No matter where you are headed in Jamaica, there is a good chance your arrival
will be greeted by an abundance of gracious smiles-and a rum punch. That was how JAX FAX began a trip to Jamaica’s Montego Bay in September for the island’s annual Jamaica Product Exchange, or JAPEX conference (www.japex.org). The perfect companion to Jamaica’s balmy climate, the relaxation-inducing rum punch is also a good way to start a trip that will be as much about a rich culture and cuisine as it is about fun in the sun.
Taste of the Island
The distilling of rum is one of Jamaica’s most well-known contributions. JAX FAX got a taste of the island’s rum-making tradition at the Hampden Estate Rum Tour. Located about a 45-minute drive from Montego Bay in Trelawny, the 260-year-old estate includes a working factory that continues to churn out so much rum that it even supplies rum to other distilleries on the island.
The first taste a visitor gets is of the estate’s famed Rum Fire, a white rum that the visitor welcome area dispenses generously from what looks like a converted watercooler. This is a rum and punch that is hard to resist, even for those who in other circumstances would politely decline a fruity cocktail. During JAX FAX’s visit, even a gecko lizard couldn’t resist, slowly climbing until its little face was within dripping distance from the dispenser’s nozzle.
Visitors don hard hats as they are led through the grounds, past a copper-pot still, now out of commission, which was in use for 147 years. Tour guides detail how the rum is manufactured, noting the fermentation process, which takes place in vats made of cedar trees, some of which have been in use for 100 years. Visitors have the option of having lunch at the estate. JAX FAX was served jerk chicken and pork with Jamaican festival bread, a fried bread with a sweet, almost donut-like taste. The meal was capped off by a final rum tasting in which unmixed Rum Fire was served, along with the estate’s caramelized rum, Hampden Gold.
Finding comfortable accommodations in Montego Bay isn’t a challenge. JAX FAX stayed at the famed Half Moon luxury resort (www.halfmoon.com), which is celebrating its 65th anniversary this year. Recent $75 million renovations have resulted in a property that retains retro charm, yet has fresh, modern lodgings. JAX FAX stayed in one of the property’s Rose Hall Villas, in a seven-bedroom house that came with a private pool, butler, housekeeper, chef and a few golf carts to facilitate travel across the resort’s grounds and beaches.
Like the rum-tasting experience, any trip to Jamaica should include a taste of the island’s one-of-a-kind cuisine. The skilled chef in the villa prepared two excellent breakfasts, one of which included the Jamaican national dish, ackee and saltfish. Ackee is a locally grown fruit that tastes like scrambled eggs when it is prepared in the Jamaican tradition. It is served mixed with “saltfish,” which is typically salt-preserved cod, and often coupled with callaloo, a vegetable grown on the island that tastes like spinach. A Jamaican breakfast table will also include locally grown fruit like pineapple (there are over 20 different types grown on the island), papaya, watermelon and bananas. Sweets like coconut bread are also often a part of the feast.
A tropical escape to paradise for many, the island also is home to rich wildlife, which you can’t help but notice-or at least hear. On JAX FAX’s first night in Montego Bay, a high-pitched beeping sound could be heard through closed windows and air conditioning. It most closely resembled a beeping alarm from an electronic device. It was not a device gone haywire, as it turned out, but a frog.
If you happen to be on the island June through November, you might also come across a rare opportunity to witness newly hatched baby sea turtles making their way down the beach and into the ocean. Local conservationists rope off sea turtle nests on the beach, monitoring the nests to know when the eggs will hatch and then make sure the baby turtles have a safe path into the ocean.
Another great opportunity to explore the island’s natural resources is with a trip to Chukka Adventure Park & Falls at Good Hope Estate, located in Falmouth, approximately an hour’s drive from Montego Bay. River tubing, ziplining, waterslides and swimming are just a few of the ways you can pass your time at Chukka. A bar serving alcoholic beverages and a kitchen that provides lunch for the whole family make it an easy way to spend the day. The vibe at Chukka is relaxed; you can even bring your drink with you on your tubing ride, sipping rum punch or beer as you gently glide over the river.
After a day of water fun at Chukka, you can return beachside for a sunset cruise. JAX FAX experienced an Island Routes (www.islandroutes.com) Reggae Sunset Catamaran Cruise that left from Sandals Resort International at Montego Bay (www.sandals.com). The approximately three-hour cruise included an open bar, generous appetizers and music playing from speakers that spurred more than a few passengers to get on their feet dancing.
NEWS FROM JAPEX
At Half Moon Resort improvements include the refurbishing of the Sugar Mill restaurant and Cedar Bar; a new great house with a new lobby, which will open in 2020; a new raw food vegetarian restaurant at Fern Tree Spa; and 32 new Prestige Ocean rooms connectable in pairs in the resort’s new Cottages area near Fern Tree Spa.
In Kingston, visitors can stay at the recently opened the AC Hotel Kingston by Marriott (www.marriott.com), which describes itself as a “business lifestyle hotel.” Located in the center of Kingston, 10 miles from the airport, the hotel is close to both the business district of the city, as well as leisure attractions like the Bob Marley Museum and Hope Gardens.
For a more rural and bohemian experience, The Geejam Hotel in Port Antonio (www.gee
jamhotel.com) gives visitors a chance to stay in a hotel alongside recording artists, who work in the property’s own recording studio. The newly renovated resort, which has added 12 new bedrooms, extends from the foothills of the John Crow and Blue Mountain chain to the Caribbean waterfront beyond. The 12 new Marumba Studios offer ground floor and upper-floor options, with both floors overlooking the Jamaican rainforest.
The flight options into Jamaica are keeping pace with the expansion and renovation of the island’s hotels. New flight options to Montego Bay include daily American Airlines (www.aa.com) flights from JFK International, daily Delta Air Lines (www.delta.com) flights from Detroit and flights by LATAM Airlines (www.latam.com) from Peru.
With expanded options to get there, so many new and updated properties, and vast relaxing and educational activities, saying “yes” to Jamaica is as easy and sweet as that first sip of rum punch. www.visitjamaica.com