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Travel Jamaica: The Hottest Ways to Lose Yourself to Island Life

Enjoy all the amazing aspects of Jamaica. Enjoy all the amazing aspects of Jamaica.

 

Sitting on your butt beachside with a piña colada and ordering room service doesn’t take a lot of planning; discovering the eclectic beauty and otherworldly treasures of Jamaica, however, does. Truly drinking in the culture and flavors of this Caribbean destination is more for the temerarious, not the timid. Every hairpin twist and turn reveals either a natural wonder or a colossal blunder, depending on whose directions you take.

We visited two distinctly different boutique hotels in Jamaica decidedly not on the radar of the Sandals all-inclusive rum-soaked set: Rockhouse, in Negril, and Jakes, in Treasure Beach. Both boast accommodations for every budget, delicious traditional food, warm hospitality, distinctive spa experiences and unique activities within a stone’s throw or boat ride of the property. Additionally, both maintain charities that give back to the local community and a commitment to the environment through green initiatives and solar energy.

We also traversed outside certain zones of comfort, navigated a rental car and haggled with vendors. Along the way we were consistently told, “No problem, mon.” Easy to say, right? As we discovered over dinner and many Red Stripes with the locals, there are no road signs in Jamaica. If you’re up for an adventure, follow in our footsteps, avoiding-the-missteps, and your vacation experience should go off with little conflict.

Rock the House

Rockhouse (www.rockhousehotel.com) is precariously perched along the breathtaking and craggy cliffs of Pristine Cove in Negril. The 8-acre property consists of numerous freestanding buildings connected by a series of winding paths and bridges cutting through lush tropical gardens and over hair-raising crevasses.

Dripping with romance, thatch-roofed villas with private walkways provide lovers stunning 180-degree views of the sea, secluded outdoor showers and king-size four-poster beds. As room service is available, hanging in the cave all day is awfully tempting, though there is no resisting the turquoise water merely feet away and accessible via stairs and ladder. Climb down for a swim or snorkel, proceeding with care as the stairs are slippery and there’s no lifeguard on duty. Lesser swimmers can take a dip in the saltwater horizon pool situated 60 feet above the cliffs.

Adjacent to the pool is the Rockhouse spa, a temple-like structure where one can enjoy signature treatments such as the detoxifying Blue Mountain Coffee Scrub.

Ingredients include Blue Mountain coffee blended with orange, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and brown sugar. Notably, the spa doesn’t play your typical annoying music a la Gregorian chants. You are simply soothed by chirping birds, a nice departure we think.

Sustain your bliss by relaxing on your dedicated sunbathing deck, and then pop over to Pushcart Restaurant & Rum Bar for the mouthwatering jerk chicken or the vegetarian banger’s mash. The employees at Rockhouse are genuinely kind, helpful and friendly, not just to the guests, but to each other as well. To wit, even before setting foot on the property, our spirits were lifted by Rockhouse’s simple mission statement, which reads: “The objective of the hotel is to responsibly and sustainably balance the interests of all the parties: giving the guests an amazing vacation, making our team partners in the success, taking care of the environment, while putting back into the community through the Rockhouse Foundation.”

Every Wednesday, owner Damian Salmon and hotel manager Charlotte Wallace host a cocktail party welcoming guests and educating them on the foundation. On Thursdays, guests are given the opportunity to tour either the library or the school, both of which benefit from the philanthropic efforts.

For a different day trip, Charlotte recommended the Blue Hole just past the Roaring River. Blue Hole is a beautiful sinkhole surrounded by a landscaped garden full of ginger torch, a sizable pink bloom sometimes as large as your head, and Heliconius, a genus of tropical butterflies with wings that are usually black, marked with green, crimson and white. It’s on the private property of a Rasta called Esau, so make sure to say hello and behave. Entry is $8, and you’ll need a guide to get in and out of there.

Good-bye, Rockville

Upon leaving Rockhouse for Jakes, we encountered quite easily the evilest entity in Jamaica, and it isn’t lurking in the bush. No, it’s the dreaded pothole, located about every five feet in indiscriminate places along the stretch of roads between Negril and Treasure Beach — “the good road,” according to locals. And Google Maps were an absolute disaster. Lesser relationships might have crumbled under the pressure, but we managed to keep our cool and smile every time a local told us that Treasure Beach was “just down the road.” Which road? There are no signs? Maybe we were just too blissed out by the spa experience to care, or perhaps it was adrenaline for what lay ahead on Jamaica’s south coast.

One Love: Vacationing with a Purpose

It was no accident that we made Rockhouse and Jakes our vacation destinations. After learning that both properties are not only kind to the environment but their local communities as well, booking time there was a no-brainer. Brothers Paul and Damian Salmon started the Rockhouse Foundation in 2003 and have since fully renovated and expanded the Negril All Age School and its primary feeder pre-K, the Negril Basic School, as well as the Negril Public Library. The Rockhouse Foundation has invested more than $1,000,000 in these projects and associated support programs. Guests are invited (but in no way expected) to tour the schools and the library, donate time or resources, or “pack for a purpose.” The foundation’s website keeps a running list of needed items should guests find room in their luggage to carry supplies.

Jason Henzell, of Jakes, and his sister Laura both sit on the board of directors of BREDS, the Treasure Beach Foundation. Henzell founded the organization in 1998 along with Aaron Laufer. Their goal was to highlight the needs of the community through tourism. They now provide members of the community with education, training programs and emergency healthcare, and they are set to launch a 15-acre sports complex for all the residents of Treasure Bay to enjoy. Henzell is overseeing the entire project. The facility has a full cricket field, soccer fields and other recreational facilities.

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Jamaican fashion week might also be fun to visit if that’s your thing.
Last modified on Thursday, 01 August 2013 13:35

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