ULTIMATE JAMAICAN ITINERARY

January 2020

White sandy beaches, adrenaline pumping excursions, mouth-watering cuisine- Jamaica is a huge country filled with so much to offer. It’s hard to decide where to begin. If you’re going the "All-inclusive" resort vacation route, this may not be the article for you. If you’re getting off the beaten path and looking for insight on how to see the “real” Jamaica, meet the people, learn the culture, see the natural beauty, you’ve come to the right place. I've compiled all of my recommendations for the six cities I visited into one ultimate Jamaican itinerary. 

 

The reasons to visit Jamaica are never ending. I had 12 unforgettable days and visited almost all of the major cities. I implore you to follow my advice to have an equally memorable experience. You will not be bored. You are guaranteed to come back with stories to tell; stories that your friends who’ve also visited Jamaica will most likely not have. You’ll see why Jamaica is the most unique island in the Caribbean and learn how it has so much more to offer than just fancy drinks and blue water. 

 

First things first, I recommend renting a car for your trip. It will give you the freedom to explore areas that are not accessible via public transportation. You can avoid most taxi rides and not be locked into a set schedule. Although they drive on the left side of the road and right side of the vehicle, it is no reason to deter you from renting a car. As long as you stay alert and take it slow, it’s well worth the effort. Take a look at the bottom of this article for my car rental recommendations. 

 

If you’re still completely against renting a car, check out Knutsford Express, a coach bus company that shuttles tourists between major cities. You’ll still need to take taxis to access the activities, but it is an alternative to renting on your own. If you decide on the buses, my advice would be to find someone you trust in each city and have the number handy to pick you up and drop you off when you need them. 

 

Below is a map of my trajectory and overview of my schedule. Follow this path and you’re sure to come back feeling like you’ve conquered Jamaica. 

Hi- I'm Evan, the Travel Wingman!

A Wisconsin cheese head transplanted to New York's big apple, I'm here to help inspire people to explore our incredibly diverse world through international travel. Follow along to learn the tools and information to make it all happen. From budgets and sample itineraries to packing guides and tour experiences- it's all here! So enjoy and feel free to reach me via my contact page.

- IGNITE THE FLAME -

- AWAKE YOUR SOUL -

- OPEN YOUR WILD HEART-

MONTEGO BAY

As the most popular city in Jamaica and trendy cruise ship port, this is a wonderful city to visit, but maybe not linger in. It's a city filled to the brim with all inclusive resorts and kitschy tourist traps. I was under the impression that it was going to have a busier nightlife scene, but it was pretty empty when we arrived. Check off the few things to do here and then continue on your way. There is so much more culture and adventure in the other cities. One night here is plenty in my book!

 

ACTIVITIES

  • Doctors Cove- Great introduction to the white sandy beaches of Jamaica. It is a public beach with an entry fee of around $7. We successfully avoided the fee by getting our morning coffee at the Starbucks nearby (don’t judge me), which allows you to pass through and sit on the beach. Perfect water temperature and sun exposure with fun water trampolines.  The water is nice and deep with no rocks or coral. There is a beach restaurant with waiters serving cocktails and snacks. While you won’t have a view of the sunset, it’s also a wonderful place to spend the late hours of the afternoon. Definitely the best public beach to go to in Montego Bay, but be prepared to see lots of tourists. 

 

  • Dead End Beach- Local beach near the airport. You’ll see the planes landing right over your head and notice the unavoidable sound of the jets. This was right outside our hostel, otherwise we probably wouldn't have spent much time here. Definitely less tourists but also a much less beautiful beach. It's really just a small patch of sand with garbage near the road. Locals hang out here at night as well. Keep your wits about you, but overall I felt very safe. My recommendation would be to take a stroll here during the morning or afternoon to see it for yourself. It’s a nice walk through town and a good escape from the rest of Montego Bay. 

 

  • Walk through town- On your way to Doctor's Cove, take a stroll through the small strip of shops. Pick up a cute souvenir and pass through the little supermarkets. Grab some Red Stripe beer to bring to the beach or drink at your hotel. There are some restaurant/bar options you'll pass on your walk, most notably a Hard Rock Café and a Margaritaville, but please try to find something local. The food is delicious and safe to eat. 

 

EAT

  • Peppa's Cool Spot- Friendly service and delicious food. Excellent introduction to the cuisine in Jamaica. While their specialty is fish, we were anxious to try the famous Jamaican jerk chicken, which they had prepared for us in no time. It’s not right on the main strip, but it’s worth the extra distance for the food and the views over Montego Bay. We grabbed a taxi for $2 that took us up the hill and then afterwards walked back down into town. You’ll pass the back of the epic Red Stripe sign that shines over the city.

 

  • Home cooked hostel meal- Check in with your hostel and see if they offer dinner. We had a rather inexpensive meal that was incredibly delicious. Our host made us  a fresh fish dinner served with rice and peas (aka beans in Jamaica). Wash it down with a cold Red Stripe or Dragon Stout and you’ll be a happy camper. Make sure you put your order in sometime during the afternoon to ensure they have enough food for you. 

