Don’t worry, be happy

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

With Reggae month approaching and temperatures in the late 20s, there’s never been a better time to take a jaunt to Jamaica says Kaye Holland

“Is this your first time in Jamaica”? The airport official asked me.

“Yes” I replied, wondering where this was going.

“Well you are very welcome!”

It was my first taste of the friendliness of locals which, for someone from London (where we don’t even know our neighbours) can be shocking, if not unnerving.

The friendliness continued: I not only got used to, but loved, being stopped by strangers in the street who just wanted to say “wah gwaan” and bus drivers who wanted to chew the fat about Premier League football.

Montego Bay is the entry point to Jamaica for most travellers

My first port of call in Jamaica – the former Spanish, then British, colony that’s one of the largest (and liveliest) Caribbean islands – was the tourist region of Montego Bay. Mo Bay, as Jamaica’s second city is affectionately known, tends to target cruise ship passengers who hit the ‘Hip Strip’ (anything but) in search of a ‘Jamaica Mi Crazy’ t-shirt and Tequila sunrise but it isn’t without its attractions, namely Doctor’s Cave arguably one of the best beaches on the island.

However if you want to discover the real Jamaica, head west to Negril where the vibe is exactly what you’d expect: the sound of Bob Marley and the smell of Jerk chicken and coconut permeates the air.

Once a haunt for pirates, Negril is now a shrug-off-your-blues-take-off-your-shoes destination. Stroll along the famous Seven Mile Beach before taking a refreshing dip: a long shallow entry means you can wade out while still standing, making it ideal for both the non-swimmer (interestingly many islanders can’t swim) and your resident mermaid.

Negril has numerous hotels but, for a more boutique experience, check into the adults only Sandy Haven. An exercise in measured elegance, expect fresh furnishings throughout the 35 suites, an open-air spa, a gym (although that felt a little too like hard work for me), restaurant (the brilliant Bongos) and a beachfront bar that thrums with a quiet buzz.

Welcome to Sandy Haven or perhaps that should be heaven?
Welcome to Sandy Haven or perhaps that should be heaven?
The infamous Rick's Cafe in Negril
The infamous Rick’s Cafe in Negril

Outside the salubrious environs of Sandy Haven, internationally renowned Rick’s Cafe – situated on rocky cliffs 35ft above the ocean – is the place to watch others cliff dive and the sun do its incredible sinking thing while sipping (what else?) –  Rum punch.

If you’re in town on a Saturday night, make for the Jungle – Negril’s most popular nightclub -– where you cut loose to classic dance hall tracks until the sun comes up, but bars and colourful reggae joints, including Alfred’s Ocean Palace, are sprinkled all over town and, despite the sticky heat, are alive every evening promising patrons the best night they will never remember.

Next up for me was the attractive port town of Ochos Rios, where a stroll down Main Street is a must for a glimpse of old time ‘Ochi’. It’s a great place to pick up souvenirs made by local vendors while nearby Boston Bay Jerk Centre, which consists of five or six simple stalls, is where the traditional jerk (cooked by digging a hole in the sand on the beach, lighting a fire and slow cooking for hours on end) recipe started. Wash it down with Jamaica’s famous Red Stripe beer or Blue Mountain coffee.

Treat yourself to luxury at Jamaica Inn, a stunning hotel still privately owned by a family who have been running it for generations, where light, lovey and large accommodation (there are 48 suites and cottages in total) that opens onto the beach, sea views and incredible food (think five course feasts served under the stars) are the order of the day. No wonder the Inn was favoured by Sir Winston Churchill and celebs such as Marilyn Monroe.

Breakfast with a view at Jamaica Inn
Tasteful accommodation at Jamaica Inn

Start your day with an early morning yoga class, snorkel among the colourful reef fish, play croquet on the perfectly manicured gardens, or simply unwind on the private beach and enjoying a complimentary rum punch delivered directly to your sun lounger at 11am every day by Teddy (the legendary 74-year old who has been mixing killer expert cocktails at Jamaica Inn for 59 years) while gazing at the clear skies and turquoise  waters. Plus the staff (including Shadow the dog) are on hand to help you experience Jamaican culture through Rumology classes, spice and fruit tours, shop and cook tour.

It would be easy to spend your time holed up here but that would just be slobby… The number one tourist attraction, not only in Ochi but the whole of Jamaica, is climbing dramatic Dunn’s River Falls where mountain water cascades over steep, terraced steps: you’ll work up a decent sweat before taking a cooling dip.

