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What Not to Miss in Jamaica’s Montego Bay

What Not to Miss in Jamaica’s Montego Bay
December 18
08:00 2015

I had been to Jamaica once before but the memories of that trip are hazy and few and far between. Like looking into a kaleidoscope, that first trip comes in fragments–my now 18 year old sister, back then a baby floating in her one piece bathing suit. My parents laying on the beach while I run around the sand with those popular-tourist braids and beads woven into my hair. I couldn’t tell you what part of the island I was on–was it Montego Bay or Kingston? Was I at a resort or some unique off-the-beaten path inn? That trip is lost to time, swept away into the addled memories of my far childhood.

When I visited Jamaica for the second time–this past October–it was like rediscovering a place I once knew; only the slightest flicker of recognition coming back to me. The friendly faced locals, the pristine beaches, the savoury cuisine, the dramatic sunsets–it was all new, all foreign, all wonderful. I found myself staying in Montego Bay and making my way around to Negril and Ocho Rios as part of a press trip with the Jamaica Tourism Board. Over the course of only five days, I sailed on a catamaran at sunset, horseback rode in the ocean and enjoyed farm-to-table dining on Free Hill. Here are the must-do experiences in Jamaica’s Montego Bay!

Sunset Sailing on a Catamaran

The first thing I can tell you about catamaran rides is NOT to take Dramamine. I had taken two dosages of this anti-motion sickness drug and (unfortunately and embarrassingly) found myself passed out on the catamaran, lulled into the sort of deep, irresistible sleep that only comes from drowsy medication. The second thing I can tell you is that even if you do find yourself falling asleep to the rocking of the ocean, you’ll be hard-pressed to be tempted to close your eyes during the sunset. Jamaica’s sunsets are stunning and paint the sky in a brilliant display of pastel blue and pinks, vibrant oranges and navy blues.

What Not to Miss in Jamaica's Montego Bay

Jackie’s on the Reef

About an hour and half outside of Montego Bay is Jackie’s on the Reef in Negril. Jackie’s on the Reef is one of the island’s first holistic and wellness spas and is a far cry from the standard Caribbean spas you’ll find at every other corporate resort. Jackie is a New York native who straddles a life in Brooklyn with one on the island; it is this duality of a life of serenity and a life of city stress that immediately impresses me with Jackie, who is the picture of health and calm. Jackie’s on the Reef overlooks the ocean and is an eco-friendly destination where you can book a room, get massaged, pampered and eat local and fresh.

What Not to Miss in Jamaica's Montego Bay

Horseback Riding in the Ocean

I have seen and done some incredible things in my time spent travelling, but it is horseback riding through the ocean that proves one of the most freeing and exhilarating. How do I begin to describe the utter freedom felt when your horse is galloping through the warm Caribbean sea, your hair is blowing in the wind and you’re both in control of the horse and yet utterly submissive to its every movement? The water slapping against your legs, the horse’s breathing mixed with your laughing–you look up and spot the sun setting over the ocean and feel sublimely wild and free. Go horseback riding at Chukka Farms, that’s all there is to it.

What Not to Miss in Jamaica's Montego Bay

Farm-to-Table Dining at Stush in the Bush

Stush in the Bush is an organic farm founded by local Chris Binns and his wife, Lisa, whose love of farm-to-table cuisine and healthy living has earned them a stellar reputation in the community. Stush in the Bush they call it–the “stush” a Jamaican word for elegant boarding on pretentious standing in stark contrast to the “bush”–slang for rustic and low-key perfectly sums up the couple behind the small tasting room at Zionites Farm. Chris (the Bush) is a Jamaica native and farmer who grew up on Free Hill; Lisa (the Stush) is a New York transplant who brings a certain panache and business savvy to what was once just another farm on the island.

What Not to Miss in Jamaica's Montego Bay

What Not to Miss in Jamaica's Montego BayGet Pampered at a Spa

If I was fabulously wealthy I know I would invest in three things right off the bat: an around-the-world trip, a personal chef and a masseuse. Massages are such a treat and unfortunately in a city like NYC, they are a treat that eats your wallet alive.

While in Jamaica, I was treated to a variety of massages that truly spoiled me, from coffee bean scrubs and massages to ocean side back rubs. Jackie’s on the Reef was a fantastic spot for a massage and pampering as massages are done right on the reef, just feet away from the ocean.

Round Hill Resort also proved an incredible experience for spa treatments and offered thorough services that worked wonders on those city knots.

Stay Somewhere Fabulous, Like the Round Hill Resort

In one of the restrooms of the Round Hill Resort is a framed LIFE Magazine article dating back to the 50s. In it, the Round Hill is hailed as the most luxurious and happening resort this side of the French Riviera.

Back then it was a magnet for the jet setting crowd, drawing in such notable people as William Paley and the Astaires. Today, Round Hill seems a bit more attainable so that someone whose last name isn’t plastered on the side of a building in New York can stay there. When I arrive at Round Hill, it is like an oasis of serenity. The other guests sit languidly by the beach reading on an iPad, a cool breeze sways the palm trees and everything seems to be at a whisper. I can immediately tell that this is the sort of place that city slickers go to breathe and reboot; to disconnect from the world and take a trip of relaxation. With private villas, gorgeous beaches, and private pools–Round Hill is a splurge and the type of place you hope to stay at when visiting the Caribbean.

*I visited Jamaica as part of a press trip with the Jamaica Tourism Board. The Jamaica Tourism Board arranged activities and accommodations, which was complimentary.

About Author

Nikki Vargas

Nikki Vargas

Nikki Vargas is an NYC-based travel journalist with stories in VICE, FOOD & WINE Magazine, The Daily Meal, Matador Network and more. Nikki's blog, The Pin the Map Project, was voted a top 100 travel blog of 2015 and shares travel tips, destination guides, solo travel advice and more. Follow Nikki and her travels on Instagram!

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