The look on their tiny faces is nothing short of pure bliss. Two young siblings and their mother are crouched, waist-deep, in the shallow waters on Jamaica’s famous north coast, gently caressing a massive stingray. Their guide explains how these graceful sea creatures use electrical impulses to guide their way through the ocean.
“How does it feel?” someone shouts from shore. “Slimy!” the kids shout in unison, grinning ear to ear.
Memories like these make this island a must-see for travellers, particularly families seeking to explore its endless natural wonders.
Jamaica knows how to roll out the welcome mat for pint-sized travellers and their families. Most hotels have special programs or play areas for kids and teens, including some spas. The shallow, warm waters of Jamaica’s beach resorts make them perfect for tinier tots while teens often love horseback riding in the surf. At the end of the day, head for the streets lined with multicoloured shacks or the street vendors selling Jamaica’s famous jerk meat, slow-roasted over pimento wood.
Round Hill Hotel and Villas west of MoBay is a lush property set among the palms with a killer view from the pool and suites just made for romance. In Negril, there’s no better place than the Rockhouse Hotel, a collection of thatch-roofed huts set atop the cliffs, with the sound of surf soothing you to sleep. Its dining room on the water, surrounded by tiki candles, is one of the best in Jamaica.
There is practically no activity that’s off-limits for families, whether it’s swinging Tarzan-style through waterfalls, bamboo rafting, ziplining high above orange groves or zipping down the Mystic Mountain bobsled near Ocho Rios. At Rhodes Resort near Negril, horseback ride through the plantation and later race into the surf and feel your steed sway in the ocean current. Kool Runnings waterpark in Negril (across from the Beaches resort) brags of slides, canals, spray parks and pools.
Head west up the coast to the hippie town of Negril where you can stroll along its 11-km ribbon of silky sand. You won’t find high-rise hotels in Negril; most accommodations on the town’s main beach are two-storey inns and guesthouses.
Christopher Columbus “discovered” the island of Jamaica in 1494. Years of occupation by Spaniards and British, coupled with hurricanes and slavery, left behind many ruined plantations that today have been restored into Great Houses. Most famous is Rose Hall near Negril, where the cruel “White Witch,” Annie Palmer, is said to have murdered three husbands.
With its resilient people, dramatic landscapes and vibrant island culture, Jamaica is at once chaotic and peaceful; wealthy, yet struggling. Feel free to leave your resort to visit the chaotic local markets, where everything from live chickens and turmeric root to crafts can be bought and where some of the best people encounters will likely happen.