No worry, no problem…only situations
The island of Jamaica may be one of the most chill and laid back countries that I have come across in my wanderlust travels. Situated a bit south of Cuba, Jamaica is the ultimate land of chill the “F” out. Even in the adventurous parts that the island offers, the adrenaline comes at a laid back pace. No, its not just the pot (for those who don’t know…pot is rather prevalent and legal across the island). The Jamaican way of life is derived from happiness from within. There are NO problems, Only situations as far as they are concerned. Worrying does nothing and everything will ultimately work itself out. Hence the saying, don’t worry, be happy.
For as calm as the culture is, the number 1 source of income for the economy is tourism so don’t be alarmed when you see TONS of travel companies, taxi drivers, shuttles and luggage assistants asking you left and right if you need help with bags, transportation or any form of excursion upon landing at the airport. Don’t feel overwhelmed or alarmed, just remember that this is just the way they make their living and they have to be aggressive because of all the surrounding competition.
For my trip, I flew into Montego Bay and decided that staying in that area would best suit our girls vacay that we had planned. With our flight landing at 2pm on a Thursday and we were leaving at 3pm on the following Tuesday, I did not want to stay an hour or 2 away since transportation to and from the airport would significantly cut into our trip. By staying in Montego Bay and being close to the airport, we arrived promptly at our hotel (Riu Montego Bay) and were able to check into our hotel and be beach-side by 4:30pm on our day of arrival! Why waste time when you have your girls with you?! Additionally, Montego Bay is sandwiched between many of the main Jamaican attractions and adventures with Negril being an hour and a half away and Ocho Rios being an hour and 45 minutes the opposite way. When deciding on where to stay, the Rose Hall area of Montego Bay is a bit higher end and probably would be where I would stay the next time I go. Rose Hall is about 35-40 minutes away from the airport; where as I was only approximately 15 minutes from the airport.
If it is your first time going to Jamaica, then I would HIGHLY recommend pre-booking your transfer from the airport to your housing accommodations. This streamlined things and made it so much easier to find a point of contact at a strange airport and it is a relieving feeling to let them guide you through the organized chaos that is the Sangster International Airport.
Once at your hotel, you have a couple of options for getting around the island. You can go to the front desk and take one of their approved shuttles or you can call a cab. I ended up finding an amazing driver through the shuttle service. We booked one to go into town for a day trip for a change of scenery and ended up finding Shane! He was our driver for our town shuttle and was so BEYOND accommodating and helpful that I actually skipped our previously booked transfer to the airport on our departure date and scheduled Shane. This allowed us to sleep in and relax an extra 2 hours instead of being cooped up at an airport that we didn’t know much about (don’t worry too much if that happens to you, the airport is actually pretty decent and nicer than some of those in the states!). The taxi and driver prices in general are really reasonable and if you find one that you trust then it is a key resource to get their card and use them for traveling around the island. I know that when I am back in the country, I will reach out to Shane right after I book my flight!
Alright, enough about getting around the island, let’s talk about what there is to do there! What are some key things to highlight while in the country besides drinking some amazing rum beach side?? Nothing… Just kidding! There is so much to do here and you can really become one with the great outdoors. In my personal opinion, you can definitely have a family vacation here, but I would lean towards Jamaica being a bit better for an adults only or families with older kids trip.
1. The Blue Hole-
Absolutely freaking awesome and so much fun! They say that you only have an hour there; however, our guides definitely gave us some extra time and with a large group there is no way to thoroughly enjoy this in under an hour. The Blue Hole is located in Ocho Rios so be prepared for the drive but you do stop at a souvenir shop where you can buy some snacks along the way (1 tip though…bring some snacks and water with you if you are a constant snacker like me!). You will also need water shoes for this adventure. This excursion can be combined with the Dunn’s River Falls hike when booking your trip so make sure you ask them about combining the two if it is not offered. I would recommend doing them together since they aren’t far from each other and neither takes a full day. I would definitely take the guided tour there because this is located up in the hills of Ocho Rios and the roads get very rough and narrow…and well, flat out dangerous with the cliff overhang. One part is so narrow that only one car can pass at a time so I would only advise experienced Jamaican roadway drivers to pass through here…for your safety and your cars! However, once there, the blue whole is simply amazing! The water is soooo crystal blue and surrounded by exotic flowers, plants and cave entrances throughout. From the get go, I knew this was going to be an amazing experience. This is where you learn that water shoes are definitely necessary so that you can make your way through the rocky areas of the waterfalls. As we approached our first jump, I was slightly nervous to just trust and jump into a lagoon of water that I have never seen, but I try to always embrace the thought of #whynot as much as possible and was one of the first ones to take a leap off the first ledge. As you hit the water, it is quite chilling initially but your body warms very quickly (maybe the adrenaline…who knows) and you know you are in for a treat if that was just the first jump. The Blue Hole area is filled with a series of jumps and photo ops and you are allowed to bring your cameras along the way (I do NOT recommend carrying your cell phone because if you lose it, its most likely staying in the depths of the waters in Jamaica). Each leap was truly liberating and you get a bit lost in the jungle waters of Jamaica. There is one part after the second jump that I will slightly caution about. They ask you to swim to the right and into this cave area after you leap and you then have the option to “climb” up through the cave into a mud pit that is supposed to have mystical powers of eternal youth; however, if you are claustrophobic AT ALL or are ANY bigger than me, then I would NOT go through this thing. I won’t lie…my boobs and butt still feel a bit violated from scraping against the rocks and the end of the tunnel is a bit scary as there isn’t really a way to pull or push your way through the opening with the water rushing over your head. I am glad I did it but it’s not for everyone! In general though, the Blue Hole in Ocho Rios is my number one thing I recommend when going to Jamaica.
