Jamaica: The Fine Line Between Beauty and Ugly
As a female solo traveler, my experience in Jamaica was a constant balance between good and bad. It takes many factors contributing to the experience: people (of course!), safety, sightseeing, food, and prices. Take a look at Jamaica through my eyes.
There are many places to stay in Jamaica, but I picked Negril, a small town with a village vibe. It is located on 7 Mile Beach, one of the most gorgeous beaches in the world.
After a long flight I was anxious to dip my toes into the white sand and relax by the sea. I booked the room in a small private hotel “Richie’s on the beach”, located on the water. Well, at least that’s how it was planned. When the experienced shuttle driver mentioned that he had never heard of that place I got a bit nervous. After driving about a mile and a half into the deep sandy jungle-like rural areas, we both realized that the hotel was a scam! Despite my huge disappointment I was happy that the driver (Sydney Smith from “Holiday Services”) turned out to be a great person who not only didn’t leave me on the street but also helped me negotiate a good price for hotel. Later on I did get a full refund for the scam hotel (btw, I booked it through Expedia.com), and I hope my review will save other travelers from the same trap. That was a turning point when my vacation turned into adventures. I promised myself that nothing will darken my trip, and I will accept every bump on the road as part of my “Adventure package”.
After I had a roof over my head, it was a good time to think about something to eat. I always try to eat where locals do. Not only does it save me money but also lets me take a peek into the lives of the locals. I walked on the streets of Negril and found a few non touristy spots. I have to admit that restaurants and bars in Jamaica are very basic and simple. Most of the time it is not even a building but rather some sort of shed. I really liked this unique vibe of simplicity yet cozy and cute.
Prices for a drink range from 3 to 9 USD depending on how touristy that particular area is. US Dollars are accepted everywhere along with Jamaican Dollars, Canadian, and Euro. If you are a big fan of chicken, you will definitely like Jamaican jerk chicken! It is delicious and super affordable. Another typical food is curried conch fish. All dishes cost 5-6 USD at local diners; while at popular spots you will be paying over 10 USD. One of my favorite food discoveries was bread fruit. It tastes like potato but looks like pineapple when cooked.
I have heard a lot about Blue Mountain Coffee and wanted to try it. I am not a coffee expert, but I didn’t feel a big difference from other coffee blends.
Jamaica is famous for its flawless white sandy Caribbean beaches. I enjoyed every minute spent there! 7 Mile Beach is a hidden gem of Negril, touristy, yet not overcrowded. The beach attracts both locals and visitors. It is also very clean and well maintained. Along the shores there are many places you can enjoy while sun bathing under a free umbrella. The most popular spots are Margaretville, Bourbon Beach, and Yellow Bird. For more quite and less touristy you can visit Little Bay park. 1.5 USD let you use all the facilities (restrooms, showers, beach access).
All of these places are patrolled by police and security for the safety of tourists. However, you will still encounter tons of hustlers trying to sell anything from innocent fruits up to drugs. From my understanding, if hustlers are sharing their profits with the security, it gives them “immunity” to continue the harassment. I used my favorite “anti-hustler” trick: spoke Russian to them. They would get stumbled for a second, repeat the sales speech and look at me. With my poker face I would reply in Russian. The hardest part for me was not to laugh! The trick worked until one of the hustler overheard me speaking clear English to someone.
Besides adult street sellers I have seen many kids learning from the grownups on how to hustle. It is sad and irritating at the same time. Stay away from them and never give any money to avoid getting robbed later on. One child was begging for money claiming he is hungry; However, he denied my offer to buy him food asking for cash instead.
Along with annoying street sellers I met some very nice locals who were very generous and kind to the tourist. I got free rides across Negril on a bike, I was treated to Jamaican food, given priceless advice, and even had a history tour of rural areas! I also met a very kind woman who overheard how much the taxi driver was going to charge me, and took me to my destination absolutely free (and denied the money I offered!).
One thing made me sad about Jamaica – the animals. I saw a countless number of cats and dogs on the streets. Poor animals looked frighten, hungry, and even sick. Due to the pretty crazy driving, many of the stray dogs were lying on the side of the road dead. It broke my heart. However, it didn’t seem to bother locals.
My favorite part of Jamaica? The jungles! I explored this side of Negril with pleasure; done some hiking and zip-lining. It was by far the best zip line I ever experienced! Flying over rivers and gigantic trees (the same kind of trees you see in movie Avatar!), watching colorful parrots and exotic plants. Did I get scared on jungles zip line? Yes! Many times! The most nerve tickling moment was when we were tip-toeing on the tiny glass platform around the base of the enormously tall tree! From one zip line to another we needed to make little trips over the trees. Instead of waiting on the ground we would stand on the top of the tree. That’s what zip lining in Jamaica is like!
Adopting the Jamaican saying “we don’t have problems, we have situations”, I can say that my trip was great with a few situations here and there. In my memory I will keep the smell of this country. How does Jamaica smell? It is a blend of Caribbean Sea, marijuana, and tropical flowers.