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My boyfriend and I were incredibly fortunate to enjoy a Jamaican holiday this year.  With the promise of white sand beaches, sunny skies and humid weather, we were more than excited to land in Montego Bay in May to jump-start our summer.

We stayed at two hotels on the island, the first was the Hilton Rose Hall Resort and Spa in Montego Bay and the second was the Riu Tropical Bay in Negril.

Our stay was marred by rain but that didn’t stop us from having a lot of fun in spite of it or from enjoying all the delicious, albeit somewhat sugary, rum beverages.

The Hilton was well-kept and with its location on a private bay, we felt safe and secluded.  The rooms were clean and each had a balcony.  Even though it rained a lot we didn’t spend much time in our room, instead we spent our time in the outdoor covered lounges.

To keep the Jamaican heat at bay, there were two pools.  The first pool was just a regular rectangle but the second had much more going on.  It had water slides and a lazy river! Meant for children but fun for the whole family, we spent a lot of time in tubes floating around the river and going down (and up) the slides.  The water park feature of the hotel may attract more families and if that bothers you, I’d stay away.  I don’t mind kids but there weren’t that many anyway, could have been the time of year, I’m not sure.  There were several bars and eateries on the property including one swim up bar as well as waiter service.  We found lounging by the ocean to be the most relaxing spot and used the lazy river pool when we wanted a bit of shade.

The ocean at this hotel was clean and calm and the swimming area was quite big.  We brought our own snorkeling gear and ventured out-of-bounds where we encountered more waves and a rougher ocean.  We didn’t see much aside from vegetation but it was fun none-the-less.  The lifeguard was not too happy to see us coming back and we were told not to leave the cordoned off area again but since we didn’t see much we were fine with that.

Sandy beach at the Hilton Rose Hall

We had two outstanding meals while staying here, the first was at the on-site Italian restaurant and the second was off-site at the associated golf club.  The hotel provides a complimentary shuttle to and from the Three Palms.  The service was exceptional and the food was marvelous.  It was dark and stormy when we went but we heard the view of the golf course is quite pleasant.

One of the activities that we thoroughly enjoyed at the Hilton was the catamaran.  Intended to be a guided activity for people without sailing experience, we opted to take one out ourselves and wing it.  Unfortunately, it didn’t go exactly as planned the first time around but the more we did it the better we became.  By the end, we were sailors!  Alright, maybe not quite that skilled but we were able to skim across the water at a fairly quick pace and not get caught on the reef.  Success if you ask me.

A familiar sight at most hotels: the catamaran

We’re not really playing chess but if you play chess you could probably guess that

Playing in the stream was more along our lines

There was a lot to do at night, with the hotel hosting the typical events and entertainment.  We didn’t partake in most of it but it was there if you were interested, and many people were.

We took one tour while in Jamaica, to Dunn’s River Falls in Ocho Rios.  The bus departed our hotel early in the morning for the two-hour drive along the coast from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios.  We passed through several small communities and even saw Usain Bolt’s high school.  It was an informative drive as our tour operator gave us first-hand information on the life of the average Jamaican and provided us with some knowledge of the local fauna.

Upon arrival at the falls, we were led inside and handed off to our falls guide who wore no shoes.  Then we were offered non-slip water shoes.  Our tour guide led us down the hillside to the bottom of the falls where the water met the ocean.  It was a beautiful spot.  This is where their tour starts in earnest.  Instructed to hold hands to form a human chain, we then entered the water, climbing up the rocks on the side of the falls.  The cascading falls were easy to climb, owing to the fact that the rocks have been scraped to give them texture; the water was cold but not overly so, refreshing would be an accurate description.  Overhead foliage blocked out most of the sun but the air was warm so I was not uncomfortable.  Holding hands with strangers was a bit awkward, the whole idea being that if one person slips the person holding their hand can stabilize them but personally I think I would go down with the unlucky person and bring the entire chain down with me.  Other people commented that their first reaction would be to let go.  It must work since they insisted the entire time that we comply but we inconspicuously broke the human chain a few times, rebels that we are.

Be prepared to get wet.  Soaked actually.  The water is flowing at a good clip and the trail you take sometimes goes directly under the water.  Certain spots along the way are natural slides and you are placed and pushed, encouraged to have fun, or you are asked to jump in while your photo is taken.  And of course your photo is being taken, why even a video is being shot and heck, you will be taught a song as well and asked to sing, splash, and wave all in the name of fun.  It was corny but I am into that.  Everyone played along and I noticed that quite a few people bought the video, ourselves included.

