A Travellerspoint blog

October 2017

Discovering Curacao

Off road driving, diving, dancing, relaxing and learning on the smartest island of the Caribbean.

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Curaçao

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Curaçao is a tiny island, a stone’s throw from the coast of Venezuela.
A former colony of Portugal, Spain and then Holland, today it is an autonomous, free and thriving nation. There is a huge oil refinery which processes much of Venezuela’s oil, plus a myriad of mechanics and engineering factories and businesses.

This is not a touristy island at all. Tourism is merely a blip on the nation's radar, coming in at only the fourth in terms of revenue generation after oil, machinery and aloe vera.

If you're looking for resorts and five star treatment, then don't come here. If you want to be in a tranquil, quiet, serene place, where everybody quietly goes about their business, and lives on equal footing in paradise, then this is perfect!

Curaçao is known for being the most literate and highly educated islands in the Caribbean, with the highest per capita standard of living in the region. You won't find a single vendor selling trinkets on any beach here.

Though Curaçao is largely independent, their citizens have Dutch sovereignty (and passports).

Languages

The official national language is Papiamentu; a mix of Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish and native African languages. Curaçao is one of the only islands where the official language isn’t a formal European one. Papiamentu is spoken in offices, government, courts, etc... and the default language of ATMs, etc.
To me it sounded a lot like Spanish with a Dutch accent, and it was nice to be able to understand much of the language as a Spanish speaker.

High school classes are conducted in Dutch and tertiary courses are in English. Most people also speak Spanish and listen to Colombian and Dominican music... and so almost everyone I met in Curaçao spoke all four languages fluently.

Areas

Wilemstaad

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This is the capital and really, really nice. It is surrounded by a river system and beaches. The architecture is distinctly Dutch and felt like little Amsterdam by the sea.

Punda

This is the hub of activity in the city. Most of it is pedestrianised, with many shops, cafes and businesses operating harmoniously here. The bridge between here and Otrabanda is a notable highlight!!
There is a gorgeous laneway system here full of really nice open air places to eat, drink and socialise.

Rif Fort

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This is a gorgeous preserved area with restaurants, bars and shops. The views from the upper levels are magnificent. Throughout the week there are many events here, including Salsa, Bachata and Kizomba dance nights.

Jam Thiel

This is the swish beach area of the island. There are stunning apartment complexes, beach restaurants and bars lining the sand. What I like about Jam Thiel is that it isn't in-your-face flashy, but rather pretty subdued. Though it's obviously upmarket, it isn't exclusive and barricaded. The beaches and facilities here are accessible to everyone. There are great parties here, especially on Sundays.

Mambo Beach

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This is my favourite part of the island. There is a complex of many different restaurants and cafes here, both set back from the beach and on the perfect white sand itself. The best parties are also around here because of the range of venues.

In Curacao locals love all Caribbean music - from Salsa, Bachata and Soca... and they have their own style called Ritmocombinar, which to me sounds a lot like Zouk or Kizomba. On weekends you will find most of the local kids partying to ritmo and zouk at the upper floor venues on Mambo Beach.

Whilst having dinner with friends on Mambo beach, I asked some of the staff what they like to do for holidays since they aleady live in paradise. One of the barman said he and his friends go to Medellin (in the centre of Colombia) to get away from the beach and have fun in a big city. Talk about #ballers

Facing the beach is a man made barricade of rocks, roughly 100 metres from the coast, creating a very nice pool-like swimming bay, free of tides and waves. There are several sunbathing platforms in the middle of the swimming area. It really is magnificent.

Emporio and Latin Community

This is a great place to hear latin tunes. Many folks from Venezuela, Colombia and the DR come to Curacao for seasonal work, or emigrate permanently, and this is their spot. I met a nice couple from Barranquilla at Emporio who set up a business importing clothes from Antioquia to the islands.

