The entire island of Jamaica is one lush vision of crumpled verdant mountains dropping to slick blue seas. But you’ve got to know where to go and what to do to make the best of a Jamaica vacation. Follow our lead to 10 favorite spots for sampling the island’s unique beauty, decadent digs and rich culture.
Have a lobster feast at Booby Cay Island
Negril’s famed Seven Mile Beach is a golden-hued beauty that teems with tourists. We suggest escaping by boat (check out Sunbaby Glass Bottom Boat for an afternoon to nearby Booby Cay, a tiny island just off Negril’s eastern end. Snorkel in the shallows to spot rays and waving purple sea fans then settle in on the beach for a delicious lunch of fresh lobster grilled over an crackling fire.
Swim at Frenchman’s Cove
Fed by cool clear water from a natural spring, the small river that flows into the sea at Frenchman’s Cove, near Port Antonio, makes for one of Jamaica’s most postcard settings for a swim. As the tide is ebbing, let the river’s flow suck you out into the warmer sea water for what feels like a natural aqua therapy session during your Jamaica vacation.
Get your glow on at Glistening Waters
Even if you’ve seen the phenomenon of bioluminescence before in the ocean, we’re pretty sure you haven’t seen it like this. One of Jamaica’s least publicized things to do is one of its best. Head out after dark for a five-minute boat ride from an old school marina near Falmouth, and watch the water glow bright green and blueish with agitated dinoflagellates (tiny marine plankton) in the boat’s wake. When they cut the engine, don’t miss the chance to enter the shallow water to swim. You’ll turn into Tinkerbell, trailing light all around you, for one of the most magical after-dark dips of your life.
Indulge at Fern Tree Spa at Half Moon, a Rock Resort
Spa treatments are all the more decadent when you can listen to the rustle of real waves while your knots are being kneaded into submission while on your Jamaica vacation. And the two overwater spa bungalows at the legendary resort, Half Moon, offer just that. Your body will feel particularly molten when a warm rum treatment is drizzled over your back during the Fern Tree Signature Massage. Trust us, you deserve this.
Snorkel the cliffs along the Rockhouse
The limestone cliffs on Negril’s West End are lined with hideaway hotels overlooking a sapphire sea that teems with tropical fish. But no place mixes luxury with that Robinson Crusoe feeling of discovery as smoothly as Rockhouse. It’s worth splurging on one of the standalone premium villas here, made from timber and stone with thatched roofs, to maximize privacy and sunset views on your Jamaica vacation. Two more words to tempt you: outdoor showers.
Get high at Lime Tree Farm
Unlike some Caribbean islands, lush Jamaica has lots going on beyond its beautiful beaches. You’ll dwell high in the hills of the Blue Mountains –the Caribbean’s highest mountain range – when you stay at the lovely Lime Tree Farm, a working coffee plantation surrounded by 7.5 acres of the famous Blue Mountain beans. The eco-friendly property has four guest cottages, yoga and a local chef on hand to prep divine Jamaican food during your Jamaica vacation.
Feast on river crayfish at Soldier Camp Bar & Grill
You’ll need a local escort or an exceptionally well-drawn map to help you find this hideaway restaurant in Port Antonio, where Everol Daley (a Jamaican who formerly served in the US Army) serves up delicious Jamaican meals cooked over coal-fired flames in his simple kitchen. Call ahead (876-451-2095, no website) to be sure he’s stocked with fresh crayfish plucked from the nearby Rio Grande River. Sweet and spicy at the same time, these little bugs are as tasty as shellfish get.
Taste farm-to-fork eats near Negril
“You have to go where the food grows,” says American Mark Swainbank, referring to the agro-tourism retreat he operates in the rolling hills outside Negril with his Jamaican wife, Alecia. Tour Zimbali’s beautiful land on your Jamaica vacation, where everything from sorrel and callaloo to lychee and bok choy grow. Then settle in at the convivial bar for a five-course meal prepared before your eyes by two talented Jamaican chefs, with things like curried shrimp and coconut sushi on the menu.
Soak in a hot tub high over Port Antonio at Geejam
Jamaica has some seriously decadent hotels, from Negril to Ocho Rios. But it’s worth trekking further east still to the hinterlands of Port Antonio for a stay at Geejam, a boutique property with just five cabins and suites perched high in the jungle. Drum & Bass is our favorite suite, with a sprawling terrace and a private hot tub shaded by tree ferns overlooking the sapphire sea far below.
Choose your favorite all-inclusive resort
From the family-friendly Jewel Runaway Bay Beach & Golf Resort (home to the Jewel Lagoon Waterpark) to the adults-only Jewel Dunn’s River Beach Resort and Spa, these properties raise the bar when it comes to service. Both all-inclusive resorts feature a swim-up pool concierge with fresh fruit and fragrant-infused water, evening Dive-In Movies, made-to-order smoothies, and the signature Gem of the Day cocktail. Championship golf is even included. A must do: dinner right on the beach to top off your Jamaica vacation.