Take a walk down Negril’s famous Seven Mile Beach and you will be offered a wide selection of goods from a variety of beach vendors, but some of the items on offer might surprise you.
We had been in Jamaica for only a few hours when the first industrious farmer approached us to inquire whether we were interested in purchasing some of his special crop.
“I’m a farmer,” he explained. “I grow grass.”
Also on offer were a variety of baked goods made with special ingredients grown by local farmers and sold by Rastafarians who carried their baking in large tubs on their heads. “You need to eat this in small portions and not all at once,” I heard the baker advising another tourist who was making a purchase.
We were not at all interested in supporting these kinds of local entrepreneurs. For us, a family zipline canopy tour through the rainforest seemed like the best way to get high in Jamaica.
Our tour began with a bus ride from our hotel in Negril to the mountainous rainforest region of Ocho Rios. The hour-long ride took us through Montego Bay, the other main tourist area on the island, and up a winding mountain road to an old plantation where ziplines have been installed high above a deep river gorge in the White River Valley.
As we turned off the highway onto a dirt road that traverses through an old sugar plantation, we passed the burned out remains of an old sugar mill and a house. Our driver explained that these were both torched during a slave uprising in the early 1800s. He explained that the house had belonged to the slave master and that this revolt and others that occurred during that time led to the abolishment of slavery in Jamaica in 1838. He said that Jamaica had more slave uprisings than any other Caribbean nation.
When we reached the ziplining site, we participated in a safety lecture and signed waivers releasing our hosts from liability. Our guides helped us put on climbing harnesses, helmets, and gloves, and led us to the first platform where they expertly snapped our carabiners into place along the safety lines.
There are a total of nine ziplines on the Chukka tour and even though some of my family members were quite nervous as they stepped onto the platform leading to the first zipline, they were feeling confident and relaxed by the time they reached the last one. Soaring through the lush forest canopy high above the river gorge was absolutely exhilarating. For my part, it is the best way to get high in Jamaica.
Off-resort tours in Jamaica
There is more to Jamaica than golden beaches and pampered resort-life. Jamaica is uniquely set apart from the rest of the Caribbean archipelago by its people, its history, its culture, and its landscape.
The birthplace of reggae and Rastafarianism, this island nation embraces its unique African-ness and many islanders claim a greater affinity for Africa than for neighbouring Caribbean nations.
For visitors, there are unique foods to be tasted and a myriad of interesting sites to explore. Most hotels and resorts have staff dedicated to selling you commissionable tours or, in some cases, you can make arrangements to get to the sites on your own and save money. Below are a few recommended sites and tours to consider.
Chukka Zipline Tour — There are several different zipline experiences on offer in Jamaica. We chose a combo tour with Chukka Caribbean Adventures that offers ziplining with river tubing and included lunch. This company has been in business the longest and their track record for safety is excellent. The ziplining was excellent, but the river tubing was not. Unless you are travelling during the rainy season, the water in the river is simply too low to provide an entertaining ride.
Approximate cost: zipline and transportation only US$32 per adult; zipline, tubing, transportation and lunch US$83 per adult.
Dunn’s River Falls — These 183-metre falls located in Ocho Rios are one of the most popular attractions in Jamaica and the best way to enjoy them is to don a swimming suit and climb up them. Normally, visitors link hands and form a long human chain as they climb up the falls following a licensed guide. While you are climbing, the guide will identify plant life and tell you bits of local lore relating to the area.
Approximate cost: US$15 per person.
YS Waterfalls — Located on Jamaica’s south coast, YS Falls are a quiet alternative to Dunn’s River Falls. The cascading falls are located on an operating cattle ranch and you can get a good look at Jamaican Red Poll cattle as you travel through the estate on a jitney tractor to reach the waterfalls. It’s best to get to the falls early — the last tour of the day begins at 3:30 p.m.
Approximate cost: US$15 per person (falls only); tubing $6; canopy zipline $42.
Black River Wildlife Cruise — Operating from the town of Saint Elizabeth on Jamaica’s south coast, J. Charles Swaby’s Black River Safari takes you up the Black Rover by boat to see the crocodiles and birdlife that make the river their home.
Approximate cost: YS/Black River Combo US$110 with transportation; Black River Safari only $20 per person.
Nine Mile — Bob Marley fans will want to visit Nine Mile, the community where the reggae legend was born and is buried. His former home is now known as the Bob Marley Centre and Mausoleum and is a shrine to his music and life.
Tours are led by Rastafarians and the sale of marijuana is legal in this part of Jamaica, so you will likely be offered it more than once during a visit.
If you have a large group, you might consider arranging taxi transportation to the site, but for smaller groups a tour will be less costly.
A guided tour also protects you from some of the aggressive hustlers that will meet you outside the Bob Marley Centre.
Approximate cost: US$15 per person or US$74 for the Chukka Bob Marley Jeep Safari.
Rose Hall Great House — In the 1700s, Montego Bay’s Rose Hall Great House was one of the most spectacular greathouses in the West Indies, but today it is more popular for the legends surrounding its second mistress, Annie Palmer, who is known as the White Witch of Jamaica.
Approximate cost: US$20 per person.
Rick’s Café Sunset Party — There’s no admission fee to head down to Negril’s Rick’s café and watch the cliff divers perform, but the divers will expect you to tip them for your services. You may wish to have a few drinks or dine at the café while you watch the divers. Food and drink is expensive here, but there is a live band at sunset and cliff diving before that. Intrepid travellers may wish to dive from the cliffs themselves.
Off-the Beach Tours — You can book parasailing tours and glass bottom boat tours right off the major beaches in Jamaica. It’s best to try to book directly with the boat owner or parasailing company. A Glass Bottom Boat Tour on Negril should cost between US$10 and $20 per person depending on the size of your group and your negotiating ability. Our tour was with Captain Moses in Negril. Parasailing will cost about $40 per person with Premium Watersports.
Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story who we might interview, please email: DOGO@telusplanet.net or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, Alta., T4R 1M9.