The entire trip up the falls took about one hour and then we were left to our own devices to navigate the vendor stall maze that was the exit.  This part was not for me.  I don’t enjoy being asked over and over again to purchase something I don’t want or flirted with in the hopes I want this kind of attention.  It goes hand in hand with being in a tourist trap and part of being in Jamaica but I really could have done without it.  Back at the bus I noticed other members of our entourage had purchased the knickknacks so I guess not everyone feels the same way I do, to each his own right?

The bus ride back to the hotel was much more subdued.  I froze my butt off because I didn’t think to bring a dry change of clothes and the towel provided was no match for the air-conditioned bus.  But I had Bob Marley to keep me happy.  And if you have never been to Jamaica perhaps you don’t know this but they think tourists need to hear Bob Marley 24-7.  If before this trip I enjoyed his music, after I can say I am still not ready to listen to it, not yet, they played it that much.

On the coast between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios

The next part of our trip was spent in Negril.  I used tripadvisor to research a service to get us from one resort to the next.  I found Joe Cool Taxi and quickly booked with him.  Jamaica can be a dangerous place and there are people willing to take advantage of your ignorance so I highly recommend that you educate yourself prior to going out on your own.  Licensed taxis have a red plate beginning with “PP” or “PPV” and belong to JUTA.  Tourists are discouraged from taking the pirate taxis and the route taxis (cross between a bus and a cab) are mostly utilized by locals getting to and from work and school.  Don’t be afraid to take a taxi as it’s a great way to get out with a local and Joe was exceptional.  He was delightful, interesting and a great driver, truly first class.  He was prompt and cheerful and handled our luggage for us.  He had cold beverages waiting for us, made sure we stopped as often as we had to and offered to take us to see some of the sights along our route.

Cheers! In Joe’s taxi the party continued…

We decided to visit Fort Charlotte in Lucea.  Named after King George III’s wife, the fort was constructed in 1746 to protect Jamaica’s north-west coast from naval attack.  Its rectangular cut stone walls held up to fifty men and up to twenty-three guns that were thankfully never put to use, or so the story goes.  Fort Charlotte is in good condition despite its age with several features still standing.  I thought we’d see more students within the walls of the fort as a nearby school seemed to be on their lunch break but only one girl wandered in.  She politely said hello and set herself up out-of-the-way.  I recall it being very windy here, with the blue sea a few metres below and birds floating overhead.

School children watch us as we pass

I walk the perimeter of the fort with Joe, getting a local’s take on things

Many buildings still stand around the fort, some filled with junk, others offering a glimpse into the fort itself

Once in Negril we did some tourist shopping with Joe before arriving at our hotel, the Rui Tropical Bay.  The best thing to do in the heat is get into the water and the hotel provided ample opportunity to do so, having two pools, one with a swim up bar and built-in loungers and the other with a volleyball net.  Your other option is the Caribbean Sea and with its premium location on Bloody Bay, a rather ominous name for a gorgeous stretch of beach, you are in good hands.  There were vendors here as the bay is lined with numerous hotels as well as being accessible to the public; the more people to sell to the more likely you will be asked over and over again if you want to buy.  It’s part of being a tourist but one of the reasons I enjoyed the beach at the first hotel more.   However its superior location on the western edge of the island, the soft white sand, and the calm, clear blue water more than made up for this and the resulting vibe was laid back and comfortable as most people took the vendors for what they are and enjoyed their company.

There is no shortage of things to do on Bloody Bay and near-by 7 Mile Beach.  Jet ski, parasail, kayak, take a fishing tour, take out a catamaran, purchase food, buy hand-crafted items, relax, swim and best of all, watch the sun go down as a giant orange glowing ball.  7 Mile Beach was a short taxi ride from our hotel.  We spent an afternoon strolling from one end to the other but the more adventurous couple with us took a parasailing trip and enjoyed their time in the air immensely.

We found the food better at this hotel compared to the first.  Obviously you don’t go somewhere like this for the food, it’s resort food not Paris but there were a lot of options and it was fresh.  Dinner reservations were harder to get here and we were only able to get one near the end of our stay.  We found this meal hardly stacked up against the nightly buffet so we weren’t too upset that reservations were hard to get.  And of course there were nightly shows put on for our enjoyment which we did take the time to watch.

What real island life looks like

Locals do their shopping and hang out at the markets

Unfortunately, the week came to an abrupt end and reality slowly approached.  Joe took us back to the airport on a lazy Sunday afternoon.  All-in-all we enjoyed our stay at both hotels and we loved the weather, the beaches and the people.  Next time we go we will try to see and do more but with free drinks, unlimited food and loungers at the ready, our over-worked selves caved in to the hospitality and just enjoyed the view without exerting much effort.  Not too shabby.