PERPETUALLY SUNNY WHITE-SAND beaches, pretty sunsets and oceanfront hotels
are everywhere in the Caribbean. Advantage Jamaica? From Philadelphia, the tropical spot is a nonstop, less-than-four-hour flight away. Plus, Jamaican pop culture is familiar in that Bob Marley kind of way, and English is the official language. Besides beaches that inspire marathon sessions of lounging by the sea (and, of course, long romantic walks), Jamaica’s hilly topography — lush with banana and almond trees, hibiscuses and palms — makes an ideal backdrop for stretching your adventure legs.
Hole up at an all-inclusive, surrounded by a glossy, idyllic leisure world — or, mix up lazing poolside at a luxury hotel with a bit of countryside exploring, club-hopping on the Hip Strip, or bargain ing at a craft market. Bottom line: On this island, hotel choice can make or break a stay; spend a little extra to be spoiled.
BY DAY: The calm and clear-blue Caribbean Sea is ideal for splashing and snorkeling (and the soft, white beaches for tanning and snuggling). Or, take advantage of more rugged pursuits like horseback riding, kayaking and river tubing, and meet friendly tour guides who will regale you with local lore and lessons in Jamaican slang (Everyone feeling irie? Ya mon!). Daring couples shouldn’t miss a canopy tour with Chukka Caribbean Adventures: Strapped into a harness, you’ll zip from treetop to treetop at squeal-inducing speeds, crossing over rivers and brushing through leaves. For something more leisurely, try floating down the Martha Brae River in bamboo rafts for two with your own captain. Searching for the spa? Among the best is the brand-new Fern Tree Spa at the Half Moon resort, where spa elder Stella Grey offers a menu of body-pampering services, including scrubs with Jamaican herbs and a wrap in the island’s homegrown coffee. For something a bit more unusual, take a private swim with two dolphins at Half Moon. At $400 per person, it’s a splurgy dip in the lagoon, but how often can you get a buss on the cheek from a bottlenose?
BY NIGHT: If your idea of the perfect nightlife is Mardi Gras, head to chaotic Gloucester Avenue (aka the Hip Strip), where you’ll find dance clubs and tourist-catering bars, such as Margaritaville. For something more romantic, board a sunset cruise on a 50-foot yacht with Dreamer Catamarans in Montego Bay. The sunsets are loveliest on the water, and the tour gives you a twinkling view of the Jamaica hills.
WHAT TO EAT: The flavor of the island can be had in one bite of jerk chicken or pork. The inexpensive Jamaican-style spicy grilled meat is sold at roadside stands (look for the billowing smoke), including the oft-recommended Scotchies along the highway in Montego Bay. Foodies will love dining on the terrace of the off-the-charts-romantic Sugar Mill at Half Moon. (Try the superbly prepared local special, escoveitched snapper.) The Great House at The Tryall Club, which is tucked up in the hills, offers sweeping water views and haute cuisine à la Jamaica. Or, eat on the water and with the locals at The Houseboat Grill. And, caffeine snobs shouldn’t miss the locally grown Blue Mountain coffee.
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