This past week, I played tour guide and showed two of my friends from Cornell around Jamaica. While I was planning our itinerary, I didn't just want them to come and see the beaches and sunshine, but I wanted them to experience the flavours, sounds, sights and smells of the island and appreciate the rich culture of my home island.
I made a list of foods they had to try, songs they had to listen to, artistes they had to know and things they had to experience. I'd be embarrassed if I brought friends here, and they left being the tourists that couldn't tell you anything about Jamaica other than how nice the beach and sunshine was. That's absolutely not how I wanted my friends to experience the island. My go-to method for choosing activities was "What can we do that we can only do in Jamaica?"
For today's blog post, I'll be sharing the itinerary that we followed throughout the week, and better yet, I'm attaching a document for you to download with how we spent the past week and my recommendations for things to do! We did a bunch of touristy things, of course, but at the same time, we managed to nuance the trip with a plethora of small culture bits that they could take back home with them.
Here's the itinerary:
Below, I'll detail how we ran through the itinerary above. Follow along the itinerary as you read below:
We flew into Kingston on Friday at around 6:00pm, and went straight from NMIA airport to Liguanea Club/Emancipation Park (78 Knutsford Blvd, Kingston) for fried fish, lobster and jerk pork. A lady from Hellshire comes to Kingston to make fried fish on Friday and Saturday nights, so this was a perfect first stop for some food after our flight from JFK!
It's carnival season in Jamaica, so to get a taste of how we party in the Caribbean, we went to a soca fete called Sunn-Up by Sunnation. It was a breakfast party, and we went at around 8:30am. It was a great introduction to soca and dancehall music and the culture of carnival that's in the air in Jamaica at the moment.
Since there probably won't be a breakfast soca fete when you visit Jamaica, you could use this day to explore Kingston some more, and take a walk or drive around the capital.
We visited Devon House at night for Ice cream, but ended up going to Sovereign North for the same ice cream instead, because the lines are crazy long at night at the original location. I'd recommend to do that too, unless you have the patience to wait in a long line for ice cream you can get a 5 minute drive away.
Sunday is the perfect day to go to "the hills" as we call it in Jamaica, or a place like Holywell National Park. We had a family barbeque on Sunday, where my dad made jerked chicken, barbequed chicken and sausage with my grandparents and cousins too. Holywell is also just a great place with amazing views of Kingston, and great way to see more than just the beaches, since you'll get to experience the mountains that the country has to offer too.
Monday to Wednesday:
For Monday to Wednesday, we stayed at an all-inclusive resort in Montego Bay, while doing day trips around to other spots. On Monday, we took the day to chill out at the resort and take a break (especially after the breakfast fete on Saturday), while on Tuesday we drove about 2 hours to Negril. The drive to Negril is easy, and we spent the day on the world-famous 7-mile beach soaking up the sun. We drove to Woodstock Bar & Grill (you can use this in your Google maps for parking) and ordered a Bob Marley blended drink there. 10/10 recommend.
On Wednesday, we left the hotel early and went to the Appleton Rum Tour in St. Elizabeth. From Montego Bay, the drive is a little over 2 hours, and relatively rough even for an experienced driver. You'll find yourself driving through the worst potholes Jamaica has to offer, on single lane-sized two lane roads winding through the mountains of the Cockpit Country. The views in the mountains are incredible, though, and the drive is super scenic. I recommend only doing this drive if you have experience driving through other bad roads in Jamaica, otherwise find a driver who's capable. The rum tour was a great experience for us, especially because I'd already introduced my friends to Appleton Rum from before Jamaica. They were able to see how the rum is made, from sugar cane to aging, and it gave them a great appreciation for Jamaican rum. It's only $39 and that includes a welcome cocktail before the tour, so it's definitely good value for your money and a super informative experience - especially for a visitor that has an appreciation for good alcohol.**
**I recommend ordering the "Stormy Valley" cocktail when you go.
We drove along the South Coast back to Kingston from St. Elizabeth, so we stopped at Yam Park in Mandeville for some yam & saltfish. It's such a great street food experience along the highway, and is one of my favourite things to eat too. Definitely worth the few extra minutes to stop there, and it's also a great way to break up the drive back to Kingston into two ~1 hour intervals after the rum tour.
Originally, I had planned to go to Portland on Thursday, but after coming back from country on Wednesday with the hard mountain drive from Montego Bay to St. Elizabeth, I was not about to do another drive through the hills to get to Portland. Instead, we substituted our day in Portland with a much easier drive to Ocho Rios, where we visited Dunn's River Falls and Ocho Rios Bay Beach.
Dunn's River Falls really is a must see tourist attraction in Jamaica. Yes, it's super touristy when you visit, and you're gonna see tons of foreigners and people on guided tours climbing the falls, but it's because it's such a beautiful experience that it's absolutely worth braving those small crowds of people to see. I definitely recommend going, and it's a great way to show your friends the duality of enjoying rivers and beaches in Jamaica when you start the climb.
Ocho Rios Bay Beach was kind of a last minute decision, because I wanted to check the beach out for the first time. It was a great place to lay and tan, and we bought Scotchies from St. Ann's Bay and brought it inside to eat, but the water didn't seem particularly clean to me, so I didn't go in. I guess because it's a harbour, the water was a little more polluted, but hey, to each his own - if you wanna go for a swim, I'm not saying don't do it, just that I didn't.
If you're following along the itinerary like I said, you'll see Portland listed on Friday. In reality, we did a trip to Maiden Cay on my uncle's boat, but I'm extremely aware that that's just not something that's gonna be accessible to the majority of people reading this blog. If it is, I definitely recommend going to Maiden Cay because it's a beautiful sand bar off the coast of Kingston, but if not, the Portland itinerary is just as good, and you'll get good eats along that route too.
Throughout all the driving that we did, the playlist that kept us going was none other than my very own Feel Good Vibes playlist on Spotify that I curated a few years ago and update regularly with the newest Reggae and other Caribbean music that I love to listen to. By playing that playlist, along with some soca songs that my friends fell in love with from the soca fete, my friends were able to get acquainted with new Caribbean genres of music and leave the island much more culturally aware of the type of music that we listen to.
On the food side, you'll see a long checklist of foods at the end of the itinerary. Impressively, we were able to try every single one that you see there within the week that my friends spent in Jamaica. No meal went to waste, and we got food from all over the island - cook shops, the hotel resort, M10 Bar & Grill (10/10 recommend for their curry goat and mannish water) and homemade meals too. The trip was a whole gastronomic experience for them too, so they left the island with a new appreciation for Jamaican cuisine. The culinary culture of Jamaica is something that you absolutely cannot leave the island without experiencing. It's also so much more than just jerked chicken, you really have to seek out things like stewed peas, oxtail and curried goat to begin to experience the gastronomical depth of the Jamaican palette. That list in the itinerary is a good starting point for things that you have to try when visiting the island.
To be honest, our one week Spring Break in Jamaica was a whirlwind, and we packed a bunch of activities into a short period of time. In fact, we went to 13 out of the 14 parishes in Jamaica in 7 days, and only missed St. Thomas!
I had a great time seeing the country with my friends, and showing my home to friends from abroad really helped me to appreciate even more how beautiful of a country I get to call home. I'm happy that I can say that my friends left here having fully experienced the culture of my country, and they didn't just come and lay on a beach like they could've done in Miami or somewhere else. They got a true Jamaican experience, and I'm so happy to have had the opportunity to be their tour guide on this cultural tour.
If you have any questions about the itinerary, or want to know more about our 1-week trip around the island, feel free to reach out. Otherwise, I'll see you right here again, at 9am EST next week!
Until next Sunday,