Strolling the Hip Strip

Montego Bay’s seaside street with an attitude

By: Eleanor M. Wilson

MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica Gloucester Avenue, following the shoreline in Montego Bay, blends the sounds, smells and sights of Jamaica with a culture all its own. The stretch is known as The Hip Strip, and the name is well deserved. A melange of shopping malls, stalls, busy beaches, pubs, cool cafes and hot nightspots line both sides of the street. Clubs and restaurants are open until the wee hours. This place has attitude!

Blast Off
On Cornwall Beach, at the Strip’s northern end, visitors can settle in for a cool drink at the rustic outdoor bar under a sea grape tree. Conversations come easy here, and clients are bound to make a few new friends. Right next-door is the Jamaica Tourist Board office, where the knowledgeable staff will help organize visitors’ stays.

Hungry? Tell clients to go local across the street to The Native Restaurant. Its menu complements the name, offering hearty plates of stewed oxtail with rice and peas (actually red beans), Jamaica’s famous jerk chicken or pork, and the national dish: ackee and salt fish. Move southward to the Strip’s shopping area. Stylish malls on one side of the road offer name-brand perfumes, designer jewelry and the like in an organized atmosphere. Trendy shops sell duty-free watches, leather goods and the latest clothing styles in tropical prints and flowing chiffons. Quiet galleries exhibit fine paintings and sculptures, plus Jamaica’s distinctive Wassi ceramics.

If visitors didn’t “go native” for lunch, they should definitely drop into The Brewery Pub at Miranda Ridge Plaza. That English look with Jamaican flavor extends to the menu as well, creating a new food group Jamaican Pub Grub.

On the beach side of the Strip, all sorts of stalls and tables display everything from art to bird-feeders and knockoffs of merchandise seen at the more expensive venues. Tell clients to take a second look they just might discover a woodcarver with real talent.

Some vendors just hang their wares over their arms and give visitors a movable shopping experience as they walk along next to them. And clothing on this side of the street is more than likely hung on a string from tree to tree. A favorite is the parang, Jamaica’s answer to the sarong or surround. This very useful item usually comes with a lesson on wrapping yourself into three or four different styles.

Of course, one strip fixture to count on is the hair braider. The entrepreneurial types provide almost a salon setting with comfortable chairs in the shade, but generally, customers just sit on a wall and let braiders have their way. Children love having their tresses decorated with tons of extender beads.

There are bargains to be had here, but “bargain” is the key word. Storeless vendors are called higglers in Jamaica, and half the purchasing fun is haggling with the higgler.

Beach Bountiful
Visitors will have now reached Doctor’s Cave Beach, the spot that put this city on the map with its pure white sand and clear water believed to be fed by mineral springs. Doctor’s Cave has been a fixture on top-ten best beaches lists for years. Breezes Montego Bay, the SuperClubs all-inclusive hotel, is next door, and the hotel across the street proudly bears the Doctor’s Cave name.

Beach and water activities abound here. Most unique is the Sea Trek, run by Chukka Caribbean Adventure Tours, where you can view the magical mysteries of the deep without even getting your hair wet. Clients can begin their trek by donning a big space helmet-type device with a wide viewing window in the front and an air hose at the back. The latter keeps divers breathing normal as they walk with a guide along the sea floor, enjoying close encounters with colorful tropical fish, sea fans, coral and a variety of underwater life.

Tell clients to save their thirst for the last beachside outpost on the Strip, Margaritaville. Day or night, this joint is jumping! Opening time is 11 a.m., when Jimmy Buffet tunes create background for avid sports fans watching the big screen. Cheeseburger in Paradise, of course, is the menu item of choice, but pizza is also a favorite, washed down with a 22-ounce beer bong. As the sun goes down, partygoers get down to Latin and reggae beats, and American Idol wannabees give it their all at the karaoke mike.

For a different nightlife experience, visitors can move across to Coral Cliff Hotel’s Jackpot Jungle, where over 120 slots and arcade games vie for attention from both kids and adults in a cool setting.

Speaking of cool, clients can meander into the games room and bar called “Chillin.” Imagine shooting hoops in Jamaica as snowflakes fall around you and flashing lights keep a musical beat. Top this off with a drink at the authentic hand-carved ice bar, complete with ice shot glasses. Thoughtful management provides patrons with coats and gloves.

Send your clients to the Hip Strip. It’s the place to connect with Jamaica’s locals and feel the Mo Bay beat.

Jamaica Tourist Board

Chukka Caribbean Adventure Tours