Beyond the all-inclusive booze-fest, which, to be fair, can be a really good time, there's a different Jamaica full of reggae, secluded beaches, jerk chicken, and lush rainforest. There are the features that first made Jamaica one of the most popular destinations in the Caribbean.
If you're heading to the "rasta nation" for vacation, our guide on what to do and where to stay will ensure that you don't miss a thing. So make some room in your itinerary for more than the expected and squeeze in these amazing "must do's" now.
-- Jane Reynolds, Oyster.com
<em><strong>Do: Chill on a secluded beach</strong> </em>For most escaping to the Caribbean, some chill time on the beach is a priority. Though Jamaica has plenty of beautiful beaches, Frenchman's Cove is one of the most beautiful -- and secluded -- in all of the Caribbean. Fed by a nearby stream, the water is a mix of natural spring water and the profoundly warm sea. Flanked on both sides by dense plant life, low-hung vines, and sharp cliffs, the calm, shallow water is kept warmer than at other Jamaican beaches. <em><strong>Stay: <a href="http://www.oyster.com/jamaica/hotels/geejam/" target="_hplink">Geejam</a></strong></em> The Geejam is made up of only five private, high-tech cottages on the lush (rainy) foothills of Port Antonio. The setting is gorgeous, the service is extraordinary, and Frenchman's Cove is only a ten-minute drive away. Though the beach is technically private and visitors have to pay to relax on the sand, guests of the Geejam can lounge for free.
<em><strong>Do: Hit the links </strong></em>Jamaica is home to some fabulous golf courses, particularly in Montego Bay. Courses in the area offer a range of challenges as well as gorgeous ocean views. So lather on some sunscreen and hit the links to work on your swing! <em><strong> Stay: <a href="http://www.oyster.com/jamaica/hotels/the-ritz-carlton-golf-and-spa-resort-rose-hall-jamaica/" target="_hplink">The Ritz-Carlton Golf & Spa Resort, Rose Hall, Jamaica</a></strong></em> With arguably the best course in the country, the Ritz-Carlton is a great choice for golfers. At the peak of a mountain, with 16 of 18 holes overlooking the Caribbean Sea, White Witch golf course mocks the low-lying, much easier courses of other resorts below. The Rose Hall Ritz also boasts top-notch food, service, facilities -- you name it!
<strong><em>Do: Visit the Reggae Xplosion Museum</em></strong> You can't visit Jamaica without getting into reggae. The birthplace of the chill, off-beat music, Jamaica pays homage to the genre with the Reggae Xplosion Museum in Ocho Rios. Located in the Island Village Shopping Center, the museum features music clips, photos, paraphernalia, and even a recreated music studio. <strong><em>Stay: <a href="http://www.oyster.com/jamaica/hotels/riu-ocho-rios-all-inclusive/" target="_hplink">Riu Ocho Rios-All Inclusive</a> </em></strong>Huge, even among mega-resorts, the 846-room Riu is more about quantity than quality: seven restaurants, six bars, three pools, a nightclub, a private beach surging with water sports, and hordes of guests raring to party. It offers a solid value and is a short drive from the museum.
<strong><em>Do: Get some zen with morning yoga</em></strong> Yoga is a great way to relax on vacation, and when you're practicing downward dog while taking in the sunrise -- well, that's pretty hard to beat. <strong><em>Stay: <a href="http://www.oyster.com/jamaica/hotels/sandals-royal-plantation/" target="_hplink">Sandals Royal Plantation</a></em></strong> Quiet and classy, the colonial-style, 74-room, adults-only (18+) Sandals Royal Plantation snatched a prime patch of beach when it was built in the 1950s. Guests can enjoy the view during yoga classes: An instructor comes a few times a week to lead classes on the pier.
<strong><em>Do: Go fishing</em></strong> Jamaica boasts some spectacular fishing -- everything from throwing a line over a pier in shallow water, to deep-sea fishing for Wahoo and Barracuda in the wide, open ocean. While Negril certainly offers some good fishing spots, some argue that the South Coast, where the Treasure Beach fishing village is located, is best. <strong><em>Stay: <a href="http://www.oyster.com/jamaica/hotels/jakes/" target="_hplink">Jake's</a></em></strong> On Treasure Beach's rugged coast, Jake's is a member of Island Outpost, Jamaica's trendiest hotel group. With just 30 hippy-chic cottages in a secluded spot, Jake's is where guests come to unplug -- there's no phone, Internet, or TV in the cottages. The black-sand beaches aren't Jamaica's most impressive, but the Driftwood Spa, on-site painting and yoga classes, and excellent food make this a particular favorite.