Close by Firefly, Noel Coward’s Jamaican abode, rewards a visit. Reaching the estate isn’t easy – the winding road up to Firefly is pitted with potholes – but it’s worth it for the sweeping island views from the top.

Elsewhere 007 fans will want to make a pilgrimage to GoldenEye, an oasis in nearby Oracabessa, when Ian Fleming famously wrote his James Bond novels.

 A statue of British playwright Noel Coward at his Firefly Estate 

Also within easy day tripping distance is Kingston, Jamaica’s charismatic capital, where you’ll find the local spirit flourishing in the form of street food stalls and an arts space at F&B DownTown (107 Habour Street): here vendors sells woodwork, paintings, Jamaican made soaps, candles, jams, jellies and jewellery to a backdrop of a booming sound system (this is Jamaica) on the last Sunday of every month.

Another popular attraction in the capital is Devon House, an elegant Georgian-style Great House built in 1881 by George Stiebel, the Caribbean’s first millionaire.

Aim to time your visit to coincide with Bob Marley’s birthday (6 February) when events are held at the Bob Marley Museum. Situated on the site of the legendary’s musician’s home, which he purchased in 1975, this is where Marley recorded and lived until his death in 1981. Make sure to take a few selfies with the famous statue of the singer in the courtyard.  

A new museum that opened in 2016 honours Peter Tosh, another iconic reggae musician, equal rights activist and one of the founding members of The Wailers who was tragically killed in 1987. Expect to see exhibits including his guitar, which was shaped like an AK 47, and ubiquitous unicycle.

One Love: Bob Marley museum, Kingston
The Peter Tosh Museum is another must for reggae lovers

But whenever and wherever you go, there is music to be found –- this, after all, is the island, that created reggae.

Back at Jamaica Inn, it took 20 minutes to shake everyone’s hand goodbye and make it down the drive on my final day but, as the locals say, “everything irie.” I wasn’t rushing. After a week on Jamaica, I was learning how to make island time work for me.


Shared taxis are a cheap and cheerful way to get from A-B, providing personal space isn’t a priority and you’re up for an adventure. Alternatively take the comfortable Knutsford Express coach that’s equipped with air conditioning and WiFi.

If you want the freedom to explore at your own pace and schedule, consider hiring a car (UK driving license are accepted by hire companies). JAT recommends Reggae Car Rentals, run by a native who knows all the best spots.

Getting around Jamaica is a doddle compared to other Caribbean islands

For information and inspiration to help you plan a trip to Jamaica, pick up a copy of Lonely Planet’s Jamaica title

Perfect your patois

Patois emerged from the languages of those who came to the island. Centuries later what you have is a colourful lingo spoken by a people with a gift for vivid imagery, ridicule and irony, down-to-earth humour and bawdy cuss-words. A creative intermingling of words which primarily have their roots in the English, French and the African tongues.

Learn a few of the following words and phrases to really get you in the vibe for a trip to Jamaica…

(What’s up?) – greeting used among friends.

(Plenty) – used to represent volumes… of just about anything; also to describe an overbearing personality, eg “Memba fi buy nuff tings” at the craft market (Remember to buy lots of things); “How da gyal so nuff?” (Why is that girl so overbearing?)

Time flies when you’re having rum

(Excitement/Party) – used as a noun, adjective, adverb, e.g. “Mi a go a ‘bashment’” (I am going to an exciting event), “Im roll up inna one bashment car” (He arrived in an impressive vehicle), “What a bashy piece a outfit yu wearing!” (The outfit you’re wearing is gorgeous!)

(Wow!) – used as an expression, adjective or to intensify, eg “Rhaatid, di gate drop down” (Wow, the gate fell), “She get a rhaatid lick” (She got a bad hit), “A figet di mango to rhaatid” (Oh no! I forgot the mango).

Walk Good
(Good bye, take care, safe travels) – departing salutation, issued with good wishes.

(Anansi): The principal character in many Jamaican folk tales, Anancy, a spider, is shrewd and cunning. The name is now generally used for a spider.

Watch the sun sink into the horizon in Negril

Blabba mout

Person who talks too much.

Jamaican expression meaning “Pretty,” “fine” or “okay.”

Flighty, jumpy.

Words and pictures: Kaye Holland

Everything irie

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