Saturday 20 July 2019

Honeymoon Hotspot: Treat yourself to some winter sun in magical Jamaica

Tara McLeod Williams discovers more than roots, rock and reggae in the hypnotic rhythms and romance of Jamaica.

Trademark relaxation: Jamaica.
Trademark relaxation: Jamaica.

Tara McLeod Williams for Irish Brides

I’m sitting on the bonnet of a very hot jeep, and I’m sweating.

We’re deep in a densely forested area off the north-west coast and we’ve broken down, but as I survey the scene, a wave of serenity washes over me. Avocado-coloured mountains loom in the distance above higgledy-piggledy villages, and beyond them, the vast Caribbean Sea nudges a cloudless cobalt-blue sky.

It’s the first time I’ve been able to properly take in my surroundings – and they’re exquisite. The scent of ripened honey bananas and the salt-tinged air all muddled together make my hairs prick up in unison and my smile beam from ear to ear.

I think to myself, Jamaica is special. Really special.

Picture-perfect beaches

When it comes to booking the most romantic trip of your life, there are lots of hot ‘new’ Caribbean destinations to choose from, but often, the old ones are the best. Picture a ribbon of flawless white sandy beach with a backdrop of palms, guango and blue mahoe trees – Jamaica has more than 50 of these picture-perfect beaches, plus, at 146 miles in length, plenty of dramatic scenery – soaring limestone cliffs (great for leaping from), crystal blue lagoons, romantic waterfalls and over 120 rivers that teem with tropical fish.

Today, with so many connecting flights from Ireland, there’s no better time to pack your kaftan and go.

Luxury linens and butler service can be found on the island’s southern shores – in a plethora of boho-chic boutique hotels, private villas and plush five star resorts, but to get a real feel for Jamaica, you need to venture beyond the hotel’s bougainvillea-clad gates and hit the road – ideally in a convertible so you can feel the trade winds in your hair.

Head for the hills

We took a round trip from Negril in the south-west, to the famous Blue Mountains that tower over the interior of Portland. Head for the hills, like us, and you’ll coast through tumbledown towns filled with pastel-coloured food shacks and mango, naseberry and ackee fruit stalls set up by the roadside.

Of course the Caribbean is famous for its scrumptious jerk chicken: follow the snaking smoke trails which lead you to them and you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of the famous coastline, mountains and valleys too.

With soaring temperatures by day, night-time is when the island really comes alive with pulsing reggae beats, dancing and free-flowing rum. Alfred’s Ocean Palace on Negril’s seven-mile beach has live roots and culture bands or there’s the Bourbon Beach Bar, a laidback feet-in-the-sand drinking hole for staying up late and sipping rum punch by the bonfire.

Live lobsters & sunset selfies

You have to get out on the water, even if it’s only the short distance, by rope ferry, to floating seafood restaurant Houseboat. This impeccable patch of paradise nestled in bustling second city, Montego Bay is beloved by honeymooners for its sheer novelty value: you’ll find warm, smiley faces to welcome you and a setting which provides the perfect opportunity for a sunset selfie. The live lobster – freshly caught that morning – is second to none and best washed down with ice-cold local craft beers.

Another great al fresco dining spot is Pelican Bar in the parish of St Elizabeth. We discover it after Mr Tedd, the charming Rastafarian boat driver who rescues us from the side of the road, insists on showing it to us.

The offshore hang-out near the coast of Treasure Beach turns out to be everything he promises: a hip beach shack propped up on stilts, filled with the delightful aroma of spicy jerk pork and curried lobster. We sit lazily on the driftwood edge, cold Red Stripe beers in hand, and dangle our feet into the shallows. Nothing around for half a mile but us and the carvings we made of our names. The day didn’t turn out exactly how we planned it. But that’s the beauty of Jamaica; you never know what magic lies ahead.

Romantic recommendations

1. Horseback ride through scenic countryside and along the shores of St Ann with Chukka Caribbean Adventures.
2. Visit Falmouth Trelawny to experience bioluminescence, a natural night time phenomena that’s spine-tinglingly beautiful.
3. Head to YS falls, an invigorating, lesser known series of cascading waterfalls.

Your honeymoon planner

Hip hotels… Round Hill Resort in Montego Bay has iconic sea views, a sublime spa and a vivacious vibe in the evenings. For something quieter, head to Geejam Hotel, a private hilltop retreat in Port Antonio run by music mogul Jon Baker, surrounded by virgin forest (past guests include Rihanna, Drake and the late Amy Winehouse).

The Half Moon Resort is a Caribbean grand dame for those wanting a real classic and for something all-inclusive, Sandals Ocho Rios is the first hotel in the Caribbean to open an over-water suite.

Best time to go… December – April

Getting there… Air Canada offers several connecting flights per week from Dublin, Cork and Shannon to Montego Bay or Kingston via London and Toronto.

Where to eat: Music and cuisine is what Jamaica does best. From thali and curried ackee at fine dining open air restaurant TerraNova, Kingston, to freshly caught seafood in laid-back Dicky’s Best Kept Secret, Portland. For the best taste of tradition, head to The Cliff in Negril.

Book your Jamiacan honeymoon from Ireland with TUI and Classic Resorts or contact your nearest Travel Counsellor about a tailormade itinerary.

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