<strong><em>Do: Dive off a cliff </em></strong>Negril's coast is bordered by beautiful, rugged cliffs that plunge into the ocean. While loungers may prefer to stay in areas with a substantial beach, adventurous types love the thrill of diving off cliffs into the crystal-clear water. <strong><em>Stay: <a href="http://www.oyster.com/jamaica/hotels/the-caves/" target="_hplink">The Caves </a></em></strong>Arguably Jamaica's most romantic escape (for adults only), the Caves' 11 unique, private cottages and suites are tucked along lush garden paths and dramatic seaside cliffs (there's no beach). Like other small-scale boutique hotels along Negril's west-end cliffs, the Caves has a series of intimate platforms carved into the cliffs. From these platforms -- each at a different height -- guests can leap into the incredibly clear waters below.
<strong><em>Do: Try fresh lobster</em></strong> Who doesn't love lobster -- especially lobster that's just been caught. That's what you'll find at Office of Nature lobster shack in Negril, where diners munch on fresh seafood and jerk chicken. Pair it with a Red Stripe and you've got yourself an authentic, delicious meal. <strong><em>Stay: <a href="http://www.oyster.com/jamaica/hotels/tensing-pen/" target="_hplink">Tensing Pen</a></em></strong> With an intimate collection of 17 cottages (22 rooms), Tensing Pen is where guests come to unplug -- no TVs, phones, or radios in the rooms -- and enjoy the breathtaking cliffs of Negril's west end. The pool, spa, and restaurant are a little smaller and less popular than at the similarly priced, similarly styled Rockhouse boutique, but most guests prefer the quiet exclusivity found here.
<strong><em>Do: Play beach volleyball </strong></em>We love just lounging on the beach, but there's something to be said for getting up and active on the sand. So grab your posse and hit the beach for some volleyball. The workout is nice, the breezes and great, and the views are even better! <strong><em>Stay: <a href="http://www.oyster.com/jamaica/hotels/beaches-sandy-bay-negril-jamaica/" target="_hplink">Beaches Sandy Bay, Negril, Jamaica</a> </strong></em>This aptly named resort has one of best beaches in Jamaica. Clean, comfortable rooms, average food, and features like the Sesame Street playground, "Xbox Oasis," and baking with Cookie Monster make Beaches great for families, but it's not the place for adults to party. The plus-side: it's smaller, cheaper and more low-key than nearby Beaches Negril.
<strong><em>Do: Check Out Mystic Mountain</em></strong> Located in Ocho Rios, Mystic Mountain is one of the top attractions in Jamaica. Here, tourists can bob sled, zip-line, or take a chair lift through the lush rainforest. The views are gorgeous and there's plenty of wildlife to be seen. <strong><em>Stay: <a href="http://www.oyster.com/jamaica/hotels/moxons-beach-club/" target="_hplink">Moxons Beach Club</a> </em></strong>Not too far from Mystic Mountain, Moxons Beach Club is a no-frills hotel with threadbare rooms, a small pool, and a tiny beach. But Authentic Jamaican food, great cocktails, a friendly staff, and a beautiful, intimate setting bring guests back to the remote, beachfront hotel year after year.
<strong><em>Do: Explore local craft shops</em></strong> Huts and shacks line the streets of Montego Bay, where a craft market attracts locals and visitors. Merchants hawk items such as rasta hats, paintings, wood carvings, and kitschy t-shirts. <strong><em>Stay: <a href="http://www.oyster.com/jamaica/hotels/rose-hall-resort-and-spa-a-hilton-resort/" target="_hplink">Rose Hall Resort and Spa, a Hilton Resort</a></em></strong> With modern features, professional service, and a huge on-site water park, this relaxed, beachside golf resort in Montego Bay is more popular with families than rum-chugging partiers. Though the rooms are small, they feature flat-screen TVs, iPod docks, spa-quality bath products, great beds, and a powerful Wi-Fi signal -- all rare luxuries in Jamaica.
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