Beyond the all-singing, all-dancing resorts, Jo Cooke takes us on a treasure hunt of the island’s hidden gems
Jamaica has a lot to brag about. Home to the fastest man on earth, the inspiration for the James Bond novels, birthplace of reggae and the all-inclusive resort, plus the producer of arguably the world’s finest coffee.
It’s big – the third largest island in the Caribbean; proud – last year it celebrated 50 years of independence; and wild – its interior is thickly carpeted with rainforests, morass and rugged mountains.
The north-coast beach resorts of Negril, Montego Bay and Ocho Rios have always proved a hit. The perfect line-up of palm trees, white sand and shallow turquoise waters, backed by hotels offering every après-beach indulgence known to man.
However, if your clients want to escape the crowds, seek a more authentically Jamaican experience or like to go where the celebrities go, read on.
I spend at least three months a year in Jamaica, and here’s my insider’s guide to the island’s secret hideaways.
The sublime south coast
For those who fancy venturing off-the-beaten track while still staying at a luxury all-inclusive, the 360-room Sandals Whitehouse European Village & Spa is just the ticket.
Standing alone on one of the island’s most idyllic stretches of unspoilt coastline, the hotel edges a Robinson Crusoe-style swathe of white sand backed by a tangle of tropical foliage, with the translucent blue waters offering fabulous swimming and snorkelling.
The property itself is pristine and beautifully landscaped. A grand piazza is ringed by shops, eateries and bars, four pools and a sports complex with tennis and squash courts.
Outside this secluded palace of pampering, clients are closeto some of the south coast’s sexiest attractions.
See or even swim with the crocs on a Black River Safari pontoon ride, or take a fishing boat out to the Pelican Bar for a Red Stripe and lobster lunch. This bamboo shack is about a mile offshore and surrounded by sand banks.
Inland, the seven-tiered cascading waterfalls at YS Falls are nestled within a secluded valley on the less-travelled South Coast. Zip wire across the falls or follow the nature trail.
Close by, Bamboo Avenue, a two-and-a-half-mile tunnel of bamboo that encases the road, makes for a pleasant drive, or steel yourself for a taste-testing session and tour of Appleton Rum Estate.
Book it: Virgin Holidays offers seven nights’ all-inclusive at Sandals Whitehouse European Village & Spa, including flights from Gatwick and transfers from £1,749 based on two adults, sharing a luxury beachfront room for March departures.
0844 557 3933
Blissful Blue Mountains
If being beside the seaside isn’t your client’s top priority, suggest they head up to Strawberry Hill in the foothills of the Blue Mountains. This sumptuous boutique hotel has a bird’s-eye view of Kingston.
When swimming in the infinity pool, you have the feeling you could touch the capital’s harbour, and at night, the city’s lights twinkle like bulbs on a Christmas tree beneath you. The property’s 11 cottages are colonial clapboard-style with gingerbread fretwork.
They stand on stilts and rise fromthe rainforest foliage that surrounds them, giving the effect they themselves are blooms.
From this base, clients have the best of both worlds. They can descend into frenetic Kingston to see the capital’s top attractions, which include touring Bob Marley’s former home, visiting Port Royal where Captain Morgan and Blackbeard lived their sinful existence, or heading out to the beaches of Lyme Cay where wealthy Kingstonians play.
Back in the tranquil hills, biking, birdwatching and hiking are on offer together with tours of coffee plantations that produce the exquisite Blue Mountain coffee.
Book it: Seasons offers seven nights’ room-only at Strawberry Hill (pictured below) from £1,880, including flights and transfers. The price is based on two adults sharing a one-bedroom suite, for a February 5 departure.
Star-studded Port Antonio
A tropical paradise at the eastern tip of the island, Port Antonio is a mix of verdant rainforest, fabulous beaches and home to the swanky Errol Flynn Marina. The actor, along with starlets including Bette Davis and Ginger Rogers, played here in the 1950s.
These days it’s musicians such as Björk, Gwen Stefani and Rihanna you’re most likely to spot or even neighbour if you stay in the luxury cottage cabins of Geejam.
The town’s most sought-after des res has five types of accommodation – three with outdoor hot tubs, one suite and a villa with pool.
They’re set on a hillside above the coast, shrouded from each other, and the property’s state-of-the-art recording studio, by an array of giant palms and ferns.
Geejam also has its own private beach decorated with deftly placed mirrors that reflect the scene back to you as you sprawl on the complimentary cabanas.
There are some tantalising attractions, too. Seek out the remote and rural Reach Falls with their curtain-like cascade, or follow in Errol Flynn’s wake by taking a bamboo raft trip down the Rio Grande River. The actor and lothario invented this excursion to entertain his ladies with each raft having a seat only big enough for two.
The Blue Lagoon, a pool of electric-blue water, and a location for the movie Cocktail starring Tom Cruise and Elisabeth Shue, is on your doorstep, as is Frenchman’s Cove. One of Jamaica’s finest beaches, its clear waters are cocooned by limestone bluffs and scenes from Knight and Day also starring Cruise and Cameron Diaz were shot here.
Port Antonio is Jamaica’s beauty queen and attracts the rich and beautiful, but best to warn clients, there is also more rain here than the likes of Montego Bay and Negril.
Book it: Caribtours offers seven nights’ bed and breakfast at Geejam from £2,299, based on two sharing the Rocksteady suite, with flights and transfers.
020 7751 0660
Author Ian Fleming fell in love with this part of Jamaica in 1946. Purchasing a piece of land that was then a donkey racing track, he built himself a home where he penned all the James Bond novels.
It’s now been converted into a five-bedroom villa that’s fully staffed and one of the top-end options on offer at the sleek and funky Goldeneye Hotel & Resort.
The property edges a double bay of private beach that meets a lagoon. On this pretty loop of inland water, with an island at its centre, stands a collection of elegant wooden cottages that come equipped with kayaks.
You can paddle these back round to the beach where an arc of seaside cottages sit right on the sand.
Oracabessa is a charming, undeveloped area of the north coast and an ideal base for those wishing to explore the attractions of Port Antonio and Ocho Rios while staying somewhere exclusive and secluded.
The resort also offers guided bike rides to playwright Noel Coward’s former home Firefly, a hilltop bijou with tremendous views of the coast.
Book it: Elegant Resorts offers seven nights’ B&B at Goldeneye Hotel & Resort from £2,995 based on two sharing a lagoon suite, with flights from Gatwick and transfers based on a March 6 departure.
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