“Don’t worry about a thing ‘cause every little thing gonna be alright” – Bob Marley

Romantic, Adventurous, Relaxing, and Beautiful. A vacation in Jamaica is just the remedy I need to cure my Pacific Northwest long gloomy winter.

Touch Down – Arriving Montego Bay Airport

Rumors of difficult immigration and customs arrivals proved true. For the first time ever, a customs agent  didn’t believe the address provided on my entry sheet and sent me to the travel desk to get more details on my entire stay. I had only listed one address, despite a planned family visit in Port Antonio.  No entry to Jamaica until I write down the address in Port Antonio.

The travel desk includes a group of nicely dressed Jamaican Women helping idiots like me. For  $1.50 fee, the travel agent would call my aunt.  As I tried to call, I noticed a bit of miscommunication between a Chinese man and another Jamaican travel agent. I stepped in and started speaking Chinese. He speaks Chinese, they speak Jamaican- English. Lots of confused looks and “sign language.”

I hear both sides and realize his friends arrived before him and made arrangements for him to be driven to a hotel. I relay the information, and the man departs to meet his friends.

“Ya want to werk a little here?” Chuckles all around. My translator skills earn a free call to my Aunt.  I get the address in Port Antonio and head back to immigration.

A few minutes later I passed my followup immigration questions and get myself an overpriced taxi to Montego Bay city center.

Gritty. Busy. Real. Mo’Bay.

“MEOW!” Cat calls a plenty. Walking around town, it was obvious I wasn’t from Jamaica.

“HEEEYYYY!” I turn and look at the man. Who then says

“Can I help you carry your bags? I’ll even carry them on my back all the way to china for you”

These men really know how to cat call a lady. I chuckle and acknowledge his talent and walk away.

If ever a woman had any doubts of her beauty, she need only to walk around downtown Montego Bay.  One marriage proposal later, I hop into a cheap shared taxi for about $1 USD to visit Wendy (sis).

Even in the taxi….

“You’re the most beautiful women these eyes have seen. I’d like to treat you right and hold your hand”

All inclusive resorts – Are Guests Allowed?

Wendy’s hotel is a fancy place secluded from the nitty gritty Montego Bay. Its all barred up, so much so I can’t even enter the grounds. Eventually my nice personality warms up the security guard and she lets me in for a free 30 minute visit.

$80 later and I have a day guest pass to Wendy’s all inclusive resort.

Wicker chairs, bars everywhere and countless beautiful views of the beach. This place reminds me of Las Vegas. Everything you would ever need is located within the hotel. There’s nothing out in Montego that would compare to the quality of service found at the inclusive resorts.

The taxi fare back to Monetgo Bay is about 10 times the price I paid in the morning.  I call it the fancy hotel tourist tax.

One hello later, and the taxi driver turns on the charm:

“One love . its not just a story you know… I want to hold you in my arms and show you real love”

I chuckle and politely decline the offer of Jamaican man’s arms, and go back to my hotel solo.

Is an all-inclusive resort worth the price?

My $80 day pass included all access to beaches, all you can eat buffets and restaurants, beer and cocktails.  Wine is not included.

Outside my hotel, a roasted half chicken from the local market costs about $5. At a touristy restaurant, the price would be increased to about $10. Free pristine beaches with lounge chairs are few and far between in Montego Bay.

If you are a couple or family looking for a relaxing Jamaican beach, then yes, an all-inclusive resort is an easy way to plan a vacation in Jamaica.

For me, the single traveler on a budget. Spending over $250 a night on a hotel just doesn’t add up. On the other hand, staying in the city center of Montego Bay didn’t match up to the picture perfect relaxing beach life.  Instead, the city felt chaotic with a dash of good cheap food and nice people. The solution? Don’t stay in Montego and go to Port Antonio!

Taking the Knutsford Express From Montego Bay to Port Antonio

I show up at the bus station and tell the ticket lady I booked online. “Leslie Wang?” “How did you know?” You’re the only one that pre-booked. $25 later and I’m on my way to Port Antonio. The bus is relatively empty during the week without the need to reserve a seat. However, if one is traveling to Kingston on a weekend, I would recommend booking a seat to save yourself from worrying about it.

