News 9 best things to do in Jamaica

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9 best things to do in Jamaica

Jamaica is the Caribbean turned up to 11, from the beaches to the food to the reggae.

Jamaica is the Caribbean turned up to 11, an island where palm-and-beach pretty is superseded by history, topography, jerk spice and that beating reggae soul.

Bob Marley, Montego Bay, jerk seasoning, sprinting sensations – in many ways, Jamaica feels the realest, most culturally pervasive island of the Caribbean. Certainly, for a tiny nation, it punches well above its weight in terms of global influence – who doesn’t know the words to No Woman, No Cry…? Here’s how to get an authentic taste of this spice-hot isle.

1. Freebie: Meet the People

To expand your island interactions, sign up for Visit Jamaica’s free Meet the People Program. It is designed to hook tourists up with local volunteer ambassadors who have similar professions or interests, from musicians and artists to chefs, farmers and nurses. Simply, it’ll give you a better idea of what makes real Jamaicans tick.

2. Tour: Tuff Gong

Tuff Gong is the heartbeat of Jamaica. The Kingston-based record label was set up by Bob Marley in 1965, and moved to its current location on Marcus Garvey Drive after his death. The studio still has The Legend’s own piano; its mastering room is where ‘No Woman, No Cry’ came into the world. It is reggae ground zero. An ‘edu-taining’ tour leads from the rehearsal room and recording booth – home to the mixing board used on Marley’s 1970s albums, and still in daily use – to the mastering room, vinyl-stamping plant and hallowed Tuff Gong archives, where a guide can help you select a classic.

3. Culture: Last Sundays

Kingston’s National Gallery of Jamaica is the best showcase of island art: displays range from indigenous Taino carvings and 18th-century oils of slave plantations to modernist sculpture and surrealist canvases. However, on the last Sunday of every month, the gallery is injected with fresh blood, hosting a never-the-same programme of dance, theatre, music, discussion, even yoga; performances sometimes swing leftfield, as the players react to the artworks on the walls.

4. Activity: Jamnesia Surf Club

Icah Wilmot is Jamaica’s only pro surfer. And though we can’t all slice through a churning barrel with such panache, highlighted dreadlocks splaying in our wake, we can all stay at his place, Jamnesia. The Wilmot family surf-camp is boardy heaven. Beginners can take lessons while amateurs can hire kit, get their kit fixed, bunk down in simple rooms and wait for the right swell in the library, well-stocked with ‘surf porn’.

5. Hike: Blue Mountain Peak

Handy that the Blue Mountains are so renowned for their coffee – a shot of Joe will be required for this. Expect a wee-hours start (very wee: 2-3am) for an assault on 2,256m Blue Mountain Peak, the island’s zenith. Most hikers hit the trail early to reach the top for sunrise, before the mists start to descend and obscure the view. Descending in daylight reveals the slopes’ full vibrancy: a riot of soapwood trees, mosses, ferns, lianas and bamboo.

mists in the Blue Mountains, Jamaica

6. Beach: Frenchman’s Cove, Port Antonio

Billionaires used to bathe here. But now that the once uber-luxe Frenchman’s Cove Resort, built in the 1960s, has fallen on harder times, even proles can enjoy one of the loveliest beaches in the Caribbean (albeit for a small fee). The magic is in the setting: a river wends through a jungly valley, pooling in a jade lagoon and tickling out to the turquoise Caribbean via a slither of glimmer-white sand. It feels secluded and special, especially if you stay past sundown, when the fireflies start to party.

Frenchman’s Cove, Jamaica

7. Adventure: Horseback Ride ’n’ Swim

Bareback riding into the Caribbean Sea? Well, hot diggity if this doesn’t tap into both your inner romantic and your inner cowboy. Chukka Caribbean’s Horseback Ride ’n’ Swim includes a lazy trot via the village of Pumpkin Bottom and a ruined 18th-century sugar plantation with a saddle-less ride right into the balmy waves.

8. Region: Cockpit Country

Cockpit Country isn’t ‘the Caribbean’ – not the image most of us are sold, anyway. This chunk of inland western Jamaica is a wild sprawl of eroded limestone, pocked by cone-shaped hummocks and split by gullies. Take a tour with the Southern Trelawny Environmental Agency, an organisation dedicated to protecting and promoting the region. Options include walking the forest trails to learn exotic bird identification and local folklore, and conquering rope climbs and waterfalls to explore inside Quashie Cave.

9. Eat: Scotchies

In Jamaica, be a jerk. That is, eat meat the local way: rubbed with zingy jerk spice, pit-smoked or barbecued, and served with bammy flatbread, fried dumplings or festival (sweet rolls). Scotchies, which has alfresco-dining branches in Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and New Kingston, is no-frills king of jerk; hunks of pork and chicken are machete-hacked and served on foil, while reggae beats mingle with the meat-smoke. Just beware the hot sauce…

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