For all the gated-in mass resorts lining its northern shores (after all, this is the country that gave birth to the all-inclusive concept), Jamaica remains one of the Caribbean’s most appealing and accessible locales. From Montego Bay and Ocho Rios to Negril, scores of new and newly-renovated hotels opened their doors in 2015 and are on the docket for 2016 and beyond. Tourism is booming, but despite the crowds at the island’s most popular locales, authentic experiences still await visitors from coast to coast. Read on for 10 great reasons to go to Jamaica now.
SANDALS NEGRIL BEACH RESORT & SPA
Honeymooners have long honed in on this luxury all-inclusive resort for couples on Negril’s beautiful Seven Mile Beach, where Hobie Cats, scuba diving and snorkeling tours are all included in your rate. And with the recent renovations to 72 rooms here (out of a total of 226), there’s even more to like. Most impressive are the property’s new Sunset Loft Suites. The two-story accommodations just steps from the water’s edge are sleek and stylish, with a floating staircase, solid mahogany furnishings, and an outdoor soaking tub that your butler will prep for the two of you.
Insider’s Tip: Guests at Sandals can also enjoy the facilities at Beaches Negril, a short drive (or long walk) down the beach), for no extra charge. It’s worth detouring to Beaches for an excellent sushi dinner at Soy restaurant.
GLISTENING WATERS LUMINOUS LAGOON
Even if you’ve already witnessed water aglow with the phenomenon of bioluminescence, we’re willing to bet you’ve never seen the effect quite as intensely as it presents itself in this bay near Falmouth. Tours happen after dark, when a five-minute boat trip from an old-school marina delivers you into a different world entirely. The presence of tiny marine organisms called dinoflagellates in the water here cause any movements made by you, a boat’s motor or passing fish to produce an electric shade of lime green. And when you jump off the boat for a swim in the shallow water, you and your friends will light up like Tinkerbell. Trust us, you haven’t really seen bioluminescence until you’ve dived in here.
Insider Tip: The unassuming little restaurant at the marina serves excellent seafood prepared to traditional Jamaican recipes. Whole fish with brown sauce is particularly tasty.
JAMAICAN TASTING TOURS
Native son Alrick Allen makes it his mission to introduce intrepid visitors to the true taste of Jamaica during private tours to some of the more local eating establishments around Montego Bay. He might take you to a Rasta cook shop to try vegetarian specialties like ackee and callaloo, or bring you to a Jamaican patty shop to sample the favorite local fast food. There are stops at local fruit stands to try pineapple, mango or whatever else happens to be in season. And a highlight comes when you greet local fishermen on the beach as they bring in the day’s catch—a rainbow array of parrot fish, snapper, baby barracuda and more—then head to a nearby restaurant for a seafood feast.
Insider’s Tip: For more excellent seafood that’s not on Alrick’s tour, set your sights on an oceanfront meal at Far Out Fish Hut, near Falmouth on the North Coast Highway (no website). Start with some fish soup or grilled conch, then point to the lobster of your liking for a king’s grilled meal at a pauper’s price.
This beautiful hotel on the cliffs in Negril’s west end is a perennial contender for the Caribbean’s best boutique property. And now there’s even more incentive to settle in for a stay—or at least a spa treatment—at Rockhouse. The Holistic Bath House that opened in 2015 in the hotel’s award-winning spa is perhaps the most sublime setting in all of the West Indies for an open-air tub soak. Island herbs and spices are employed in the treatments—turmeric as an anti-inflammatory agent, for example, and Jamaican mint in a green energy blend. And you’ll soak alone or with a partner (there are two deep soaking tubs) in the privacy of a beautiful wooden villa that’s open to the Caribbean breezes and views.
Insider’s Tip: The Rockhouse has several restaurants on-site, but ask the concierge to book you a taxi to visit Just Natural, a hideaway vegetarian and seafood restaurant set amongst illuminated gardens at night.
THE CLIFF HOTEL
Negril’s newest hotel opened in December of 2015 on the far cliffs of Negril’s west end, a short stroll from the lighthouse. The property has standard hotel suites with spacious balconies and marble bathrooms as well as entire four and five-bedroom private villas for hosting a crowd (the property is adults only, so kids must be 13 or older). The sunset views from the natural rock pool carved into the cliffs are the best in all of Negril. And even if you aren’t bedding down here, you can still book a table at the new Zest Restaurant, helmed by celebrated Miami chef, Cindy Hutson. Sunset cocktails at the oceanfront Cliff Bar are always a fine idea, too.
Insider’s Tip: For a delicious dinner off property, The Cliff’s managing director likes to point guests to the Hungry Lion, known for great seafood and vegetarian fare.
For the rest of the amazing reasons to visit Jamaica in winter, including the delicious "devil's chicken" at Murphy's West End Restaurant and dolphin swim sessions at the Half Moon Resort, go to Fodors.com.