Smack dab in the middle of the Bloody Bay shoreline, the beachfront locale overlooks the placid water, a favorite of Hobie Cats zipping back and forth. In the shallow sea, you can walk on soft sand for at least 50 yards with the water reaching only chest high. At the jerk hut, I lined up with my plate for lunch, then headed back to the beach chair to be serenaded by guitarists singing Bob Marley tunes while I dug into my food, washing it down with a cool Red Stripe beer.
Just off the famed 7-Mile Beach of Negril, Bloody Bay has far less of the hustle and bustle of the main strip. Reclining on our lounge chairs down by the ocean, we watched the occasional musician strolling by, along with folks selling cigarettes, cigars, marijuana and sundresses, and women offering to braid your hair, but we never felt hounded by hagglers.
(Laris Karklis/The Washington Post)
I’ve often wondered why Jamaica, a country with arguably the richest native culture in the Caribbean, is home to so many all-inclusive resorts that seem to care little about the place they’re in as long as it has beaches. Perhaps the all-inclusive serves as a barrier between visitors and the steady stream of locals selling their wares.
Jamaicans, for their part, have a love-hate relationship with the all-inclusive concept. Tourism is the country’s No. 1 industry, and resorts such as Sandals, Swept Away, Breezes, Iberostar and Riu certainly help create jobs. But they can also act as gated communities that visitors never have to step outside until they leave the country. This upsets many Jamaicans, who simply want travelers to savor the full island experience, from viewing the scenery to dining on genuine Jamaican food to visiting local artisans and seeing their latest wares.
“We hear that some of these hotels tell their guests that it’s dangerous to travel around Jamaica,” says my driver, Courteney Smith, on the 90-minute ride from Montego Bay Airport to Negril. “These rumors make us angry, because they’re simply not true.”
Having been to Jamaica more than a half-dozen times, I can say that you’d be foolish not to leave the resort premises and experience the island’s varied topography, from long stretches of shoreline to thick forests tangled with bamboo and ripe with mangoes, bananas and coffee, to the 7,400-foot apogee of the Blue Mountains. To see the real Jamaica, you have to go for a drive into the countryside, where churches are filled with bonnet-clad women on Sundays and children walk to and from school in their blue uniforms on weekdays.
My family has rafted down mountainous rivers with water as clear as white rum; taken horseback rides high up the hills, past the dilapidated walls of former cotton plantations that date to the time of Spanish rule in the 1600s; snorkeled with stingrays at the cavernous westernmost part of the island, just past the cliff divers at Rick’s Cafe; and hired a driver to take us far away from the congested coast up to Bob Marley’s final resting spot. We’ve tasted sugar cane from the fields, watched guides climb tall palms to cut down a coconut and offer us the milk to drink, and stopped at seaside huts that serve only freshly caught lobster. A funny thing happens once you leave the resort towns. The proud Jamaicans don’t want to sell you anything. They only want you to enjoy their land. That’s why I find myself returning to this island in the sun so often (that and the fact that I need a serious dose of humidity come midwinter).