Jamaica has long been the stomping ground to the crème de la crème of western society, especially during the Golden Age of Hollywood, with celebrities such as Errol Flynn, Grace Kelly and Noel Coward flocking to the island. It is unsurprising as the island itself is full of much inspiration and wander with paradisiacal beaches, bucolic mountains and rapturous waterfalls – it is full of adventure.
Stay at Jamaica Inn
Located in the northern coast of the island, Ocho Rios, a former sleepy fishing village that has become the number one port on the island, and attracted over 40% of tourists in 2019, Jamaica Inn is undoubtedly the star of the show. The spectacular colonial property was built by the Morrow brothers in 1948 and still remains in the family today.
In modern day, Jamaica Inn has kept its traditional aesthetics that transports you back to a time where you can imagine the likes of Hollywood star, Marilyn Monroe and celebrated playwright, Arthur Miller toasting their honeymoon, or Ian Fleming sipping on a Martini at the main bar, “shaken not stirred”, of course – and rumoured to be the very spot Ian Fleming first coined the iconic James Bond phrase. Sir Winston Churchill was also a frequent visitor and was partial to the White Suite.
The evening we arrived at Jamaica Inn, we received the warmest welcome by the happiest staff, instantly brightening the mood of our tired party, after 16 hours of travel. I was shown to my Cowdray Suite, a 652 sq ft suite opening onto a spacious balcony veranda, complete with lilac walls, a comfortable white settee, arm chair and a set of table and chairs, that I would later discover offered the most incredible views of the lush gardens overlooking the sea. I entered the large bedroom featuring dark mahogany furniture complimenting the bright white walls. I immediately fell into the luxurious king sized bed and fell into a deep slumber.
In the morning, I woke refreshed, to powder blue skies meeting the peek of glistening turquoise waters in the distance – I raced to breakfast at the Sea Shanti Restaurant, where I began each day with fresh watermelon and papaya, before trying a different traditional breakfast such as ackee and saltfish accompanied by fried bammy, yams and dumplings – perfect for a day full of activities or lounging on the beach.
Explore the Caribbean Sea
After a battering from natural and manmade disasters during the 80s and 90s, Jamaica saw an 85% decrease of its, previously vibrant and alluring, coral reefs, that slowly turned into algae dominated systems. With the help of initiatives such as the White River Fish Sanctuary, founded by Jamaica Inn and headed up by their very own Belinda Morrow, Eric Morrow’s wife, the coral reef has slowly been revived by their passionate team of ‘coral reef gardeners’, which you can see for yourself on the Glass Bottom Boat Tour.
We met on the beach and were led to the brightly painted catamaran in red, green and yellow and to our delight, Shadow IV, Jamaica Inn’s regal black Labrador, and Belinda Morrow’s right-hand lady, was sitting proudly in the boat, wagging her tail as we all stepped in one by one. We set off and it was easy to become mesmerised by the view of the sea from the panelled glass bottomed boat, as Belinda told us how much the coral reef had changed since she was a child exploring the waters.
The coral reef is an essential part of the eco-system of the sea and with the disintegration of the coral, the fish population went down, affecting the livelihoods of local fisherman, who now serve as sanctuary wardens, reinforcing the fishing ban. Though scarce, we were lucky to spot a couple of fishes swimming in between the stony coral nurseries, evidence that the work of the ‘coral gardeners’ was working.
Enjoy the Beach
The private beach belonging to Jamaica Inn is the quintessence of paradise – champagne powder sand, littered with palm trees and tropical fauna, stretching into glistening cerulean waters. For those that are more adventurous, the hotel offer a variety of water sports such as kayaking, sunfish sailing, paddle boarding and snorkelling equipment for guests to use.
To cool off, head to Teddy’s Bar, previously known as the ‘Beach Bar’ renamed in honour of Teddy Tucker in 2016, the legendary bartender who headed up the bar for 62 years and it is with great sadness to learn of his passing in March 2020.