Flag Day Celebrations

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During my time in Curacao the island were preparing for their national flag day. In the main city square, many groups were rehearsing music and dance performances. It was really great to see.
The day itself was incredible. At every corner for the capital city, there were music and dance performances in traditional dress, song competitions, etc.

Whilst watching one of the performances at Rif Fort, a lady pulled me out of the crowd to dance with her. She explained the steps as we went, and I didn't really make too much of a disaster out of it. It was really great fun.
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Kura Hulanda Slave Museum

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This one of the most comprehensive museums related to the history of slavery in the world, and an important place in the Caribbean.
There are many displays, documents, and artifacts related to Holland's slave industry that not only serviced the Caribbean, but also the US. The Dutch slave companies sold many thousands, if not millions of Africa slaves to the US.
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I did a tour with a group of Afro descended Americans, who were tracing their roots. Our guide was very informed and clear, and as a group we left very informed about that controversial side of history.
The site itself is particularly beautiful and tranquil, which made the experience just a little bit haunting.
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Diving

I experienced some of the best diving of my life here. There are huge shelves and walls full of sea life, and the water is really clear. The great thing abot the island too, is that there water gets deep straight off the coast. We simply walked out from the beach in our gear and swam out over the shelf. I was the only customer at the Chilean run dive shop.
The bloke who owns the place said he never looked back once he came here. It's a usual story in Curacao,

Dune Buggies

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One of the most awesome things to do in Curacao is go on a dune buggy safari. Most of the island is rocky remnants of coral (most of it was under water).
I drove in this beast with a nice group from Holland to the far reaches of the island, explring caves and coral mountains. It really was an incredible day out!!

Thanks Curacao, what a suprise

This is easily my favourite spot in the Caribbean. It is rich with culture, peaceful, prominent and safe - with amazing food, music and beaches.
I can't wait to go back!!

Posted by SkinnyFists 08:47 Archived in Curaçao Tagged beaches diving curacao scuba_diving dune_buggies rif_fort mambo_beach wilemstad flag_day_curacao jam_thiel Comments (0)

One week in Barbados

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If you're Australian and my age or older, chances are you remember the Models' 80's hit, Barbados.
I don't know if they made it here, but after hearing it all those times on the way to school on EoN FM... I finally got here.
Everyone will have heard about Baijan singer Rhianna!!

Barbados

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... is a tiny flat island and often referred to as Little Britain. It's the most "British" of the islands, and riding around the suburbs on a bus, you could easily be in Kent during summer.
I stayed here for a week, surfing most of the time at the amazing beaches, and also got to see some of the amazing wonders there.

Beaches and Surfing

The beaches here are nothing short of spectacular - fine white sand and rolling waves.
The surf here is perfect!!

I surfed here with Zed's Surfing Academy. The local instructors here helped me lift my surf game immeasurably.
Folks from all over the world come to surf here. I surfed with folks from Canada, UK and Hong Kong!!

Nature

Harrisons cave is huge full of amazing stalagtites. The tour here is really worthwhile
There are some amazing anomalies in the coast as well as the pristine beaches.

We met these cheeky monkeys outside too...
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Shopping and Nightlife

Barbados isn't exactly a shopping or party mecca. I didn't find any malls though there probably are some.
All of the entertainment is centred around St Lawrence gap (where the best hotels are too).
I hit some of the nightclubs along there. The only jumping spot was the Old Jam Inn... they had an fantastic funk band playing and then the DJ blasted Soca and some Dancehall until 3am.
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Trinidad Stopover

I stopped for just two days in Trinidad on the way to Curacao. It was my second time there and I had a great time visiting some of the music clubs. The steel drum/pan was invented here - as was Calypso music and more recently, Soca.
I'm looking forward to going to Carnival here. Apparently Brian Lara hosts a charity party at his house every year for USD$250 per head, so my cab driver told me anyways.

The Hyatt Regency there is an absolute marvel!! This is the view from the pool as a massive storm approached...
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... on to Curaçao

Posted by SkinnyFists 12:39 Archived in Barbados Tagged surf barbados harrisons_cave models_band lawrence_gap little_britain Comments (0)

One week in St Lucia...

