Upon his return to Spain, Queen Isabella asked him to describe this mysterious island. The story goes that the awestruck adventurer could only crumple a green silk handkerchief on the table in front of her to exemplify the verdant mountains with their soft, white bellies that nudge the sea.
Five hundred years later, explorers still venture to this Caribbean island and even though civilization has carved out a culture among the bamboo and bananas, Jamaica is still a raw beauty waiting to be discovered.
As we descended on Montego Bay, the water turned to runway just as the wheels touched down. You immediately get a sense that there is little regard for convention here.
Welcome to Jamaica, Mon.
The island is small, only 146 miles long and 51 miles wide. Dense mountains claim much of its heartland, leaving barely enough room for a coastline that includes a mystical mix of expansive beaches and rocky cliffs. From any point on the island, however, the sea always seems to be tugging at your shoulder.
Just outside Montego Bay is Rose Hall Great House, the domain of the famed “White Witch,” Mrs. Annie Palmer, whose spirit is said to still walk the blood-stained floors of this hilltop mansion. Some 20 miles away is Falmouth, once considered the most elegant city on the north coast, where you can take guided bamboo raft rides down the Martha Brae River. Around the turn is Rio Bueno, where Columbus is said to have put into port five centuries ago.
After passing through St. Ann’s Bay and Discovery Bay, where you can visit the Green Grotto Caves, a former safe haven for slaves, the winding trail finally makes its way through stalks of sugarcanes and flowering hibiscus to Couples resort.
The resort is opulent but not oppressive. It is the first resort in the world geared solely toward, as the name suggests, couples. Singles or children are not allowed.
The marble lobby looks like the entryway to a royal palace, open on both sides, with one side gaping out toward the sea.
The five-story, 172-room seaside villa sits secluded among the dense fortress of bougainvilleas and coconut palms. Each room features four poster beds, private patios overlooking either the mountains or sea and some even have hot tubs and wet bars.
After a few days of being stretched out on a chaise lounge under coconut palms sipping blue volcanoes (rum, “something blue,” and more rum), dancing under the stars to some of the best reggae on the rock, or bobbing in the warm surf, it becomes clear that this is the best thing for a relationship since the wine cooler.
Romance is important at Couples, which is why they offer free weddings. Nuptials include a two tier wedding cake, wine, flowers and a beautiful garden ceremony overlooking the bay.
“We like to think we have the best romantic hotel in the business,” said Joe Issa, the youthful, engaging manager of Couples.
SuperClubs, which owns Couples and four other resorts on the island, also pioneered the all-inclusive concept, where you pay once and it covers it all – accommodations, meals, drinks, sea toys and a myriad of activities from nightly reggae hoedowns on the sand to sunset cruises on a 127-foot yacht. Tipping is even taboo.
“We do not allow tipping, so don’t even think about it,” Issa said.
Issa’s father, John, developed the all-inclusive concept and while it’s been copied by other come-along-lately resorts, the Issas challenge anyone who can find more for their money.
The real challenge is to try and do everything. Water sport activities jet skiing, scuba diving (including certification classes), water skiing, canoeing and hourly cruises on their glass-bottom boat.
You can also find three restaurants, two bars, a a full Nautilus gym, where you can finish your workout with a French needle shower, billiards – one right on the beach – and ping pong tables, two air-conditioned squash courts, and Olympic sized pool and beachside Jacuzzis to relax after a hard day of playing.
Couples also offers daily trips to the market places and shops in nearby Ocho Rios, where gold jewellery, precious stones and handmade clothing and linens are the best bargains of the Jamaican merchants.
Strolling through the village is like a walk through time. Plenty of traditional island clothing, jewellery, woodwork and, of course, rum can be found among the makeshift shops and cubby holes that make up the village. Prices depend on your ability to make friends.
Other must-sees are the 600-foot waterfall with plenty of pools to lounge in. Fern Gully just south of Ocho Rios is a four-mile stretch of road that cuts along an old river bed and features 600 species of ferns. One of the most romantic trips is a 45-minute Calypso raft ride along the White River. The ride includes rum drinks and some of the most beautiful flora and fauna in the world.
For those bringing their clubs, Runaway Bay golf course is a surprising challenge. This 6,884-yard layout among the banana and walnut trees is mostly wide open with long par-4s, manicured greens and some beautiful par-3s. Most holes give a beautiful view of Runaway Bay. Unlimited greens fees are included in the cost of most of the SuperClubs resorts.
If there’s one obvious obsession at any of the resort its food, each meal is a cornucopia of main dishes, tropical entrees and a dessert table that stretches farther than the Jamaican horizon.
Also, visit the “bottomless bay” at Blue Hole – considered one of the most beautiful coves in Jamaica – or take a drive to the southern coast and stay at Treasure Beach.
So if you’re ready to discover your own New World, head to Jamaica!
Use U.S. currency. It is widely accepted and sometimes you lose a slight amount when you change to the Jamaican dollar.
English rules apply on the roads, which means left lane, right side drivers. It’s best to take a cab or hire someone to drive. Be sure to negotiate on a price before getting into a taxi. Meters aren’t used.
Proof of citizenship is required for entering the country. Either a passport or a copy of your birth certificate will do.
For more information or to make reservations, call (800) 858-8009.
Source: The San Antonio Express News