Jamaica me crazy: Caribbean paradise now from Dublin

The descriptively named Seven Mile Beach in Negril

'NO PROBLEM, mon': You'll hear this phrase repeatedly while visiting the legendarily laid-back land of Jamaica and it quickly starts to become a state of mind.

It's a cliche that life moves at a 'more relaxed pace' on the second largest Caribbean island, yet in spite of the record-breaking speed exhibited by Jamaica's number one celebrity sporting export Usain Bolt, it happens to be true.

From the moment you touch down at Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, its runway conveniently located beside a palm tree-strewn beach offering breathtaking views of the island's famously fiery sunsets, travellers will begin to feel the effect of Jamaica's stress-busting magic.

By the end of a week spent swimming in the bath-warm, crystal clear Caribbean Sea and sunbathing on sandy beaches between restorative refills of Red Stripe lager (so-called 'Jamaican champagne') and the island's ubiquitous rum punch cocktails, you'll hardly know yourself, mon.

In other words, Jamaica is hard to beat when it comes to escaping the Irish winter: happily, the island's reliably dry 'high season' (December to March) happens to coincide with our wettest, coldest months: temperatures stay in the high 20s throughout.

The western resort of Negril is one of Jamaica's best-known tourist hotspots.

Featuring an abundance of beaches blessed with shallow, snorkelling and scuba-friendly waters peppered with reefs ripe for subaquatic exploration, Negril's focal point is the descriptively named Seven Mile Beach.

An abundance of bars, restaurants and night spots makes this sandy strip a magnet for sun worshippers, many of whom arrive from US in search of cheap all-inclusive hedonism via short-haul flights that pass over Cuba, just 90 miles off Jamaica's coast.

This can make for colourful people-watching fun, as liquored-up Jersey Shore natives let loose in a typically loud and unapologetic manner at home-from-home leisure spots like Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville beach bar.

Board one of their regular catamaran-based 'booze cruises' at your own risk, although the excellent snorkelling in Long Bay and the cliff-jumping thrills and spectacular sunsets on offer at destination point Rick's Cafe are well worth braving the braying for.

More refined entertainment can be found just up the coast at the sprawling Rhodes Hall Plantation, where horse riding, archery, snorkelling, restorative mineral mud baths and private beaches are all on the agenda, along with comfortable family-friendly accommodation.

However, for my money – and admittedly, I wasn't paying – you will not beat the uber-stylish, ultra laid-back lodging experience at Rockhouse Hotel & Spa at Pristine Cove, now my favourite hotel in the world.

Comfortable beach-hut-styled rooms set within lush, secluded garden grounds feature panoramic cliff-top sea views, while private sun terraces with ladder access to the ocean cove below enable guests to swim across to the hotel restaurant for a superb breakfast and plenty of strong, smooth locally grown Blue Mountain coffee each morning.

Throw in mouth-watering authentic Jamaican cuisine served up by their award-winning Pushcart restaurant (one of three excellent eateries on offer – fish-heads should not miss the succulent, spicy, snapper-based dishes) and full-spectrum pampering at their dedicated spa and you've got yourself a slice of hotel heaven.

Jamaica's tourist accommodation is mostly 'all inclusive', so obviously it helps to pick a really great hotel as your base: stay at Rockhouse and you won't ever want to leave.

It would be a shame to miss out on the rest of what Jamaica has to offer, though, so be sure to go exploring.

Jermaine Smith at Paradise Travels is the man to see about this: he can help plan out your holiday hit-list, offering door-to-door transportation in air-conditioned comfort – driving in Jamaica can be a sketchy experience, so best leave it to an expert – plus all the knowledge and contacts needed to maximise your enjoyment of this beautiful island.

If you want to abandon the beach/pool and meet the locals, try an early-afternoon pilgrimage to the pretty port town of Falmouth east of Montego Bay, where colonial history and impressive architecture abound.

More of both can be had with a tour of the nearby and supposedly haunted Rose Hall Great House – and from there, it's but a short hop to the slow-flowing chill-out zone of the Martha Brae River.

There, you'll relax while floating lazily downstream on a hand-built bamboo raft piloted by someone like C Walker, the salty rafter/artisan who taught me how to punt on the river before offering up one of his fine hand-carved ornaments at a competitive price.

Be sure to put a visit to hillside culinary haven Stush in The Bush at the very top of your Jamaican 'to-do' list.

Super-friendly owners Lisa and Chris Binns serve up fabulous feasts of organic, gourmet-standard vegetarian fare freshly prepared in the kitchen of their rustic eco-friendly farmhouse overlooking the north coast resort of Ochos Rios.

You could certainly work up quite an appetite on the waterslide and dry bobsled run at nearby adventure park Mystic Mountain, while those who want to get even more active should try climbing the spectacular freshwater splashdown at Dunn's River Falls, as featured in Dr No and the Tom Cruise cheesefest, Cocktail.

Alternatively, leave the sun behind to explore the historically significant subterranean nooks and crannies of Green Grotto Caves, another former Bond movie location that also enjoyed a spell as as top night spot.

No visit to Jamaica would be complete without sampling its favourite tipple, rum: take the tour at Appleton Estate on the South Coast and you'll be fully briefed on the evolution of the island's oldest sugarcane estate and distillery, before sampling its many varieties of party juice.

Boozehounds should also book a trip out to the unique Pelican Bar, a tiny driftwood saloon stilt-mounted a quarter of a mile out to sea between Black River and Treasure Beach – naturally, it's only accessible by boat, offering the ideal spot to enjoy a dramatic Jamaican sunset while sipping an ice-cold Red Stripe.

And, if sealife is your thing, don't miss Dolphin Cove on the north side of Negril, where you'll get the chance to swim and play with the inhabitants.

As you can probably tell, I fell in love with Jamaica. One of the most beautiful places on Earth, this Caribbean paradise is definitely somewhere you have to visit at least once before you croak.

Will I be back? Just make sure room 17 at Rockhouse is ready and waiting and there'll be no problem, mon.


:: David Roy travelled to Jamaica's Montego Bay with Virgin Atlantic Airways from London Gatwick. February prices start from £678.56pp return in economy class.

:: Aer Lingus offer daily flights from Belfast City Airport to London Gatwick.

:: Falcon Holidays are now offering package deals direct from Dublin to Montego Bay for dates starting in June. Prices from €1,589pps for 14 nights all-inclusive.

:: For more on what to see and do in Jamaica see


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