Marley's ghost: on the Jamaican reggae legend trail

by Judith.Baker

Following a Bob Marley trail through Jamaica takes in the colourful capital, a lively beach resort and the fabulous countryside in between

To follow reggae legend Bob Marley from cradle to grave takes about two minutes, stepping from the house where he lived as a child to the mausoleum where he is laid to rest in St Ann, in the north of Jamaica. We chose to start the reggae trail in Kingston and then took in Jamaica’s lush interior en route to Ocho Rios, but the highlight of the trip was the music.
Everybody on the five-hour Zion Bus tour taking us from Ocho Rios to the Bob Marley Mausoleum, Nine Mile, was singing. The tour includes lashings of rum punch and videos of Bob’s concerts, which made it impossible not to join in. The village of Nine Mile in the rural parish of St Ann is where Bob Marley was born and where he is buried, along with his half brother. His body is encased in a large square tomb covered by a simple cloth.
The site is treated with great reverence and loyal fans come from all over the world to lay tributes to Jamaica’s most famous son. A stream of fast-talking Rastafarian guides, most of them claiming to be close family friends, gave us endless detail about Bob’s life. They say sometimes Bob’s mum, Nessa, will pop out to say hello but she wasn’t around the day we went.
Bob’s final resting place is twice the size of the house he occupied when young, which is next door. The small house is painted beige with streaks of red, yellow, and green - the colours of the Rastafari.
We had started our journey 80 miles south in Kingston, where even Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall were photographed playing the bongos outside the Bob Marley Museum, during their whirlwind tour of the Caribbean in 2008. Their Royal Highnesses joined Bob’s widow, Rita Marley, at a mini concert staged in the grounds, and they are said to be keen reggae fans. The museum is housed in Bob Marley’s old house and recording studio on Hope Road.
Kingston is not always top of the list for visitors to Jamaica but is well worth a visit before embarking on the journey to the big beach resorts of the north. We found it perfectly safe to wander around the historic centre, crammed with 17th-century buildings; see some Jamaican art at the National Gallery and some tropical blooms at the Royal Botanic Gardens.
A couple of doors from Bob Marley’s museum is Devon House, which was built in the late 19th century by George Stiebel, Jamaica's first black millionaire. It has some pleasant restaurants off the courtyard garden, but we settled for a couple of patties on the lawn.
Before heading north to the beaches, from Kingston we took a ride out into the dramatic Blue Mountains, which form the backbone of the island. There I came across the Twyfords; a British couple who 30 years ago made a home perched in the mountains and grow their own coffee using traditional methods.
The interior of Jamaica houses a number of fabulous eco-lodges and rainforest tours. Three thousand feet above sea level, the Blue Mountains are popular with artists and birdwatchers who come to see hummingbirds or the rarely spotted Jamaican lizard cuckoo. Lime Tree Farm in the Blue Mountains is a quiet retreat, about an hour and a half's drive from Kingston, where you can taste great home-style Jamaican food such as traditional breakfasts of breadfruit and fresh ackee, spicy callaloo soup and fried fresh fish.  We stopped for lunch at Strawberry Hill, owned by Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records and credited with bringing Marley’s music to the masses.
Blackwell’s Island Outpost group operates a number of high-end resorts in Jamaica, including Strawberry Hill. Goldeneye, the previous home of Ian Fleming where all the James Bond books were written, is among the most exclusive of these resorts.
The famous James Bond beach can be found at Orcabessa, just 20 minutes from the hustle and bustle of Ocho Rios. When we eventually arrived in ‘Ochy’, as it is affectionately known, we found Orcabessa and took a guided waverunner tour, which passed Goldeneye as well as a number of other impressive residences of the rich and famous. James Bond Beach is also home to many international and local concerts, including the Bob Marley Tribute, which takes place throughout the year. 
Away from the Bond girls and the many all-inclusive beach resorts that dominate the coastline, Jamaica, which is the second largest island in the Caribbean, has a huge personality. Despite its lively reputation, it is one of the safest destinations in the Caribbean. Jamaicans are the Liverpudlians of the Caribbean, they love nothing more than wise–cracking, and although reggae is taken very seriously here, most other things aren’t.


Restaurants near Ocho Rios

Cardiff Hall Restaurant (Ricketts Drive, Cardiff Hall, Runaway Bay)
Ocho Rios Jerk Centre (Dacosta Drive, Ocho Rios)
Moonraker Jamaican Bar & Grill 

Restaurants in Kingston

Starapples Restaurant (94 Hope Road, Kingston; near the Bob Marley Museum and Devon House)  

Tour operators

ITC Classics, Tropical Sky, Thomson, Caribtours all feature holidays to Jamaica.