 

STAY

  • The Landings- Definitely a “no-frills” place but our private room was clean and completely safe. The prices in Mobay can be expensive but this place provided everything we needed. The guy who runs it is a character, but super sweet. He even shared some music he’d been working on with us while we were all hanging out before bed. Definitely not a “must-stay” but a solid budget option.
     

MISSED

  • Appleton Rum Factory- One of the most popular rums for the Jamaican people, this factory offers tours Monday-Saturday 9am-4pm. It’s quite a drive out of the city, so consider stopping by on your way to Treasure Beach. 

  • Rocklands Bird Feeding Sanctuary- 25 minute drive from town where you can be surrounded by and even feed the national bird, the hummingbird. 

  • Rose Hall Mansion- A Jamaican mansion built between Mobay and Falmouth, it currently hosts tours that go in depth into the slave history and eerie myth of the White Witch of Rose Hall.

  • Green Wood Great House- Another Jamaican mansion off the highway on your way to Ocho Rios.

 

PIT STOPS TO OCHO RIOS

Hit the road and start your adventure to see the “real” Jamaica. We had great weather in the morning and wanted to soak up as much beach time as possible. We grabbed delicious green smoothies at Doctor’s Cove before heading out around lunch time. Our goal was to make it to Ocho Rios before dark. If you see something interesting on the way, pull off and explore. There’s tons of little shops, restaurants, and natural beauty to grab your attention. 

 

  • Scotchies- A Jamaican lunch staple located right outside of Mobay. It is definitely geared toward tourists, but again a wonderful introduction to the food scene. You won’t see a lot of locals here but you will enjoy your food. Sit upstairs and get a view of the water or sit under the thatched roofs downstairs to be in the heart of the action. Try the jerk pork or chicken with the festival or the soup. The wraps were a little soggy and chicken wings were small, so I’d say stick with their staples.

 

  • Drive through Falmouth- I’m glad we decided against staying in Falmouth for a night. It's another cruise ship port, but I'm not sure where they recommend their guests to go when they disembark. It may have once been a bustling center, but there isn't much here anymore. I would say you can skip this pit stop and spend more time on a beach in your next town.

 

  • Bengal Beach- A fun little pull off with a cute little bar selling cheap coconuts. Have them break it open for you and then take a stroll down to Bengal Beach. It’s a very small beach but an adorable place to enjoy your coconuts. Dip your toes in the water or just enjoy on the picnic tables near the shore.

 

  • Runaway Bay- A great place to enjoy the afternoon sun while you still have it. If you need a place to stretch your legs and feel like you’ve been out of the water too long, hit up this pit stop. Park your car and either hang out with the locals near the lot or walk down the sand towards the resorts. You’ll pass lots of people selling handmade crafts and find plenty of opportunities to lay your towel down and hop in the water. We personally grabbed a couple of beach chairs at the nearby hotel and then enjoyed the roped off swimming area. It’s not as deep as Doctor’s Cove or some of the other beaches we found later on our trip, but a great rest stop along the way.

 

MISSED

  • Glistening waters- Take a short ten minute boat ride away from shore to see the bioluminescent plankton glow in the night. Bring your swimsuit to jump in and stir them up to make them glow even brighter. We didn’t want to make the drive back to Ocho Rios in the dark, and judging from the look of the town, didn’t think this was the optimum place to see bioluminescent plankton. I’m sure it’s possible to book tours through your hotel in Montego Bay if this is something that interests you. Though I can’t say for certain, I would recommend waiting to do this activity in a prettier location.

 

OCHO RIOS

Ocho Rios is situated in the middle of the northern coast of the island. It’s another tourist center, but with a lot more excursions and activities than Mobay. We were able to successfully avoid the crowds by exploring early in the morning. I definitely recommend getting to these hot spots before all the cruise ships arrive. We spent 1 ½ days here, which was the perfect amount in my mind. We stayed just outside the city center but our hotel was within a short driving distance to all the sights on our list.  

 

ACTIVITIES

  • Cool Blue Hole- One of the highlights of Ocho Rios. Arrive around 9am and be the first people at the beautiful watering hole. Our guide happened to be riding up at the same time as us and gave us the complete run down. Guides aren’t able to charge money here, but they do expect a tip for good service. Brandon was incredible! He was respectful, patient, and taught us about the plants and native fruits we were passing on our short hike to the top. Your guide will show you the safe places to jump, dive, flip and cannon ball in. The falls are generally pretty sticky, even with the water flowing over, but be careful for some slippery spots. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to defy logic and walk down the giant waterfall with water rushing over your body. Your guide will show you the hidden cave under the falls and point you towards the tight holes to climb through. Take a moment before leaving the cave to exfoliate mud all over your body and then jump off the 5-meter platform nearby. Finish up your Blue Hole experience at the rope swing! Try a backflip or just jump off, but be careful of the shallow water. Entrance fee is $20, paid upon your arrival or return to rope swing. 

    Find Brandon via instagram @jamaicabluehole. He’ll meet you when you arrive and guide you through a perfect excursion day!

 

  • Spanish Bridge- Brandon showed us this little known gem. If you’re daring, take a leap off the edge of the bridge on the rope swing. We tipped the guys 500 JMD who are making sure everyone is safe. It’s a HUGE drop but incredibly exhilarating. 

