Once, I hiked up into the magnificent Blue Mountains of Jamaica, following a local guide who showed me bright red coffee berries, brilliant wild ginger flowers, blooming orchids, and even an herb she promised would make men love me. During the steep climb up through a pristine jungle landscape, we only passed one person, and he was heading downhill, carrying a huge bunch of bananas balanced on his head. But at the end of the day, when we finally broke free of the jungle to a narrow road and came upon a man wearing a starched white shirt leaning against a banged-up car, he broke into joyous laughter at the inglorious, sweaty sight of me and said, “Certainly you must be one of God’s loveliest creations!” I guess she was right about that herb.
This is the delight of the hidden Southern Jamaica, a place of surprises.
Explore the southern coast and all it has to offer by renting a car from Island Car Rentals, the company all the locals use because it has the best 24-hour roadside assistance, in case you need it. That said, when I have driven in Jamaica, I find the driving blissfully slow and scenic and have never had a problem.
For an exciting aquatic adventure, hop a guided river boat and enjoy the unexpected thrill of crocodiles along the Black River, or join a six- or eight-day birding tour for around $1,780 by Raj Tours that promises not only coots and grebes but perhaps a glimpse of the elusive doctor bird, “a large (compared with its tiny cousins) hummingbird with a long streaming tail,” the jewel of Jamaica’s 28 endemic birds. The tour company arranges stays in simple guest houses all along the way.
Make sure you book a full moon stay at Jake’s at Treasure Beach, a delightfully laid-back hotel with 30 unique rooms and cottages whose limestone walls in pink and ochre, colorful hammocks, and caned covered porches overhanging the ocean evoke a charming mix of Moroccan and Mexican rustic beach style. At sunset on the Saturday closest to the full moon, Jake’s hosts fabulous farm-to-table dinners. This program supports the small independent farmers of Pedro Plains, the “bread basket” of Jamaica.
At these full moon dinners, white-linen-draped tables are laid out in orchards with lanterns hanging from curly yam vines above. There the chef, Liz Solms, presides, serving a lovely array of food, such as penne with lime basil, goat cheese crostini, and chicken with chile-yogurt sauce, all prepared with organic produce from nearby farms.
Along the way, make sure visit the out-to-sea Pelican Bar in St. Elizabeth. Ride a boat with a friendly fisherman to reach this rustic wooden bar, which rests on stilts on a sand bar a quarter of a mile offshore. Eat fresh fried fish washed down with Red Stripe beer and laze the day away. A cousin of mine came with his family to stay three days along this hidden coasts and ending up staying three weeks.
Explore the historic Georgian architecture, including the Invercauld Great House, of the village of Black River, once a thriving port. And don’t forget a day hike up into the mountains on a Belvedere Nature Walk with Raj Tours and perhaps you’ll find that herb that inspires love.