Experiencing the tiny mountainous island that honeymooners and trekkers alike flock to...

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St Lucia

St Lucia is a small, gorgeous, mountainous island in the Minor Antilles region of the Caribbean.
I visited friends who were working on various volunteer programs, and also visited some of the many natural wonders of the island... including the exhausting but worthwhile climb of Petit Piton.

St Lucia is gorgeous and serene, and a popular spot for honeymooners.
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Culture

St Lucia changed hands between the French and British many, many times. As a result, the language and culture is equally influenced by both colonists.
The Creole language in St Lucia is dominated by French vocabulary and I really couldn't understand any of it. In shops, markets, the street... people speak the French Creole, though the official national language is English - spoken in schools and across tourism sectors.

Castries

The capital is a little rough around the edges, but has a very friendly vibe. Unless you have a specific reason to be there, I wouldn't bother.

Rodney Bay

This is the best spot in the island. A fantastic array of nightlife and restaurants, a marvellous beach, etc etc.
My pals took me to a tennis lesson at Hotel Blu there which run every Sunday morning - which was totally awesome.

Vigie Light House

We hiked up to the Lighthouse in Vigie. Some of the best panoramic views of the island can be found here.
The manager of the lighthouse is a really jovial fellow who can show you around to the best view points.
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Auberge Seraphine

This is a very posh hotel with a lovely restaurant, at the edge of a gorgeous bay. My pals and I enjoyed an amazing Sunday lunch there, and then explored the magnificent grounds of the hotel!
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Climbing Gros Piton

I climbed this magnificent wonder with a guide (you can't go without one). We reached the top in roughly 1.5 hours from memory, moving at a pretty swift pace. It's a steep climb, and difficult in parts, but the views are very much well worth it!!!
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Lunch at Ladera

The photo should say it all... yes that's Gros Piton that I climed the day prior to this lunch. Really amazing views, great food and amazing surrounds.
It looked like a really nice hotel to stay too.
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Thanks St Lucia

St Lucia is a beautiful mountainous island with many adventures to be had. One week was more than enough though.
If you're planning a holiday to St Lucia, you'll see how incredibly expensive it is. I had a great time ad glad I stopped by.

Posted by SkinnyFists 12:27 Archived in Saint Lucia Tagged trekking caribbean tennis languages saint_lucia castries st_lucia caribbean_islands gros_piton Comments (0)

Saint Martin / Sint Maarten

Discovering the contrasts and harmonies of the beautiful, amazing French and Dutch shared island.

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St Martin is a beautiful island and a major sailing hub between Europe and the other Caribbean islands, plus Latin America. There MANY boats docked at various parts of the island. It's a pretty industrious place, with a lot businesses involved in boat and aircraft maintanence, motor engineering, etc. St Martin is an enormously multicultural island, even by Caribbean standards.....
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Language

St Martin and St Maarten really are split by language lines (but not by much else).
As soon as you cross from one section to the other, the signs change from Dutch or English to French... that also goes for the spoken language too. Shop assistants/hotel workers,etc in St Martin almost exclusively speak French. In St Maarten I almost exclusively heard English, some Dutch and Spanish.

Incoming....

St Martin is a first world island with great infrastructure, friendly people, high employment rates and is a proven attractive option for immigration.
I had my haircut at a salon owned by a Dominican lady, who brought her friends and daughters with her to help expand the business. She loves it here!! There is a fantastic Colombian restaurant along the main street next to the airport and most of the shops next to the cruise ship port are owned by Trinidadians.

