If someone says Jamaica vacay, the picture that pops into one's head is probably going to have something to do with a sandy beach, azure water, palm trees, a rum drink, and some Bob Marley playing in the background. And yes, that's an iconic and accurate image of the Caribbean island that escaped unscathed during last year's hurricane season. But there's another equally beautiful side, one that speaks to nature lovers, coffee addicts, and those who seek more than just a pure beach holiday.
It's perhaps not as widely known, but Jamaica is home to mountains-shocking, huh? The Blue Mountains, specifically, are 3,100 feet above sea level, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and actually where some of the planet's most coveted coffee-producing fields are located. Instead of spending every day on the sand, lovers of off-the-beaten-path experiences might consider switching it up in favor of cool, misty air: hiking through Jurassic Park-like greenery to views of both ends of the island or a 4,000-foot-high coffee estate (Twyman's).
Many feel this part of the island is the true Jamaica, as the capital city of Kingston is not far and is where the cultural heart beats. There, it's worth seeing the produce at Coronation Market, local graffiti art on Fleet Street, and hear reggae at the source (or check out the Bob Marley Museum). The best Jamaican patties on the island can be found at Devon House Bakery, where sweet teeth can be sated with famous ice cream at Devon House I-Cream. Back in the mountains, there are plenty of opportunities for mouthwatering dining experiences, from local favorite spots like Life Yard, cooking fresh Rastafarian cooking, to roadside jerk shacks and coconut stands on the mountainside.
The place to sleep is Strawberry Hill, a super intimate and iconic dream of a resort owned by Island Records' Chris Blackwell, who introduced Marley and reggae to the world. The musician himself stayed at the hotel in the '70s, and other Rock & Roll Hall-of-Famers have called it their temporary home during holidays over the years. On a clear day, one can see 40 miles from the infinity pool, which rises over the city.
There are 12 cottages and villas with private porches or wrap-around villas, some of which are on stilts and all of which have hand-carved fretwork with unique themes, such as lions to pay homage to Marley. Four-poster beds make for a romantic setting among antique furnishings and handmade linens. The spa offers heavenly couples' treatments incorporating herbs from the 800-acre Pantrepant farm, owned by Blackwell in the heart of the island. The multi-ethnic restaurant boasts epic views of Kingston below, along with many ingredients sourced from the farm, as well as an over-the-top Sunday brunch buffet that's the place to see and be seen every week. The bar, too, has been visited by the likes of Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla, as well as Mick Jagger, and is the ideal place for sunset cocktails after a day of adventure.
After a coffee, try the Settlement Trail hike past fruit trees and streams, through a verdant and jungle-y landscape, or wake early for a sunrise hike through the red light district up to the 18th century St. Mark's Chapel. With a little less effort, you can pick up lunch-think fresh greens with homemade avocado dressing and freshly baked bread-at EITS Cafe not far from Strawberry Hill, and visit Clifton Mount Estate high in the hills where the views are unforgettable and the gardens are stunning. At the hotel, there are also exotic gardens with tropical plants and vibrant endemic bird species. And if a beach day is needed that is very easily arranged-this is Jamaica after all, and everything is "irie."