Jamaica gets a bad rap. Depending on who you talk to, it’s either too touristy, too dangerous, or there’s not enough culture to really ‘catch a vibe’.
Stop talking to those people, because we’re pretty sure they’re all flying directly to Montego Bay and shipping off to all-inclusive resorts with zero style but tons of fluffy drinks. The real Jamaica, the one you will fall in love with, is on the east side of the island, over the Blue Mountains. Fly to Kingston (direct and pretty affordable via Jet Blue) and you’ll see a whole new side of Jamaica. This is where Bob Marley actually recorded all those reggae tunes you’ve been listening to for years. This is the Jamaica of banana plantations and beautiful sand beaches, unlike the rocky, ragged west coast. Once you find yourself in Kingston, you’ve got to get over those mountains to reach the oasis waiting for you on the other side—the tiny town of Port Antonio, onetime home to Errol Flynn, now a hotbed of tourism thanks to a few stylish resorts which offer guests luxury and comfort amidst the colorful backdrop of a small town bursting with energy, music, and personality.
This is the Jamaica of banana plantations
and beautiful sand beaches…
Reachable by a car ride along winding roads that weave through the lush mountains (the source of those prized Blue Mountain coffee beans you pay $20/lb for at Whole Foods) or by a puddle jumper which will get you a tiny airstrip on the other side of the ridge in just about 16 minutes, Port Antonio is a charming town that offers a glimpse into a Jamaica untouched by high-rise development and tourist traps. Where do you stay in Port Antonio? You’ve got a few choices, but the hottest places to hang are GeeJam and the Trident, owned by former music industry execs who totally get how to create a laid-back vibe while still keeping guests well furnished with all the perks that turn a vacation into a stay in paradise. An infinity pool beckons from the reception desk at the Trident, a recently renovated hotel made up of mini villas, many with their own pools overlooking the Caribbean. There’s a lipstick-red grand piano in the dining room at Mike’s Supper Club, ceramic sheep grazing on the green lawn. This place is cool, but not so cool that you can’t have a family vacation and feel totally at ease.
Up the road a bit is the Trident Castle, a property to check out if you’re planning an epic bachelor party or looking to have a destination wedding. Kate Moss and Johnny Depp rented it out back in the day—need we say more? Head even further into the bush and you’ll stumble upon GeeJam, a tropical hideaway with a private beach and a recording studio that has seen the likes of No Doubt and Rihanna. Beach bums will marvel at Frenchman’s Cove beach, a one-time Rat Pack vacation spot and now home to sun seekers and snorklers looking for tropical fish in the crystalline waters. Looking for a bit more adventure? Take a cruise on a bamboo boat down the Rio Grande, and stop for lunch on the rocky banks to taste some of the most insanely delicious jerk chicken in the world, cool off with an icy Red Stripe. Or for a truly authentic experience, head out to Winnifred Beach, grab some food from one of the shacks and kick it with the locals, who will most likely be dancing and drinking rum punch. What happens after dark? Well, this is the spiritual home of the dance party. Roadblock parties, where speakers larger than you ever though possible are hauled out into the street and turned up to 11 for revelers to dance their asses off, are a weekly thing. Port Antonio is the place to escape to when you truly need to drop out for a few days to recharge and soak up some mellow vibes. True, it’s not the easiest place to get to, but as the locals say, that keeps the riffraff out. Let your friends go to Sandals, and keep this place a secret. Ya mon. Peace.