When I told a cab driver that I am Australian, he told me that they have played cricket in St Martin since it arrived in the West Indies. Who knew!!
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Travel

St Martin is easy to get to. Almost every island in the Caribbean has direct flights into the island. I flew direct from Kingston Jamaica.
The airport is on the Dutch side. Just like Curacao, Aruba, Bonaire and Suriname, St Maarteners have Dutch citizenship. There is a separate imigration line for member countries of the Dutch kingdom to breeze through. The airport is very nice and close to ... well everything.
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Accomodation

The hotels here are first rate. I stayed at a huge resort next the marina, with awesome gym, two pools, casino, several restaurants, etc for roughly AUD$50 per night!!

Food

Though Holland isn't famous for it's cuisine, the French are.... On the French side you will find incredible cafes, restaurants and patisseries. Universally on both sides, the coffee is excellent.

Scenic St Martin

This is without doubt one of the most beautiful islands of the lot. I hired a car and drove around the mountains and to the many districts. The island is very, very small - you can do a lap in 3 hours without stops.

There are amazing shopping areas along the beach close to where the cruise ships stop. The prices were competitive.
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Nightlife

Don't come here looking for a tropical feista. St Martin is a pretty quiet island. Aruba, Dominican Republic, even Curacao are better options for party goers.There are great nightclubs on both sides of the island though. This is a good list: here

Thanks St Martin / St Maarten

St Martin was a really nice stop. Five days was a perfect amount of time, and I learned a lot about the Caribbean in general here.

Posted by SkinnyFists 11:24 Archived in Saint Martin Tagged beaches shopping caribbean st_martin sint_martin san_maarten dutch_caribbean Comments (0)

Jamaica: Kingston

Carnival, dancehall, reggae, beaches, mountains waterfalls in the tough, lone lion of the Caribbean.

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Welcome to Jamrock

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Jamaica is a small island that sits in between close hermanos Colombia and Cuba.
Whilst Ja's neighbours share one of the most adoring and close cultural kinships in the world, Jamaica stands tall, sternly tough... and largely alone in the Caribbean.

I spent a month here and had a great time! Learning about Jamaican culture was really interesting and the scenery; from beaches to mountains are really incredible.

If you assume Jamaica is a peace loving dreadlocked utopia, think again.
The Rastafari are in the minority and generally work in the farms and keep to themselves, though some now do work in tourism.
The dread locked guys you see hounding tourists to buy weed are not indicative of rasta culture at all.

The majority of the population are devout/strict Christian, and their values/behaviours are reflected accordingly.

Culture

Music

Modern dancehall has totally eclipsed traditional reggae, and that's all young people pretty much listen to.
Artists like Vybz Kartel and Shensea are now international stars and there are huge dancehall scenes around the world now, especially Canada, Japan, and an emerging one in Australia.

Usually, at clubs and parties, the DJ's will play old reggae and classic dancehall to warm up the crowd, and then the party will jump off with beat heavy modern dancehall.

One thing that Jamaica did take from her Caribbean neighbours... Salsa and Bachata music - especially Kingston.
Venues such as the Alibi have great Salsa and Bachata events.

Language

Though English is the national language, Patois is most widely spoken in casual terms.
People often mistake Patois as broken English. It isn't.... Patois hardly resembles standard English and is a language of it's own.
It evolved from the ancestral African languages and includes some French and English vocabulary. Some friends tried to teach me Patois phrases but... no nuh muss

Is Jamaica safe?

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As a foreigner everyone in Jamaica will tell you to be careful.
Jamaica is reportedly the murder capital of the world, with more homicides occurring per capita than any other country.
It is very common for folks to carry pistols. A friend who works for an accounting firm, carries a licenced gun at the behest of her father for self protection....

I had a couple of tricky situations.....
One, on the beach in Negril when a vendor tried overcharging me for a smoothie. His prices said $4, I verbally confirmed the price before ordering. Upon leaving he asked for $10, I told him $4. We argued for a bit until his friends came to support him (one of them had a bullet wound scar in his shoulder and meant business)..... it was clear that the customer (me) was either going to cough up, or end up in hospital, or worse.

