Jamaica’s in

by Jo.Cooke

From waterfalls to beaches, Jamaica offers adventure after adventure. Writing a guidebook to this idyllic isle is a tough job - but someone's got to do it

Of all those jewel-like islands in the Caribbean Sea, there is one that has a reputation for being larger than life. Jamaica. It is full of surprises. And every time I head back, I always discover something new. I don’t even have to work very hard at it.
When it comes to sun, sea, sand, palm trees and heady cocktails, Jamaica is a fully paid-up member of the paradise islands club. These holiday essentials are a given, part of your all-inclusive package almost. But be greedy; seek out some added extras.
If you manage to leave the beach just once, make for Dunn’s River Falls near Ocho Rios. It’s not the most visited attraction in Jamaica for nothing. Some say it is overrated, but for all its faults – too many tourists with whom to share it, ugly concrete pathways beside it – Dunn’s River Falls is incredibly uplifting. Its roaring cascades rush through the rainforest, creating a silky mist. And sometimes this mist catches the sunlight to form mini rainbows. Climb to the top aided by a guide for the full experience.
Travel snobs say YS Falls, on the less-developed south coast of Jamaica, is better. But really it’s just different. As I waited in a line of just three to pay the entrance, I saw a tiny hummingbird hovering as it drank nectar from a delicate red flower. YS Falls is tranquil, peaceful, almost meditative, while Dunn’s River Falls is more brash and spectacular. But at YS you’ll feel like you’ve stumbled across a secret.
On the south side of Jamaica you can also join a crocodile-spotting boat trip along the Black River or sample the range of rums distilled at the Appleton Estate. Their tasting tour will leave you weak at the knees. Beach bums who seek a laidback resort should head for Treasure Beach. It’s a seaside retreat where fishermen still go about their business, lobster suppers don’t break the bank and Jakes Resort offers casual-chic rooms on the waterfront.
One notch up in terms of bustle is Negril to the west. When you walk on to Long Bay - its seven-mile stretch of soft, white sand - you may feel like you’re stepping into a dream. The baby-blue horizon merges with powder-blue waters and time seems to stand still (unless your visit coincides with the lively spring break crowd, that is). By night it’s a different story. The folk at Alfred’s Ocean Palace crank up their PA system for a beach party. Locals and tourists alike then take to their sandy dance floor.
If you are looking for somewhere to stay, Couples Swept Away in Negril is a hotel that seems to have it just right - large airy rooms with hammocks on your private veranda, hot tubs edged by tropical flora, waiters who bring cocktails when you raise a flag… it’s a hard place to leave, and I tried to hatch a plan not to. But Jamaica’s wealth of attractions called.
I checked out, tasted and learned to prepare the spices that bring Jamaican food to life at Walkerswood sauce and seasoning factory, got an insight into village and plantation life on the Hilton High Day Tour, and had a morning of fun river tubing. It’s so easy - you just float downstream to where a fiery jerk chicken lunch awaits.
The possibilities are endless and I’m running out of space to tell you about them all. That’s also the biggest challenge facing me as I continue writing Frommer’s first edition Jamaica Day by Day guidebook. But I shall struggle on. It’s a tough job but somebody has to do it, as they say. And I thank my lucky stars that that somebody is me.