We went to Jamaica with no agenda, just the desire to relax and take in the experience.
Initially, we were torn between visiting the Blue Mountains and a beach destination. We ultimately went with the beach, settling on Belmont, a quiet fishing village along Bluefields Bay, on the South Coast.
When We Went
The weather was gorgeous. Highs were in the mid-80s lows were in the 70s. The property we stayed in did not have AC, but we were very comfortable.
I was unsure about how the ocean water temperature would be this time of year, I had heard mixed accounts from people I talked to. I decided to bring my wet suit, just in case it was chilly, but it turned out to be just fine.
Length of time
We had a total of 5 days to spend on the island.
English is the official language. (Everyone we encountered on our trip spoke English.) I often had to listen extra carefully when having conversations to decipher through the thick accents. Jamaican Patois is also spoken in areas of the country.
The Jamaican Dollar.
US dollars were also accepted several places.
We flew into Montego Bay and stayed in Belmont, both are shown in the map below:
Check out what the CDC recommends for travelling to Jamaica here.
You cannot flush your toilet paper in Jamaica, instead little trashcans are provided to dispose of it.
We were not very careful about avoiding the tap water or ice on this trip. Neither of us had any problems.
We had a lot of people concerned for our well being when they learned we had just bought tickets for Jamaica while a travel advisory was in affect. Despite everything we heard, we felt safe while in Jamaica. Sure, in my own head I was nervous about walking around, but nothing happened during our stay that contributed to this. (It really was all in my head.) Everyone was very friendly. While in the village, people would “holler” at us, but in a nice way. We’d be walking around and someone would call out to us “Hey, how ya doin’ mon?” “You havin’ a good day mon?” We didn’t come across any pushy salesmen where we were at, which surprised me as this tends to be the norm when you stick out as a tourist.
After talking with some of the locals, they confirmed for us that drug trafficking is indeed a thing in Jamaica. Unfortunately, some of the people we talked to knew of others in the area who had died or are in jail because of being involved in the drug trade. We learned that one common route used in the drug trade has goods originating in South America, before stopping off in Jamaica, then the Caiman Islands, until it reaches its final destination in the United States.
Look Twice Before Crossing the Road
There was a two-lane highway located right outside where we stayed that cut through the center of the village. A thin strip of dirt hugged the sides of the road, no sidewalk. We had to walk along it single file. The speed limit was quite high and cars did not slow down while driving through the village. We could feel the vibrations as semis whizzed by us.
While walking the village one afternoon, we saw the remains of what appeared to be a candle vigil lining both sides of the road. We unfortunately learned that a local villager, Stumpy, had gotten hit by a car and died just a few days before we arrived. There was still blood on the road, staining the pavement. We happened to run into his mom, Lynn, and offered our condolences to her. The village was still in shock and grieving.
We flew into Montego Bay on Frontier Airlines. We woke up at 4 am that morning to catch the plane, it was a three hour direct flight for us out of Raleigh.
Once we landed in Montego Bay on the North Coast it was a two hour van ride through the hills to Belmont on the South Coast. We had arranged our rides to and from the airport through our Airbnb host.
There was lot of road construction we passed on the way to Belmont. The most efficient route that our driver, Loxley, went took us through the middle of the country. The Chinese were doing a lot of the new building, and we learned the locals had mixed reactions to this influence.
We were able to get everywhere we wanted to in Belmont walking.
We were seeking out an authentic experience while in Jamaica, and stayed at a place called the Sea Ranch, which we found on Airbnb. There was a main house as well as two smaller dwellings on the property. Ours was the Horizon Cottage, one of the two smaller wooden beach shacks, outlined with brightly-colored purple trim. The Star of David hung above the door.
There was limited electricity for fans, a couple of lights, a mini fridge, and a small propane camping stove to prepare meals on. The cottage was open-air with no screens on the windows. The entire bungalow was roughly 400 square feet, with half of this area being the back porch. An L-shaped bench with zebra-print pillows was in one corner, a wooden table sat in the middle. The beach shack was situated on top of a gray stone foundation that came right up to the water’s edge. You could continually hear the water breaking, at night it tricked my body into thinking I was on a boat.
Outside was an intricate bottle wall shower.
We met the yardies shortly after we arrived. Lagga was our go-to guy, helping us with activities and would prepare dinner for us if we asked. We’d often share a Red Stripe with him on the back porch and just talk. Hopi was a sweet middle-aged lady who kept the cottages clean and tidy. Clive tended to the garden. The property was surrounded by a wooden fence with a gate.
There was another couple who stayed in the other cottage a couple of days we were there. They were on the island recording ocean sounds for a project they were working on, and the only time we saw them was when they were standing on their heads in the yard in various yoga positions.
We saw a Sandals Resort, and we learned that the Jamaicans referred to said place as “the white house”. If you travel to Jamaica I encourage you to go out and interact with the people that live there.
- Snorkeling gear
- Swim suits
- Cool, comfy clothing
Electronics and Gadgets
Download Whatsapp. We used this app to communicate with our Airbnb host and driver to confirm ride pick-up locations.
We had the privilege of sitting and talking with Lagga as he cooked, and learned about some of the dishes we ate.
Foods We Enjoyed
Rice and Peas
Rice and peas were the staple served with every meal we ate in Jamaica. I fully expected little green peas in my rice, but they were in fact red kidney beans, the Jamaicans all refer to them as peas.
Fresh chunks of coconut (kow·kah·nuht) and coconut milk was the sweet ingredient used to lightly enhance the rice.