On the bus, I meet a young blind boy on his way to Kingston.

You like Reggae?

Yes, Do you?

Of course mi favorite is Bob Marley!

From there I receive a nice background of all the best reggae artists. Quite informative actually. Eventually the kid changes buses, and I change to an almost empty bus to Port Antonio.

Port Antonio – Hidden Gem of Jamaica

My uncle, born and raised in Port Antonio, picks me up at the bus station.  He’s with a car full of Chinese Jamaicans. What does that mean? Well in simple terms, they are Chinese descent and speak with a Jamaican accent. Its awesome.

First stop? Tasty’s Beef Patties. Beef patties are flaky delicious “hot pockets” filled with spiced ground beef. I ordered three (beef, curry chicken, and a beef and cheese). For less than $3 each, this would be my go to Jamaican snack for the remainder of my trip.

Little Portie – Hope Bay

Known to be more plush, this side of Jamaica looks “greener.” It’s filled with rainforests, waterfalls, rivers and beaches. My first dinner in Port Antonio is at a remote beach in Hope Bay, where the Rio Grande meets the ocean. Lily pads float in the river and the fresh water slowly mixes with the salt water beach. The beach on this side of the island has coarse sand compared to Montego.

Definitely less tourists.

The restaurant serves traditional Jamaican food. Deep fried fish, Stone Crab, Bammys, and festival. and Don’t forget that island MUST – a large fresh coconut. The only downside of eating at this beautiful location are the mosquitos. Jamaican mosquitos are everywhere. The locals tell me that zika isn’t really a big deal as the media makes it out to be. However, just shortly after that statement, the radio broadcasts a story about the worst mosquito infestation in the last 5 years. Entire towns need to be be sprayed in an effort to reduce the numbers.

Rio Vista – Rio Grande Rafting

My hotel is nicely situated on a hill overlooking the Rio Grande.  I spend my down time either in the pool or hiking up and down the stairs to the river. I wish I had more time in the area, so that I could  book a two hour river rafting tour. I am told that there is a restaurant only accessible via the tour that serves some of the best food in the area.

Instead of the rafting tour, I decide to do the beach and waterfalls tourist option: blue hole / lagoon, Frenchman’s cove, Winnifred Beach , and my favorite – Somerset Falls.

Somerset Falls

A large forest/waterfall/swim park.  We pay the fare to get in – and are the ONLY people there. On tripadvisor Dunn’s River Falls and Park waterfall is the most popular. However, if you want more of a secluded waterfall experience, I would recommend Somerset instead.

The man working the waterfall takes us on a boat to the waterfall. A nice slow paddle upstream to the waterfall.  I jump in the river and swim around the waterfall and climb on a rock. Standing on the other side- I take a giant dive through the water and into the lagoon.

Boston Jerk Center- The birth place of “jerk”

An absolute must visit place in Port Antonio. These guys spend the entire day slow BBQing pork and chicken in a open cement shack. We order everything on the menu. Juicy and delicious. The pork fat has this crispy outer edge, then soft butter like content before reaching the juicy meat.  Each bite has the perfect amount of smokiness.

Priorities. It could be just my family, but food was the second most important attraction on the “Things to do in Jamaica” list. . Let my food porn speak for itself:

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Villas on the Coast

There are no shortage of multi-million dollar villas in Jamaica. On the edge of the blue hole, the villa I visit features 5 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms, a private chef and butler. For about $250 a night per couple, a group of friends or family can enjoy a vacation home in Port Antonio.

My last day at Port Antonio we have a hosted dinner in a villa. The private chef makes all the Jamaican favorites: pumpkin soup, curry shrimp, lobster tails, Jerk Pork (from Boston Jerk Center), Acki and Salted Fish, and some salad.

My cousin’s dad’s side of the family is relaxed and fun to be around. They love food and simply spending time with each other. They show me photos of their latest family reunion cruises (all with matching t-shirts). I’m filled with family love that such a great extended family exists. Long live Chinese Jamaicans. One love.

Stay tuned for part 2, the wedding!