The child in front of me hurled himself off the tree-top platform high off the forest floor and sped through the air. I couldn’t back out now. While zip-lining had long been on my wish-list, dreaming about it and actually standing on the edge of a sheer drop preparing to fling myself into thin air were two very different things. Besides, I was in Jamaica. Shouldn’t the perfect Jamaica holiday involve lounging on a beach drinking rum cocktails instead of dicing with death?
The shout came from across the tree-tops. It was my turn. I took a deep breath and ran, like a cartoon character, right off the edge. It was as terrifying and exhilarating as I’d hoped. Landing turned out to be even more scary than taking off. Where were the brakes? In my panicked attempt to stop, I flung out out a hand ahead of the fast-moving metal clip connecting me to the wire. By pure luck, my thick glove got shredded, rather than my hand. Now where was that drink?
It was my first time in Jamaica and the trip turned out to be more action-packed than I’d expected. While there were inviting picture-perfect golden sandy beaches, a sparkling blue ocean and towering palm trees – we had a schedule to stick to. So hold onto your cocktails – here’s what to do in Jamaica when you haven’t got a lot of time to to do it in….
Rafting down the Martha Brae River
Being punted down the Martha Brae river was one of the highlights of an amazing trip. For about an hour there was nothing to do but relax and enjoy drifting along the calm sun-dappled waters. On the banks are the occasional stall selling anything from clothes and ornaments to towels and marijuana or you can just lie back and let your guide lead you downstream towards a cooling beer. This was a definite highlight of my visit.
Climbing the Mayfield Waterfalls
There’s looking at waterfalls – and then there’s being IN the waterfalls. The falls at Mayfield consist of 21 separate mini-waterfalls and you actually wade, climb and swim up the middle of the river and up through the falls. As you are going to be totally immersed in the water, you leave everything which isn’t waterproof behind (there are lockers for that purpose), cross a bamboo bridge into the forest and then spend an enjoyable few hours getting extremely wet. The sunlight criss-crossing the river through the canopy of trees overhead makes for a beautiful photograph (if anyone is prepared to risk their camera or phone) and afterwards you can tuck into a drink and some fried chicken back at base while your clothes and shoes (and you!) dry out in the sun.
Cliff-diving at Rick’s Cafe
The clifftop Rick’s Cafe in Negril is a national landmark where hundreds of people congregate for the great view, bucket of beers, dancing – there’s usually a live band playing Bob Marley (who else?) – and a spot of cliff-diving. Yes, that’s right… Those who like a little risk with their drinking can chose to leap off a succession of jumping-off points (the highest is a vertigo-inducing 35 metres) or local kids will dive for you for a fee. The other side of the bar offers great views of the setting sun every night – it’s selfie heaven here – and the whole thing has a very apres-ski vibe. Arriving by boat isn’t a must but it certainly adds a certain class to proceedings.
Sailing and snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean
Talking of boats… there’s no quicker way to feel like you’re on holiday than by getting on board and heading off into the open waves. A well-stocked bar of chilled beers (including Jamaica’s very own Red Stripe) and bottles of local rum only adds to the fun.
We set sail with Stanley’s Boat charters and had an excellent afternoon zooming around the coast, enjoying the views and stopping off at the famous caves under the limestone cliffs at the western tip of Jamaica for a spot of snorkelling in the crystal-clear water.
Zip-lining in Good Hope adventure park, Falmouth
Zip-lining has long been a bucket-list item for me, but standing on a high platform onto the edge of a massive drop into the forest below I found it hard to remember exactly why. However there were no excuses – I was securely attached to a sturdy cable and had just watched a 10-year old boy shoot off into the air without flinching. Chukka Caribbean Adventures has four different sites in Jamaica alone, offering a whole ranges of activities including sailing, horse-riding, kayaking, tubing and river-rafting as well as zip-lining. I soon learnt that the secret to zip-lining is to defy what your senses are telling you and to just step (or run) out into the open space – you’ll be flying through the forest in no time.
Jamaica’s colonial past
Rather than brushing the past under the carpet, Jamaicans chose to acknowledge and celebrate it with a lack of anger and bitterness which is inspirational. There are several original colonial buildings known as Great Houses still standing, of which Greenwood is possibly the oldest.
Built in 1780 by Edward Barrett, father of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Greenwood sits high on the hillside overlooking Montego Bay and offers a fascinating if eye-opening tour round a notorious part of Jamaica’s past, complete with antique furniture, brutal man-traps to catch escaping slaves and the ‘whistling alley’ where slaves carrying in dinner to their masters had to whistle to prove they weren’t eating the food. The stunning views from the balcony made for a startling contrast with the land’s bloody past.
As if that wasn’t enough to keep you busy, you simply can’t leave Jamaica without:
Eating jerk chicken at a roadside restaurant
Sampling a rum cocktail (or two, or three…)
Listening to Bob Marley – he is EVERYWHERE. On buses, in taxis, in restaurants, in bars, on the beach – the national heros songs will be in your head all the way back home.
Drinking fresh coconut juice straight from the shell – and then eating the delicious coconut pulp itself.
Taking in the varied sights and sounds of this beautiful Caribbean island, from roadside shacks and sandy beaches to the lush interior and local traditions
(but you don’t have to jump over crocodiles like James Bond did)
Where I stayed:
All-inclusive and with a stunning location right on the beach, the family-friendly Club Hotel RIU Negril has five restaurants, several bars, wellness centre, live entertainment and three swimming pools. With 400 rooms it is vast, so be warned: your bedroom might be a good 10 minutes walk from the main reception (as mine was) but at least you’ll have the free minibar in your room to great you at the end. The rooms are large and clean, there are beach parties and cabaret shows and the (free) cocktails in the main bar are served by a singing waiter. What more could you want?
Just five minutes (literally) from the airport, RIU Palace’s location in Montego Bay means you’ll won’t waste any time on airport transfers before enjoying those all-inclusive drinks. It’s located on the beach which doesn’t have the sweeping bay of the Club Hotel RIU Negril, but the powerful cocktails – such as my vibrant green Liquid Marijuana – delivered straight to your beach lounger will more than make up for it. It seems more modern and possibly ‘cooler’ than Club Hotel RIU Negril (even the karaoke night was classy) and the adults-only policy means it’ll stay that way.
[Editor’s note: this review was originally published last year but has been updated to contain the latest information]