To do this, Lagga told us, you must break open the coconut, scoop the meat from the shell, and put it in a blender with water. You strain out the liquid for the rice and than can use the solid portion for cookies.
Salad in Jamaica was not a bowl of cold leafy greens, but rather a medley of warm cabbage and other steamed veggies.
Served with the meal, johnny cakes are small circular-shaped rolls with a doughy center and slightly sweet to the taste.
We ate the johnny cakes at Robert’s Chicken, a small wooden shack just down the road. A handful of small wooden tables and chairs lined the inside, you walked up to a screened-in counter to order.
Bananas were often served hot, they took on the texture and taste of a russet potato.
Of course we had to have some of Jamaica’s famous, wonderfully spiced chicken.
Lagga pan seared yellow snapper for us, whole, with a concoction of herbs and spices. He chopped off the head, and asked if we were okay with the bones, we told him to cook it for us just as he would for himself.
Clive went out into the water one afternoon and caught some fresh lobster. Lagga whipped them up for us for dinner.
On our ride from the airport to the Airbnb, Loxely bought a bag full of sugarcane from a man off the street. I made the mistake of attempting to break off a piece and eat it before I learned that you are supposed to chew on it and suck out the juice, then spit out the remaining, very tough, fibrous outer shell.
Made with cane vinegar, sugar, tomatoes, onions, raisins, mangoes and various spices this sauce has a both sweet and sour flavor with a hint of hotness.
There was an almond tree on the property, Clive was out collecting them one afternoon, chopping through the tough exterior with a machete.
On our drive to our Airbnb we passed a field full of orange trees that had their trunks covered in limestone to ward off termites.
A sweet, tastey juice made from the june plum fruit and ginger.
Jamaica’s very own Red Stripe was the popular beer to drink. (I’ve always been a fan of the crisp lager.)
A popular drink among the locals was to mix a Boom energy drink with rum.
We’d often reheat our leftover rice and beans Lagga prepared for us and add in bacon, pickka peppa sauce, potatoes, onions, and scrambled eggs for breakfast the next day. On one such occasion, we decided to heat up a couple of bagels in the toaster, but unbeknownst to us, a lizard had climbed in the toaster. He popped out a minute later, charred black and fixated to the bagel. We had accidentally cooked the poor little fella. I had a hard time eating bagels for a while afterwards…
- The Village of Belmont
- Kayaking To A Coral Reef
- Peter Tosh Memorial
- Fishing In The Caribbean
The Village of Belmont
Jerry the Irie Man
We met Jerry in his small wooden shack that he sold his own hand made goods out of. He smiled when we entered and greeted us with a freshly-bandaged hand, he had recently cut himself while making his Mahow wood carvings. He did excellent work, check out this rasta man we purchased:
Besides carvings, he uses various locally-found seeds as beads for bracelets and other trinkets.
We had to pass by Jerry’s shack to get almost anywhere in the village, so we ended up seeing him often.
The Heart Of The Village
Lagga took us to the heart of the village, to reach it we had to walk away from our little home away from home on the water and up into the hills. Little houses comprised of various building materials were strewn about.
We passed a woman wearing a pink bandage dress, and bought three Red Stripes from her for the walk, she had a fully stocked cooler and most certainly was accustomed to frequent visitors.
Jamaica is quite famous for its herbs.
Lagga pointed out many to us on our walk, flowers used as eye drops, several teas capable of different remedies, the leaf of life plant with its remarkable ability to survive droughts.
And, of course, marijuana. Perhaps the most famous of all Jamaican herbs, it was made a pronounced part of the Jamaican culture by the Rasta religion. It is an intricate part of Rastafarian mediation. Weed laws finally loosened in Jamaica in 2015, and each individual can have up to two ounces on them legally as well a grow five plants at their home.
Towards the end of our village walk, we stopped at a bar. I would not have recognized it as a bar from the outside if Lagga had not said as much. It was made out of plywood and had a rather plain interior, just a couple of video poker machines hanging on the walls and wooden stools at the bar. A young woman in a white cut off shirt took our orders. We got what Lagga ordered, rum and boom. I thanked her, but suddenly couldn’t figure out what to do with my hands or how to make conversation.
Kayaking to a Coral Reef
One sunny afternoon we hopped in a pair of kayaks (provided by the property) and started paddling out through the soft teal waves. About a mile out and we had reached the reef, distinctly marked by an orange buoy gently bobbing in the water. The sun was warm. We tied up the kayaks, put our snorkels, and slid in. The water was refreshing and cool. I stuck my head beneath the surface. Schools of fish passed by us. Sea urchins and corals of all different varieties clung to the rocks. We explored for a little while before heading back to land. As the sun went down the waves became darker and rougher.
Peter Tosh Memorial
We walked by the side of the road one morning down to the Peter Tosh Memorial, only a short ways away from where we were staying. “Mystic Man” was thumping through a large pair of speakers when we reached the gated entrance. Donovan, a middle-aged man with long braids greeted us at the door. He was holding a joint in one hand and shook ours with the other. We hadn’t brought enough cash with us to cover the entire entrance fee for both of us to enter the Memorial, but Donovan just grinned and ushered us in, telling us it was “no problem mon” and that we could repay him later. The tomb was adorned with bright, Rasta-colored murals and a marijuana garden was carefully planted and tended to around it.
Fishing in the Caribbean
Lagga was a captain and we went out on a local fisherman’s boat up to see what we might catch. We sped out a few miles offshore before throwing out the lines. They were simply lines with a hook on the end that you let slide through your fingers, they did not use fishing rods. We got a few bites and managed to hook a bonito before riding back in.