LBGT Violence

Homophobia is part of Jamaican culture - it is violently embedded in Ja' music lyrics and the psyche of mainstream society. Going by how I heard people talk... Jamaica is not a safe place for LGBT people to visit at all...actually, that goes for any of the English speaking Islands. The Spanish and Dutch islands are much better suited for you guys and gyals.

Drugs

Two types of popular drugs are widely available, of extremely high quality and at very agreeable prices in Jamaica; the stuff Bob Marley liked, and the stuff Tony Montana liked. Be aware that both are illegal.
Though it's common to see folks smoking spliffs at the parties, on the beach or at the resort, just beware that it's not legal, nor is consumption tolerated in most places and the cops could do you in of they were so inclined..

Cops

There is a fairly strong police presence, but for me they seemed really unhelpful. I asked some cops for directions at the main bus terminal in Kingston. At first they made out like they didn't understand what I was saying, and after repeating my question... they answered in unintelligable Patois and turned away.
The military also drive the streets of Kingston in jeeps. Friends told me they have a licence to kill gangsters without question.

Nontheless, I loved Jamaica for the most part... and here's what I experienced there....

Kingston

Carnival

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A few days out from Carnival I registered with the Island Routes parade for the Kingston street party.
This was one of the best Caribbean experiences I had!

Upon arrival, we were ushered "backstage" for lunch and it was an opportunity for the participating ladies to get their costumes ready.
When it came to our turn, the masses of our group bumbled into the road with our bus, blasting bouncing Soca music... and as we slowly marched, danced and "wined" through the streets of Kingston, we were able to access the unlimited moving bar in the bus. Just pass your cup into the bus and scream your order and a very strong version of the drink is passed back.
It was utter chaos, and so much fun!!!
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Redbones

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The Redbones Café is a great outdoor music venue that also has awesome food!!
I saw a great reggae band here whist dining on the best jerk chicken feast ever!!

Usain Bolt's Records

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Sports restaurant owned by Jamaica's great sprinter is an awesome and entertaining visit. The food is awesome and there is a ton of Usain's memorabilia in house!!

Nightlife

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Kingston's nightlife is easily the best in the country. It's loud, boisterous, raucous and extremely risqué.
Though Jamaica is so staunchly Christian, strip clubs are big business and also act as great nightclubs. Both men and women across the board go to clubs and drop dollars for the super athletic six pack donning ladies.

Aside from the strip clubs, there are big dancehall/reggae parties at different venues at each night of the week.
Sunday party, Wet Sundaze, is hosted at a huge mechanics shop was an awesome time!!

One thing I loved about many clubs in Jamaica, is that they have cricket is playing on the big screens! Yeam mon!

Emancipation Park

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Hugely significant in Jamaica's history and culture. It's a gorgeous, safe and serene place to be. Many a wedding photo is taken here. I also saw a cool Brazilian capoeira group practicing here too!!

Negril

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Negril has arguably the best beach (7 miles long!!) in Jamaica and is where most of the resorts are. It's definitely the most tourist friendly spot and you are guaranteed a great time here. The super long beach is lined with resorts, restaurants and hotels. During the day you can chill, eat jerk chicken and sip Red Stripes, and at night choose from a myriad of great parties.

The highlight of my time was a catamaran trip along the region's coastline, stopping at Rick's Café by the cliffs. There is a jump platform from 40 feet to the deep sea. Of course, I did it, and the west facing sunset views from anywhere in Negril are spectacular.

Another highlight was a visit to a farm up in Moreland Hill.
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It has been owned by the same family for many generations, since almost directly after emancipation. The family have a statue gallery dedicated to the Rastafari religion.
This is a great stop to learn about Jamaican history and the Rasta man, see great views and awesome art... probably a cultural highlight of my time here.

