I’ve visited Jamaica nearly a dozen times, and each time I find myself on the main tourism strip on the north coast of the island, shuttling between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios. The north coast is the tourism powerhouse of Jamaica, and it contains the island’s top resorts, golf courses and tour operators. One quality the north doesn’t have, however, is the off-the-beaten-path feel of the island’s south coast.
The showpiece of YS Falls is a seven-tiered waterfall. // © 2009 Jamaica Tourist Board
The south coast represents a Jamaica from another time and place. The setting is more rural, the pace is more relaxed and the residents aren’t focused on grabbing their piece of the tourism pie. The south coast makes it easy to connect with the locals. Here, there’s a pleasant give-and-take that is harder to achieve in the environs surrounding a gated resort. For example, one of the most appealing hotels in the area is Jake’s, an Island Outpost property located at Treasure Beach. It’s customary to see locals wander in for a meal at the property’s al fresco restaurant, and it’s just as likely to see guests at Jake’s amble into town to shoot a game of pool.
Clients intent on visiting the south coast will have to fly into either Kingston or Montego Bay. The south coast is about a 90-minute drive down from Montego Bay; from Kingston, it will take about three hours. Repeat visitors to Jamaica are an especially good match for a south coast holiday. They’ve seen the biggest attractions that the island has to offer. Most likely, they now have a comfort level with the island, and they’re ready to dig a little deeper.
Options for accommodations are more limited on the south coast. Two of the most popular are Sandals Whitehouse European Village & Spa, which delivers all the bells-and-whistles clients expect from a Sandals property; and the above-mentioned Jake’s, a funky but chic beach cottage take on the Jamaican experience.
The main attractions of the south coast can be explored in one day, or spread out over the course of a visit. The top three that are not to be missed include a safari excursion on the Black River, a tour of the Appleton Rum Estate and the outdoor attractions of YS Falls.
The town of Black River is named after the river that runs through it. When strolling through town, clients should keep an eye out for Waterloo at 44 High Street, built in 1875 and the first building in Jamaica to be powered by electricity. It’s a good example of the port’s colonial heritage and former glory days. Once a busy logging and sugar port, the town is now on the sleepy side but packed with local color. Here, visitors can book a river excursion with several local operators to tour the lower river delta’s mangroves, observing a multitude of birds and animals, including snowy egrets, a variety of herons, and the endangered West Indian Whistling Duck. The real attraction, however, is the prevalence of American crocodiles. At last count, it was estimated that some 300 crocodiles live in the river. The 90-minute trip along the black, deeply reflective waters of the river makes for a relaxing outdoor excursion. Tours depart five times a day from the dock beside the Black River Bridge.
The Appleton Rum
Estate, near the village of Maggoty, is a working rum factory surrounded by sugarcane fields. Visitors can tour the facility to learn about modern rum making and visit a small museum to view historic tools and artifacts from the glory days of rum production. The Appleton Estate Rum Tour is topped off with a rum tasting.
YS Falls is one of those attractions that should be savored rather than rushed through. YS Estate lies in the foothills of the cockpit country of St. Elizabeth. A full day could be spent in the streams and pools and picnic areas of the estate. Here, clients can enjoy an intimate experience with a spectacular seven-tiered waterfall surrounded by lush vegetation. The visit begins with a tractor-drawn jitney ride through a working thoroughbred horse and cattle farm, past towering logwood trees, to a valley that showcases a seven-tiered waterfall. Visitors can try their hand on a Tarzan swing over the waterfall’s pool, opt for river tubing when river conditions permit or just relax poolside. Encourage your clients to pack a picnic lunch and their YS Falls visit can easily turn into a full-day excursion.
For clients seeking natural attractions or some delicious libations, Jamaica’s south coast does not disappoint.