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We went to Jamaica with no agenda, just hoping 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 this time of year. Highs were in the mid-80s and lows were in the 70s. The property we stayed in did not have AC, but we were very comfortable.
Jump in, the water is fine. I was unsure about how the ocean water temperature would be this time of year. I decided to bring my wet suit just in case it was chilly, but ended up not needing it.
Length of time
We had a total of 5 days to spend on the island.
Everyone we encountered on our trip spoke English. I often had to listen extra carefully when having conversations to decipher through thick accents.
Jamaican Patois is also spoken.
The Jamaican Dollar.
US dollars were accepted most places.
We flew into Montego Bay and stayed in Belmont, both are shown in the map below:
Health & Safety
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 call out to us all the time, but more as a greeting.
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 were currently 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 moving to the Caiman Islands, until they reach their final destination in the United States.
Look Twice Before Crossing the Road
There was a two-lane road 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, but 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 see his mom, Lynn, and offered our condolences to her. The village was still very much in shock and grieving.
How We Got Around
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.
Where We Stayed
We were seeking out as authentic of an experience as we could while in Jamaica, and stayed at a place called the Sea Ranch, which we found on Airbnb. There was a main building 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 was proudly displayed on the exterior.
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.
Our little 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 often shared a Red Stripe with him on the back porch. 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.
There was another couple who stayed in the other cottage on the property a couple of the days we were there. They had come to 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 one day, and we quickly learned that the Jamaicans refer to it as “the white house”. If you travel to Jamaica go out and interact with the people that live there.
What To Pack
Clothing and Accessories
- Cool clothing
- Swim suits
- Snorkeling Gear – I DID NOT end up needing my wet suit. I always opt to bring it if I’m not sure whether or not I’ll need it, you lose body heat 25 times faster while you are in the water!
- Download Whatsapp – We used this app to communicate with our Airbnb host and driver to confirm ride pick-up locations.
We stopped at a supermarket in Montego Bay to stock up on supplies on the way to our Airbnb.
We also had the privilege of getting to know Lagga and enjoying the meals he prepared. Everything he made was delicious.
There were a few places within walking distance of where we were staying to grab a bite (and a Red Stripe, of course).
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, but the Jamaicans all refer to them as peas. (Seen in the white bowl pictured below.)
Fresh coconut was the sweet ingredient used for flavoring 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 then strain out the liquid for the rice and can use the solid portion for cookies and other treats.
Salad in Jamaica was not a bowl of cold leafy greens, but rather a medley of warm cabbage and other steamed veggies. (Seen on the plate and blue bowl pictured above.)
Served with the meal, johnny cakes are small circular-shaped rolls with a doughy center and a slightly sweet taste.
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.
Belmont is a small fishing village, and we enjoyed sampling the seafood during our stay.
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 him leaving in the bones, we told him to cook it for us just as he would for himself.
Clive caught some fresh lobster, which is what we had for dinner that night.
On the ride from the airport to our Airbnb, Loxely bought a bag full of sugarcane from a man off the street while at a red light. He handed me and Alex a piece and took out one for himself. I made the mistake of attempting to break off a piece and eat it whole before I learned that you are supposed to chew on it, suck out the juice, and 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 flavors and just the right amount of heat.
There was an almond tree on the property, Clive was out collecting them one afternoon, chopping through the tough exterior with a machete.
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 personally always been a fan of the crisp lager.)
Jamaica is quite famous for its Blue Mountain coffee, however it was nowhere to be found in the village we stayed in.
A popular drink among the locals was to mix a Boom energy drink with rum.
We’d often reheat our leftover rice and peas Lagga prepared for us the day before and add in bacon, pickkapeppa sauce, potatoes, onions, and scrambled eggs for brunch 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. 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…
What We Did
The Village of Belmont
Jerry the Irie Man
We met Jerry in his small wooden shack where he sold his own handmade goods. He smiled when we entered and greeted us with a freshly-bandaged hand, he had recently cut himself while making his Mahow wood carvings.
Check out this Rasta man we purchased from him:
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 on a walk through the heart of the village, which was located at a point of higher elevation then our spot down by the water.
Little houses comprised of various building materials were strewn along the hillside.
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 and thus can be seen everywhere. The weed laws have finally loosened in Jamaica, allowing each individual to carry up to two ounces on them as well a grow five plants at their home.
At the end of our village walk, we stopped at a bar to grab a drink. 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 (the property had some available) 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 on, and slid in.
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 while before heading back to land, as the sun went down the water became dark and rough.
Peter Tosh Memorial
The Peter Tosh Memorial was a short walk 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 dreads greeted us, he was holding a joint in one hand and shook ours with the other. We didn’t have enough cash on us to cover the entrance fee to enter the memorial, but Donovan just grinned and ushered us in, telling us it was “no problem” and that we could repay him later.
The tomb was adorned with bright, Rasta-colored artwork and lyrics of the late reggae legend. (We asked permission before snapping the photo below.)
A carefully-tended marijuana garden surrounded the mausoleum.
Fishing in the Caribbean
Lagga did not have his own boat, but he was a captain and commonly sailed with other local fisherman.
He took us out to fish. We sped out a few miles offshore before throwing out the lines.
They simply used 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.
We Will Be Back
Jamaica was a place with beautiful scenery and an easy going vibe.
Time didn’t seem to matter so much here. No one was in a hurry.
Everyone was friendly and inviting. We left feeling that the rest of the world could use a little bit of Jamaica.