Claire Craig discovers the delights of Jamaica
There are no problems in Jamaica, only situations.
This is the locals’ oft-repeated saying and it’s infectious. But then with the balmy weather, gently swaying palm trees and a winning combination of rum and reggae, forgetting stresses and adapting to island life is a situation I wouldn’t mind finding myself in more regularly.
Even getting there is easier than ever thanks to the new Thomson flight direct from Dublin. Not a fan of flying I wasn’t exactly excited about the prospect of a nine hour plane ride but whether it was down to the Dreamliner’s spacious cabin with larger windows, mood lighting and extra oxygen or the anticipation of what lay at the end of it, this long-haul journey was to be enjoyed rather than endured.
Touching down and the Caribbean is all of the clichés – white, powder soft sands, candy coloured buildings and turquoise seas but it’s what’s away from the beaches and weather that makes Jamaica so special. A rich history and vivid culture mean this island is about far more than just good looks.
The people are warm and welcoming and every bit as laid back as you might expect. The downside of this means you will inevitably queue to get through customs at arrivals but the upside is if you want to grab a Red Stripe beer from the bar outside the airport the coach will wait.
Our base for the fortnight was Ocho Rios, a purpose built resort and main port of call for many cruise ships. While the two hour transfer from the airport may not seem too appealing initially the area is perfectly placed to discover some of the island’s most renowned attractions including Dunn’s River Falls.
Pulling into our hotel, the ClubHotel Riu Ocho Rios, we were greeted with immaculately kept gardens, to be topped only by the glittering sea views that lay waiting for us upon entering the lobby.
If you’re still not in the island mindset then a chilled cocktail helps speed up the check-in process and adjust you to the slower pace of life.
With its multiple swimming pools, gym, wellness centre and a la carte restaurants the Riu Ochos Rios has everything you’d expect from a five star hotel and more. Spacious, air-conditioned rooms, a varied entertainment programme, 24 hour all-inclusive and friendly staff who go out of their way to ensure you’re enjoying your stay.
Not a fan of buffet style restaurants and the bland monotony of hotel dining night after night I normally veer away from the all-inclusive option but as the Riu has a choice of five different restaurants on site, including a steak house and Asian, I decided it was worth the gamble and ended up eating my words, quite literally. The food was so good in the main restaurant, with a variety of live cooking stations at every meal time and a selection that aimed to cater for all taste buds while giving a a genuine flavour of Caribbean life that the other restaurants were all but ignored.
Tucked away in Mammee Bay the hotel plays home to a few thousand guests but you’ll never struggle to get a sun lounger or find a vacant table or seat- there are no problems here, remember? Our toughest daily struggle was in deciding whether to lie by the pool or dander down to the private beach.
When doing nothing gets to be too much the hotel offers windsurfing, kayaking, sailing and snorkelling all free of charge but it’s well worth making the effort to venture further afield and explore this stunning island.
There’s river rafting and bobsledding for the adrenaline junkies; horse back riding and swimming with dolphins for animal aficionados and boat trips and beach visits for sun seekers.
But Jamaica is not just somewhere to be seen, it’s to be discovered and in doing so it’s impossible not to be influenced by the country’s strong sense of culture. Nowhere is this more evident than away from the tourist areas and in the capital itself. While visitors aren’t advised to go alone a guided tour through Kingston Town, with its chequered past, offers an insight into the fascinating history and diversity of Jamaica.
It’s impossible to think of Jamaica without thinking of Bob Marley. An ambassador in his lifetime, even in death Nesta Robert Marley’s legend very much lives on and continues to affect generations of people from around the world.
A museum in Kingston is dedicated to the memory of the reggae superstar and one of the city’s most-visited sites but real Marley devotees will make the pilgrimage up the mountain to Nine Mile and his birth place.
Not for the faint-hearted the brightly coloured ‘Zion Bus’ picks you up outside your hotel and takes you on the rickety journey, winding through country roads so full of twists and turns you’d almost spill your rum punch.
On arrival a dreadlocked guide takes you around the ‘Graceland of Reggae’, pointing out Bob’s birth and burial place, the single bed made famous in the song ‘Is This Love’ and the rock pillow he said was his inspiration all while telling tales from his lifetime.
While the tour itself is interesting what’s more emotive is the reaction of the locals to the bus loads of tourists that must make this trip daily. School children gather to wave, women come out of their homes and workers stop what they’re doing to hold their fingers up in the gesture of the ‘one love’ sign.
This Rastafarian notion relates to the belief of unity; that everything and everyone are the same and is echoed in the country’s National motto, ‘Out of Many, One People’.
It was at this point I realised why so many people feel an affinity with Jamaica; it’s more than a place, it’s a feeling. And one that lasts long after the suntan fades.
Fly direct to Jamaica from Dublin on the Thomson 787 Dreamliner commencing June 8, 2017.
WHERE TO STAY
Flights and all-inclusive board in the ClubHotel RIU Ochos Rios for 14 nights cost from € 1,779pp.