A Reunion in Jamaica Brings Recalibration, Reconnection, and Lots of Rum Punch

A quiet stretch of coast in Jamaica turns out to be the perfect place to gather with friends.

Bluefields Bay Villas near the sea in Jamaica

Bluefields Bay Villas is part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World group.

Courtesy of Bluefields Bay Villas

Book now: Bluefields Bay Villas

Past neon-colored homes, open-air roadside stalls lined with mangoes, and uninhabited mountainsides is where we agreed to meet. After months of toying with the idea, saving money, finding babysitters, and requesting time off, six friends and I communed in Bluefields, Jamaica. It’s a favorite location for residents on the island to gather for family beach picnics and also the site of reggae artist Peter Tosh’s memorial.

For some, the five-day trip would be their first experience traveling outside of the United States; for others, the first time on a plane since the pandemic. And for all of us, it was a reminder that though virtual meet-ups had somehow sustained us during the height of the pandemic, there really is nothing like the sound of a friend’s laughter in real time, the warmth of a hug, and a dance battle without judgment as reggae blares from speakers.

Swimming in the ocean at Bluefields Bay in Jamaica

Kristin and her friends found the calm and space needed to connect in Jamaica.

Courtesy of Kristin Braswell

We checked into Bluefields Bay Villas, a family-owned property consisting of six all-inclusive luxury villas offering between two and six bedrooms. It’s located about an hour drive from Montego Bay airport on Jamaica’s south coast—where the island’s countryside meets the sea and remains largely untouched by building development and raucous groups that often frequent other parts of the country.

Nearly 40 years ago, American couple Braxton and Debbie Moncure bought a beach house in Bluefields, which has since turned into an intimate resort that employs residents, some of whom have worked there for over 30 years. The property is an optimal location for group travelers seeking remoteness and the welcoming energy of a home away from home. From open spaces to commune, to a staff that becomes like family within a matter of hours, we knew that we had made the right decision.

Our four-bedroom villa, called Hermitage, overlooked a quiet cove and sloping green mountains covered in blooming flowers and palm trees. A staff of four quickly welcomed us with rum punch and bites of sweet potato crêpes with jerk chicken and callaloo. Before our arrival, we received sample menus to select breakfast, lunch, dinner, and poolside snacks at our villa. This personalization is what makes Bluefields a welcome change from the buffet-filled all-inclusives I’ve experienced in the past. Every meal was prepared using local ingredients and represented the best of Jamaican cuisine, with ingredients including scotch bonnets, nutmeg, and allspice. Each night at our flower-filled table at our villa, we savored plates of lionfish in a coconut curry sauce, braised oxtails, and rum raisin ice cream, fueled by candlelight and lively conversation.

Each secluded ocean-facing home at Bluefields has its own pool, some with open-air showers and direct access to a calm beach where guests can kayak, paddleboard, and snorkel as part of their stay.

Most of our afternoons started by our pool and ended at the beach, where a warm cove lapped by cerulean waters became a welcome corner to read a book, sip rum, and catch up on life with each other.

One day, we ventured to the nearby town of Negril for a boat ride with Aristo Kat Tours. On board the sleek catamaran, a nostalgia of the best kind was conjured with the same sounds of Sean Paul, Beenie Man, and Popcaan that we danced to at college parties years ago. After our boat tour around the northwest coast, we headed to Miss Lily’s at Skylark Hotel for a lunch of fiery jerk chicken and numerous glasses of fruit-infused rum cocktails.

On our last evening, we lamented having to leave our quiet mountainside retreat. The only time we saw other guests during our stay was down at the beach, and though we enjoyed these quick exchanges with people from around the world, it was the seclusion Bluefields provided overall that made our time spent together full of deep connection and gratitude.

Kristin Braswell is a travel journalist and founder of Crush Global Travel. She has penned pieces for Vogue, CNN, USA Today, Essence, NPR, Architectural Digest, Ebony, and the Los Angeles Times, among others. Her perfect day includes soca music, rum, and the ocean.
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