 

  • Tubing down the White River- This activity starts at the Spanish Bridge. There are more expensive organized tours but we decided to pay the locals directly. It was $30/person for a quick 30-minute ride down the river. It’s not quite a lazy river and not quite adventure tubing, but a great mix of the two. A guide will help you navigate around the rocks and through the rapids. If you’re going to skip one thing, this might be the thing to skip. But if you're in the area and have the money in your budget, why not go for an easy ride down the river. Since your car is parked at the Spanish Bridge, you’ll have to find a way back up to that. Brandon drove our car down for us and met us right when we got off our tubes in the middle of the river, another reason why I recommend booking with him! 

 

  • Mahogany Beach- A man made beach with sand dusted over a concrete slab, definitely skip this one. There are bathroom facilities and a restaurant, but go to just about any other beach in Jamaica for a better experience. 

 

EAT 

  • Veronica’s Place- Just up the road from the Blue Hole, this local lunch spot is a perfect place to fill up for the day. Veronica operates out of a stand in front of her house and is famous in the area for her cooking. Usually she has one or two options, so just let ask her for her recommendation. We had an incredible fish dish and she threw in juice for the two of us at no cost. Since there aren’t many food options near the river, hop on over between adventure activities for a little nourishment. Her smile is infectious and you’re sure to leave with leftovers! 

    Her stand isn't on Google maps, but give her a call and make sure she’ll be around when you arrive: 876-453-1386

 

STAY

  • Sunrise Villa- This hotel had a nice pool area outside with sweeping views of the coast. We had a private room/bathroom with two double beds. We didn’t mind being outside of town, but definitely don’t book this place unless you have your own car. It’s up quite a long driveway hill and there aren’t any lights. We didn’t have a problem, but it’s definitely quite a ways off the main road. Avoid the host if possible to ensure a positive experience. He made me and my travel companion feel quite uncomfortable with his misogynistic comments. However, it was a great place to save money and get the perks of a swimming pool.  

 

MISSED 

  • Dunn’s River Falls- People love their time here, but we didn’t want to see any more crowds and ran out of time in our day. We had both seen plenty of waterfalls and knew there were more on our itinerary in the next few days. We definitely didn’t regret missing this. If you’re not seeing any other falls on your trip, check it out. Just make sure you arrive before the cruise ships. 

  • Keith’s Bamboo Rafting- If you are going to Port Antonio, definitely hold off on rafting until then. 

  • Green Grotto Caves- This looked like another tourist trap. We had both experienced lots of natural caves and didn’t want to waste money on an artificially enhanced experience.

  • Little Dunn’s Falls- The local alternative to Dunn’s River Falls. I believe there’s a nice beach included in the $5 entrance fee. 

  • Discovery Bay- Recommended by the locals. We unfortunately didn’t have time to check it out. 

  • Seville Great House

 

PIT STOPS TO PORT ANTONIO

The beautiful coastal drive to Port Antonio is about two hours in total. My recommendation is to pack up your bags in Ocho Rios and hit a couple stops along the way to break it up. The first two pit stops are just outside the city and will help make the final stretch fly by. If you add on Tacky Falls, be prepared for a bumpy detour- worth it for the adventure!

 

  • James Bond Beach- The famous beach in Oracabessa Bay where Sean Connery met Ursula Andress in the 1962 film. It is a little slice of paradise, surrounded by palm trees and beautiful views of the marina. Perfect place to spend a few hours in the morning. You’ll have to pay $5/person to gain access but we had the entire beach to ourselves. We arrived right when they opened at 9:00am and spent the next 4 hours here. There are two cute little coves so make sure to spend time at both. If you're feeling like a little morning exercise, rent a paddleboard for 30 minutes and explore the area around the coves. We got a deal and were able to talk the lifeguard into renting us two boards for $10 total. Worth it to work up a little sweat before diving back in the refreshing water. 

 

  • Firefly Estate- Explore Sir Noel Coward’s Jamaican home and take a look at the best views of the northern coast. For a $10 flat entry fee you can explore the grounds, see his final resting place, and most importantly take in the sweeping views of Port Maria below. It’s no wonder he was inspired to write such memorable works. They offer a formal tour and serve lunch for an extra charge. We didn’t have time for all this, but it was still well worth the fee to explore for a bit. It’s quite a bumpy drive up the mountain so take the roads slow and dodge the potholes.

 

  • Tacky Falls- These waterfalls are a majestic sight, even though the water level was low from lack of rainfall. It’s a little out of the way, but a great place to feel like you’ve discovered something that no one else has seen. A neighbor will guide you down a steep hike through his backyard. Make sure you’re wearing your water hiking shoes for support. Google maps sent us on a detour up someone’s dirt driveway, but we were fortunate to meet some locals who helped us get back on track. We gave one man a lift to the post office in town in exchange for his assistance. Like the roads to Firefly, these streets are also quite rough. Buckle up and prepare for lots of twists and turns.

 

PORT ANTONIO

By far my favorite city in Jamaica, Port Antonio is a beautiful oasis far away from crowds and tourists. It’s known for it’s lush tropical jungles, mountains, and quiet beaches. Due to its distance from all major airports, it remains relatively untouched from large tourism ventures. If you only had time to visit one city in Jamaica, I would urge you to make it Port Antonio. We only had two and a half days here but could have easily spent five to slowly embrace all it has to offer. 