2. Dunn’s River Falls-
Ok…I have mixed feelings on the falls but it still makes it to #2 on the list just because it is a popular tourist attraction and it is a neat experience. It’s kind of one of those that you go just to check it off the list and say that you saw it and I would say you could take it or leave it but I really think if done right, the falls are a great place to visit. So here are the deets… I loved hiking up this waterfall (yes you MUST have water shoes on to walk through this area), and it was beautiful and adventurous; however…..there were WAAAAAYYYY too many people. Since it is one of the top tourist attractions, everyone goes to this. Don’t be too alarmed when you first arrive and you see all the bus loads of kids that are out for their summer vacay, most of them are NOT hiking like you are about to do. They have other areas of the park and falls for the kids to visit. In fact, if I am being honest, I don’t know that I would bring a kid on this excursion anyways. To me you have to be somewhat physically fit and have decent balance because ultimately you are walking through the rushing waters of the falls and finding your footing on rocks and tree stems the entire journey up (even I fell once). This trip also has plenty of photo ops and it is a worthwhile visit since it’s a highly sought after attraction. Plus if you are on the guided excursion tour, you stop at this delicious place to buy food on the way back and I could have eaten one of everything that they had! This is why I also say to bring snacks because they said we would get “lunch” however I would have more so called this an early dinner at that point. If you are choosing though….the meat pie is excellent!!! One side note I will make about the falls is that I probably would have enjoyed the actual hike up the falls more if I wasn’t with a big tour group BUT I made the most of it and it was still a unique experience!
3. The Glistening Waters Lagoon-
This is just badass. Simple. The water is filled with millions of dinoflagellates (I know I know…wtf is that? LOL), a.k.a microscopic organisms that produce a glow with when the water around them is disturbed. If you are feeling super adventurous in one day then you can actually do this on the same day as the Dunn’s Falls and Blue Hole since this trip has to be at night so that you can see the glow of the water. The whole trip on the water lasts about 45 minutes and you can actually get in the water once in the middle of the lagoon and create a little glow yourself. They will also get some photos of you in the water that you can purchase and have emailed to you after you get back to land so no worries on having the right type of camera and settings. Considering this tour is short, I definitely recommend taking this excursion and there are only 4 of these in the world so #whynot ??? See how we glisten and glow below? Like Jamaican glitter : )
4. Margaritaville and Doctor’s Cave-
I know I know…sounds so cliché BUT if you take the shopping trip into town in Montego Bay (great change of pace from being at the resort) then this one is worth stopping by. The water optical course is challenging yet so much fun and the atmosphere is great. Word to the wise…try not to go on a Friday or Saturday. We were there on a Sunday and none of the cruise ships were in port and a lot of tourists are traveling on a Sunday so this was perfect to have the place pretty much to ourselves. Oh and did I mention there is a water slide that takes you from the roof top patio and shoots you off to the (very salty!) Caribbean water to the obstacle area. This made for a great and relaxing day. Afterwards we walked 5 min down the road do the Doctor’s Cave ($7 entrance fee so have a bit of cash on you) and enjoyed a change of beach scenery until we were ready to head back to our hotel. Doctors Cave makes for some beautiful photos and is a great way to cap off some shopping and working up a sweat at Margaritaville. Fair warning though; when you walk over to Doctor’s Cave, make sure you keep your personal items close to you and your group together. It’s not necessary dangerous, but you will walk straight through annoying store owners pushing their goods on you as well as enough pot brownies to stock your own personal bakery for a month! They can be a bit pushy so it is better to stay together and do NOT let them start putting jewelry or clothing on you as you are walking. Keep your hands to yourself and politely stay straight. Please don’t let this deter you from the walk, it really isn’t bad, you just have to stay focused and it’s actually a good experience to see the way they live and a bit more of their culture.
Overall, I never lie about my opinion. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Jamaica with my girlfriends and would go back if the timing was right but it was not my favorite tropical destination. Although tourism is there main source of income, their laid back nature can be a bit of a nuance for a wanderlust soul (could have had more to do with my hotel experience than anything). The country side is gorgeous and the prices are great compared to say a much pricier Costa Rica, and the culture can be a calming experience as opposed to the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives in the states. Don’t get me wrong, Jamaica is still worth checking off your list; just be prepared for a few differences if you are someone who travels to the Caribbean often.
A Coconut Rum and Salty Haired Beach Bum