Emily takes us off the beaten path in Jamaica and explores the wild side of this Caribbean island with plenty of things to do for adventurous travellers.
Jamaica is known as a Caribbean paradise where happy couples honeymoon and walk on pristine stretches of white sandy beaches. While those beaches are indeed lovely to visit, Jamaica is much more than the postcard-worthy beaches, and resort cocktails imply.
Jamaica is one of the largest islands in the Caribbean, home to diverse flora and fauna, and far more ecosystems than one would think at first glance. Exploring Jamaica’s wild side will not only get adventurers off the beaten tourist trail and away from the well-worn beaches, but bring unique experiences, stunning environments, and welcoming people.
Go Crocodile Spotting on a Black River Safari
Most travellers go to Africa for safari, but Black River hosts its very own river safari for those who make the trip to the South Coast. Black River is one of the longest rivers in Jamaica and is the main artery meandering through the Great Morass swamp. This swamp is made primarily of mangrove trees and hundreds of bird colonies. It is the lifeblood of the area’s human population as well as a healthy residence of fresh water crocodiles. Safari boats creep along the river searching for these elusive Black River crocodiles, all the while allowing visitors the chance to breathe in the fresh air and cool climate of the surrounding mangrove forests.
Relax at the Pelican Bar
Once you spot some crocs (normally pointed out by the famously boisterous boat captains), most travellers will make for the Pelican Bar, a rickety shack on stilts built in the shallow ocean waters a mile off shore. Rum punch and lobster have never tasted so good as when surrounded by the Caribbean Sea. Join in on a never-ending game of dominoes with the boat captains for extra points!
Summit the Blue Mountain
Jamaica’s most challenging frontier is for the adventurous and the fit. The Blue Mountain summit is the highest point in Jamaica, standing at an impressive 2,256 meters. Not bad for an island! Hikers looking for a view typically start at the trailhead in St. Andrew parish and stay the night at a small camp halfway to the peak. The next morning, they rise well before dawn to make the last push to the top for a brilliant Jamaican sunrise as well as a feeling of accomplishment. The trail is clear enough, though portions are not maintained as well as they could be. Solid boots, trekking poles, and rain gear are advised; the weather is known to change frequently.
Cycle the Coffee Plantations
After climbing the Blue Mountain, coffee and adrenaline junkies may thrill themselves further with a high-speed cycling tour around the coffee plantations of St. Andrew. Group tours are available, or rent bikes and wander the hills solo. Either way, visitors will capture the beauty of these rugged mountains, feel the cool mountain air, and hopefully taste some fresh brew along the way!
Swim the Magical Glistening Waters
A unique sight in Jamaica is the Glistening Waters in Falmouth’s Luminous Lagoon. The Lagoon is the meeting point of the Caribbean Sea and the Martha Brae River, and at night these waters come alive with self-illuminating micro-planktons in the water. As the boat plies away from the dock to the middle of the shallow lagoon, the wake water suddenly glows a brilliant blue from the disturbance in the water only to fade as soon as the movement ends. Once in the middle of the lagoon, the curious can jump from the boat into the water and float on the surface, covered with tiny glowing water droplets every time the body shifts in the water.
Glistening Waters is one of only four places on Earth exactly like this and the only one of those four where the natural light show can be experienced every day of the year, regardless of temperature, season, or weather.
Hike and Cave Cockpit Country
Perhaps the most remote, isolated, and extreme part of Jamaica is Cockpit Country, a sprawling reserve in central Jamaica where the bush is thick, and the trails are all but invisible. Intrepid hikers can venture into Cockpit, though be forewarned, amenities are non-existent, and even the most seasoned navigators may get turned around quickly. To explore this fascinating wilderness, where locals believe spirits and superstitions reign, a local guide is required for both hiking and caving. Over 250 caves exist within the Cockpit Country, but finding them is tricky, and access is never easy. If you’re lucky enough to stay the night in the Cockpit Country, rise early and find one of the many vistas offering superb views over the craggy cliffs and hills, sheeted with a low lying mist displaying the purity and the isolation of the region.
Follow the Maroons to Accompong
Any exploration of the Cockpit Country will make the time spent in Jamaica rich with a diverse landscape and local culture and history. By hiking these hills, visitors follow in the footsteps of the Maroons, escaped slaves who made the mountains their homes after fleeing from their sugar cane plantations. The Maroon settlement of Accompong is the last remaining village of its kind in the west of Jamaica, and its residents hold their own type of self-determined government and culture. Isolated, but friendly to visitors, Accompong is a trip back in time and to a place very far from modern day Jamaica.
Jamaica is one of the most famous hot destinations in the world. Home to the first all-inclusive resort as well as the famous Hedonism movement, Jamaica’s tourism industry has long been one of mass scale and arguably exploitative of the local places. But all is not lost. Pockets of Jamaica are shifting towards community-based tourism, environmentally friendly and sustainable activities, and the type of hosting that brings visitors to communities and into contact with real Jamaica and real Jamaican life. By avoiding the monster resorts, appreciating Jamaica as not just a pretty beach but as a diverse, multi-faceted country with rich culture and history, the millions of yearly visitors to this incredible island will not only experience Jamaica the way it should be but also leave the communities they visit the better off.