 

ACTIVITIES

  • Frenchman’s Cove- Easily my favorite beach of the entire trip, Frenchman’s cove is a secluded mirage of splendor. Although there is an entry fee of $12/person, we were happy to pay it to maintain the pristine landscaping and impeccable beachfront. Situated between two cliffs, the water is deep enough to swim freely, with waves big enough to body surf all the way to shore. The ocean is warm, clean, and free of rocks. For a calmer option, head over to the river that runs through the entire property. Take a dip in the fresh, cool water. Bounce back and forth between the two to get the perfect combination of relaxation and adrenaline, warmth and cool down. There are waiters who will bring you the perfect piña colada and a restaurant that serves tasty burgers with fries. 

 

  • Rio Grande Rafting- Don’t miss this fun excursion! Rafting down the Rio Grande is the perfect way to break up your sun soaked trips to the beaches of the east shore. Situated at the foothills of the Blue Mountains, you’ll be surrounded by lush tree lines as you row your bamboo raft down river. Pick up some red stripes as you pass through town and get ready to relax in the fresh mountain air. 

    Park your car at the base of the river and choose a guide. They were charging $90 for a raft that holds 2 people, but we talked our guide down to $60 total plus a tip, a reasonable price after seeing how hard they work to row you down and then return the raft back to the top. You can either pay a taxi 2000 JMD to take you directly to the starting point, or save some money by taking a shared taxi to town for 400 JMD and another to the top for an additional 300 JMD. We had a great time waiting in town for our second taxi. It might take a bit of time, but if you can sacrifice 20 or 30 minutes, it’s a great opportunity to look around. 

    Once you get to the raft, just sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. There are two places to go swimming and an incredible place for lunch right on the river. Belinda cooked us the best meal of our entire trip. We couldn’t decide what we wanted, so she gave us a bit of everything, our "Jamaican Thanksgiving" as we called it; curried goat, jerk chicken, ackee and salt fish, with festival (fried dough), sweet potato, breadfruit, and sautéed vegetables. It was bargain for the amount of food we got. Call her ahead of time to make sure she’ll be there: 876-389-8826. After lunch, help the digestion process with a little exercise. Ask your skipper for a chance at the helm. He’ll be thankful for a break and you'll get a chance to see what it takes! 

 

  • Blue Lagoon- The Lagoon is situated between San San Beach and Winifred Beach. The unique mixture of warm saltwater and cool natural spring water is said to have magical powers to make you younger. The depth is around 140 meters and there are countless myths surrounding its creation and existence. Grab a kayak and while away the hours. If you’ve got the strength, take a swing on the rope attached to the tree in the back corner! There’s a man made wading pool in the other corner that’s fun to explore. I think it’s also possible to hire a motor boat from another beach to take you here, but kayaking is the better way in my mind. There is a beach club that rents kayaks and a local entrance on the other side that you might be able to sneak down into. We were lucky enough to be staying right on the Blue Lagoon, so this ended up being the start and end of most of our days.  

 

  • San San Beach- Adjacent to the Blue Lagoon, this beach didn’t have a whole lot to offer us. It’s a big beach, but covered in seaweed and needs a solid clean-up. We took our kayak through the choppy waters over to San San Beach from the Lagoon. You’ll likely have the place to yourself but won’t feel like spending a lot of time here. 

 

  • Monkey Island- Directly in front of San San Beach, this island ironically doesn’t have any monkeys in sight. We took our kayak over to enjoy the  little sand bar next to the island. Tie it up, take a ride on the little swing, and maybe even carve your name into the rocks.

 

  • Winifred Beach- Another local beach with a cute strip of shops and hole in the wall restaurants. Definitely a fun place to hang out for an afternoon. There was a nice energy on this beach; people swimming in the water, others bartering for souvenirs, and many sharing a meal at one of the restaurant on shore. If you don’t want to pay for a beach, I recommend making this your first choice. 

 

  • Boston Bay- The main draw for Boston Bay is to watch the surfers catch massive waves. If you’re a beginner surfer, think about taking a lesson from a local at the surf shop. The actual beach wasn’t as clean as some of the others, but we were there during a lunar eclipse, which made the water particularly rough. There’s a small entrance fee of 200 JMD/person. 

 

  • Great Huts- A resort situated right on Boston Bay, this is supposedly a great place to hang out for the afternoon. However, the waters were so choppy when we were visiting that there wasn’t a place to sit or enter the water. If the waters are calmer when you're visiting, grab a drink at the bar in exchange for their facilities. 

 

EAT

  • Belinda’s on the Rio Grande- See “Rio Grande Rafting” above for more information on Belinda’s restaurant. This is a “must eat” meal in Port Antonio. Hands down the most delicious meal I had in Jamaica. 

 

  • Cynthia’s on Winifred Beach- A humble restaurant located to the left as you enter the beach. Cynthia is not only one of the nicest people you'll meet, but also an incredible cook. We got there too late to enjoy her lunch, but she woke up extra early the next morning to cook us a private breakfast on the beach before our rafting trip. Her ackee and saltfish is to die for and the prices are extremely modest. 

