What comes to mind when you hear of Jamaica?

Perhaps you think of the fastest man in the world, Usain Bolt. Maybe you’re reminded of the captivating sounds of reggae music, or you become mentally transported to white sandy beaches. Last summer, I got the chance to tick this amazing destination off my bucket-list – I went to Jamaica.

I had been planning this trip for a very long time. Of course, a journey that far from home does take some planning. I ew from Abu Dhabi to New York and then connected in New York to Montego Bay, Jamaica. The journey was long. In retrospect, I should have stopped in New York for a night or even two days, that way; I could have rested before continuing my journey.

My exhaustion vanished when I landed in Jamaica. Upon disembarking the aircraft, I was greeted by folk singers, who lined the pathway, singing melodious traditional songs. It made you feel as if your holiday had begun the moment you arrived. It was dark by the time I exited the airport and boarded the bus to the resort town of Ocho Rios. The one-hour thrifty minutes drive to the resort was thrilling to say the least. Jamaicans seem to live life in the fast lane and this certainly shows in their driving.

The following morning, I woke up to the sound of a cruise ship sounding its horn as it entered the port. Yes, my hotel was on the beach over looking the cruise ship pier. I opened my windows, to be greeted by the most spectacular white sand beach I had ever seen in my life. This beach would become my jogging trail and relaxation spot for the next two weeks.

A friend of mine recommended a tour guide to me by the name of Cool Marco. This recommendation turned out to be the best gift ever. Cool Marco specialises in off the beaten path tours. He knows the island inside out. I wanted to escape the regular tourist traps and that’s exactly what I did. We trekked through hills, found hidden waterfalls and visited a little known beach in St. Mary, a parish on the north east coast of the Island.

There was something exciting to do everyday. The first week was spent exploring the northern and eastern coasts of the island, which is rich in coconut and banana plantations. The evenings were spent on the beach close to my hotel reading, listening to the sound of the waves and sipping on some Jamaican ‘magic’. During the second week, we explored the west coast going as far as Ricks Café in Negril, which is the island’s most westerly point. Ricks is a tourist hot spot, known for spectacular sunsets and cliff diving.

Other Highlights:

• Jamaican food is delicious. Be sure to sample the tasty ackee, salt fish and roasted breadfruit, and fried fish, bammy and fried dumplings.

• Locals are kind and helpful. You could make genuine new friends.

• Visit the local crafts market for genuine Jamaican souvenirs. The prices are reasonable.

• Most places are within walking proximity in town areas. Go and see how locals live.

• Don’t believe all the rumours. I never felt unsafe there. Take all the precautions that you would normally take at home. Don’t show off valuables while out and about, etc.

After a long and tiring school year, Jamaica was exactly what I needed to unwind and it certainly did not disappoint.

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