A mountainous island, located in the heart of the Caribbean Sea, Jamaica offers vacationers a unique getaway that suits both adventure-seekers and beach bums alike. It's just a short, four-hour direct flight from Toronto with service from major airlines like Air Canada and WestJet as well as charters like Sunwing. Jamaica is the largest English-speaking island in the Caribbean making language barriers a non-issue, though the island dialect "patois" demands you listen very intently, especially when chatting up the very friendly locals not working in the hospitality sector.
Where to go: The 10,000 square kilometre island is home to many popular destinations, each offering a unique holiday. Ocho Rios and Negril, home to the ever popular RIU, Hedonist, Sandals and Beaches Resorts, are traditional favourites for all-inclusive lovers, but a visit to the more remote South Coast provides an authentic Jamaican experience where you can roam in the farming community, engage with its residents and really take in the beauty of the natural vegetation.
When to visit: Jamaica's peak tourist season runs in the winter from mid-December to late April while its rainy season runs from May to mid November. Like most Caribbean destinations, Jamaica is prone to hurricanes August through to early October so do keep that in mind when planning your vacation. A trip off-peak can save you quite a bit, however be prepared for the possibility of short, intense tropical storms daily. At peak, temperatures are hot (high 20s) but very comfortable through to the evening. I forgot to pack a jacket or pashmina but was pleasantly surprised at how warm it stayed after sunset.Where to stay: If you love the idea of relaxing off the beaten path, head to Jake's Hotel in Treasure Beach. While the drive to the South Coast is about 2.5 hours from Sangster International Airport and through winding mountain roads, it's absolutely worth the drive. This rustic property featuring 21 unique one bedroom suites, six cottages and four villas just exudes charm, so much so, that guests (including celebs like Beyonce's sis, Solange Knowles) book a full year in advance to ensure they have their favourite accommodations and the staff is so lovely they become family to visitors whether they visit just once, or come year after year. Rates range from $95 - $1500 USD per night.
What to do: Take a boat tour of the Black River or visit the famous Pelican Bar, an actual spot to get food and drink nearly a mile at Sea. If you're looking for something a little more thrilling, try zip lining or tubing at YS Falls or and if you're a history buff, visit Appleton Estates to learn about and taste Jamaican rum.
If you do stay at Jake's you can also start the day with a yoga class that includes a breathtaking view, take a bike tour around the farming and fishing village of Treasure Beach, and then let the crashing waves lull you to sleep with a massage or a body wrap at Driftwood Spa.
What to eat: Fresh seafood is always on the menu in Jamaica, particularly so in the South Coast, where you can literally walk down to the shore to purchase directly from the fishermen. I recommend the juicy Jerk Crab at Jack Sprat for dinner and curried lobster at Cloggy's by the Beach for lunch. Both are superb with an icy cold Red Stripe beer. For breakfast I thought I died and went to heaven with a calalloo omelette until I tried the national dish of ackee and saltfish at Jakes. Most meals are priced in Jamaican Dollars and work out to be really reasonable. Breakfast under $10, lunch and dinner under $20.
Though there is plenty to do by day, lights do tend to go out not long after the sun sets in Treasure Beach. If you're looking for a vacation that has a bit more to offer after dark, check the blog in January when I'll share the full scoop on the bustling city of Montego Bay or head to visitjamaicanow.com to start planning your own adventure.