 

  • Devon House- Rated #4 ice cream in the world, this branch of the Kingston based ice cream parlor is the perfect way to cool down after a day in the sun. Apparently their rum raison flavor is the most famous, however I recommend the Blue Mountain coffee, coconut, or Dragon Stout flavors! Enjoy this mouth watering goodness while looking out at the boats in the marina. 

 

  • Jerk Center Stalls- No trip to Port Antonio or Jamaica would be complete without a stop at the famous Jerk Center Stalls. Located within a small strip before Boston Bay, the stalls serve delicious jerk chicken, jerk pork, jerk anything! Restaurant owners will try to pull you out of your car to get you to choose their establishment over the others. Try them all if you have time. Our favorite was Mickie's- their jerk sauce was so good we both had to bring a bottle home. We also enjoyed the bigger portions at Gold Teeth’s right next door, but both agreed that we liked the sauce better at Mickies.

 

STAY

  • Kanopi House- Surrounded by 100-foot banyon trees on all sides, this jungle paradise is a “must stay” for any adventure lover. The rooms are impeccably designed and have beautiful furnishings considering they are built on stilts. We stayed in the single room, the Hummingbird, and enjoyed it tremendously. The property is situated right on the Blue Lagoon, making you the envy of all other travelers. The staff strives for customer satisfaction beyond anything else and their assistance surpassed both of our expectations. We were greeted with a tasty welcome drink, had our own french press with Blue Mountain coffee, and received beach towel service, among other perks. They have kayaks to borrow and a beautiful gazebo that can be used for an afternoon picnic or yoga session. Rooms start at $130/night.

 

MISSED

  • Exploring Town- Party in the streets with the locals and take a stroll through the bustling town. 

  • Solider Camp- A highly recommended restaurant near the rafting center that we didn’t have time to fit in.

  • Reach Falls- Yet another waterfall in the area. It's further south, but had we another day, we probably would have visited. 

 

TREASURE BEACH

Treasure Beach is another incredible city in Jamaica! It is a sleepy little town situated on the southern coast of the island, far away from most tourists. This is the place to visit when you want to turn off your brain and go off the grid. The pace of life slows immensely and the only thing to remember is when to flip from your back to your stomach while baking in the sun. Because of it’s geographic location, the beaches here get maximum sunshine throughout the day. No matter where you are on the beach, you’ll get a spectacular view of the sunset. Spend two, three, or more days here to completely unwind. 

ACTIVITIES

  • Frenchman’s Bay- The central beach around which most of the guesthouses and restaurants are located. There isn’t much sand here and we had particularly choppy waves, making the waters unsafe for swimming. It is still a beautiful beach to walk up and down. Think about popping into a cute bar shack to watch the sunset with a Red Stripe in hand.

 

  • Hang at Jake's- Jake's is a restaurant/hotel/beach club that has dominated the area. Somehow even with its popularity, it has still remained a classy and affordable place to visit. I spent my mornings here both days I was in town. Since the sun doesn’t rise above the trees until 9:00am, it’s the perfect chance to get some work done with a cup of delicious Blue Mountain coffee. Once you’re done eating, post up on the comfortable beach lounge chairs. You get free access if you’ve spent money at the restaurant. While I wasn’t able to swim in the ocean here either, they do have a refreshing saltwater pool. The location is perfectly situated on the water and the sound of waves crashing against the break wall will act as a hypnotic sound scape for your ears. 

 

  • Floyd’s Pelican Bar- No trip to Treasure Beach is complete without a visit to Floyd’s Pelican Bar. One of the most unique bars I’ve ever visited, Floyd built this establishment himself on a sandbar one mile out to sea. Take a $10 round-trip boat ride in order to see for yourself. Though the drinks and food are pricey, it’s well worth it for the ambiance. I’ve never experienced anything like it. Bake in the sun or play dominos in the shade. There’s plenty of room for all. 

 

  • Lovers Leap- There’s a legend in Jamaica that two slave lovers, Mizzy and Tunkey took a fateful leap off the cliffs edge into order to avoid being permanently separated by their slave owner. Now the site of their demise houses the world’s tallest lighthouse, sitting at 1800 feet above sea-level. The property was taken over by Jake's and has a beautiful restaurant that overlooks the ocean. I recommend taking the three-mile hike next to the restaurant before watching the sun set on the balcony.

    To complete this, take a right out of the property. Before you pass the first house, walk into their side yard and look for the trail head next to the soccer field.  The staff at Jake’s advised me that it would take 1.5 hours to hike down and 2 hours to climb back up. I was crunched for daylight hours, but was able to complete the entire hike in 1.5 hours, minutes before the sunset. I’m an experienced hiker, so I recommend planning for some time between the two estimations. The path is clearly marked, but be careful for loose gravel and rocks on your way down. There are two gazebos for you to take breaks at. It is an unbelievable hike on the edge of the hillside. The end of the hike releases you into Cutlass Bay. Take some time here to sit on the rocks, search for conk shells, and prepare for the difficult climb back to the top. Don't rush the hike on the way up and remember to bring lots of water. It’ll be hot this time of day, and most of the hike is in direct sunlight. Once you reach the top, reward yourself with a beer or ice cream at Jake's and watch the most glorious sunset in St. Elizabeth. 

