March 9, 2008
BY NICOLE ALPER
I walked toward the dancing tiki torches, where a young waitress stood guard beside a single
table covered with a colorful array of hibiscus flowers and Jamaican food. The ocean crashed
against the rocky beach with the clarity of a Bose sound system.
It was an island scene lifted straight out of an episode of "The Bachelorette" (minus, sadly,
I was at Goldeneye, the 18-acre former estate of author Ian Fleming of James Bond fame. Fleming
lived on the island while penning 14 of his 007 novels.
Located in Oracabessa, about 20 minutes from Ocho Rios, it was this view that prompted Fleming,
when visiting Jamaica as a British intelligence officer, to buy land and one day retire here. And
from this vantage point, it was easy to see why.
The third largest patch of land in the Caribbean, Jamaica has enough geographic and cultural diversity
to rival most island chains. Whether you're looking for thrilling cliff dives or laid-back island life,
it's all here. You just need to know which part of the island to visit.
Halfway between Port Antonio and Montego Bay and back-dropped by the St. Ann Mountains, Ocho Rios is a
hilly northeastern oasis teeming with botanical gardens and enough waterfalls and rivers to sate a
Time in Ocho Rios is best spent outdoors, whether it's climbing up Dunn's River Falls, checking out 500
species of ferns at Fern Gully or smooching dolphins at Dolphin's Cove.
"Ocho Rios is our favorite spot in all of Jamaica," said Robert Whorrall, who operates Beach Bum Vacation.
"This is the garden area of Jamaica, with the largest collection of outdoor attractions. It's a bit of
a drive, but it's worth it."
The good news for Ocho Rios fans is that the main highway has been widened and repaved -- and that means
a former 2 1/2-hour drive from MoBay is now just more than an hour.
Caves and cliffs aplenty
Over on the island's west coast, 50 miles from Kingston, Negril's beautiful Seven Mile beach and hippie
escapist vibe once lured the bohemian set.
Today, there are two main areas, the East End's Seven Mile beach, the island's longest continuous
stretch of fluffy sand, and the West End, where resorts are precariously perched beside a 35-foot
Both areas are jam-packed with lodging options. All-inclusive resorts reign on the beach, among them
Sandals Negril, Grand Lido and Swept Away. Boutique-style hotels dominate the West End. Despite the
buildup, Negril still feels artsy and freewheeling. It lays claim to the only officially sanctioned
nude beach in all of Jamaica, not to mention Hedonsim resorts, where being naked is practically
And with a pumping nightlife scene, from hotel clubs to random bonfire gatherings on the beach, there's
enough late-night action to occupy the most inexhaustible party animal.
My idea of fun tends not to involve rum-filled water gun "shots," so I opted for the West End. (FYI,
when a Jamaican holding a plastic pistol tells you to "just close yor eyes mahn and ohpen yor mouth,"
you'd better not be in AA.)
With sheer cliffs plunging toward the turquoise sea, these West End resorts are not accessible the way
others are on the beach. In other words, no one is scaling the 35-foot cliffs to wander past your secret
Given the sheer vertical drop, a favorite pastime in Negril is cliff jumping -- not just at the famed
bar Rick's but at hotels, too. (For a more down-to-earth feel and higher leap than you'll find at Rick's,
continue down the road to Pirate's Bar.)
I checked into the Caves, a boutique hotel that is, along with Goldeneye, part of the Island Outpost
resort collection. It boasts countless plunge-points along its winding property, with one hovering right
over a small cave pool. It's like a thrilling consolation prize for being away from the sand.
As its name would suggest, the resort has several Batmanesque caves. I rose early one morning to take
advantage of the calm seas and descended one of the nearly vertical staircases to the sea. Snorkeling
toward one of the caves, I sliced right through a massive school of silvery guard fish. When I arrived
at the cave and lifted my head out of the water, red bats screeched above me.
That night I returned to cave dwelling -- only this time I was in a cavern reserved for private dinners.
Instead of bats, there were hundreds of candles and bougainvillaea lay scattered about like grains of
Driving about three hours south from Negril through twisting and often unmarked roads, I landed at Treasure
Beach, a gorgeous stretch of fishing villages along Jamaica's southern coast. Considered Jamaica's "bread
basket" because of the bounty of fruits and vegetables generated here, this is old Jamaica, where you
wake up to the sound of fishermen singing.
The closest shopping and restaurant area is Black River some 30 minutes away. You don't come here for
evening action -- other than fish leaping in the early moonlight. You come here to chill in a hammock
and experience what the rest of Jamaica felt like once upon a time.
I arrived at Jake's resort, a meandering collection of private suites and rooms with a funky, artsy
vibe. Three oceanfront Octopussy suites each have outdoor bathroom walls made of an amalgam of seashells
and glass bottles and roof decks with daybeds that look custom made for romantic interludes.
As we glided along the Black River, snowy egrets darted between red mangroves and crocs sunned themselves.
After a peaceful half hour, Ted asked if I liked crab. Before long we pulled up to a ramshackle hut
called Sister Lou's. A trail of crabs was literally crawling from the water onto her front yard, marching
to their death. I'm glad they did, because this was some of the tastiest garlic- and butter-drenched
shellfish I've ever eaten.
On the way back we stopped at the Pelican Bar, a wooden hut surrounded by ocean -- the perfect spot to
sip a Red Stripe and feast on more fresh seafood. But you have to plan ahead, ordering your meal in
advance through the hotel front desk or your boat captain.
Even though Treasure Beach has the pace of a long, satisfying yawn, there are signs of development: not
too long ago Jake's opened Calabash Bay, a pair of villas five minutes away from the main resort. Even
the intimate Goldeneye is about to morph into a full-fledged resort with 40 villas, 32 beachfront suites
and a new spa.
As I watched the sunset from the rooftop of my Octopussy suite, I thought about how my adventure began
in Fleming's home. Now, it was ending in a suite not only named after one of his novels, but situated
on a part of the island that seemed to capture the essence of the Jamaica that once inspired Fleming to
park his pen.
Who knows? Maybe one day I will too.
Nicole Alper is a Philadelphia-based free-lance writer.
Jamaica, three ways
Located on a cove on Jamaica's northern coastline, Ocho Rios has lots of large resorts close to outdoor
BEST BEACH: It doesn't get more private than the slice of sand at Goldeneye with its own sound system
built into the rock and a tub carved into the cliff where Fleming taught his son to swim.
GET WILD: Don't let Steve Irwin's freak accident keep you from visiting one of the island's great new
attractions, Stingray City on James Bond Beach, where you can swim with these usually harmless and
MEMORABLE MEAL: Head to Harmony House's Toscanini for delicious Italian Jamaican fusion set on a
Known as the most laid back city in Jamaica. Come here if you prefer resort casual to buttoned up.
BEST BEACH: Any section of the famed Seven Mile Beach.
GET WILD: At Mayfield Falls, a relatively undiscovered version of Dunn's River, you'll pass underwater
caves before returning along a cow-filled pasture.
MEMORABLE MEAL: A five-course dinner in one of the Caves' two caverns costs $300 a couple.
Jamaica's "bread basket" is chock full of nature's bounty and has an easygoing feel. Come here to hang
BEST BEACH: Not known for its beaches, Frenchman's is a nice slice of sand next to Jake's resort.
GET WILD: Take a bird-watching trip in the Rio Grande with Grand Valley Tours or ride a tractor-drawn
jitney to the YS Falls, where you can play Tarzan on a rope swing.
MEMORABLE MEAL: If it's a full moon, have someone at Jake's arrange for a fresh-caught seafood dinner at