This year for my annual B day pilgrimage, myself and 2 of my travel comrades decided to head to Negril Jamaica. After previous birthday adventures in Costa Rica, Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic this would be my first time going some where where everyone spoke english so I was excited. As usual I consulted with numerous friend about what part to visit and what to expect but of course there were some surprises, some pleasant some not. This by no stretch of the imagination is meant to be a comprehensive list of ALL the ups and downs of visiting Jamaica. These are merely observations from my experiences. YA DIG!!!
By far the beaches in Negril and Montego Bay are among the most beautiful i’ve ever seen. Boasting crystal clear water and smooth white sand the peace and tranquility you can achieve on the jamaican shores are some of the best I’ve experienced. When i first arrived at the beach I asked a woman hows the water to which she simply replied ‘its like bathwater’. Although thats a strange parallel on the surface I immediately understood what she meant when my foot hit the water. The temperature was perfect.
If you’ve been following my travel I have an affinity for visiting places where spanish is the 1st language. After several attempts to learn the language my skill in español can best be described as less conversational and more ‘typical struggling gringo’. That’s 1 of the primary reasons why Jamaica was so refreshing because short of the fast paced conversation between two jamaicans, I could understand their patois just fine. This is increasingly useful when traveling in unfamiliar territory and needing to ask taxi drivers for advice on places to eat/visit. Yes most of the spanish countries I’ve visited have had SOME taxi drivers that speak english, but its hit or miss. For that reason it was refreshing to be able to communicate with everyone from restaurant staff to ladies at the club.
If anybody knows how to party hard, IT’S JAMAICANS. I’ve witnessed it from living in Miami and going to Caribbean parties but when I was in Jamaica I saw people that danced from the time they walked in the door until the final song of the night ended. Unlike Americans they weren’t worried sweating through their clothes or messing up their hair, It almost seems like thats the reason they came in the first place. I was amazed to see the choreography that went with some of these songs groups of dancers gathered on the floor and simultaneously danced as if they’ve been working on these routines in the basement all week. It reminded me of my middle school days when we did just that. But one of the dancer was quick to tell me that they hadn’t rehearsed any routines as a group but instead each dancehall song has a unique dance associated with it, so when the song came on they responded accordingly. amazing!! And when we left the club we went to a street party that was simply called ‘Jamaica vs Africa which was essentially a dance off in a giant open area, complete with a 30 foot wall of speakers blasting the latest tunes by Vybz Kartel. The energy in the air was electric and the girls looked like they never wanted to stop dancing. Thats an energy I can get used to!
**A LOT OF AMERICANS VISIT(also a con):
While hanging out at the local Margaritaville in Negril one afternoon my friends and I ran into several ladies from the states that celebrating their birthday as well. We exchanged info with them and what started as three guys celebrating turned into 16 people from different States in the US taking shots and making plans to hang out later. We met numerous groups of people in our short 4 day stay and still stay in touch with some of them. I love running into fellow travelers and will gladly invite them to become friends on my social networks. I’ve even planned meet-ups trips with people I’ve met while abroad. Its always exciting to interact with like minded individuals.
**EXPENSIVE vs OTHER ISLANDS:
This leads back to the negative that I mentioned earlier about having a high number of American tourist visit Jamaica. Areas that are heavily visited by tourist and populated by expats have a tendency to have some of that good old american pricing to go with that Jerk Chicken plate. many of the places we visited had prices that were equivalent to what you would pay for a comparable meal in the states and these prices were reflective of the people that visit most often. I’m not hating, I get it, if an old couple from america wants to come to Jamaica to eat the same food they could get at Applebee’s serve it to them and charging them the Applebee’s price. But for a budget minded traveler like myself I like to keep it simple and within a low to moderate budget when I travel. I was traveling with some college buddies so we were able to eat street food but I can imagine what it might cost me if I went with a young lady that preferred eating every meal indoors at a nice ‘sit-down’ restaurant. Lawd a mercy!
**TOO MUCH OUTSIDE INFLUENCE:
As I mentioned before the western influence can be felt in the pricing as local eateries but they can also be witnessed visually in the menu items at heavy tourist traps(Ricks, Margaritaville) and the advertisements all around the touristy areas. Everywhere we went there was a barrage of Smirnoff vodka and Heineken signage and drink specials corresponding with those brands. I was hoping to grab some food from the world famous Ricks Cafe but the menu looked liked something straight out of Chilis. It was so American I felt like I could get more authentic jamaican food from Bahama Breeze. One of my buddies ordered something that was supposed to be authentic but it still felt like a watered down version of what a true jamaican woman would fix in her kitchen. When I travel I look for authenticity, and we found that in a few spots but all the spots that people recommended were subpar in comparison to what I’ve tasted from Jamaican friends’ kitchens. I know that these tourist spots have to cater to the taste buds of the visitors but if I wanted buffalo wings and Heineken I would go to my local bar in Miami.
I can’t speak on the safety issues that may exist in Kingston although I was warned by several of my jamaican friends here in the states to NOT visit the capital city without a local tour guide to take me around. Though I never felt I was in harms way in Negril my DJ friend that I spun with at Margaritaville refused to let us get in a cab with a cab driver he didn’t know. He didn’t want to hang out after we were done DJing so he found one of his friends that drive a cab and told him to take special care of us. The driver was our private car service for the entire night and took us to several after hours spots but warned us to watch out for each other while we were in the clubs. this same sentiment was echoed when we were in Montego Bay as the driver kept coming in to check on us as we partied in one particular local club. It actually made me feel a little paranoid as if he knew we were being watched. Lets be clear NOTHING happened to us but the extra level of caution exhibited by these locals lets me know that there is some potential danger that tourist need to be aware of. Of course theres some level of safety that always lurks in countries with high poverty rates so you should always proceed with caution when traveling, but I thought the warnings were worth mentioning in this piece.
I love too support the locals so usually I rent a private house/apartment as opposed to staying at a chain hotel when I travel. I’ve stayed in AirBnB’s in Colombia, Brazil, Panama and several other countries but their was a severe lack in selection when I started my search in Jamaica. I found what appeared to be a descent house in Negril but when we arrived we were greeted by several large insects flying around the interior of the house(not a deal breaker) and a malfunctioning window AC unit that looked like it was installed in the late 80s(DEAL BREAKER). We gave it the benefit of the doubt and stayed one night but after waking up in a sweat in the morning my homeboy Rob said he would pay for another room and he immediately began looking for a regular room Expedia. Since the AirBnB was paid for in advance we paid for 3 nights but only stayed for 1. I think this points back to the outside influence I mentioned earlier. The only developers that have come in to build in these vacation towns have ben major resort chains, so you either stay in a hotel or a non air conditioned shack, with no choices in between.
This was just a post to give you an idea of some of the noticeable pros and cons I saw during my short stay in Jamaica. Jamaica has long been a popular tourist destination which is part of the reason I avoided the island for so long. EVERYONE I know has been there and I usually like going places that are a little different, but the abundance of Black people made me feel a need to check it out at least once. This is a a beautiful island and would make a picturesque destination for couples or anyone that was looking to get their chill on. Though I will definitely visit again there are other spots that offer more adventure for a single guy like myself. I will be back but I’ll dedicate the next year to exploring unchartered territories (I got Thailand coming up soon.) Anyway, How was your experience in Jamaica and how does it compare to other places in your opinion? Let me know in the comment section below.