When most Canadians travel to Jamaica, they search for a good all-inclusive resort and spend their time sipping rum punch cocktails by the pool. That is a fantastic vacation for a day or two. As a matter a fact, we loved taking advantage of our infinity pool and secluded beach at Riu Palace. And I'm not going to lie, having a full inclusive bar in my room was a huge bonus. However, Jamaica is an island filled with culture and adventure. After indulging in too much food and drink, it was time to get out and explore all the amazing things in Jamaica that happen off the resort!
Jamaica – Off the Resort
Jamaica always surprises us when we visit. We know that it is the third largest island in the Caribbean, but when traveling around the country, we are always amazed at just how immense it is. We have yet to even visit the capital city of Kingston. During our latest trip to the land of Irie, we took part in some very cool activities.
Black River Safari
I had no idea Jamaica had crocodiles. Through Black River Safari, located on the southern coast of the island, tourists can see plenty of crocodiles lining the banks of Jamaica's largest navigable river. The Black River Safari tours are a pleasant way to spend the afternoon. Our guide was funny, informative, and had such an intimate relationship with the crocodiles that he actually called one over to the boat and gave it a pat on its belly. He didn't even have chicken to feed it!
The tour takes you through the largest wetland area in the country. The one and a half hour journey takes you 6 miles (9.6km) down the river to view crocodiles, different bird species, large mangrove trees, and the scenic countryside.
We saw 8 crocodiles on our safari. Some were basking in the sun on the river banks and some were swimming, while others found a quiet log on which to catch a nap and a couple came over to say hello.
The safari itself is 90 minutes
The Black river is a 2-hour drive from Montego Bay or a 40 minute drive from Treasure Beach South Island.
Rates include transfers from your hotel: $125 single/$170 double
Bring $$ to tip your guide.
Check out our video of 12 other Fun Things to do Off the Resort in Jamaica
If you've never seen bioluminescence before, it's worth taking a tour to the Luminous Lagoon. Located where the salt water of the Caribbean Sea meets the fresh water of the Martha Brae river, visitors can jump in the dark waters to experience microorganisms lighting up before their eyes. The Luminous Lagoon in Falmouth is Jamaica's only natural nighttime attraction and although the boat ride and swim itself is short, it is exciting to see the black water light up as the boat's engine churns up its wake.
When compared with other bioluminescent tours we've done, this was the least eco-friendly tour. While viewing in the Cayman Islands, we set out on an electric boat so as not contaminate the bay with oil and gas, and in Thailand we went in on sea kayaks. There was also a lot of light pollution from the surrounding communities in Jamaica, so the phosphorus wasn't glowing as much as we've seen on other tours. However, the group we were with were thrilled to swim in the water with the bioluminescence and everyone was mesmerized by seeing the blue sparks light up as they swam.
Jamaica has some of the brightest phosphorescence in the world and scientists have been studying it for decades. I think that Jamaica needs to create a better experience to keep tourists interested. In Grand Cayman, our guide built up panels around our boat, creating a pitch black experience. I also think it would be better to stop the motorized boats from churning up the billions of organisms (in essence, killing them) and instead focus on kayaking or electric boat tours.
Drive: Ocho Rios: 1 hour / Montego Bay: 45 minutes
Complimentary rum punch from the bar
Be sure to bring a towel and change of clothes.
Cycle Through Farmland
St. Elizabeth is known as Jamaica's bread basket. According to our friend Kerwin of Unfamiliar Destinations who grew up in Jamaica, St. Elizabeth feeds the rest of the country, and locals say it's real country and rich fertile land. While staying at Jakes Resort on the south side of the island, we had the chance to experience that for ourselves and feel what life is like for locals in Jamaica. Nearly one quarter of Jamaica's domestic food comes from the St. Elizabeth parish. Local entrepreneur Damian has set up an amazing cycling tour through the farmland where farmers and workers welcome visitors with smiles.
The tourism industry isn't as built up in St. Elizabeth as it is in Montego Bay, Negril, and Ochos Rio so when you cycle through communities, people welcome you with smiles and come over to say hello and talk to you about their business and history.
Damian has set up a superb route. It started at Jakes where we geared up with helmets, water, and mountain bikes that were in tip top condition. We started off on a road going through villages but then turned onto back roads which took us through tomato and watermelon fields where men were working in the cool morning air.
The day ended at Treasure Beach where a local historian told us about the history of Jamaica, like how this part of the island was settled by Scottish and that many of the residents are of mixed race.
Bikes and helmets are included
Bring some cash to buy local veggies or fruit
Tours can be booked directly through JakesHotel
Or you can contact Damian at firstname.lastname@example.org
Private Tour with a Local Fisherman
Many people go to Jamaica and hop on huge catamarans or yachts filled with people. I like to call them cattle boats. Instead, take a private boat tour with a local fisherman who can show you secluded spots and private beaches. Many tours offer minivan pick up from Ochos Rio, Negril, and Montego Bay, but if you stay at Treasure Beach, you can be picked up by boat directly at your resort.
We met Captain Joseph at the dock of Jakes Resort. We then spent the day dolphin watching and walking along a deserted beach while he and his sons made us an amazing lobster feast complete with rum punch, Red Stripe beer, and wine.
The trip includes a stop at the Pelican Bar. We chose to go directly to the Pelican Bar so that we could enjoy our beach dining afterwards, and so we had the chance to explore it while nobody was around. Located in the middle of the Caribbean Sea on a shallow sand bar, there is no electricity at the Pelican Bar; it's simply a basic, ramshackle hut that has a bar and a gift shop.
Hike Lover's Leap or Chateau Garden
Our guide Damian has an excellent business, which was kick started by a Canadian organization that helped him create his business plan and decide how to allocate funds. The days we spent hanging out with him was a highlight of our trip to Jamaica; I only wish we had had more time with him. A hiking trip, like the one we took through local villages, is a fascinating tour of what life is like for native Jamaicans.
If you have a full day, you must hike up Lover's Leap. We had limited time on our trip, but still climbed a rugged 1700 foot (600 metres) trail to an incredible view of the points of the South coast. However, what was most fascinating about our hike was how many local farmers still do things the old way.
Along the steep grade were several farms and a few small villages where farmers grow their crops and raise their livestock on the side of the mountain. The land is rich in St. Elizabeth and they grow everything from watermelon, beans, and tobacco to tomatoes and ginger.
It's a long and steep climb and we realized just how hard they work, having to hike these trails daily to move their cows, goats, and pigs around for grazing. That isn't even to mention how they have to plant and water their crops at sunrise before the island heat rolls in. If you want to do something truly authentic and unique in Jamaica, a hike is the way to go.
Tours can be booked directly through Jakes.
Or you can contact Damian at email@example.com.
Bring plenty of water, sunglasses and a hat.
Don't forget your sunscreen.
Jamaican Travel Fast Facts
– Guided tours or car rentals can be booked through Island Routes Jamaica.
– For independent travel book rental cars at Enterprise Jamaica in Montego Bay Airport.
– St. Elizabeth is a 2-hour drive from Montego Bay. It’s worth the drive.
– Many excursions can be booked through Jakes Resort; visit their website for details.
– Jakes Resort and Riu Palace are both excellent, but very different experiences for a honeymoon in Jamaica. Here is the link to Riu Palace Resort.
– Bamboo Rafting can be booked through Riu Palace, Island Routes, or you can go directly to Martha Brae River.
– For more information on Jamaica, visit the Jamaican Tourism website and follow them on social.
– Twitter: @VisitJamaicaNow Facebook: VisitJamaicaCanada Instagram: VisitJamaica YouTube: MyJamaicaJTB