Fascinated by pirate history, our desire to experience the Caribbean Sea and our love of Reggae, tropical food, sun and rum Ricky and I journeyed to Jamaica! As the plane flew into Kingston a wave of excitement rushed over me. The Blue Mountains were lush and green and the warm sun beamed down onto the bustling city below. We landed on Palisadoes and ventured into the city.
Staying with Locals
We chose to dive right into the local way of life and stayed with a lovely lady named Melissa, who we met through the Couchsurfing website. Located in Central Kingston (the heart of the city) we were only a short walk from the National Heroes Park, a botanical garden and sacred space honouring the nations heroes, and the downtown markets. Ricky and I were welcomed by Melissa’s family and neighbors with warmth and we noticed how community oriented the Jamaican culture is. “It takes a village to raise a child” is a strong concept that is believed by many.
Music was always in the air! Loud speakers played local reggae tunes and many people sang! People sang when they cooked and cleaned and when they walked down the street. Little local buses full of people drove past with the doors and windows open blaring the deep dub beats. The Jamaican accent alone had so much rhythm that I constantly felt surrounded by song!
Melissa, Ricky and I walked together to the markets where the hustle and bustle of Kingston was alive. Children walked home from school, men and women shopped for groceries from stands and small kiosks where you asked a server to get what you wanted and you slipped the money through a gap in a fenced window. The fruits and veggies laid out on cloth on the path were colourful and ripe. We tired Jamaican apples, a couple of different types of mangos, soursop and we bought ackee, bananas, flour, tomatoes, little spicy peppers and salt fish to cook for dinner. I was taught to cook the national dish, ackee and saltfish, which we enjoyed with boiled bananas and johnnycakes (dumplings). The next day we tried boiled crab and grilled corn.
Island Travel – Knutsford Express
After a couple of days in Kingston it was time to travel across the island to the West End. We chose to book the Knutsford Express, which travelled from New Kingston through Ocho Rios, Montego Bay and arrived in Negril. (The Knutsford Express is an affordable option to travel between the towns and cities all over the island with multiple services everyday.) From Negril we took a taxi to the West End where we stayed at the Lighthouse Inn 2, directly across from the Lighthouse.
Bungalow Life in the West End
The Lighthouse Inn was a tranquil paradise nestled in the bush where a handful of bungalows were surrounded by palm trees, figs and flowers and only a few meters from the cliffs and the Caribbean Sea. Cicadas chirped, butterflies glided on the breeze, lizards scurried along our veranda and hummingbirds zipped through the air! We were completely surrounded by life! We had our own kitchen so after settling in we decided to walk to the local shop to get some breakfast supplies, eggs, tomatoes, onion, yams and local Blue Mountain Coffee, in order to fully enjoy a lazy start to each day. (A helpful way to travel on a budget – being able to prepare your own food, tea and coffee.) We also bought tropical fruits and soursop juice from a lady on the side of the road.
Exploring the West End
Ricky and I chose to walk everywhere. Absorbing the slow, chilled pace of living, walking was the best way to discover all of the little local gems:
- Just Natural was a vegetarian and seafood restaurant, in the residential area of the West End, secluded in lush private gardens where the tables were scattered throughout the flora and trees… a magical secret garden where the food was divine! (Roughly JM$ 800 for a meal)
- Sip and Bite was a local restaurant that was recommended to us by a taxi driver serving traditional Jamaican cuisine: ackee and saltfish, fried plantain, banana, fried johnnycakes, breadfruit, rice and peas, jerk chicken etc. (Around JM$700 for a meal)
- The Mango Tree was recommended to us by a local man and had a small kitchen with full flavour food! (JM$ 500 for a meal.)
- Fire Water was a small bar propped on the edge of the cliffs overlooking the turquoise sea where epic sunsets kissed the horizon!
- Xtabi became our favourite spot to swim. The bar hugged the cliff edge with steps down to the water, either jump right in or get in and out of the refreshing, beautiful Caribbean water as if we were getting into a giant pool. There were caves to explore in the cliffs and bats flew through them as small crabs scuttled along the cool, damp rocks. Total bliss!
East to Port Antonio
We based ourselves in the small town of Port Antonio for the next few days to explore the wonders of the Portland Parish. Lush rainforest and refreshing tropical rain welcomed us. We arrived late and after dark, delayed by the storm, and the manager, Sasha, of Rafjam’s Bed and Breakfast had organized a driver to bring us to our accommodation. We were greeted like old friends and felt at home instantly. The morning light showed us the full beauty of our surrounding environment… the flowing river, a waterfall just up the dirt road, huge breadfruit trees, ackee trees, palms and apple trees and so many blooming flowers. Breakfast on the veranda was delicious! We were about a half hour walk from the town and passed houses along the way. Everyone waved and greeted us. We explored the markets and ventured to the beach to refresh from the warm balmy heat before having dinner at a small Jerk Restaurant (JM$ 600) on Boundbrook Road. A friendly, laid back community!
Winnifred Beach and the Blue Lagoon
The next day we explored the Blue Lagoon (free to swim) where fresh spring water mixed with the salty Caribbean Sea and then we continued on to relax and absorb the local vibe at Winnifred Beach, one of the last local beaches in the Portland Parish. The sea was clear and cool and the waves crashed on the rocky break a little out from the shore. Ricky and I sat at one of the huts on the beach and enjoyed passion fruit, lime and ginger juice and the yummiest rice and peas I had ever eaten! I hope that the locals are able to keep up the fight to save this beach for their own enjoyment!
We caught the bus back to Kingston via the Junction, which was a beautiful drive through the Blue Mountains. We stayed at The Kingsworth Hostel, which was actually more like a homestay than a hostel, at the top of Jack’s Hill Road with awesome views of the city and Port Royal in the distance.
We ventured to Port Royal on public transport through Kingston, taking a route taxi down the hill to Barbican, the 76 bus downtown and the 98 bus to Port Royal (JM$100 for each leg of the journey). Watching the rush of people squeezing onto the buses to sell snacks and cold drinks was an experience in itself! Port Royal was a tiny little fishing village with a couple of restaurants (we had lunch at Gloria’s Seafood Restaurant) and shops, a small community of homes, a school and the navy school. Fort Charles (built in the 1650’s) was all that remained to tell a bit of the tale of what was once the wickedest city in the world; that this land was once the home base to thousands of pirates, privateers and prostitutes. Most of this once lively pirate city was sunken beneath the sea.
The island of Jamaica captured our hearts and nourished our senses. We have left feeling inspired and enriched by the friendliness, the chilled pace of life and the strong sense of community that exists there!