    Pro tip: Hop in your car while there is still some light to ensure an easier ride back to town. You have about the perfect amount of time to reach Treasure Beach before the light completely fades away. The roads are pretty twisty and there are loads of potholes to avoid. 

 

  • Great Bay- An eight minute drive outside of town, this calm bay is shielded from the rough winds and choppy waters, unlike others in the area. Grab a bite to eat here, put out your beach towel, and go for a dip. It’s much more tranquil and quiet than the other beaches. Don’t forget to hit up the small hiking trail on the eastern edge of the beach. You’ll see a small set of stairs climbing out of the water. Follow along for an easy hike to a lookout point. It’s a quick 30 minute round trip hike. You can even complete the entire hike while you wait for the restaurant to finish cooking your meal. 

 

  • YS Falls- About an hour’s drive away from Treasure Beach, this is a little tourist stop similar to Dunn’s River Falls in Ocho Rios. The falls are beautiful and the property is well maintained. I didn’t stay long, but wanted to see what it was all about on my ride from Montego Bay. It has a $20 entrance fee and a small truck will drive you from the gate to the falls. There are a few swimming pools and areas within the falls that you can jump in. There’s a small rope swing that you can hop on, minuet in comparison to the other ones we did in Ocho Rios. Overpriced and a bit crowded, only stop here if you have time to kill or an extra day in the area. 

 

EAT

  • Eggy’s- Stumble into this humble beachfront bar, located right on Frenchman’s Bay. This is your place for no frills, cheap beer, and local Jamaicans. Hang out on the bench facing the water or put your feet up and catch the picturesque sunset over the water. I’m sure it’s spectacular any time of day, but I thought it was particularly great to sip on some Red Stripe at dusk without racking the bar tab too high. 

 

  • Mellow Yellow- A great spot with some dinner alternatives if you’re sick of the traditional jerk chicken. They have unique ice cream flavors, like chocolate lavender, and a wide array of smoothie options. Typical prices for that area. 

 

  • Jake's- Delicious organic farm to table restaurant. I’ve already spoken about how much I loved the views and beach layout here, but it’s worth repeating. Jake’s is a great place for your morning coffee and breakfast, but maybe more so for a sit down dinner. The menu is appropriately priced for the higher quality of food/preparation. Maybe save this one for your final night in town. 

 

  • Diner’s Delite- This is your traditional Jamaican restaurant, served in to-go containers with plastic forks. You don’t go to this place for the ambiance, you go for the mouth watering food. Plates will cost you only 550 JMD for a generous helping. I wish there was a place like this in every city!

 

  • Lobster Pot- Situated right on the Great Bay, this place is a “must visit” for anyone near the St. Elizabeth area. No need to look at the menu. Just order the Garlic Lobster, a dish that put them on the map. It is 1800 JMD ($16.00), and worth every penny. More flavor than any seafood I’ve ever tasted and a heaping portion of lobster, cooked to absolute perfection. I can’t believe I almost left St. Elizabeth without trying this place. Another reminder to always listen to local recommendations. 

 
STAY

  • Jake's- Although I didn’t stay here, I spent most of my time on their property. If you can afford the rooms here, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed. It’s a beautiful little complex with an incredibly helpful staff. If prices are outside your budget, purchase something at the restaurant for beach access. 

 

  • Skylarkin Cottage- An Airbnb rental, this cute cottage was totally perfect for a quiet beach escape. There was nothing fancy about it, but you’ll have your own private space and likely be the only guest in the area. It’s only a short walk to all the activities and restaurants in town. The people who rent it are so friendly and you’ll fall in love with the dog that watches over the property. There’s a small kitchen, refrigerator, and mosquito net to protect you from bugs. Best part about this place is how dark it gets at night. Look up and you’ll feel like you’re in a planetarium. I’ve never seen so many stars in my life. 

 

MISSED

  • Jack Sprat- Jack Sprat is another spot to grab local food right on the water next to Jake’s. 

  • Pardy's- Breakfast joint in the middle of town. Wanted to try but ran out of time!

  • Smurf Café- A little out of the way, this is another breakfast place near Skylarkin Cottage.

  • Little Ochies- A supposed Jamaican staple, it’s on the road towards Kingston when you’re leaving town. I was hoping to make it here, but I hit up Lobster Pot instead. 

 

BLUE MOUNTAINS

I consider it a crime to visit Jamaica and skip out on the Blue Mountains. The climate and culture here is so different from the rest of the island. It’s a perfect way to experience another side of Jamaican culture. Surrounded by lush coffee farms, this area is home to some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve seen in my entire life. Take a hike through the mountains or just enjoy some fresh air with spectacular views. Either way, make sure to budget some time to relax here.

 

ACTIVITIES

  • Blue Mountain Peak- Discover your true wild side and hike to the highest peak in Jamaica! Follow the well-marked trail to take you to the top of the mountains, through the winding paths of the lush greenery. Most visitors opt to do this hike overnight to arrive for the sunrise, however I think hiking during the day would also be a wonderful choice. This was the main reason I decided to visit this area. It ended up being a crazy hike! Stay tuned for my blog post on my experience.

