Trip Date – July 2017
| 🇯🇲| Jamaica is a Caribbean island nation visited frequently by North American vacationers. Since the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1494, it has grown and evolved into the third most populous English-speaking country in the Americas, after only the US and Canada. I had the opportunity to visit with my mother and sister in July 2017. Having grown up in the heart of the Cool Runnings era followed by Usain Bolt’s recent track and field domination, I was excited to experience all it had to offer.
We flew into Montego Bay and grabbed a rental car at the airport. Like in many partially-developed countries, driving in Jamaica proved to be a bit of an adventure – average road conditions, heavy traffic and careless drivers. We managed to avoid any serious issues and made our way down the western coast of the island to Negril. It is roughly two hours from Montego Bay and home to the famous Seven Mile Beach. We stayed south of town at The Cliffs Resort, advertised as the ‘best luxury hotel in the Caribbean.’ Although it was very nice and I have obviously not stayed at every place in the Caribbean, that description is probably a stretch. Regardless, it was relaxing and precisely what we wanted.
One of the most unique things about the resort was the ‘beach.’ As the name suggests, its Oceanfront is made up of cliffs instead of sand. It was fun to be right on top of the waves as they crashed into the rocks. It was a great place to swim, although you had to be careful about getting swept into shore by the current. We enjoyed jumping from the cliffs and exploring all of the small inlets that were created by the rock formations.
Another advantage to staying at The Cliffs was its proximity to the world famous Rick’s Café. Only a 20-minute walk up the main road, Rick’s is the most iconic restaurant in the country. Established in 1974, it has withstood two major hurricanes and become a staple for all visitors. Cliff jumping is the venue’s centerpiece. There are various levels for jumpers of all interests. I gave it a shot, although I think it was only from one of the mid-level platforms. I’m just happy to still be alive after my Malta jump so I wasn’t looking for anything too crazy.
An hour drive inland from Negril is Mayfield Falls, an attraction that became a highlight of our trip. Beforehand, the online pictures didn’t blow me away. However, it was consistently given 4.5 or 5 stars on TripAdvisor. One thing I’ve learned through several years of travel is that there is no substitute for peer reviews, whether it be TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet, Yelp, etc. In the past decade, it has become much more difficult to poorly run any kind of hospitality business – restaurant, tour, hotel or even an airline. Heading to a top-rated attraction very rarely steers you wrong even with minimal other information in check.
That in mind, we drove from Negril across a good chunk of the country’s Westmoreland district. I would suggest having a decent GPS system if you’re self-driving to the site. It’s not a major landmark and the backroads are mountainous and unpredictable. After arriving, the entrance is a short walk down a hill from the parking lot. The waterfall consists of 21 widely-spaced cascades. Having a guide is a must. Ours was knowledgeable, friendly and made us feel very welcome. Visitors trek upstream in the river through the exotic Jamaican jungle and enjoy secret underwater passageways. The finale of the river walk is the ‘washing machine,’ where several waterfalls come together from different directions. You can actually swim in between the falling water and the rocks. Looking back on our afternoon, it is easy to understand all of the strong ratings.
After getting cleaned up, we set out for Montego Bay. En route, Siri provided some questionable guidance which led us to a dead end on top of a mountain. It took some finagling on the narrow road to get the car turned around and back on track. After the unexpected scenic tour of western Jamaica, we arrived at the Montego Bay Hilton. It was a standard all-inclusive resort with direct beach access, several restaurants and a waterpark. Although not nearly as quiet and exclusive as The Cliffs, it was a comfortable place to chill.
I had come to Jamaica directly from a nine-day road trip through the Balkans. As a result, all of my clothes were dirty. Since I was spending two days in Hilton Head and two days in Cyprus on my way back to Singapore, I needed to do laundry. Instead of paying Hilton’s outrageous $9/item washing fee, I did it in the bathtub. As a traveler, it’s handy to be able to lean on this skill when necessary.
While returning our rental car at the airport, the Hertz agent determined that our episode on the mountain caused some damage to the side of the car. We tried to argue against it but were (admittedly) found guilty. We grudgingly signed a few documents agreeing to take responsibility for the situation. About a month later we received a bill in the mail for US$150. I guess it could have been worse.
Jamaica is full of many things to see and do. There are dozens of places in the Caribbean that I have not yet visited so I hope to find myself passing through again. I would be excited to explore more of the island, including Falmouth, Ocho Rios and the many of the Bob Marley sites. We’ll see!
Have you been to Jamaica? What did you think?