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I awoke to a soundtrack of serenity provided by the chickens, native birds and lone donkey that roamed the farm. Lying in a hammock with a glass of freshly squeezed soursop juice, I embraced the solitude of my surroundings and swayed harmoniously with Jamaica’s welcoming breeze.
I’m a nomadic traveler, exploring as much of a place, its people and its culture as I can until the last call for boarding beckons me home. On a whim, my wife and I booked a weekend trip to Zimbali Culinary Retreats, a charming oasis tucked into Caanan Mountain, only a 30-minute drive from the sun-soaked beaches of Negril.
Though I was hesitant to keep my feet planted in just one area of this gorgeous island, Zimbali served up equal parts adventure, relaxation and mouthwatering cuisine that — rightfully so — has made the property a can’t-miss destination for any visitor to The Land of Wood and Water.
Although our arrival coincided with the setting sun, owners Mark and Lisa welcomed us with open arms, and the chef immediately fired up the grill. A dinner of chicken, hash patties (pastries with variations of spices and meats inside) and chocolate rum cake led to beers at the bar as Mark laid out our options for the weekend: lounging on the soft sands of Negril, guided tours of the farm and excursions into the bush with a beloved local Rastafarian.
Mark invited us to indulge in whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted, and had only one suggestion: Experience harmony with nature, a way of life as old as the island itself.
Zimbali surpasses all expectations, blending the professionalism of an all-inclusive resort with the laid-back Caribbean attitude that makes travelers from every corner of the globe feel sublimely at peace.
We spent our first full day in the sand along Negril’s coast. We were told there was no better spot than Rick’s Cafe to watch the sunset paint wildly vivid portraits across the sky. After we watched a dozen brave souls leap off the cafe’s cliffs into the blue waters below, we stopped for dinner at cliffside Ivan’s Bar & Restaurant to sample lobster, shrimp and snapper brought in with the day’s catch.
The following day, we traded being barefoot on the beach for an adventure deep in the bush.
Zimbali’s “Rasta Experience” began with a hike to immerse clients in the real culture of Rastafarians. Our guide, Fiyah, weaved our group along trails until we reached his sanctuary: Camp Survival.
For more than 30 years, Fiyah has lived off the land, sourcing his water from Gracie’s Spring and creating every meal from scratch with the fruits, herbs, spices and vegetables he grows on his modest farm. In this minimalist treehouse home, Fiyah and his friends introduced us to Rasta-style “Ital Cooking” (which utilizes natural ingredients grown on Jamaica) as we indulged his curiosity about what life is like away from the island.
Humbled by Fiyah’s hospitality, we returned to Zimbali for its world-famous farm-to-table cooking show. Dozens of guests arrived to fill every seat for an exquisite six-course meal prepared before our eyes. Savory beef patties, smooth pumpkin soup, spicy jerk chicken and decadent desserts — each plate was different, yet complementary to the last. As we ended our night unwinding with a glass of wine, we regretted not booking a longer stay.
Zimbali immersed us in more than Rasta culture, dinner shows and unspoiled relaxation: Mark and Lisa offered us the opportunity to experience authentic Jamaican life the way it has been for hundreds of years. Every handmade meal and every moment spent in this intimate, six-room retreat gifted us with memories that have left lasting impressions on our souls.
The DetailsZimbali Culinary Retreatswww.zimbaliretreats.com