Feelin’ Irie: Top 12 Spots for Soaking Up the Sun and Culture in Jamaica

Post originally Published December 31, 2023 || Last Updated January 1, 2024

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Feelin' Irie: Top 12 Spots for Soaking Up the Sun and Culture in Jamaica - Reggae Beats in Negril

Feelin’ Irie: Top 12 Spots for Soaking Up the Sun and Culture in Jamaica

No trip to Jamaica would be complete without a visit to Negril, the birthplace of reggae music and home to Seven Mile Beach. This laidback town on the west coast is known for its chill vibe, powdery sand, and thumping reggae beats that fill the air day and night.

While many associate reggae with Bob Marley and places like Kingston and Trenchtown, it actually originated in Negril in the 1950s and 60s. As tourists began flocking to Negril's beaches in the 60s, local musicians started fusing calypso and American R&B to create a new sound. This early reggae music, characterized by its repetitive rhythms and offbeat accents, could be heard drifting from rough beach bars and open-air dancehalls.

Today, visitors can still experience authentic reggae music throughout Negril. At sunset, the beachfront restaurants and bars come alive with live bands as patrons sway to the grooves with cocktails in hand. Popular spots like Bourbon Beach, Roots Bamboo, and Alfred's Ocean Palace offer an eclectic mix of reggae legends and up-and-coming acts. For a more local scene, check out the Jungle nightclub where reggae dancehall parties go late into the night.

An absolute must is catching one of Negril's famous beach raves, all-night parties where sound systems set up right on the sand. With bonfires glowing under the stars and waves crashing nearby, these events are the epitome of Negril's laidback, party vibe. The world-famous Reggae Sumfest also takes place just south of Negril every July, attracting the biggest names in reggae and dancehall.
Beyond the concerts and parties, Negril's reggae heritage can also be experienced through the people. Interact with musicians after their beachfront gigs or chat with local vendors in the craft market to hear their stories about the evolution of reggae music. Many longtime residents reminisce fondly about the early days when bands like The Maytals got their start playing under palm trees on Seven Mile Beach.

What else is in this post?

  1. Feelin' Irie: Top 12 Spots for Soaking Up the Sun and Culture in Jamaica - Reggae Beats in Negril
  2. Feelin' Irie: Top 12 Spots for Soaking Up the Sun and Culture in Jamaica - Waterfalls and Rivers in Ocho Rios
  3. Feelin' Irie: Top 12 Spots for Soaking Up the Sun and Culture in Jamaica - Seven Mile Beach in Montego Bay
  4. Feelin' Irie: Top 12 Spots for Soaking Up the Sun and Culture in Jamaica - Scuba Diving in Port Antonio
  5. Feelin' Irie: Top 12 Spots for Soaking Up the Sun and Culture in Jamaica - Cocktails in Kingston
  6. Feelin' Irie: Top 12 Spots for Soaking Up the Sun and Culture in Jamaica - Coffee Plantations in the Blue Mountains
  7. Feelin' Irie: Top 12 Spots for Soaking Up the Sun and Culture in Jamaica - Street Food in Treasure Beach
  8. Feelin' Irie: Top 12 Spots for Soaking Up the Sun and Culture in Jamaica - Luxury Resorts in Runaway Bay

Feelin' Irie: Top 12 Spots for Soaking Up the Sun and Culture in Jamaica - Waterfalls and Rivers in Ocho Rios

Whether lounging on the beach or exploring ruins, a visit to Jamaica often means soaking up sun and culture. But for adventure seekers, the true treasures lie off the beaten path in Ocho Rios. This north coast town is blessed with some of the island's most spectacular waterfalls and river attractions, plunging visitors into the heart of Jamaica's wild interior.

For a postcard-perfect experience, head straight for Dunn's River Falls, one of Jamaica's most iconic attractions. After a fun climb up natural limestone tiers, you'll be rewarded with panoramic vistas of cascading water and lush jungle. Guides lead groups hand-in-hand up lesser-used routes, helping brave visitors get right under the misty spray. The cool water offers a refreshing break from the heat, especially on sweltering days. Don't forget water shoes - they're a must for navigating slippery rocks.
Just 10 minutes outside Ocho Rios lies another awe-inspiring waterfall, Mystic Mountain. Rainforest sky explorer chairs whisk you 700 feet up through the canopy for astonishing bird's-eye views. From the top, trails wind downhill past tumbling falls and swimming holes perfect for a dip. The main attraction is the Rainforest Bobsled Jamaica ride, letting you race through the jungle like Jamaican Olympians. Zooming around twists and turns down a mountainside is thrilling fun for all ages.

