For our anniversary (and 4th of July weekend), my boyfriend and I decided to celebrate by taking ourselves on a much-deserved vacation. I wanted to go on an “island beach vacation” because it had been almost two years since my last one (in Barbados). It was a tough decision between Jamaica and Mexico, but being the travel planner I am, I did a copious amount of research and also asked friends who had been to both. Coming to a conclusion, Jamaica was the best decision, purely because Jamaica is more authentic in terms of culture, whereas Mexico has become “too Americanized” and “touristy”. On top of everyone’s suggestion on Jamaica, they also suggested that we stay at an all-inclusive resort, so that’s what we did.
Prior to Jamaica, we were looking forward to eating our weight worth in jerk chicken. And eating our weight work in jerk chicken we did. However, truth be told, we were somewhat disappointed by the restaurant selections and we think that being an all-inclusive resort was part of that. While it was great to have rum punch, Piña Colada, and rum strawberry daiquiris all day long, we both really enjoy a good meal, and being an AI, the food was pretty sub-par, in my opinion. Therefore, when we had the chance, we found a jerk chicken shack in the middle of nowhere to grab a bite.
Food aside, what we both really enjoyed in Jamaica were the experiences. On the afternoon we arrived, we made it down to the beach just in time for a romantic sunset swim.
The reception and WiFi connection were pretty shoddy, but to be honest, I didn’t mind it as it made for an excuse to really unplug – no text messages, no work emails, just enjoying each other’s company and taking in the Jamaican lifestyle. I didn’t and still don’t understand why some people travel all the way to an island just to sit at the resort for the duration of the whole vacation. I had planned fun-filled activities off the resort, for us.
For our second day in Jamaica, I had planned a huge day of activities – Green Grotto Caves, Martha Brae River, and the Luminous Lagoon. All three activities were ones we had both never experienced before.
At the Green Grotto Caves, we saw bats. Many, many, bats: hiding in the overhead ceiling pockets and flying around in the Grotto Lake. I’d never seen a bat in real life, before. Pictured below, on the right, you can see the shadow of a bat – look familiar?
During our 45-minute tour, we learned a lot about the Caves. During the 17th Century, the Caves were used as a hideout for the Spaniards, when the English invaded and took over the island of Jamaica in 1655. In the 20th Century, the Caves were also used by those smuggling weapons into Cuba. Since then, there have been signs put up within the Caves showing the routes and tunnels the aforementioned runaways used to escape.
Prior to 1999, the Caves was also the venue to a nightly Discotek, before officials realized the “doof-doof” was causing the stalactites to erode. One can only imagine how fun it would have been to have music echoing off the innards of the Cave.
Climbing through small passageways, we made our way down to the bowel of the Cave, to the subterranean Grotto Lake. This central attraction of the Green Grotto Caves is very special because the limestone labyrinth, containing natural minerals, cleans the water, making it clean and safe to drink. This was a haven for Jamaica’s first inhabitants in the 18th Century, the Taínos and runaway slaves, who used the Caves for shelter. However, for them, getting down to the Lake was not as easy as we experienced. Before man-made additions, there were no lights or stairways. To retrieve water, the inhabitants had to make their way down into the heart of the Caves in the pitch black darkness, by using their senses (not including vision). I forget to mention that along with the bats, the Caves are also home to other creepy crawlies, such as roaches, spiders, and snakes!
At approximately 1,525 meters long and 12 meters deep (I say “approximately”, as our tour guide had informed us that the real measurements for this natural attraction are not officially known), the Green Grotto Caves, with its unique rock formations, was once completely submerged. In reflection, it is an interesting fact which makes the Caves a spot I would recommend to explore, to those visiting Jamaica.
A tip for those planning to visit the Green Grotto Caves: Bring insect repellent (the bats eat mosquitoes but anywhere I go, I’m still a mosquito magnet) and wear comfortable shoes.
Rafting down the Martha Brae River, I got eaten alive by countless mosquitoes. Our raft captain, Spence, was very knowledgeable. At almost-71, Spence was fit, especially for someone that had been doing this for 48 years.
