WEAVING my way between piles of fresh coconuts and countless banana trees, I thought I had misheard our tour guide, Lorna.
But no, the 70-year-old local really said, “This spice is a favorite of some men, as nutmeg is great for those who have trouble standing in the bedroom.”
As we strolled through the working plantation, I thought she would tell us about the fruits and vegetables native to the Caribbean island, but instead we played an intense game of innuendo bingo.
The Sun Valley plantation is one of more than 2,500 non-sugar plantations on the island – and it was obvious that tourists were desperate to visit them.
Our hosts, locals Lorna and Brian, were desperate for us to try everything – from fresh cane stalks to native Otaheite apples and breadfruit.
That’s when we started to realize – to get the most out of Jamaica, you have to ask the locals what to see and do.
When we asked locals why tourists come to the island, many gave us the usual answer: the culture, the food, the tropical climate.
But for some there was a tinge of disappointment when they confessed, “for the stations.”
Yes, all-inclusive resorts are great – you have friendly staff tending to your every need, unlimited food and drink, and access to gorgeous pools and beaches.
But by hiding in a resort, you risk missing out on the true Jamaican experience.
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And that’s exactly what our driver, David Ricketts, didn’t want.
During our five days on the island, he knew all the places we needed to visit, and they weren’t the ones listed on Tripadvisor.
In his eyes, a family stall in Portland, in the northeast of the Caribbean island, served the best beef patty – essentially a Cornish patty and a beef burger rolled into one.
And even though he knew most tour guides could give us a good show at the Blue Lagoon – a mix of fresh and salt water that locals say is bottomless – he knew the Boxer tour guide would give us a unique experience.
As we set off through the 200-foot-deep turquoise waters, we thought we’d spend most of our 60-minute boat trip on the water.
But much was spent admiring the treehouses on the shore, built high up in the tree canopy.
Before returning to our boat, Boxer made sure to show us where we should stay the next time we were on the island.
Kanopi House, with pop-up windows and doors, allows for sleeping directly under the stars, surrounded by 100-foot vine-wrapped banyan trees.
And you’ll sleep soundly after a dip in the Jacuzzi or a massage in your very own treehouse.
It was our driver David who also recommended Miss T’s Kitchen, as we drove through Ocho Rios.
According to him, ordering the oxtail is a must – and he was right when he gave it a ten out of ten.
It seems that the best food in Jamaica is not that served in the sumptuous restaurants of the hotels, but the plates prepared by the locals.
COVID: There are no restrictions for all travelers, regardless of their vaccination status
GETTING THERE : Virgin Atlantic flies direct from Heathrow to Jamaica with fares from £1,109 return.
STAYING THERE: A standard room at the Tim Bamboo Hotel in Port Antonio costs from £48.10 ($60) per night. See visitjamaica.com.
A deluxe room at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston costs from £145.91 ($182) per night.
As by Liyah, an indigenous chef who, during a private cooking class, provided the best of salted fish and ackee – a fruit belonging to the lychee family.
During our five-day tour of the island, we were offered this national dish for most meals, but his idea of serving it like American nachos, on a bed of thinly sliced and fried plantain was brilliant.
Jamaica is also a gem of a place to relax and recuperate.
And, yes, you can get all of that at an adults-only all-inclusive resort, but those aren’t the only places.
Frenchman’s Cove, from the outside, looks like any ordinary hotel driveway.
But it’s less than a five-minute walk to an idyllic white-sand beach, where there’s a freshwater stream outfitted with Instagrammable swings, and an almost private section of the Caribbean Sea.
It’s no surprise that the resort’s sandy shore was named by Forbes in 2020 as one of the best beaches in the Caribbean.
The best part is that the beach remains quite empty, making it the perfect place to relax.
If peace and quiet is what you’re after, it’s best to limit your time in the capital, Kingston.
Although it’s here you get a really authentic taste of Jamaican culture.
The home of legendary reggae artist Bob Marley is definitely worth a visit.
The stunning detail of his former home that they managed to save for posterity – including one of his last bags of marijuana – is breathtaking.
And singing in the famous studio is an experience you won’t forget.
The same can be said for the historic Devon House.
The selling point here should be that this is the beautifully preserved home of the island’s first black millionaire, George Stiebel.
Instead, it’s the i-Scream. — according to tourist guide David, the best ice cream on the island.
Having to unpack only once during your holiday may seem appealing to some, but there are definite benefits to getting around the island – although I’d recommend booking a tour guide to help you out, as the lack of signs signage makes it a bit confusing. .
To the north, Montego Bay is ideal for those looking for good nightlife.
Ocho Rios, on the other hand, has all the sights – snorkeling, swimming with dolphins and waterfall hikes – and then Kingston in the southeast is home to plenty of historic attractions.
This is where we stayed, at the Pegasus Hotel, just a two minute drive from the city centre.
Its website describes it as a “distinguished address for business and leisure” and it is exactly that.
With pilots and cabin crew constantly flooding the lobby and functions often limiting pool access to other guests, it’s not the place for a family vacation.
But with just a 25-minute drive from the airport and a five-minute drive from central Kingston, it makes for a prime location.
Our group then moved on to the Tim Bamboo Hotel, an independent hotel in Port Antonio where the home-style Jamaican catering and friendly staff were excellent.
Additionally, the cottages gave our group a private living space and kitchen to relax in during downtime.
But it was the drive between our two hotels that was the real bonus.
Our group barely took their eyes off the road as we went from rough seas to jungle in minutes.
So, yes, you can go all-inclusive and laze by a pool for days on end.
But after being stuck in one place for the past two years, why not embark on a little Caribbean adventure?