After over 8 months in Jamaica, I have seen my fair share of the island. My work has taken me to some of the most remote nooks and crannies, normally where potatoes are grown (agricultural development project!), and I have circumnavigated the country multiple times. So really, it is only fair to unpack my experiences of some of the marvellous hidden gems in Jamaica with you fair readers! Off the beaten path destinations are not always easy to find in the small islands of the Caribbean, with all of the great reasons to visit Jamaica, they are always well worth the expedition!
1. Best Place to Swim in Jamaica? The Blue Lagoon!
The Blue Lagoon is said to have been one of the filming locations for the movie the Blue Lagoon. You know, the movie where a really really young Brooke Shields runs around a beach naked. I haven’t actually seen it, but so I hear. Anyways, the Blue Lagoon in Jamaica is located in Portland Parish, just east of Port Antonio. There are signs off the road and some dudes in blue shirts eager to show you the way.
Swimming in the Blue Lagoon is a huge draw. The placid water is a mix of Caribbean sea and mineral water from a nearby spring, and is a welcome reprieve from the crashing waves of the Portland coastline. The blue-shirted guys are available for hire if you are interesting in being paddled around the Blue Lagoon and out to neighboring Monkey Island on a two-seater bamboo raft. The Blue Lagoon is definitely one of the best places to swim in Jamaica and is often quiet and relaxing. Plus, when I was there last, there were puppies! FUN!
Places to Stay near the Blue Lagoon:
2. Most Unique Sight in Jamaica? The Glistening Waters!
I have already written a whole blog just on the Glistening Waters in Falmouth Jamaica, so I won’t take too much space on them here. But clearly, this place needs to be on a secret gems in Jamaica list. One of only four places in the world specifically like them, the Glistening Waters is a micro-biology phenomenon wherein the micro-plankton of the lagoon glows when agitated at night. That means when this gal threw her body gracefully into the water, she lit up like a wet Christmas tree! Check out more about the Glistening Waters in my full post!
3. Best Place to Watch the Sunset? Negril’s West End
Most people head to Negril with 7 Mile Beach in mind. Nothing against 7 mile but…oh wait, it may be a beautiful white sandy beach, but it is jam packed with all-inclusives, the beaches are private meaning you can’t actually walk along the beach any further than your resort, and the party time sounds make for a pretty raucous night time regardless of what resort you are in. Sound carries over walls after all!
But Negril is beautiful, so you don’t really want to skip it, which is where the West End comes into play! The West End of Negril still has a ton of places to stay and dining options, but no big resorts. The boutique hotels and guesthouses keep everything as bit more sane, but the sunsets are still epic. Most of the accommodation in Negril’s West End are up on the cliffs, which also means the reefs skirting those cliffs are excellent snorkeling spots.
Where to Stay in Negril’s West End?
4. Best Place to Eat Jerk? Boston Bay, Portland!
Nothing says Jamaica more than jerk chicken! And any Jamaican will probably tell you that the best jerk can be found in Portland parish, specifically, Boston Bay. A cluster of jerk shops sit right on the road as you pass through Boston Bay (really there isn’t much else in Boston!) and you can take your pick of the stalls that are open. The touts may help you with that decision, but I prefer to shake them off and make my decision on jerk shops by sheer luck.
Most of the shops will serve have the same menu: jerk chicken, jerk pork, jerk fish, maybe some lobster, baked sweet potato or yam, and festival. And beer. Sit on teensy wooden stools and eat chunks of fire-grilled jerk meat with your hands. And then take some for the road. Seriously.
Where to Stay in Boston Bay Portland:
5. Best Bar in Jamaica? Floyd’s Pelican Bar!
Not as secret as it once was, but the Pelican Bar still is pretty awesome and definitely somewhere you want to hit if you like the ocean, alcohol, boat rides, and bars that are built in weird locations.
The Pelican Bar was built by Floyd about a mile off the South Coast of Jamaica near Black River. The rickety wood bar is built up on stilts and serves up rum punch, beer, and lobster on a daily basis. Boats flock to Pelican Bar every day, and folks sit out in the sun, swim in the shallow waters and generally live a somewhat pirate life. Floyd and the boat drivers seem to have a dominos game constantly going, while you can explore the license plates, t-shirts, mementos, and badges travellers from around the world have brought to adorn the walls. Refreshments are not cheap at Pelican, but it’s a “When in Rome” type atmosphere, so just drink the dang rum! And then jump into the sea, since there is, ahem, no formal restroom.
The easiest way to reach Pelican Bar is to go from either Black River or Treasure Beach, but you can also do a day trip from Negril and maybe even Montego Bay, but, yikes, that’s a long day… May as well just stay at Treasure Beach
Where to Stay in Treasure Beach:
6. Best Mountain to Climb? The Blue Mountain!
Jamaica’s interior is just as spectacular as it’s coastline, really it is! The Blue Mountains are home to Jamaica’s highest peak, at 2256 meters. The region is also the hub of coffee production on the island, growing some of the Caribbean’s top rated coffee beans. As such, the hiking, coffee tours, and mountain biking are just some of the activities in the area. If you feel like conquering that summit, most people do it early morning to catch the sunrise!
7. Oldest Golf Course? The Manchester Golf Course
So this won’t be up everyone’s alley, but the Manchester Golf Course in Mandeville is the Western Hemisphere’s oldest golf course. It was built in 1867 by those golf loving British colonialists and still is a pretty neat place. Back in the 19th-century there were no tractors or bulldozers, so there are no long flat fairways here, and instead of building obstacles like water and sand traps, the natural vegetation and rolling hills do the job. “Just hit over the bamboo”, was what his caddy told my Dad when he golfed the course. And yes, the caddy comes with the $40 green fee! You can rent clubs and if you don’t want to walk, there are a few carts to bomb around in!
8. Best View in Jamaica? Firefly!
Firefly is one of the most special places in Jamaican but it is rarely visited. Sitting atop a high hill in St. Mary Parish, Firefly was the late in life home to Noel Coward, prolific writer, composer, actor and epic party host. Coward came to Jamaica to visit his friend Ian Fleming at Fleming’s home, Goldeneye, in 1948 and basically stayed. He first moved into a home on the coast, but then found the phenomenal spot overlooking Blue Harbor and Port Maria in 1955, where he built Firefly.
A diminutive home, Coward clearly built this escape for peace and quiet to write. But then when he wasn’t writing, Noel invited some of the world’s hugest celebrities over for infamous pool parties and unparalleled views. In 1973, Noel passed away at Firefly, and the house was eventually given to the Jamaican Heritage Trust Fund who still administers it to this day.
The good news is, Firefly is open to the public and if you can get up the unkempt road to the house, a tour guide will be glad to host you. Another neat part of the property is a small rocky fortress used as a hideout by Captain Morgan and the rest of his pirate friends!
Do you have a top-secret gem in Jamaica? Do I need to add to the list? I’m always looking to explore more, so hit me up in the comments below and send me even further afield!
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