Jamaica’s lovely landscape, with its crystalline waters flowing over gardens of coral, lapping onto sand as soft as yellow butter, as dark as ash and white as rice, then rising past red soil and lush banana groves into sheer mountains; mixed with its confident, yet cool reggae demeanor, makes Jamaica the stuff of day dreams. While living the dream don’t miss out on these one of a kind experiences.
1. Bob Marley Museum, Kingston
Bob Marley’s creaky Uptown home is crammed with memorabilia – his gold and platinum records, his favorite shirt – but the visitor is drawn to his untouched simple bedroom, adorned with objects of spiritual significance to the artist, the small kitchen where he cooked I-tal food, the hammock in which he lay to seek inspiration from the distant mountains, and the room riddled with bullet holes, where he and his wife almost lost their lives in an assassination attempt. The intimate surroundings and modest personal effects speak eloquently of Marley’s turbulent life.
2. Rafting the Rio Grande
No less a celebrity then Errol Flynn started the habit of sending discerning tourists on romantic, moonlit rafting trips through the Rio Grande Valley, from Berridale to Rafter’s Rest at St Margaret’s Bay. These days the experience isn’t quite as exclusive as it was when Mr. Flynn was running the show – the Rio Grande rafting trips are actually quite affordable as Jamaican tourism activities go – but if the moon is full, you can still pole onto the waters, which turn silver and unspeakably romantic.
On the last weekend in May, Treasure Beach explodes with activity for the annual Calabash International Literary Festival as writers, poets and dub lyricists from all over the island, the Caribbean and as far away as the US and the UK descend on the quiet fishing village for three days of outdoor book readings, poetry slams, discussions and after-show music parties. The events are extremely well-attended, the involved audience rewarding their favourites with rapturous applause.
4. Swimming in the Blue Lagoon
From the forested cliffs that surround it, the Blue Lagoon, named after the film starring the teenage Brooke Shields, nestling in its protected cove, is a seemingly bottomless pool of turquoise water – intensely picturesque and perfect for a dip. Fed by the several underground streams coming down from the mountains, its waters are a refreshing mixture of warm tidal waves and cool freshwater currents. If you’re a diver, you can plumb the lagoon’s depths, which reach 55m at its deepest point.
A night hike to reach Jamaica’s highest point by sunrise, your path lit by the sparks of a myriad fireflies, is an experience unlike any other. As you climb to Blue Mountain Peak, the vegetation becomes less and less tropical, until you’re hiking amid stunted trees draped with old man’s beard (moss) and giant ferns. In the pre-dawn cold at the summit, you wait in rapt silence as the first rays of the sun wash over the densely forested mountain peaks all around you, illuminating the distant coffee plantations and Cuba beyond.
6. Boston Bay
The best experiences in Jamaica are extremely sensory affairs, but Boston Bay may be the only one that is more defined by smell than sight or sound. Well, smell and taste: Boston Bay is the supposed birthplace of jerk, the spice rub that is Jamaica’s most famous contribution to the culinary arts. The turnoff to Boston Bay (itself a lovely beach) is lined with jerk stalls that produce smoked meats that redefines what heat and sweet can do as complementary gastronomic qualities. In plain English: it tastes freakin' amazing.
7. Crocodile-spotting in Black River Great Morass
This is one of our favorite ways of exploring wild Jamaica: setting off by boat in the Black River Great Morass, gliding past spidery mangroves and trees bearded with Spanish moss, whilst white egrets and anhinga flap overhead. Your tour guide may tell you about the local women who sell bags of spicy shrimp on the riverside, and then point to a beautiful, grinning American crocodile, cruising by.
If there’s any cultural trend that defines Jamaica to the rest of the world, it’s reggae music – quite literally the soundtrack of the island. And there is no bigger celebration of the island’s ‘riddims’ then Reggae Sumfest, held in Montego Bay in the middle of the broiling Jamaican summer. To be fair, the ocean breezes do cool things down, but you’ll still be sweating – from the fires spewing out of homemade aerosol flamethrowers (that means a song is good), the throbbing mass of bodies, the nonstop dancing.
9. Playing Pirates at Port Royal
The sleepy fishing village of Port Royal only hints of past glories that made it pirate capital of the Caribbean and ‘the wickedest city on earth.’ Stroll in the footsteps of pirate Sir Henry Morgan along the battlements of Fort Charles, still lined with cannons to repel the invaders; become disorientated inside the Giddy House artillery store, tipped at a jaunty angle; or admire the treasures in the Maritime Museum, rescued from the deep after two thirds of the town sank beneath the waves in the monstrous 1692 earthquake.
10. Spelunking Windsor Caves
The Cockpit Country of the island’s interior is some of the most rugged terrain throughout the Caribbean, a series of jungle-clad round hills intersected by powerfully deep and sheer valleys. The rains gather in these mountains, and the water has percolated through the rocks, creating a Swiss cheese of sinkholes and caves. Windsor is one of the most dramatic and accessible, although the latter is a very relative term when used to describe this cathedral of fantastic rock formations. Oh: and there are bats. Lots of bats.
Why stop at 10? Get the full experience with Lonely Planet's Jamaica travel guide.