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Montego Bay

"Mo Bay" is a nice seaside city, and the second biggest in the country. I stayed just a couple of days at one of the all inclusive resorts (Decameron) by the sea and had an absolute blast. The Decameron employs bilingual Colombians (Decameron is also all over San Andres) to look after the many Latino tourists who come here.
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'Pier 1' is huge party that shouldn't be missed, and the Hard Rock Café in town is super swish.
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The views from chain bar, Margaritaville are incredible!!
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Ocho Rios

Ocho Rios is a nice town, and is where the cruise ships stop on the island. I stayed at Reggae Hostel there and had a great time. Really nice staff and vibe. It's also right on the beach.

Mystic Mountain

Mystic Mountain is a great adventure park in the mountains next to "Ochi".
I ran a manually controlled bobsled (remember the Jamaican bobsled victory?!!) through the lush mountains. Kind of like a rollercoaster where the passenger controls the speed. It winds and loops through the jungle and you can really fly. Absolutely incredible. I also zip lined across the mountains and did their incredibly windy and fast waterslide. There are many informative displays about Jamaica's incredible sporting and cultural history here too... and the chair lift that takes you up to the park has amaaaazing views. Jamaica is one heck of a spot. Especially for adventure and culture. yeah mon!!
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Dunn's River Falls

Dunns River Falls is a huge cascading waterfall that flows through a mountain in Ocho Rios, with many amazing pools along the way. The activity starts at the base of the falls on the beach. The group held hands in single file and we collectively walked UP the waterfall together, helping each other in a synergetic climb. The journey is touch in parts, but the group effort makes sure everyone makes it.
It was totally AWESOME!!

Grippy water shoes are a must for this... I picked up a pair at the market for 5 bucks!

Bob Marley's House

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The place where he was born and now rests. . This is certainly a special place for Jamaicans and fans of reggae music. I joined a wonderful tour to 8 Mile, the town of Bob's family home where he was conceived and now rests alongside other members of the family who have passed.
We learned so much about Bob's upbringing, family and life here.
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Luminous Swimming

Just outside of Ochi there is lagoon where the phosphorus glows at night when activated. Sadly I don't have photos, but it was truly amazing to swim there under the stars and have the water radiating with movements.

Port Antonio

This was favourite part of Jamaica. The jungle/mountain scenery here is nothing short of spectacular. There are no resorts here and just a few hotels scattered around the tranquil lush region.

Blue Lagoon

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I went to the banks of the lagoon and found a boatman who takes tourist on raft tours. He was a top bloke and had plenty of stories to tell, as we cruised the gorgeous area.

On the banks, are some impressive houses - one of which was owned by Princess Diana, and others had been rented by Tom Cruise, Beyonce and JayZ, etc.
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We stopped on Monkey Island and the surrounding falls. I really can't explain how amazing it is!!

Somerset Falls

A friend showed me around to Somerset Falls. Just amazing. We took a boat along the flowing around the back of the waterfall, and through the sheet of fast flowing water to some rocks. We jumped on to the rocks, and then dove through the waterfall back into the river... it was quite an experience!!!
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Frenchman's Cove

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This is a private beach ($10 entry) and as amazing as any tropical romance film will show you. It's a small beach and impeccably kept. No vendors or hassles, and when I visited, only a few other people scattered around the place.

St Anne's

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St Anne's Parish is a small, lush and very tranquil area of the country. I joined a friend's work trip to visit some of the key places.
We visited a gorgeous preserved pak on the beach that had a great museum. Therein were artefacts from the indigenous groups, Tainos dating back many thousands of years. The guides gave us some very detailed desciptions of Taino culture and the many tools and artefacts that they had before the Spanish arrived.

We also visited some of the magnificent waterfalls in the area for a swim.
I jumped from some of the cliffs into the deep pools there - totally awesome.

We stopped for delicious jerk chicken on the way home... though bittersweet as it was my last day in Jamrock.

Finally

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Jamaica is a beautiful country, rich in culture and has the best food in the world!!
I had an incredible time and really, really, glad I went!!
Yeah man!!

Posted by SkinnyFists 12:46 Archived in Jamaica Tagged mountains beaches jamaica negril weed ocho_rios reggae lgbt bob_marley jamrock dunns_river Comments (0)

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