For me a great beach is not just warm air, crystal blue waters, undulating palms, and constant sunshine, though all of those are excellent. No, I need and desire even more. I want a cold Red Stripe beer and crisp, freshly fried fish served to me in the shade of an arching jacaranda tree. I want wild orchids spilling out of the trees all around me. I want a sparkling cold stream right by my side, so that after I’ve cooked myself hot in the sun, I can plunge into the river, swim amongst shoals of friendly silver fish, then float downstream a hundred yards to bump out over the sand to swirl into the warm waters of a sheltered ocean cove. I can find all this in Jamaica, and especially at Frenchman’s Cove, just outside Port Antonio. Park at the gate, pay a fee, and paradise awaits just a few yards in.
But that's hardly Jamaica's only great beach. At Boston Bay, also near Port Antonio, I can body-surf in the perfect waves that curl in around the headlands and choose from many beachside jerk stands. I can eat my fill of hot, searing jerk, washed down by my favorite grapefruit soda, Ting. Then, after I take a nap on the beach, I can either bob up and down with the locals in the perfectly clear sandy shallows or I can take surfing lessons for just a few dollars. On the way back into Port Antonio, make sure to take a plunge into the breathtakingly beautiful, blue, fathoms-deep waters of the Blue Lagoon. Many locals also offer boat rides through the lagoon and out to sea to visit jungly Monkey Island.
Also near Port Antonio is Winnifred Beach, a favorite of locals, down a bumpy road (ask for directions or take a taxi) but well worth the drive to find an array of excellent beach shacks serving fresh fish and several craft shops selling local carvings and jewelry. The snorkeling is excellent in the reef-sheltered bay and I once picked up a lovely lavender sea fan drifting, rootless, along the bottom.