You've definitely heard about Jamaica and its breathtaking nature, white sand, crystal-clear sea, and luxurious resorts. We visited the famous town of Negril, the stunning YS Falls, the port town of Ocho Rios, the diverse Rocklands Bird's Sanctuary, and much more. We also encountered its national symbols, like the endemic hummingbird. If you want to find out more about Jamaica and our Jamaican trip, continue reading!
We land in Montego Bay as our starting point, and move on to Negril, which is located on the westernmost tip of Jamaica and, as we read in the guidebook, boasts a 10km long beach, white sand and blue sea. It has a population of about 4,000 and although it's a resort town, the locals outnumber the tourists in the centre. On the first evening of the first day, we go to the westernmost cliffs of the island to see the sunset at the lighthouse, which was built in 1895. Just next door is the famous Rick's Café, where tourists from the hotel resorts are brought to enjoy the sunset while sipping cocktails or watching local wrestlers jumping off the cliffs into the sea. Sunsets are really famous here, so both Rick's Café and the lighthouse are crowded with locals and tourists, which doesn’t really fit with the idyllic romantic idea of calmly watching the sun setting over the sea.
The next day we arranged a rental car and driver and set off for a trip to Black River, a town and river in the southwestern part of Jamaica. The town gets its name from the river, which is the longest on the island. It is named after the thick layer of decaying vegetation and mud at the bottom of the river. It is home to crocodiles, water birds – especially herons, and mangroves grow around it. We board a boat and take an hour-long tour of the river. We see herons and other species of birds, and also crocodiles, which give us the impression they are rather tame animals, as they respond to the whistle from the boat captain, and we get some great photographs. On the way back to Negril we stopped at YS Falls. We can't get to the falls by car because they are on private land in the middle of the wilderness, so we take a tractor-drawn carriage. The falls are really beautiful, adventurers can jump into the water from a rope like Tarzan. We skipped that attraction, but the nature walk around the falls was beautiful and calming.
We want to explore the northern part of Jamaica, so we head along the coast through Montego Bay to Ocho Rios, which is close to the place where Christopher Columbus landed more than 500 years ago. Another big attraction near the town is the limestone Dunn's River Falls, one of the national symbols. I thought it would be something similarly picturesque to YS Falls, but the reality shocked my expectations. These were Disneyland style waterfalls.
There were groups of Americans milling about, who hand in hand with a local guide, were climbing the falls upstream and enthusiastically shouting and screaming. I didn't understand what was going on, so for me it was a fascinating spectacle to watch a group of American adults playing some kind of silly noisy game in the pond. Where was the peace, quiet and romance of yesterday's YS Falls?! I listened to a lecture, that on the contrary, this is how the collective spirit is strengthened and reinforced, which is what Americans are most proud of and characterised by. The town of Ocho Rios itself is small, but it is a port for long-distance cruise ships sailing through the Caribbean, so there are a lot of tourists there. We don't stay in town for long and I fix my mood in the Green Grotoo Caves system, where we are almost the only visitors. They let us walk there alone, so after the experience of the waterfalls I am able here to regain my calm and balance.
In the evening we take a taxi to Bourbon Beach, about 8 km away, where a concert of reggae music legend Gregory Isaacs is taking place. Before we left for Jamaica, we were warned by friends that it was dangerous there, that tourists were being mugged, so we went to the concert with minimal money and without any valuables, including a camera. The concert was not held on the beach, but in an adjacent bar and 90% of the audience were white, mostly American, so it was more of a snobby tourist event and I regretted not bringing my camera. There were 3 opening acts doing Bob Marley impersonations which got us pretty pumped up and after midnight Gregory himself took the stage. You could tell he was on drugs, he played for 40 minutes and then left without saying goodbye, but it was still a treat to see him perform live up close, especially as he sadly passed away six months later.
We also wanted to experience the outback and places where we wouldn't trip over piles of American tourists, so Mansie, our driver, took us to Rocklands Bird's Sanctuary, located in the St James Paris area just outside of Montego Bay. This is a bird sanctuary that was founded in 1958 by a Jamaican woman, Lisa Iososa, who has dedicated her life to the conservation of local birds. Right at the entrance we were given bottles of sweet solution by Fritz, the reserve manager, to hold against the raised index finger of our other hand and wait. After a while, the sweet smell attracted a small hummingbird, who fearlessly perched on my index finger and sucked the sweet liquid. It was a treat to see hummingbirds up close like that. We also spotted the local endemic hummingbird, which is a national symbol of Jamaica and is called Doctor Bird (Trochylus polytmus). It was wonderfully calming to just sit there, listen to the sounds of the birds and see what was flying where. I was quite envious of Fritz's work at that moment. We liked it a lot. On the way back we drove past Cockpit Country, which is the most naturally interesting part of Jamaica, located in the northwest of the island. It has formed over thousands of years on limestone bedrock, creating interesting and beautiful limestone cliffs. It's said to be a great place to trek, but that'll have to be for another time.
Of course we spent some time by the sea. The Caribbean did not disappoint us with its cerulean blue colour and white beaches. As I mentioned, Negril has a 10 km long beach, so you can definitely find quiet spots where you're not jumping over lounge chairs of distracted teenagers and hearing monotonous bass songs from a masked sound system from the bar. We weren't particularly bothered by vendors selling all sorts of things on the beach either. I dare say that the beach bums at Bibione are more obtrusive and more abundant. As for drugs, supposedly it is officially forbidden to use drugs in public, meaning even smoking marijuana. I don't know how true that is, but I felt like every third person there was high. We weren't offered drugs on the street or on the beach, but it's not a problem to get them there. There are frequent police patrols on the roads, the local drivers are very strict about obeying traffic laws, they have respect for the police. Our driver Mansie even checked if we were wearing our seatbelts, so definitely don't expect the Asian road chaos of "stronger wins and whoever honks the loudest gets to drive". We were never stopped or checked by police patrols, but we were warned by our driver not to take any drugs, including weed, on our trips just in case of checks. As far as safety, we had no problem anywhere, nor did we feel threatened anywhere. We were mainly in tourist-exposed areas and we were not in the capital city of Kingston for example, so the situation may be very different there. But Jamaica won us over with its laid-back vibe, and I'm sure it wasn't just the fact that I felt like every third person there was being scrutinized. It's definitely worth a visit and we promised ourselves we'd be back sometime.