Go Treasure Hunting in Jamaica

Swimming With Horses in JamaicaThey say Christopher Columbus was lured to Jamaica in 1494 by rumors of gold, and that the famous explorer was disappointed not to find any. Today’s visitors would argue that Columbus, dubbed “Jamaica’s first tourist” by the locals, simply arrived 500 years too early. A modern treasure map of Jamaica, with its wealth of natural attractions and amazing new resorts, would be covered with Xs from coast to coast, with each one marking something bright and shiny to discover.

The island’s most valuable commodity is its scenic beauty, which can be explored in countless ways. The famous Blue Mountains just beg to be hiked, and a journey through the rainforest gives an up close and personal look at the island’s flora and fauna. Feel like rafting? The sport comes in two speeds here. Enjoy a thrilling whitewater adventure, or try the Caribbean spin on Venice’s gondola rides by taking a slow trip down the Martha Brae river on a bamboo raft steered only by a guide with a pole. When the water becomes too enticing to ignore, splash the day away at the famous Dunns River Falls then go next door to Dolphin Cove and swim with a family of bottlenose dolphins. You can even combine two activities at once. Can’t decide between horseback riding and swimming? The Horseback Ride N’ Swim tour offered by Chukka Caribbean Adventures gives you the chance to gallop across the countryside then finish the day with a refreshing dip in the sea without ever leaving your saddle.

Nature walks and scenic rides are great ways to enjoy the island’s natural beauty, but you’ll find yourself surrounded by gorgeous landscapes when you take part in other activities, too. Jamaica’s golf courses are a prime example. One of the newest and best, the White Witch Golf Course managed by the Ritz-Carlton Golf and Spa Resort, features panoramic views of the Caribbean Sea on 16 of its 18 holes. The name comes from infamous local murderess and voodoo practitioner Annee Palmer whose ghost supposedly lingers in the area, so feel free to blame any errant shots on mischievous spirits.

Another great spot for “active nature watching” is at Mystic Mountain, one of the island’s hottest new attractions. This eco-amusement park is surrounded by over 100 acres of tropical forest and contains three exciting rides. Both the Rainforest Zip Line Canopy Tour and the Rainforest Sky Lift Explorer treat visitors to a bird’s eye view of the lovely landscape. Back at ground level, the Rainforest Bobsled Jamaica takes guests on a twisting, turning thrill ride through the jungle terrain.

Skimming along the surface might be fun, but those who want to delve deeper into Jamaican life and culture can sign up for one of the outings offered by Countrystyle International. Specializing in the ‘Community Experience of Jamaica,’ Countrystyle can arrange visits to rural villages, meals in private homes, full-day encounters with Rastafarian families, and tours of the island’s most distinctive commercial and historical spots. Visitors can even take lessons in local farming and the art of Jamaican cooking.

If you’d rather eat Jamaican cuisine than prepare it, you’ll appreciate one of the island’s newest diversions, Jamaica’s Jerk Trail. Pick up an official map and follow the path from one end of the island to the other, starting in Negril and ending in Port Antonio, the home of jerk cooking. Along the way you’ll visit ten spots that specialize in Jamaica’s trademark spicy cuisine, enjoying the juicy, slow-roasted dishes in their native environment while learning about this unique cooking style in the process.

When it’s time to relax after a full day of adventure, you’ll find yourself thankful for Jamaica’s man-made treasures. In Montego Bay you can bed down at The Palmyra, a Solis Resort & Spa, one of the island’s newest luxury resorts. Every room here boasts an ocean view, and its spa is one of the best in the Caribbean. Longtime favorite Half Moon has just completed seven years worth of renovations and improvements, including the Anancy Children’s Village, a new Teen Centre, and the ultra-glamorous Fern Tree Spa. Over in Negril, Sunset at the Palms takes comfort to new heights; its recently refurbished guest rooms are raised up on stilts and spread out over ten acres of tropical gardens. Even Kingston has gotten into the act with the opening of the glitzy Spanish Court Hotel, the city’s first new hotel in 40 years.

For a truly unforgettable experience, try Port Antonio’s Hotel Mocking Bird Hill. The epitome of eco-chic style, this ten-room boutique hotel makes water harvesting, solar power and recycling all part of its daily routine. An island vacation that soothes the body, the spirit and the conscience? Now that’s a treasure no one can put a price on.

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