Just a couple weeks ago, the universe finally answered my call, and I was transported out of the dreary Canadian winter right onto the sunny shores of Jamaica, courtesy of Air Transat and Visit Jamaica!
Jamaica is known as the “Home of All Right”, and boy, did that slogan ever hold true during what can only be described as a magical 5 days in the sun! This trip was the perfect getaway, and Jamaica is one of the best places you can go to escape winter. But outside of winter, there are so many unique things about this island that make it an ideal place to visit at any time of the year!
First, I think it’s important to address one of the primary questions I got from my audience about this beautiful country: is Jamaica safe?
At the time of visiting, Jamaica was under a “State of Emergency”. The island’s military was brought in to support the local police in the St. James Parish (which includes Montego Bay), where there had been increased gang violence. The term “State of Emergency” was changed to “Enhanced Security Measures”, because the former term gave the impression of an imminent safety issue, while the crime it seeks to address has been spanning for decades.
In speaking with tourism reps and locals of the St. James Parish, all agree that Jamaica IS safe for tourists. According to Visit Jamaica, less than 0.01% of criminal activities impact visitors and among the major Caribbean destinations, Jamaica has always enjoyed the highest percentage of repeat business (over 40% of tourists are repeat visitors). Jamaica works hard to maintain a high level of safety so that their visitor experience continues to be safe, seamless and secure.
That being said, taking precautions is necessary, as you would with any other country or city you travel to. Stay within the resort, and if you travel outside, do so with an organized tour operator or transportation arranged by the resort. We were a group of 9 Canadian women (including our fantastic Air Transat rep, Debbie, and Visit Jamaica rep, Charissa) exploring multiple parts of Jamaica without any problems. I actually felt safer knowing there was heightened security and police checkpoints throughout.
Okay, so now that that’s out of the way, let me tell you, AND SHOW YOU, why I fell in love with Jamaica…
Getting There with Air Transat
Jamaica is one of Air Transat’s key South destinations. A flight from Toronto to Montego Bay (“MoBay” for short) will only take about 3 hours, and roundtrip tickets for the month of March start at $494 CAD, including taxes!
Air Transat has regular service to MoBay’s Sangster International (MBJ) from Toronto (about 5 flights per week during the winter). Air Transat also offers vacation packages starting in the low $900s for more than 40 properties located around Jamaica, including Negril, Ocho Rios, Lucea, and Runaway Bay (which are all within 1 or 2 hours from MBJ).
- 2 checked pieces of luggage + priority baggage handling
- priority check-in
- priority boarding
- a free meal from the Bistro menu
- a free alcoholic beverage
- complimentary seat selection, and
- a comfort kit on board (including a blanket and earbuds)
Air Transat’s Option Plus absolutely saved the day on my departure to Jamaica. I got to the airport with way less than the recommended 3 hours before my flight, to a lineup at check-in that easily would have taken me 3 hours to clear! If it wasn’t for priority check-in, I would have missed my flight! While I don’t ever recommend that you get to the airport late, yourself, I was relieved to know I could rely on Option Plus! On the way back, it only took a total of 30 minutes to go from leaving our hotel to clearing check-in! I could also choose my seat within 24 hours before each flight. So, thanks to Option Plus, I had an entire row to myself all the way there. If you fly Air Transat, do consider Option Plus. For the extra $55 per flight segment, it’s a no-brainer!
I was again treated to the Chef’s menu by Daniel Vézina (normally a cost of $25 per person). Nothing beats a hot meal and good drink on an airplane! Both my morning meal on the way there and my lunch were delicious!
Where to Stay
We stayed at the Royal Decameron Cornwall Beach in MoBay. It has a prime location, only about 5-10 minutes away from the airport. So, it was a hop, skip and a jump, and we were right on the beach!
The Royal Decameron Cornwall Beach is a modern property that offers an all-inclusive experience (i.e. my kind of experience!). It has 146 rooms, all equipped with WiFi, air-conditioning, LED TVs, and a mini bar amply stocked with ‘Wata’ and Red Stripe! The best part about the rooms? They all have a gorgeous view. I just loved being able to wake up every morning, walk out onto my balcony, and stare at the private beach and Caribbean Sea!
While Royal Decameron Cornwall Beach isn’t a luxury property, it offers a lot of value for your money. What probably impressed me most about this hotel was the lively atmosphere. When we arrived, there was a performance happening, and each night, there was always entertainment and a party going on! I also felt very comfortable during my stay and had most of the amenities you would expect at a standard all-inclusive. The staff was also very friendly and accommodating to all of my needs. We were greeted upon arrival by the yummiest juice-filled pineapples, which was such a nice touch!