Teddy’s Bar is somewhat of a hotspot on the beach and is a great way to meet other guests. One guest told us tales of previous visits, “I came out and saw the singer Lorde, another time I met Seth Rogan. I also heard that Richard Branson’s nephew got married here, as well as Meghan Markle’s first wedding.” I was curious to discover what kept him coming back again and again and he replied with fervour, “It’s the staff. They’ve become like an extended family and now when I come here, it’s like coming home.”
I realised it was not only Teddy that dedicated so many years of service to Jamaica Inn, it was quite common for staff to have been there for over five, 10, 20, 30 years. Every member of staff I spoke to also seemed genuinely happy and each interaction would lift my spirit – I completely understood why the majority of guests were repeating visitors.
Witness the turtle release
If you’re lucky enough for your stay to coincide with the hatchlings of baby Hawksbill turtles, then you are in for a treat. At 16:30 on a beautiful Thursday afternoon, we gathered around Ovan, the turtle whisperer who explained that the incubation period can take roughly 50-60 days depending on where the mother has created a nest in the sand as the eggs need sunlight. Ovan also explained that the turtles were released at 16:30 because the water is a bit warmer so the fish tend to go deeper into the sea, so the newborns have more of a chance at survival.
Once we were given clear instructions, Ovan burrowed into the sand and began to take out the baby turtles. Guests were allowed to take a turtle and give them a sea bath before placing them into a bucket for a headcount. A clear runway was made for guests to cheer the turtles on as they made their way into the sea to start their new lives, creating a real community and bond to have witnessed something so special.
Relax at the Ocean Spa
The spa is located on the other side of the resort and offers panoramic views of the azure Caribbean Sea. I was greeted by Kenneth, an award-winning therapist, who led me one of the treatment rooms, an open gazebo with incredible views of the ocean. I had the ‘Ocean Deep Massage’, a full body massage using a coconut oil base, infused with the ambrosial aroma of lemongrass. As soon as Kenneth pressed down on my back, I understood why he had been bestowed with ‘Therapist of the Year’, as I felt myself drifting off to the sound of the waves.
Dine at The Terrace
The sounds of distinguished off-beat rhythms could be heard from a distance as I made my way towards The Terrace. Beneath a blanket of stars, the brilliant live band playing classic reggae tunes such as ‘Welcome to Jamrock’, ‘Murder She Wrote’ and ‘Redemption Song’ encouraged guests onto the dance floor and as I was shown to my table, a couple were swaying gently to Tarrus Riley’s ‘She’s Royal’.
Executive Chef, Maurice Henry, has created a daily changing menu based on seasonal produce and the catch of the day inspired by Jamaican cuisine with grilled, blackened or jerk options. I enjoyed grilled prawns to start – fresh, crispy and full of flavour and the most tender braised oxtail with butterbeans and potatoes, served with rice and peas as my main.
Cycle down Blue Mountain
If you can bear to tear yourself away from the utopia that is Jamaica Inn, venture further afield to a cooler climate, up in the Blue Mountain home to one of the rarest coffees in the world and a 7402 ft summit. After a long and winding journey, we stepped off the coach to the most magnificent views of idyllic valleys and emerald green mountains. I felt as if I could reach up and touch the clouds lingering over the red and blue bikes that awaited us for our adventure. It was exhilarating to cycle downhill through the tropical rainforest, before cooling off in the bucolic waterfall.
Climb Dunn’s River Falls
If you would prefer to stay closer to home, Dunn’s River Falls 10-minute speedboat ride and one of the most visited spots on the island and with good reason – it is not every day you can climb a 600 ft water fall. We shored onto the picturesque beach after an invigorating journey over choppy waters and we were ready for our ascent.
The climb wasn’t too arduous but it definitely isn’t for the fainthearted. Make sure you’re wearing aqua shoes to prevent you from sliding, as the rocks can be slippery and you are contending with water gushing down at you. We also recommend arriving early as we had the entire falls all to ourselves and were able to enjoy swimming in the clear pools of water in between climbing up. There was definitely a small sense of achievement once we reached the top and the view of bounteous fauna surrounding the rocky waterfall was quite extraordinary and well worth it.
Jamaica is full of adventure, heart and soul – the combination of paradisiac beaches, delicious food and warm islanders that will make you want to return again and again.