Growing up in Stockholm, Sean Paul’s debut album was my introduction to dancehall music, which sparked my curiosity about the Caribbean. And with every festival and reggae concert I attended, Jamaica became a bucket list destination.
Landing in Montego Bay – or MoBay as locals affectionately call it – Jamaica’s sweltering heat welcomed me to the island. Surprisingly, this vibrant isle in the Western Hemisphere reminded me of my birthplace on the other side of the world; Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It might have been the baking hot weather or perhaps the intangible unhurried pace of the island, either way, Jamaica felt familiar. More than its pristine white sandy beaches, the island is a haven for adventure-seekers looking to combine thrill with relaxation, and I was ready to let my inner adventurer come out and play.
So there I was in Ocho Rios on a CHUKKA excursion, afraid of heights yet getting ready to zip-line from one tree to another. Actually, make those three! With my heart pounding, I patiently waited for my turn, fixated my gaze on the leafy jungle-like environment, and succumbed to the exhilarating feeling. With my energy level heightened, I strolled to the serene Dunn’s River Fall to jump in the waters of the cascading waterfall. The flowing spring descending over rocks and boulders created an unreal backdrop that reminded me that Jamaica’s beauty extends beyond its beaches.
The following day, I had ziplining, river tubing and jumping into the 180 feet deep (55 metres) Blue Hole on the itinerary. The secluded landscape is a mesmerising sight; natural limestone sinkholes filled with azure water in a tropical setting with peaceful waterfalls. But don’t let the tranquil surroundings fool you, this mountainous milieu is the spot for nature lovers and adrenaline junkies alike. I came unaware of what to expect but left feeling exuberant after cliff diving and rope swinging into the breathtaking springs.
Raised in Sweden, a country well known for its topography, I had an appreciation for natural landscapes at an early age, so I knew I’d enjoy bamboo rafting in Jamaica. I sat on a blue cushioned seat of a 30-foot handcrafted bamboo raft as my captain, Papa Roach, sailed downriver. A jaunty Rastafarian of 23 years, he made the experience feel authentic despite being surrounded by tourists. After receiving my foot rub, using limestones from the river rocks, leaving my skin feeling silky smooth, we floated along the large stream, exchanging stories about life and the history of the land.
Jamaica is a culinary repertoire meaning feasting was a must. From Juici Patties mouthy beef and cheese treats with perfectly flaky crusts to sweet and oversized rum-based ice cream from Vineyard Town Premium Blend, a non-dairy parlour. For lunch, I headed to Miss Scotchies, a local spot, serving juicy jerk chicken and pork dishes prepared over pimento wood for a signature smoky flavour. But for an authentic dinner, a stop at Miss T’s Kitchen is a must. A cultural backyard-styled restaurant, the dimly-lit venue decorated in shades of red, yellow and green serves up an impressive selection of home-style dishes, from jerk chicken and curry goat to oxtail and sliced sea trout.
My Jamaican adventure wouldn’t have been complete without entertainment, as I experienced a full-circle moment at Dream Weekend in Negril. The yearly three-day festival, headed by General Manager Scott Dunn, saw top Jamaican musicians, such as Shenseea, perform for large crowds from different countries. Slightly covered with shiny glitter and sporting an all-white outfit – adhering to the dress code – I danced to dancehall music surrounded by enthusiastic festivalgoers when it suddenly hit me; this journey was for my teenage self!
Where I stayed
S Hotel – A stone’s throw away from Sangster International Airport, you’ll find this adult-only luxury boutique hotel with a South Beach-inspired facade. With Doctor’s Cave Beach in its backyard, it’s a hotspot, seamlessly combining relaxation, entertainment and superb dining. The cultural emphasis is glaringly obvious, with artefacts placed throughout the property; from striking enlarged black and white portrait photographs to life-size statues of prominent Jamaican figures, including Usain Bolt, all created by local artists. Feast at one of the six restaurants, including Jamrock on the SkyDeck, de-stress at the intimate bar in the open-air lobby or have a zen experience at Irie Spa.
Jewel Paradise Cove – 30 minutes away from Ocho Rios, this adult-only hotel has a welcoming homey feel. A stage, paying homage to the Jamaican flag, illuminates the main seating area where live music is played in the evening. If you’re feeling sprightly, ride down the blue slide in one of the three pools or book the glass bottom boat tour to learn about marine life. After a day of touring, have a wellness experience at the spa before enjoying dinner with a view at one of the seven restaurants. Thinking about having a nightcap? Head to Sunset Bar, one of six spots, for mingling.
Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall – This captivating and sophisticated hotel oozes luxury while providing maximum comfort. An all-inclusive retreat, it’s home to six restaurants, bars and lounges, serving a mixture of international dishes made with ingredients grown from their own herb garden. Reinvigorate yourself at the Zen Spa, stroll along the nearly one-mile private beach overlooking the coral colours of the Caribbean Sea, or lounge by the mosaic-tiled pool near LagoonZ swim-up bar with music blasting in the background. Looking to travel with kids? Worry not! Hyatt Ziva, the family-friendly sister hotel, is your best bet, welcoming guests to experience the Hyatt with your mini-me.
For more information and inspiration on travelling to Jamaica, visit: www.visitjamaica.com
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.