Not to be missed is a unique Jamaican river experience - bamboo rafting on the Martha Brae. For over 30 years, expert rafters have been guiding these 30 foot, locally made bamboo rafts gently downriver. You'll float past thick groves of bamboo, flanked by towering trees and twittering birds. Occasional sets of small rapids add a splash of fun. It's supremely relaxing, with many rafters spending the ride dangling feet in the water with drinks in hand. With 9 miles of pristine river, you're sure to find inner tranquility.
Some of the best river thrills happen when you travel like locals do - by route taxi. These shared taxis turn Ocho Rios routes into rollercoaster rides, careening at breakneck speeds around hairpin coastal roads. You'll whiz past precipitous cliffs, cross rivers on rickety wooden bridges, and squeeze by barely-wide-enough paths. Each seat has a window and jawdropping view. Just hold on tight!

Feelin' Irie: Top 12 Spots for Soaking Up the Sun and Culture in Jamaica - Seven Mile Beach in Montego Bay

At first glance, Seven Mile Beach seems to stretch on endlessly, its smooth white sands and aquamarine waters beckoning. This iconic Jamaican beach lives up to its iconic status, delivering pristine tropical beauty and classic Caribbean vibes. While not actually seven miles long, its four mile expanse offers plenty of space to revel in the island life.

As Montego Bay's claim to fame, Seven Mile Beach serves up quintessential Jamaican experiences. By day, its lively atmosphere pulses to the beat of reggae music as revelers bounce between beach bars. Irie vibes fill the air as travelers and locals alike sway to groovy bands over cocktails. Vendors peddle Jamaican souvenirs, crafts and snacks along the water's edge. For the ultimate beach party experience, head to the Sundaze Negril events on Sundays, which bring world class DJs and all-inclusive drinks right to the sand.
Of course, Seven Mile Beach also excels at laidback lounging. Sink your toes into cottony sand while soaking up the sun and scenery. Local boys offer hair braiding, jet ski rentals or impromptu soccer games to passersby. I whiled away countless hours under gently swaying palms, warm sand cradling my back as the Caribbean Sea unfurled before me. Every so often, a patty or pineapple vendor would stroll past, providing convenient refreshment without having to abandon my slice of paradise.

Seven Mile Beach also provides the classic Montego Bay resort experience. Properties like the Richmond Hotel or Holiday Inn dot the shoreline, their manicured grounds fronting the sea. Wake up to beachfront views from your private balcony and spend lazy days lounging poolside while being pampered. When you're ready for ocean fun, onsite water sports outfitters offer complimentary kayaking, sailing and snorkeling gear. I always indulge in a Red Stripe and Jamaican patty from the pool bar - the perfect fuel for an afternoon building sandcastles with my kids.

Feelin' Irie: Top 12 Spots for Soaking Up the Sun and Culture in Jamaica - Scuba Diving in Port Antonio

For scuba enthusiasts, the underwater treasures of Port Antonio beckon. Teeming with exotic marine life and artifacts from centuries past, these vibrant reefs and shipwrecks bring Jamaica’s aquatic wonders to light. Far less crowded than Montego Bay, Port Antonio offers a more exclusive, off-the-beaten-path diving experience. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or first time bubble blower, Port Antonio’s dive sites promise awe and adventure.

The crown jewel is the world-famous SS Stavronikita wreck, a Greek freighter that sank in 1976 and now rests upright on the sandy bottom. At just 45 feet down, it’s easily accessible to divers of all skill levels. Schools of snappers swarm the exterior while shy nurse sharks lurk in the depths of the cargo hold. I was enthralled peering into portholes and clambering through narrow companionways, propelled by childhood dreams of sunken treasure ships. The Stavronikita is rich with fascinating artifacts like porcelain plates and glass bottles still intact decades later. Be sure to keep an eye out for the spooky & life-like diver mannequin placed on the wreck.

Another top dive is Trident Wall, where coral ridges drop dramatically from 15 feet down to over 100 feet. Diving along these underwater cliffs reveals turtles, sharks, and huge trumpetfish hovering midwater. Currents sweep Schools of blue chromis and creole wrasse past walls carpeted in fiery rope sponges. On my last visit, I was lucky enough to spot a spotted eagle ray soaring gracefully by. The variety of corals in electric hues make this a rainbow realm that leaves you grinning even through your regulator.
For divers who love macro life, keep your eyes peeled in the shallows of Dairy Bull Reef. Here schools of neon fairy basslets flit by as creepy spider crabs scuttle across the sandy bottom. Octopuses blend masterfully into the reef, mimicking textures and colors to camouflage flawlessly. Seemingly endless fields of garden eels sway hypnotically, ducking into their sandy burrows if swimmers approach too closely. In just 20 feet of water I found a menagerie of oddball creatures beyond my wildest imagination.

