‘I visited a paradise Jamaican hotel with its own private nudist island for couples’

By Staff


Simon Bird chills out in Jamaica, the laidback and lush birthplace of singer Bob Marley, which is now easier to visit since the opening of Norse Atlantic’s low-cost seasonal route from Gatwick to Montego Bay, with flexible fares to April

Ye man! Wha Gwan. Jamaica, the island of Bob Marley, Usain Bolt, Blue Mountain coffee and paradise beaches knows how to shout out a welcome in the local patois. To me, not unlike the broadest Geordie accent.

There’s something about the language – the locals love to give you a lesson – that tunes you into the Jamaican way
of life. Sunshine, white sand beaches, coral reefs, sparkling fish and luscious greenery in the hills. At a pace of life where no one is in a rush and time moves slower. The Reggae Beat of Bob Marley is everywhere.

The whiff of weed, ­decriminalised here, never far away on the beaches or bars. Where to head and what to do?

Well, it’s easier to get there now with the opening of Norse Atlantic’s low-cost seasonal route from Gatwick to Montego Bay, with flexible fares to April, then resuming in December. Jamaica is one of the Caribbean’s biggest islands with three main beach areas, plus the capital Kingston, and each is packed with attractions.

Or just do nothing and marvel at the palm-lined coastline, clear seas and indulgent all-inclusive hotels. In Negril, on the north coast, there is a raw feel to the famous and stunning seven-mile beach.

My all-inclusive hotel, the Azul Beach Resort Negril, has seven restaurants and is situated on a stunning sliver of silver sand. Each morning as the sun rose I took advantage of the free water sports and went kayaking, exploring the coastline, watching the multicoloured fish swimming and the coastline coming to life. Knowing it was snowing at home made it all the more idyllic.

Jamaican jetski

I made a special friend, Schoolboy, a very tame and patient horse. And, yes, he is the “Jamaican jetski” referred to by a guide at the Jamwest Motorsports and Adventure Park. I have little experience of saddling up but here I was, riding to the sands, steering Schoolboy with his reins… and yes, then into the sea.

I was encouraged to break into a trot while bobbing down to the beach. The animals seemed to love the cooler sea as much as the humans. The fact that the sun was just setting made it all the more special.

In fact, sunsets are an occasion here. Watch it sink behind the horizon while you enjoy drinks at Rick’s Cafe. Further south in Montego Bay – try getting Amazulu’s 1986 song out of your head – there’s the discreet and relaxed Doctor’s Cave Bathing Club for a day on a private beach.

By river, waterfall and bamboo raft

And then to the town of Ocho Rios – eight rivers – where property owners include Rolling Stones stars, Bryan Adams and an England footballer. It’s another stunning stretch of coastline with green foliage and white sand, studded with fantasy villas and hotels with history. We headed to Dunn’s River for another adventure… walking up a waterfall.

It looked daunting at first. Would we not be slithering on the rock against the flow? But it ended up feeling like a natural spa afternoon. Cooling plunge pools, massaging water shoots and a slide took the heat out of the day as we picked our way up the gorge and worked up an appetite for traditional Jamaican Jerk dishes at Scotchies, a no-fuss outdoor eatery.

Go easy on the chillies

Then it was on to Martha Brae River, where I took a homemade bamboo raft and, using the current and some skilful punting-style prods of the riverbed, steered through the jungle. Jamaican punting is a tricky skill, planning 150ft ahead to make subtle adjustments and avoid a crash or running aground.

It’s chilled, but also a historical demonstration of how the local crops of bananas were once transported from inland to the coast for export.

Married on a nudist island

If you don’t fancy getting wet, the Couples Tower Isle hotel offers a range of boat trips including fishing. The glass-bottom boat tour showed the nearby coral reef coming back to life after winter. We saw huge starfish and, while snorkelling, a stingray.

Divers headed for the wreck of a British ­minesweeper sunk just offshore and now an underwater attraction and home to colourful fish you’d see in an exotic aquarium.

The luxury hotel is aimed at loved-up couples rather than friends. It has its own island where nude bathing is ­compulsory, but only permitted with a partner… as I found out when I made the five-minute swim there alone, and was sent back to shore on the ferry boat.

But I returned on the next crossing, with four – yes four! – female guests from the hotel’s beach who all agreed to tell the boat operator they were my partner! Everyone found a discreet corner to go natural. You can even get married there – but with your clothes on.

If you’re loaded, try one of the luxury rooms for £1,100 a night. All treatments come free in its spa, found by Time magazine to be the top one in the Caribbean. The hotel has six restaurants, and a standout experience is spending the evening at the Bayside, jutting into the sea, with a warm breeze. Meanwhile, the dishes with gourmet flavours of old Jamaica at the elegant indoor Eight Rivers were top class.

The sun is shining, on Bob Marley

But what about Bob Marley, Jamaica’s most famous and celebrated son and subject of the new biopic Bob Marley: One Love? A trip to his home – now the Bob Marley Museum – in Kingston is a must. When he made it big, Marley moved from edgy Trench Town and bought a home in Hope Road, with the Prime Minister and ambassadors as neighbours.

“I’m bringing the ghetto uptown,” he said. He wrote, recorded and pressed vinyl here, and made his biggest hits. The studio, his possessions, clothes and golden disc remain. And so do the bullet holes in the wall where he was shot in December 1976 while on a break from ­rehearsing with his band The Wailers.

The incident left him with an injured arm, shortly before he was due to play a unity Smile Jamaica Concert that some perceived as politically biased. The show went on, and the fascinating story of Marley’s protest song writing and life is told brilliantly by Oneika, a guide who’s quite a singer herself and encourages guests to join in.

Kingston is edgy but one quarter has been given a colourful facelift through the murals of the Kingston Creative project. Bob features, of course. And Gloria’s Seafood City is nearby for a perfect lunch looking out over the stunning Kingston Bay.

As Marley might have asked: Is This Love?

Book the holiday

  • Norse Atlantic Airways flies from Gatwick to Montego Bay, Jamaica, from ÂŁ560 return; ÂŁ849 for premium economy. flynorse.com
  • Rooms at the Azul Beach Resort in Negril start at ÂŁ390 a night all-inclusive. karismahotels.com
  • A seven-night stay between August 24-October 31 at the Couples Tower Isle resort in Ocho Rios starts at ÂŁ940pp all-inclusive. Book by April 10. couplesresorts.co.uk
  • More info at visitjamaica.com

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