Hidden, artsy hideaways. Opulent luxury spots. And family retreats, too. Sun-seekers who wish for a great summer holiday in Jamaica have tons of hotel choices, with something for every type of traveler. Here’s a look at a few personal favourites.
It’s not quite a secret spot, but it’s enough out of the way from the usual places that you’ll feel like a Jamaican insider. You’ll also get a taste of real Caribbean life at this hotel, located west of Kingston on the quiet, untouched south coast of Jamaica. The hotel was built by the director of the reggae classic film “The Harder They Come,” Perry Henzell with the help of his wife, Sally, who’s a blast. Their son, Jason, pretty much runs it today and is very active in the community. There’s not much of a beach but the pool is nice and the food is very good. You’ll also find Dougie’s Bar, a classic, old-style, low-key place where bartender Dougie has been pouring rum punches and other specialties for decades. Some units are stand-alone buildings that look like something out of the Moroccan desert; with fanciful swirls and scattered bits of glass and seashells in the walls. There’s also a lovely spa, and you probably can get someone to give you a ride to the nearby Pelican Bar, a freestanding, ramshackle affair built on a reef more than a kilometer from the beach. Crazy fun.
Families have been coming here for generation after generation to experience the classic comfort and crisp service. It’s also been a magnet for celebrities, everyone from Eddie Murphy to former Canadian prime minister Jean Chretien, who charmed several hotel workers I’m told. There’s a lovely, crescent shaped beach with sailing, snorkeling and other activities. You’ll also find tennis, excellent golf, a dolphin discovery centre and an equestrian facility where they take horses and riders out into the ocean for a swim. You’ll find a huge variety of units, many of them private or semi-private villas right on the ocean. The food is excellent, particularly at the super-romantic Sugar Mill Restaurant. Old-style comfort and all the amenities you could possibly desire in one of Jamaica’s most proven and popular – and beautiful -resorts.
Hyatt is getting more into the all-inclusive game, and they’ve done a nice job with these twin properties in the Rose Hall area, just east of the Montego Bay Airport. They took the old Ritz-Carlton and added to it, creating the family-friendly Ziva property and the adults-only Zilara within the same compound. The Zilara is particularly sleek, with plenty of white walls and a minimalist, cosmopolitan feel to it. I found it lively but not over the top at all. The swimming pools at both complexes are beautiful and extensive, and there’s a wide choice of food; everything from Jamaican jerk chicken to upscale Italian. The sports bar is a nice spot to catch up on the game, too. There are a couple of beach sections, most of them fairly protected and good for family swims. They also have plenty of water sports, including sailing and snorkeling. Not to mention beach volleyball.
Old school, but in the best way imaginable. This is a fantastically pretty and oh-so-charming property in Ocho Rios, where you’ll find lovely, periwinkle-coloured units scattered around deep green lawns edged by riotous flowers and towering palm trees. They also have seven villa-style units, some with two bedrooms or kitchens. The spa is nestled in a jungle setting overlooking the crashing waves; a perfect spot for a massage with local products. The beach is nicely protected by a reef and rocky outcroppings; making it perhaps one of the safest and prettiest on the island. I found the food to be good but not the hotel’s strongest feature. There’s a nice bar (try the classic daiquiri) and a lending library with games and Internet access as well as a croquet lawn and some snooze-ready hammocks to try. There’s free Wi-Fi but you won’t find any TV’s on site; this is a place to get away from the world and relax.
This is almost two resorts in one. The seaside units are swinging well into the night, with pulsing music and lots of young folks dancing the night away. You’ll find the Ochi Beach Club alongside the main seaside hotel building, with everything from country hoedown nights to Caribbean picnics. It’s loud, but fun, and the beach is wonderful. They also have quiet units across the street, where you can have a hillside villa with your own private pool and a butler to deliver your meals so you never have to leave your love nest. Or you can take a quick shuttle down to the beach and enjoy the ocean. Lots of bar and dining choices, including very good jerk chicken and a romantic spot called The Reef Terrace, with great seafood and other options. Sandals is one of the oldest all-inclusive hotel groups in the Caribbean.
A wonderful family spot on a lovely stretch of sand, with shallow, calm water that’s perfect for little ones. Activities include stand-up paddle boarding, sailing, unlimited scuba diving, kayaking and lots more. Kids will love the Sesame Street characters, including Bert and Ernie and Elmo. There also are waterslides at the Pirates Island Waterpark for kids, and the young at heart. (Trust me on that front.) No kids? They can arrange anniversary parties and full wedding packages, including photographers. I found the food quite good (they have six restaurants on site) and the lodgings lovely during my visit. The cliff divers and sunset drinks at Rick’s Café are only a short distance away, and there are plenty of casual shops and dining spots nearby. Lovely sunsets, too.