 

  • Strawberry Hill- If you’re looking for an unforgettable sunset, this is the place to catch it! Take a walk around the impeccably manicured gardens, post up near the infinity pool, or order one of the deliciously curated cocktails from the bar. Though the prices are as steep as the mountains surrounding you, you can put the $20 you spent on the entrance fee towards the food/drink order. You will not be disappointed with the sweeping view of the sun setting over the entire region. 

 

  • School of Vision- A two mile hike up dirt roads marked by red, green, and yellow flags will lead you to this little Rasta village situated on the side of the mountain. We hiked up to the village around 8:00am on my last day and got a behind the scenes look inside. A local we met back in Port Antonio led us to his friend’s tin shack. Fabien taught us all about the Rasta religion, showed us around his modest house, and let us observe his morning rituals. Though we may have had a particularly unique experience, everyone is invited to take a tour with one of the Empresses in the village. They have a vast knowledge of Jah and the intricacies of the religion and are happy to share with anyone willing to listen. In addition to learning about their religion, you’ll see their abundance of marijuana plants growing like wildflowers all over their gardens and take in the sweeping views of the valley below. I don’t believe the village is on google maps but, if you ask around, locals should be able to direct you. Entrance fee of 1000 JMD.

 

EAT

  • Crystal’s Edge- A wonderful local restaurant right down the road from Strawberry Hill. They are known for their delicious curried goat at a very reasonable price. You can sit on the balcony and look over the mountains while you eat. 

 

  • Strawberry Hill- Incredible list of cocktails with a full dinner menu. This place is definitely the most expensive restaurant on the mountain, but it’s worth it for the views you’ll get to experience. Best drink I had on the entire trip!

 

STAY

  • Prince Valley Guesthouse- I can’t praise Ruth and Bobby enough for my memorable stay at Prince Valley Guesthouse. Their property is situated in the middle of their glorious coffee farm, surrounded by trees of all different types of fruit. It’s so peaceful and calming and they invite a sense of community with all the travelers staying with them. I booked a stay in their treehouse, built around a majestic mango tree. It was one of the coolest rooms I’ve ever stayed in. Comfortable bed, reading nook inside the tree and all the amenities you could think of. You might have a few ants, but suck it up, you’re literally living in a tree. For the hot afternoons take a dip in their plunge pool overlooking the valley. 

    The owners will go above and beyond to make sure you have an unforgettable stay. Bobby shuttled me up and down the mountain for my hike to Blue Mountain peak. Ruth made me a delicious cup of soursop juice as a reward for completing the hike. They built the property from the ground up, and are the definition of hospitality and hard work. On top of everything, the location is perfect. It’s within walking distance of several trails and only a few minutes driving distance from Strawberry Hill, several incredible restaurants, Catherine’s Peak, and a multitude of other coffee farms. This homestay is not to be missed. 

 

MISSED

  • Mavis Bank Coffee Factory- This factory is on the other side of the mountain. I walked past someone who took the tour who mentioned it wasn’t anything revolutionary. They’ll teach you how they harvest, roast, and distribute the coffee and even let you taste it. I didn’t feel like I missed out. 

  • Old Tavern Coffee Estate- Closer to my guesthouse, this farm is locally owned like others in the area. They do coffee tastings, sell their own beans, and will walk you around the property with advanced notice. 

  • Holywell- Holywell is a nature reserve with trails and picnic areas. I didn’t make it over here, but heard it’s a wonderful place if you’re not looking for an intense hike. 

  • Eits- I was disappointed to miss this one. I heard the food is incredible. I was able to see the views from the restaurant and can attest that you won’t be disappointed.

  • Cafe Blue- Another lunch spot in the area that offers affordable options.

  • Catherine’s Peak- I ran out of time to do this hike. Apparently, it’s much shorter than the hike to Blue Mountain peak but still has sweeping views of the area. 

 

KINGSTON

Kingston is a city I don’t ever really need to visit again. Half a day here before my flight was plenty for me. Because it was my last stop on the trip, it was hard not to compare everything else to it. The sights in Kingston are pretty spread out and, besides the Bob Marley Museum, there weren’t a ton of things I was excited to see. Make sure you hop in taxis to get between sights, but beware of scammers. Both taxis drivers I encountered tried to exploit me for more money than was agreed upon. Everyone in town was warning me about the dangers of being out after sunset, which added to my anxiety. My Airbnb host didn’t recommend parking my car anywhere near the homestay because of the high risk of being stolen or broken into. I never actually felt unsafe, but I think that's because I heeded the advice from the locals. Definitely just a pass-through city. 

 

ACTIVITIES

  • Bob Marley Museum- I was happy that I got to experience the Marley Museum before leaving Jamaica. The incredible guide will take you through the legendary musician’s home and give you a look into his recording studio. Be prepared to sing along to some of Bob’s hits while exploring. You’ll get a full history lesson of his life and get to relive all the highlights of his career. Tickets are $25 and the tour lasts about 1 hour and 15 minutes. 