One of my favorite memories is diving the pinnacles and boulders of Stush in the Bush. Rays of sunlight filtering down through clear blue water spotlighted swaying sea fans and brilliant schools of grunts. The boulder shapes created a labyrinth of swim-throughs to weave between. Our group played follow the leader through caves and tunnels, surfaces above rippling with aquatic reflections. I felt like an underwater explorer transported to some mystical Atlantis realm. A quick safety stop revealed spotted trunkfish patrolling the reef tops like quirky sentries.

Feelin' Irie: Top 12 Spots for Soaking Up the Sun and Culture in Jamaica - Cocktails in Kingston

Though better known for reggae beats and laidback vibes, Jamaica’s capital Kingston is emerging as a trendy cocktail hub. Craft bars are popping up across New Kingston, reviving old Caribbean recipes while putting inventive new twists on classic libations. Imbibers can sip sophisticated cocktails or refreshing highballs while soaking up Kingston's distinctive energy and heritage.
In a restored colonial mansion, the ultra-hip Centrum pulses with live music and model-worthy crowds. Bartenders mix and muddle cocktails with flair, concocting drinks like the Coco Ting with rum, coconut, and Jamaican ginger beer. Their imaginative creations incorporate local ingredients like Blue Mountain coffee, sorrel, and overproof rum. With exposed brick walls, velvet sofas, and an open-air lounge, it's the perfect place for sipping a Lychee Martini under hanging ferns. According to fellow travelers, Centrum’s vibe is electric - you’ll be chatting up new friends in no time.

For a true taste of the islands, Strawberry Hill Hotel's sprawling veranda has panoramic mountain views and cocktails like nowhere else. Their signature drink, the Jamaica 75, combines Appleton rum with fresh strawberry and lime for the ultimate island refresher. Bartenders will even let you sample different rums to blend your own perfect combination. Guests rave about whiling away the afternoon on wicker loungers, sublime vistas and drinks in hand. Be sure to catch the legendary sunset over Kingston with a Dark ‘n Stormy in hand.
No visit is complete without stopping by the historic Devon House mansion. On the lawn under majestic trees, the Devon House I Scream shop serves up Jamaican rums with a scoop of homemade ice cream. Their signature Rum Cream pairs Appleton rum with an ultra-rich scoop of coconut or coffee ice cream. It's an only-in-Jamaica treat. Visitors say it's the perfect place for whiling away a hot afternoon the Jamaican way.
On Friday nights, the deck at the Terra Nova All-Suite Hotel becomes an open-air cocktail party. Bartenders juggle bottles theatrically while mixing drinks like the Lively Up Yourself with overproof rum, mango, simple syrup, and lime juice. On my visit, a mento band had the crowd dancing under strings of lights as a cool breeze drifted in. With such joyful vibes and inventive drinks, it's easy to see why Terra Nova is a local favorite.

Feelin' Irie: Top 12 Spots for Soaking Up the Sun and Culture in Jamaica - Coffee Plantations in the Blue Mountains

No trip to Jamaica is complete without a visit to the rugged Blue Mountains to tour a coffee plantation. While delicious Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee is enjoyed worldwide, few travelers venture into the misty peaks and valleys where this brew is born. For coffee lovers, the winding mountain roads lead to some of the most scenic and educational experiences on the island.
Rising to over 7,000 feet, the steep slopes of the Blue Mountains create the perfect climate for growing Jamaica’s famous coffee. The nutrient-rich soil, cool air, and abundant rain produce beans with a smooth, well-balanced flavor unmatched elsewhere on earth. Many farms welcome visitors to witness firsthand how these prized beans are grown, hand-picked, roasted and brewed using traditional methods.

A favorite is Skybury Coffee, a family farm and roasting operation since 1921. Their educational "Bean to Cup" tour follows the journey from seed to sip, interpreted by knowledgeable guides. You’ll walk among soaring coffee plants covered in ripe red berries, learning how crucial shade and elevation are to flavor. In the roasting barn, you’ll smell the aromatic oils released during the crucial heating process. Best of all is a sit-down tasting comparing 10 distinct brews, from mellow Breakfast Blend to bold, earthy Skybury Supreme. It’s fascinating to experience how small changes during the growing and roasting process impact taste.
For a more in-depth look at cultivation, try a 4x4 jeep tour at Mavis Bank Coffee Factory. Bumpy backroads reveal hidden terraces blanketed in coffee bushes, clinging precariously to steep hillsides. Guides explain the intricate pruning, picking and processing required to produce the best beans. Visiting during harvest lets you watch as workers handpick ripe red coffee cherries. At the wet mill, see how the beans are extracted and prepared for sale. The experience gave me new appreciation for the hard work required to harvest these precious coffee beans in such rugged terrain.
No Blue Mountain visit is complete without Heritage Coffee. This sprawling farm has been family-owned for generations and offers tours showcasing traditional production methods. Local characters like Rasta Paul will keep you chuckling during lively commentary about picking, pulping and drying. Be sure to visit their coffee museum and eighteenth century waterwheel. The highlight is tasting exquisite, straight-from-the-roaster Blue Mountain coffee paired with rum cake while soaking up panoramic views. I left with bags of beans that brought back fond memories with each morning cup at home.

