Q I’m going to Jamaica and want to immerse myself in local culture. What do you recommend?
My advice is to steer clear of gated hotels and resorts. Exploring coastal idylls such as Ocho Rios or Negril — or heading inland to the stunning Blue Mountains or to authentic towns like Frankfield — and staying with locals is what travelling to Jamaica is all about.
Having said that, you do have to be on your guard because Jamaica does have a crime issue. However, the authorities have taken huge steps towards allaying people’s concerns and are nowadays strict when it comes to monitoring and grading accommodation.
A while back, the authorities recognised that chain hotels — which had a stranglehold on the island — were actually putting off visitors keen to experience the real culture of Jamaica. A conscious decision was made to encourage intimate hotels, privately owned guesthouses and B&Bs (including those on websites like airbnb.co.uk), eco-lodges and charming beach cottages. In fact, the Jamaican Tourist Board has wholeheartedly embraced these new accommodation options.
Staying at a private home gives you the opportunity to learn the regional patois while sipping on coconut juice straight from the fruit, or, better still, drinking from a tankard of local rum. You’ll also get to eat food from the surrounding area, which is far tastier than the bland jerk chicken you’ll find at most hotel beach bars. Jamaican homes almost always have a porch, and it’s here you’ll sit with the owners and swap stories.
Private homes in Jamaica range from palatial colonial-style buildings with gardens, such as Calypso Villa, in Montego Bay (airbnb.co.uk; from £66 a night), to fairly basic cabin-style cottages in rural locations, where you might find yourself lodging with a lizard or two. Try Bamboo or Papaya, two farm stays in laid-back Port Antonio (also airbnb.co.uk; from £45 a night). The latter is a good jumping-off point for anyone looking to experience the lush forests and lagoons of Portland parish.
If you still hanker after the hotel experience but want to mix with the locals, you could try smaller places like GoldenEye, where a clutch of Creole-style beach cottages surround the former home of James Bond creator Ian Fleming, in picturesque Oracabessa Bay (goldeneye.com; from £340 a night).
Published in the May 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)