EAT

  • Devon House- The original location of the same ice cream parlor we visited in Port Antonio. Rated #4 in the world and sits next to the great house with which it shares its name.

 

STAY

  • Hardie Terrace- This ended up being an affordable and centrally located Airbnb for my final night. Due to all of the safety warnings, I wanted a place with a nice living area and courtyard/pool to enjoy. This place was great, and very close to the tourist sites. Your host will likely be staying there with you in the other room, but she does a great job staying out of your way and keeping to herself. 

 

MISSED

  • Dub Club

  • Mount Debre Ziet- Rasta souvenirs 

  • Redbones Blues Cafe- Culture/poetry center

  • National Gallery

  • Fort Charles- Port Royal (Gloria’s for food after)

  • National Hero’s Park

  • Emancipation Park- Free concert

  • Pepper Woods- Popular jerk chicken restaurant

  • Tastee-  Try their patties

  • Miss Susie's- Breakfast (sweet potato pudding)

  • Rockford mineral bath

  • Fort Clarence Beach 

  • Lime Cay Beach- Picturesque boat ride

 

NEGRIL

The only major city I skipped was Negril. Though the beaches are said to be the best in the country, our main goal was to avoid tourist areas as much as possible. I didn’t regret missing it. If you do want to squeeze it in, extend your trip by at least two days and take one of these three options:

 

  1. Make a side trip right when you land- go west to Negril and then drive straight to Ocho Rios. The downside is you’re backtracking through Montego Bay. 

  2. Make a clockwise path around the island- Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, Port Antonio, Kingston, Blue Mountains, Treasure Beach, Negril and fly out of Montego Bay (Or the reverse)

  3. Take an S shaped path around the island- Montego Bay, Negril, Treasure Beach, Ocho Rios, Port Antonio, Blue Mountains, Kingston

 

FINAL PREPARATIONS

CAR RENTAL

 Like I stated before, the only feasible way to hit all the cities and sights in Jamaica is to rent a car. It wasn’t as scary as everyone was warning. With a little patience and concentration, driving on the left side of the road was totally conquerable. You'll get the hang of the reversed turning signals/windshield wipers, opposite intersections, and using your horn every 10 seconds. As long as you’re a defensive driver and keep up with the pace of the Jamaicans, you’ll be fine. 

 

We rented through two companies on our trip. Since I was renting and returning in two different cities, I knew the daily rate was going to be higher than if I was renting and returning in the same city. We had to drive through Montego Bay halfway through our trip, so I decided to take a lower rate for the first half and then change companies and only do the higher rate for the final five days. 

 

TIMELESS car rental was great. The staff picked us up at the airport and drove us to their offsite location. The budget option was everything we needed and the car could handle all the roads and potholes without any trouble. 

 

ISLAND car rental was the rental company for the second week. Though it was a little more expensive, the lot was steps away from the arrivals area at the airport. This car was also in great shape and worked well in the mountains. Make sure you book the car in advance. I saw a long line of people waiting to rent. 

 

BUDGET

Flight- $450 including checked bags both ways

Car Rentals and Gas- $450 total

Hotels- Between $30-$40/night for budget options, $130/night for our splurge option

Food- Between $5-$10 for local meals, $15-$20 for splurge meals (budget around $35 for food and drinks/day)

Drinks- $2.50 for Red Stripe at the grocery store, $5 at tourist locations, $12 for the fanciest cocktails on the island

 Activities-

$20 Blue Hole

$30 Tubing

$35 Rafting

$20 YS Falls

$10 Pelican Bar Boat

$25 Bob Marley Museum

$150 Hike to Blue Mountain Peak

Between $5-$12 beach entry

 

**Save all of your credit card rewards to cash in on this trip. I ended up saving $900!

 

MONEY EXCHANGE

I brought $600 dollars in cash for my 12 days in Jamaica. I used my credit card whenever I could since it didn’t have any foreign transaction fees. I would recommend paying in JMD whenever you can’t use your credit card. You’ll save loads of money by not paying in USD. The exchange rate when we were there was 125 JMD/$1 USD at a cambio vs. 100 JMD/$1 USD when you paid directly to a merchant. Whatever you do, don’t exchange money at the airport. You’ll get an awful rate. Find a cambio in town or ask your hotel desk. I would exchange $200 to start, and then you can always do more later. 

 

CELL PHONE COVERAGE

You can get a local SIM card through DIGICELL which has locations in all major cities. I needed my phone for business and for navigating around the island, so I decided to just paying the $10/day through my Verizon plan. The service was solid the entire time. There were a few spotty locations in the mountains but that was to be expected. I still turned off my cellular data when I wasn’t using my phone- with my international plan I’m only allotted .5GB of high speed data and then it downgrades to slower speed.  

 

WHEELS UP

If you had any hesitations about visiting Jamaica before, I hope I’ve squashed them. Jamaica is an incredible country, and it’s convenient location makes it an easy getaway. Do the extra work and put in the extra effort to see beyond your resort’s walls. There’s so much more to see, so much more to eat, so much more to learn. 

 

“ONE LOVE, ONE HEART, LET’S GET TOGETHER AND FEEL ALRIGHT” 

© EVAN MAYER DESIGNS