Feelin' Irie: Top 12 Spots for Soaking Up the Sun and Culture in Jamaica - Street Food in Treasure Beach

No island adventure would be complete without savoring the scrumptious street food that fuels locals and visitors alike. In laidback Treasure Beach, vendors dish up the best classic Jamaican bites from colorful roadside shacks and carts. This fishing village on Jamaica's south coast keeps things chill and authentic - no resort buffets in sight. For under $5 you can enjoy island specialties prepped with generations of family secrets.

As the birthplace of Jamaica's fishing industry, Treasure Beach serves up the freshest catch around. At roadside stalls like Good Hope Jerk Centre, snappers sizzle on open grills crusted in trademark jerk seasoning. The blend's allspice backbone with a fiery kick tastes quintessentially Jamaican. Locals rave about devouring perfectly tender fish stuffed into pillowy coco bread rolls, the carb-rich bun soaking up spicy juices. Don't skip staples like festivals (cornmeal fritters) or bammy (fried cassava flatbread) to round out the experience.
No Jamaican feast is complete without the national dish, ackee and saltfish. This unique combo of flaked salted cod and soft, yellow ackee fruit tastes like nothing else. Vendors sell ackee fresh picked that morning in Treasure Beach before the tropical fruit goes bad. Locals swear by Christian's locally-grown ackee paired with tender saltfish and sautéed onions at his ramshackle stall. Be bold and try this classic island breakfast.

As an island surrounded by sea, you can't visit without tasting escovitched fish, another Jamaican specialty. Seasoned with vinegar, onions, scotch bonnets and thyme, the tangy pickled flavors offset fresh-caught fish like snapper perfectly. At Sam's, picnic tables are shaded by driftwood lean-tos on the beach, making her seafood shack an ideal spot for watching boats come in with the daily catch.
No street food crawl is complete without something sweet. Be sure to try potato pudding, a beloved Jamaican comfort dessert. Vendors sell small cups of this creamy concoction made from grated tubers, vanilla, cinnamon, and condensed milk. Locals rave about Miss Nicey's recipe, rich and custardy with the perfect dash of nutmeg. Infused with a taste of home, this classic Jamaican sweet caps off meals with nostalgic delight.

Feelin' Irie: Top 12 Spots for Soaking Up the Sun and Culture in Jamaica - Luxury Resorts in Runaway Bay

Nestled along Jamaica’s northern coast, Runaway Bay entices with tranquil beaches, lush jungles, and exclusive all-inclusive resorts. For travelers seeking luxury pampering in paradise, its upscale hotels deliver spectacular seaside settings for total relaxation.

At the all-suite, couples-only Jewel Runaway Bay, lavishness starts the moment you arrive. Guests are whisked through a private airport lounge to waiting BMWs for complimentary transfers, avoiding crowds. Your personal butler then escorts you to beautifully appointed oceanfront suites with whirlpool tubs and premium liquor dispensers. 24 hour room service means breakfast in bed overlooking the sea whenever you desire. Six gourmet restaurants, swim-up bars, and weekly beach parties mean plenty of variety and fun without ever leaving the resort. The sprawling spa offers chic hydrotherapy pools, aromatherapy massages, and advanced skin treatments for the ultimate indulgence. As the sun sets, lounge by the infinity pool sipping champagne served by your butler. For guests seeking seclusion and five star spoiling, Jewel Runaway Bay sets the standard.
At Royalton Blue Waters, guests rave about the exclusive Luxury Junior Suites in the adults-only section. These stylish suites facing the sea feature soaker tubs, rain showers, and pillow menus for blissful comfort. The sprawling pool even has dedicated beach butler service, delivering drinks and cold towels right to your lounger. By day, kayak shimmering waters glass-like waters or swing in a beachside hammock gazing endlessly out to sea. Come evening, dine beachside at the gourmet seafood restaurant, sampling grilled lobster caught that very morning. With fewer guests than other all-inclusives, the resort feels quiet and secluded. Guests say the staff are attentive yet unintrusive, even addressing you by name. For adults seeking a peaceful, pampered escape, Royalton Blue Waters hits the mark.

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