Spence let us both try our hand at being Captain. He told us crazy stories of people he had rafted down the river, he told us about his 14 children, and he told the story of the Martha Brae River:
In Jamaican culture, certain areas are named after significant people. The Martha Brae river was named after a woman called Martha, who practiced witchcraft. Her craft was to be used only for good, and not for evil, selfish doings. Legend has it that when the Spanish settlers arrived in Jamaica, they had heard of hidden gold, so they captured Martha in hopes that she would lead them to the treasure. Martha used her craft to escape from captivity, but upon running down the river bank, she was seen by the Captain of the Spaniards. The Captain alerted ten of his men to help him find her, as they thought she was seeking the treasure for herself. Knowing they were after her, Martha ran into a cave along the river path, and the Spaniards followed, thinking she was leading them to the treasure. When the Spaniards were inside the cave, Martha was nowhere to be found. She had used her craft to escape, once again. Turning back, the Spaniards were engulfed by the river, as Martha had blocked the cave and changed the course of the river. Of course, it is believed that the gold is still hidden there, to this day.
Spence had a great craft for carving gourds, so I bought one off him as a souvenir for our apartment.
A tip for those wishing to raft down the Martha Brae River: Insect repellent! Also, don’t forget to tip your raft Captain (at your discretion), as they only make a small percentage of the entrance fee.
I wasn’t able to capture any decent photos of this attraction, but the Luminous Lagoon in Jamaica is the “largest and most brilliant of the four in the world“, with the other three glistening waters in Indonesia, Bahamas, and Puerto Rico. The floor of the Luminous Lagoon is quite shallow, at only 3-4 ft deep, and I was a little hesitant about having my feet touch the “muddy” ground. However, after I tried it (and after a few squeamish cries), I realized I surprisingly liked the feeling. It was like standing on a squishy cloud of jello. Grabbing hold of the jello-esque mud, I smeared it all over my body, making my skin glisten like diamonds in the water. Of course, I consequently ruined a brand new white bikini, but it was totally worth it.
A tip for those planning to visit the Lagoon: In the summer, aim to arrive for the 7:00PM tour. Since it was summer when we visited, we had to wait for the sun to set. This wasn’t all bad, as we made the most of it by drinking rum punch on the pier.
Another tip: Bring swimmers and a towel, if you plan to swim. Don’t wear a white bikini.
Since the locations we visited were all somewhat within the same area, I had communicated my plans with Hannah-Marie from River Raft Ltd., who accommodated our needs by providing us with our driver, Percy. Percy stayed with us all day long, and drove us from each location. Thank you again, Marie and Percy!
After a long day, we made it back to the resort just in time for dinner – “nyam” jerk chicken.
The next day, we relaxed at the resort by going snorkeling and swimming with fish. We saw a few barracuda, sea urchins, and we found out that the tropical fish really like bananas!
On our second to last day in Jamaica, we took a bus to the Dunn’s River Falls. Climbing the waterfall all the way up was harder than it looked. At one point, when the water came tumbling hard towards me, I foresaw myself slipping on the rocks and I thought to myself, “Oh God, this is it. This is how it ends.” A bit melodramatic, to say the least, but what can I say? I’m a Capricorn. Luckily, I had the helping hand of my Knight (not in shining armor).
A tip for those planning on climbing the Dunn’s River Falls: Bring water shoes. If you don’t have any, the tour bus will stop off for you to buy some nearby the Falls, for $10.00.
After returning to the resort, we relaxed, ate some more jerk chicken, and spent the night under the moonlight and countless stars, listening to the ocean kiss the sand.
On our last morning in Jamaica, we had one last swim and snorkel, fed our fishy friends some bananas, and relaxed in the sun with some frozen libations, before heading to the airport.
While it only took a few days to completely wash out ALL of the sand in my hair, the memories of relaxing under the Jamaican sun will live on for a while. For now, I’m going to make a point to live life with no worries because, “irie, man“.