Jamaica - Beyond the All Inclusives
(Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada)
Escaping the all inclusive resorts that are scattered widely across Jamaica, was the best decision I ever made!
These resorts can be great for folks who just want to get away, soak up the sun on the beach, and drink unlimited amounts of alcohol to the point that you don't remember much of your Jamaican vacation.
My first 2 trips to Jamaica, I stayed at an all inclusive in Montego Bay. We had a great time doing excursions and hanging out with other resort guests from various parts of the world.
It was during my second trip when I decided to venture away from the resort and see what was beyond the guards and metal gates. I wouldn't recommend a novice visitor to Jamaica to venture off alone. I was fortunate enough to know a local who was willing to take me around and show me the real Jamaica.
I have now traveled most of the island but my favorite place is Falmouth in the parish of Trelawny.
Trelawny is approximately a 45 minute drive from Montego Bay, and it's between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios. Falmouth is a cruise ship pier which makes the city come alive during this period. There are lots of street vendors, markets, and performers to entertain as you make your way through the streets. Falmouth is rich in cultural history and this can be seen in it's many Georgian architecture buildings that line the streets.
Falmouth may be smaller than some of the other tourist cities, but it does not disappoint and offers plenty to do.
The Jamaica Swamp Safari Village is a must see, especially if you have young ones. There are birds, snakes, crocodiles and monkeys. The James Bond movie, Live and Let Die, was filmed here, and the guides take you to the location of the famous scene while telling you the story. It is then finished with a short clip from the film showing the actual scene.
Just past Falmouth is the town of Duncans, a charming settlement with beautiful beaches. Silver Sands Villas are located here. There are various sizes of villas for short or long term rental, and they are located directly on the beach. Most come with a complete staff that you can choose to use or not. Also there is Jacob Taylor beach, that may not be as well manicured as resort beaches, but nonetheless, a beautiful, white sand beach that is great for soaking up the sun and taking a dip. At the far end of the beach is Leroy's Beach Bar, a little gem that was once locally known but has become a favorite tourist stop. Stop by Leroy's and see what he has cooking up. You get a true taste of real Jamaican dishes here, and Leroy is a wonderful host! There is usually a daily dominoes game going on. Some weekends there is live entertainment, and an afternoon beach BBQ.
Burwood Beach is one of my favorite beaches in Jamaica. Once a free access beach, it has now become a public beach with a tourist fee of around $5 CAD. Burwood is a small beach but holds so much beauty. Clear blue waters and soft white sand, with never too many people, make this the most relaxing beach I have yet to come across. There are a few vendors that will approach you on the beach, but unless you are interested, you can respectfully tell them no thanks, and they do not harass you. The only down side to Burwood is that there isn't a place serving up food, so we usually pack drinks and snacks.
Leaving Trelawny and going over to the parish of Saint Ann, you will find the towns of Discovery Bay and Runaway Bay. Again, a small town that is deep with history and named so as it was an escape rout for runaway slaves. A must do is a tour of the Green Grotto Caves. The tour guides do an amazing job at telling the story of the runaway slaves and how they used this underground network of caves to escape and hide. Across the street from Green Grotto caves is The Ultimate Jerk Centre, serving up local Jamaican dishes at some of the best prices you will find. The food is delicious and never disappointing in the serving sizes.
If I had to pick a favorite beach, right now I would say Flavours Beach in Runaway Bay! This beach has by far, the clearest, cleanest water I have seen yet. There is not much area of sans between land and see, but everything else makes up for that. There is a beach bar and restaurant that has an extensive, authentic menu, lots of music jamming, a couple of vendors set up their mini beach markets, and the beach is always busy with both tourists and locals.
Most of what I do now when I visit Jamaica, is just drive and explore. I do visit my favorite hang outs, but I love to get out and see what else Jamaica has to offer. I never felt unsafe with my companion and we make sure to travel mostly during the day. I have learned a lot from him, in terms of what to do and not to do, to keep myself as safe as can be.
If you are interested in exploring the island more, and really getting to experience the authentic foods, the energetic and positive people, the music, the history and culture, and the many hidden beautiful gems that Jamaica has to offer....just do it!! Find yourself a trusted and reputable driver that you can depend on and that knows much of the island. Trust me, you will never look at the all inclusive resorts the same way.