Where to Stay, Swim, and Eat Off the Beaten Path in Jamaica

AFAR.com local expert Lebawit Lily Girma, of the travel blog Sunshine and Stilettos, shares a few good reasons, including jungle pools and fiery jerk chicken, to stray from the typical Jamaican hot spots.

There’s more to Jamaica than the famous tourist traps. We asked our local expert, Lebawit Lily Girma, three questions that will ensure you find the secret waters, cozy hotels, and authentic foods you crave on a truly immersive Caribbean excursion.

Where can I stay to break out of the tourist bubble?

Over on the east coast, around the city of Port Antonio, you’ll find fewer crowds but plenty of culture and landscapes in every shade of green. The renovated Trident is a worthy splurge: Watch the sunset from your villa’s Caribbean-facing plunge pool and then check out nearby Geejam, a hotel and recording studio (Björk and India.Arie have made albums here). Your meal of curried fresh-caught shrimp might be accompanied by live mento, a style of Jamaican folk music. For something even more remote, take a 50-minute drive along the coast to the neighboring village of Manchioneal, where you can hike out to the sprawling Reach Falls, which are easily the island’s most enchanting.

After the beach, where else can I dip my toes?

Head inland to swim in fresh river wata, as Jamaicans do. Better than Dunn’s River Falls, which tends to get crowded, is Irie River. You’ll find a string of jade-colored pools and falls that weaves through a hundred-acre swath of forest and gardens planted with pimiento trees and ginger lilies. Or, 20 minutes uphill at the Irie Blue Hole, grab a vine, Tarzan style, and swing into the deep turquoise pool. Over in Jamaica’s surreal Cockpit Country region, you can spend an afternoon shimmying past stalactites and stalagmites at Rock Spring Cave, then cool down with a dunk in an underground pool.

Where can I try real-deal Jamaican food?

Local entrepreneur Janet Crick leads a half-day food tour of Falmouth, which takes you from roadside vendors to restaurants, tasting jerk chicken and gizzada (a coconut-filled tart) along the way. If farm-to-table is more your speed, the biweekly dinners at the Round Hill hotel are a parade of Jamaican produce sourced right from the garden—don’t miss the Scotch bonnet pepper ice cream. And for the island’s most progressive food, hit up 689 by Brian Lumley, in New Kingston, for oxtail lasagna and spring rolls made with ackee, a savory island fruit.

To see our Jamaica off the beaten path checklist, click here.
To plan your trip, go to afar.com/visit/jamaica.

Lebawit Lily Girma is an award-winning travel journalist and photographer specializing in the Caribbean region.
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