India, whilst those that were liberated settled in other parts of the island. Sugar productivity and profitability declined and although revenue from coffee, bananas, citrus, coconut, cocoa, pimento and yams helped to support the economy, other industries became major contributors.
Today, tourism is Jamaica’s most lucrative source of revenue. Every year over two million tourists visit the island and all are seeking the perfect spot to relax and escape the pressures and stresses of life. Imagine taking a morning dip in the tranquil waters of the Caribbean Sea, bathed in the warmth of the Jamaican sunshine, followed perhaps by an afternoon snooze in a hammock, shaded by a gently swaying palm tree on a beach of soft white sand. Jamaica offers all this and more.
For those of us who are ardent nature lovers, a leisurely stroll around the 25 acre Shaw Park Botanical Gardens, overlooking Ocho Rios Bay, is the place to view a stunning tropical display of exquisite flowering plants and shrubs including over 500 species of fern, one of the highest concentrations in the world. Jamaica has over 200 native species of tree including the majestic mahogany, the cottonwood, cedar, Spanish elm, satinwood and the national tree, the blue mahoe. And, as I wandered around, I noticed the sweet fragrance of wild orchids wafting through the genteel breeze. It was, quite simply, heavenly.
For birdlife fans there is a wonderful opportunity to explore and attempt to identify some of over 252 species, 27 of which are not found elsewhere in the world and include the streamer-tailed hummingbird (doctor bird) and the bee hummingbird; one of the smallest in the world, the fascinating Jamaican tody, which lives solely on the island and makes its nest in a hole in the ground.
For another example of the outstanding beauty of Mother Nature’s presence in Jamaica, I visited Dunn’s River Falls in Ocho Rios. This is the site of one of Jamaica’s national treasures; Dunn’s River Falls continuously regenerates itself from deposits of travertine rock, the result of precipitation of calcium carbonate from the river, as it surges over the falls. The small dome-shaped cataracts are usually associated with thermal spring activity found in limestone caves. This process combined with the location near to the sea gives Dunn’s River Falls the distinction of being the only one of its kind in the Caribbean. Visitors are welcome to swim and of course there is much merriment and joyous laughter from those holding hands whilst attempting to clamber over the rocks and ascend the 183 metre trail without slipping back into the waters.
After this strenuous adventure, like me, you may wish to consider relaxing on a comfortable sun lounger on the nearby James Bond Beach, surrounded by crystal clear waters against a backdrop of lush mountains. It is said that this is the very spot where Ian Fleming was inspired to write the James Bond novels and calls to mind that unforgettable scene in Dr. No when Ursula Andress emerges from the waves.
During the evening, international and local concerts take place on the beach; one of the most popular is the Bob Marley tribute concert, which is certain to get the most resistant toes tapping to the wonderfully infectious reggae beat.
And if you want to carry on grooving, a visit to the Reggae Experience, located at the Half Moon Shopping Village, is a must. Exhibits offer a fascinating insight into the life of Bob Marley and the on- site shop is crammed with memorabilia including the ‘Tuff Gong Collection’, which is Bob Marley’s exclusive and very trendy denim clothing line. You can practice your dance moves whilst you browse.
Should you prefer a round or two of golf, Montego Bay’s Ironshore Golf and Country Club offers an 18 hole parkland style, par-72 course with well-bunkered greens, tree lined fairways, numerous doglegs and water hazards and some rather challenging elevation changes. After the game, head for the Club House and sample a refreshing tipple or two and then perhaps indulge in a hearty seafood lunch.
For those with boundless energy, there are water sports galore, from water skiing to jet skiing, Para sailing, deep sea fishing, sailing and scuba diving, snorkelling, sea kayaks, sport fishing and windsurfing.
Shopping expeditions may be somewhat tiring if you head for the local market as vendors can be rather insistent and at times indignant. If you find severe haggling is not your idea of entertainment there is an alternative. Visit the Old Fort Craft Park, where you will find an extensive selection of handicrafts. All vendors are licensed by the Jamaica Tourist Board and trade is a tad less tense. Wooden sculptures, hand woven straw products, wall hangings and colourful Jamaican art jostle for pride of place. I was persuaded to get my hair braided with a few bright coloured beads added to show that I really am a beach babe at heart. Other products that may entice you to part with your dollars include Jamaican rum, spices, Blue Mountain coffee, carved items and all manner of delightful trinkets.
After indulging in such energy zapping pursuits, you will no doubt be seeking a retreat where you can relax and take full advantage of a first class rest. Consider indulging yourself within glamorous surroundings at Montego Bay’s luxurious Round Hill Hotel and Villas Resort, founded in 1953 by John Pringle who introduced a new concept to Jamaica when he invited prominent members of European and American society to build 27 cottages on his land. It proved to be an attractive investment for the owners of each cottage as not only would they benefit from the hotel’s revenue but also from the fact that their properties would not be devoid of attention during their absence. Noel Coward was the first resident followed by other prominent personalities including Oscar Hammerstein, Viscount Rothermere, Errol Flynn and Ian Fleming. The Round Hill Hotel and Villas Resort soon received the presidential seal of approval when John F Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy spent their honeymoon in Villa no. 10.
The designer Ralph Lauren is one of today’s residents and has assisted in the recent renovation of the 36 room Pineapple House, the hotel section of the resort. Accommodations reflect the tropical surroundings, featuring cool white stone floors, sumptuous four poster mahogany bamboo beds and plush upholstered furniture in vibrant colours, creating a calm atmosphere. Each room overlooks the breathtaking panorama of the Caribbean Sea and the double infinity edge swimming pool. Room features include spacious vaulted ceilings and large louvered folding windows inviting guests to appreciate the spectacular views. The villas offer two to six bedrooms, comfortable lounges and spacious verandas with private pools.
After a truly luxurious and comfortable slumber you will awake refreshed and ready to embrace the day in that truly laid back style that is Jamaica.
Images supplied with the kind permission of the Jamaican Tourism Board and accommodation images courtesy of Round Hill Hotel and Villas