When you think about the island of Jamaica a few things immediately come to mind: blue translucent waters, the iconic reggae music of Bob Marley, and well, the islands affinity to ganja. When most people think about traveling to Jamaica their first thought in choosing a location is the North coast because it has so much to offer. From Negril to Montego Bay to Ocho Rios, the north coast is littered with hotspots, jerk huts and local adventure that you might not even take the time to realize that the south side of the island is where the real culture of Jamaica lies.
Kingston, Jamaica’s capital city; also known as the “big bad Kingston” has built up a reputation for hard knocks living and resilient people. Whatever you call it, many often skip Kingston completely because it lacks those famous beaches and all-inclusive hotels that Jamaica has become famous for. The capitol has also picked up a reputation for being a bit dangerous. I’ve actually heard and read stories of people saying that when they travel to Kingston, it’s usually for a quick trip, in and out. But what are you missing when you skip Kingston? Turns out, quite a lot.
After visiting the island more than a dozen times, I decided this time around I would tour the capital city for myself and take in all that Kingston and its surrounding areas had to offer. What Kingston lacks in beaches, the capital city makes up in bustling culture. The energy of Kingston cannot be compared to anywhere else in the Caribbean as it has its own special feeling and vibe. I managed to carve out some time to take in a few “not to miss” attractions that deserve your attention the next time you think about making a trip to the island aka “the rock”.
Below, find my “Cool Running’s in Kingston” for the next time you visit:
1. Hellshire Beach; turns out there are beaches on the south coast that are worth the trip. Lined with beautiful wooden shacks and jerk stations, Hellshire Beach has become famous for one very important thing; mouth watering lobster. Fresh and caught daily, you’ll find endless water-side huts to choose from to enjoy the perfectly seasoned treat, with a side of bammy (local yam), festival (fried dough) and a cold Red Stripe of course. My pick, Bev and Son’s Jerk Hut with Chef Orrette. You won’t be disappointed.
2. Strawberry Hill; they say once you reach the top of strawberry hill, you can talk to god, because you’re just that much closer to heaven. The awe-inspiring lookout point has become so famous, many directors often choose Strawberry hill to shoot films and videos from its top point. It’s also become synonymous with luxurious accommodations that many celebs choose to stay when they take in Kingston. If you’re on a budget, plan to take it in for a day trip for lunch.
Important note: you’ll need a whole day to enjoy Strawberry Hill, so plan on bringing a swimsuit, a sweater (yes it gets cold up there) and some Dramamine because the high altitude could make you a bit nauseous.
3. The Bob Marley Museum and Tuff Gong Studios: What is Kingston without the legendary Bob Marley? I say Kingston versus Jamaica because so much of Bob’s life and contributions to the world were from his upbringing in Trenchtown and Kingston proper. One tour through his incredible body of work at the Bob Marley Museum and you too will understand the importance that the city had on his work, music and world-views. Bring your tissues. The two-hour tour ends with a mini-docu movie in his own theatre that will give you chills. Hands down, this was one of my memorable parts of the trip and one that I will take with me forever. Long Live the Legend BOB.
4. For the Foodies, check out Devon House and Scotchies Jerk Hut. Famous for it’s desserts and homemade coconut ice cream, Devon House has become a hotspot for the entire island. Hundreds flock to take in the beautiful grounds and enjoy dessert every weekend.
Jerk lovers look no further; Scotchies to the rescue. We all know that jerk seasoning is synonymous with the island and Scotchies takes that concept to another level. Bamboo wood ovens roast the jerk pork, chicken and fish for hours before its ready. When it is, it literally falls off of the bone and is dripping with endless flavor. You can also find the original Scotchies in Mobay as well and they’ve recently opened shop in South Florida.
5. For a good time: Wet Sunday’s for a classic Dancehall party. Taking in that true Kingston vibe means you have to check out a classic Dancehall party. I just happened to catch one of the most talked about ones, Wet Sunday’s. Cars wrapped around the block and people lined the entrance to get into this party that started at midnight. Inside, I found a mix of R&B, Reggae, Dancehall, and Hip Hop and some seriously talented dancers doing battle in the middle of the dance floor. As a spectator, you’ll enjoy the sounds, smells, pure energy and vibes for sure! Tip: Wear comfortable flats.
Where to stay: The Spanish Court Hotel. Although Kingston is the capitol city, the luxurious hotels and all-inclusive destinations tend to be situated on the north coast. I did manage to find a one of a kind villa-style hotel in the heart of New Kingston that I simply fell in love with. The Spanish Court Hotel sits perfectly in the heart of New Kingston and is walking distance to the attractions mentioned above (Devon House and Bob Marley Museum). It’s the perfect mix of charming, quiet and chic and a great place to come home to after lobsters and Red Stripes on Hellshire Beach. I found it to be a fabulous hidden gem in the heart of Kingston and the staff matched the ambiance of hotel.
Opened since 2009, The Spanish Court hotel offers Real Style and Real Service in the heart of Kingston. From the moment you are greeted at the gate to check in and even room service, the warm and friendly staff are all Jamaican and their hospitality adds to the charm of the hotel itself. I loved that you could get a classic Jamaican breakfast every morning of ackee and saltfish with festival and local juices as well. After a day of traveling around the island for excursions and beach limes, I loved that the Spanish Court felt like a home away from home and it will definitely be my hotel of choice every time I visit Kingston. Rates start as low as $185.00 per night. For complete details and to book a stay, visit http://www.spanishcourthotel.com/
And there you have it. My Cool Running’s in Kingston. Regardless of what your mood calls for, you’ll be able to find it in the Jamaica’s capitol, get a good sense of the island and its warm and beautiful people. So the next time you’re on Expedia searching for a quick getaway, give Kingston a second thought; you’ll be glad you did!
Written by Vanessa James. All opinions are my own.