A voice for all
THE spiritual home of reggae is topping the charts again. Unesco recently announced the music of Bob Marley and Studio One has been added to its list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity. The announcement has been met with a mixed response — some Jamaicans don’t require anyone to endorse the soundtrack of their island. However, this latest accolade reminds the world that reggae remains ‘soulful food for the underprivileged,’ says Wayne Jobson, a Jamaica-born LA-based radio personality and record producer. ‘The message of reggae has always been to uplift equal rights and the downtrodden,’ says Jobson, who features in Netflix’s recent Bob Marley documentary Who Shot The Sheriff?
February is officially reggae month and Bob’s birthday is on February 6, which means it’s a good time to visit the country. Events will be held at the Bob Marley Museum, Trench Town, and in downtown Kingston. facebook.com/jaria.reggae.month and visitjamaica.com
A view to a thrill
Jamaica has plenty happening in 2019, starting at the GoldenEye Estate (from £525 a night, goldeneye.com), an oasis in Oracabessa, where Ian Fleming wrote his James Bond novels. In keeping with the island’s relaxed vibes, the hotel’s FieldSpa has just revealed two new spa huts, a hammam and yoga deck.
Or, for an alternative view of the island, get behind the wheel of a Mini Cooper with Island Routes (£138 for four hours, islandroutes.com), which has introduced three new tours, including an exploration across Ocho Rios in the north. Led by a guide, your convoy will visit the Konoko Falls and scoff jerk chicken and sweet cakes at roadside stops.
A time capsule
If Montego Bay’s cruise ships and air-conditioned mega-resorts leave you cold, head to the island’s lush northeast coast, which has escaped voracious development. Port Antonio was once the post-war holiday spot du jour for the jet set — a trend famously forged by a rum- and sun-fuelled Errol Flynn, who proclaimed it to be more beautiful than any woman he’d ever met — and is reached by crossing the island’s wild Blue Mountains.
You’ll be in good company — only those seeking vintage Jamaica bother to make the journey. ‘The mountains are a natural filter,’ says record producer Jon Baker, who owns Port Antonio’s seven-room, two-villa Geejam resort and recording studio (from £335 a night, geejamhotel.com), which has hosted Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar, Grace Jones and Drake. The British-born hotelier is hoping to entice a new breed of Geejammer by launching 12 more affordable rooms, at about £195 a night, this year. The hotel’s expansion will also include a new infinity pool, spa and permanent live stage, and a glossy refurb throughout.
Make the pilgrimage while the sleepy corner remains in its time capsule — the new Southern Coastal Highway will link Port Antonio with Kingston.
The island’s capital is on a mission to use art for social transformation. Kingston Creative (kingstoncreative.org), a movement created by the local art community, government and academics, hopes to establish an art district in downtown Kingston, starting with a monthly art walk and street market.
From 10.30am on the last Sunday of each month, you can wander along abandoned lanes and spaces, and pop into F&B DownTown (107 Harbour Street), a one-time jewellery store that has been converted to an arts space, to browse stalls where artisans sell leather pieces, paintings, woodwork, crochet, and natural beauty products. The market also features a sound system that has been performing since 1973, so it’s a market but it’s also a party. Naturally.
Be canny in the Caribbean
■ The best weather tends to be from mid-December to mid-April, which is when travel is most expensive. Those rates are sliced by about a third during the shoulder season — mid-April to July — when the trade-off is a bit of rain.
■ See the island with the comfortable Knutsford Express (Montego Bay to Negril costs £11 one-way, knutsfordexpress.com), which runs a cheap, regular coach service between popular towns.
■ Although parts of the Caribbean, including Jamaica, escaped the 2017 hurricanes, the region is still reporting fewer visitors. ‘This means it’s possible to find low-season prices during the winter sun high season,’ says Emma Coulthurst of travel price comparison site TravelSupermarket. Seven-nights at Negril’s Samsara Cliff Resort, including flights, costs from £773 a person departing on February 10. travelsupermarket.com