Between the Royal Decameron Cornwall Beach and neighbouring Royal Decameron Montego Beach, there are a total of 7 bars (most essential 😉), 1 café bar, 2 buffet restaurants, 2 à la carte restaurants, plus a beach and late-night grill. We dined at Oliva, the Mediterranean à la carte, for dinner on our first night and the food was both filling and yummy! Outside of that, we had our breakfasts at the buffet restaurant (that is, when we weren’t sneaking it to the pool!).
Where to Eat & Drink
Keeping safety considerations in mind, I always do recommend venturing off-resort to immerse yourself in the local cuisine when traveling. Being an island girl, I already adored Jamaican cuisine (bring on the jerk chicken, beef patties, festival, and allllll the spice!). So, I was super happy that we made time on this trip for some local, authentic eats.
For authentic jerk with all the fixins, Scotchies came highly recommended! We went to town on a spread including jerk chicken, jerk pork, and rice & peas, and washed it down with a few Red Stripes!
If you’ve been to Jamaica before or have Jamaican friends, you likely know about the rivalry between Tastee and Juici patties. I can’t pick a side because I only tried Juici. But I can tell you they were pretty good! I loved that they had a selection of chicken, shrimp, beef and even vegetarian patties. With either Tastee or Juici, you really can’t go wrong, as they both claim to be the “original” Jamaican beef patties.
One of the highlights of Jamaica for me was our trip to Zimbali Retreats. It was a real foodie’s paradise! It wasn’t just for a meal; we had an entire farm-to-table dining experience here, Jamaican-style.
We were given a tour of the property by Clifford, who gave us such an in-depth explanation of how the various produce and crops are grown. We were able to see, first-hand, where the food we later ate came from. It gave us a real sense of connection to the land and a greater respect for our meal (which, btw, was absolutely delicious!).
What to Do
Montego Bay was a good jumping point to explore the rest of the island, and boy, did we ever explore! Although we were there for a short 5 days, we did manage to hit many of the major sights in Jamaica.
Martha Brae River
Rafting on the Martha Brae River is not to be missed. For one hour, you can sit comfortably on a 30 ft. long bamboo raft (or stand up and take a bunch of pictures, like we did), as your raft captain guides you down a 3-mile stretch of the river. It’s such a relaxing journey and there is a lovely breeze that comes off the river. So, it’s the perfect thing to do, even on a hot day. Tip: during the ride, consider buying the crafts made by the raft captains or leave a tip at the end. There are over 80 raft captains who work at the Martha Brae; and depending on the season, many of them won’t get a trip down the river for 2 or 3 days.
Hampden Estate is one of the few remaining great houses in Jamaica (it used to operate as a sugar plantation dating back to around 1752). Now owned privately, it’s the headquarters for the Hampden Rum Company. We got a tour of the estate and distillery, a lesson about the 260-year old rum making process still in use today, all followed by a generous sampling of the goods 😉.
Seven Mile Beach
Picture miles and miles of the most perfect white sand and beautiful blue water you’ve ever seen stretching in either direction. Seven Mile Beach in Negril is one of the prettiest beaches I’ve ever been to, and I really didn’t want to leave! You can find all types of water activities and sports here, or if you prefer, relax with a drink in-hand on a beach chair or at the bar at Margaritaville.
Before going to Jamaica, I never thought I’d have the courage to jump off a cliff (and 3 times, to boot). But, “when in Rome”, as they say! Just a short drive from Margaritaville in Negril is the famous Rick’s Café. It is the place to grab a drink, join the party, catch the sunset, and if you’re daring enough, jump 35 feet straight into Caribbean Sea!
Dunn’s River Falls/Chukka Falls Flyer Tour
In my opinion, no trip to Jamaica is complete without a day at Dunn’s River Falls. It was one of my favourite places when I visited for the first time in 2006, so it was nice to be able to return. The 180 ft. high, 600 ft. long waterfall is located in Ocho Rios (a little over 1.5 hours from MoBay). It’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in Jamaica and you just have to see it for yourself! Most visitors climb the Falls (don’t forget your water shoes!), which we didn’t have time for on this trip. For a quicker (aerial) view of the Falls, there is a new zip lining course that goes directly over called Chukka Fall Flyer.
Thanks again to Air Transat, Visit Jamaica and Royal Decameron Cornwall Beach for hosting me on this amazing trip and treating me to a glorious 5 days in the sun! To see more of Transat’s offerings in Jamaica, you can check out Air Transat’s website here.
While this post was done in partnership with Air Transat, all opinions and thoughts are 100% my own.