When I think about the island of Jamaica a few things immediately come to mind: blue translucent waters, the iconic reggae music of Bob Marley, and well, the islands delicious culture, people and food. For most thinking about traveling to Jamaica the North coast often comes to mind because it has so much to offer. From Negril to Montego Bay to Ocho Rios, the north coast is littered with hotspots, jerk huts and local adventure that you might not even realize that the south side of the island is where the real culture of Jamaica lies.
Kingston, Jamaica’s capital city; also known as the “big bad Kingston” has built up a reputation for hard knocks living and resilient people. It’s also the musical hub where globally recognized reggae and dancehall artists were born; like Bob Marley, Chronixx, Beenie Man and Sean Paul (to name a few). Whatever you call it, many often skip Kingston completely because it lacks those famous beaches and all-inclusive hotels that the island has become famous for. The capitol has also picked up a reputation for being a bit dangerous. I’ve actually heard and read stories of people saying that when they travel to Kingston, it’s usually for a quick trip, in and out. But what are you missing when you skip Kingston? Turns out, quite a lot.
After visiting the island more than a dozen times, I decided this time around I would tour the capital city for myself and take in all that Kingston and its surrounding areas had to offer. What Kingston lacks in beaches, the capital city makes up in bustling culture. The energy of Kingston cannot be compared to anywhere else in the Caribbean as it has its own special feeling and vibe. I managed to carve out some time to take in a few “not to miss” attractions that deserve your attention the next time you think about making a trip to what the locals call ‘the rock’.
Below, find my “Cool Running’s in Kingston”
1. Hellshire Beach. Turns out there are beaches on the south coast that are worth the trip. Lined with beautiful wooden shacks and jerk huts, let your nose lead you through Hellshire Beach , where the scotch bonnet peppa lobster is in abundance. Fresh and caught daily (in season) you’ll find endless water-side huts to choose from to enjoy the perfectly seasoned treat. With a side of bammy (local yam), festival (fried dough) and a cold Red Stripe of course, you’ll want to take your time as you savor in the seasonings in every bite. My pick, Bev and Son’s Jerk Hut with Chef Orrette. You won’t be disappointed.
2. Strawberry Hill; they say once you reach the top of strawberry hill, you can talk to god, because you can literally stretch your hands and touch heaven. The awe-inspiring lookout point has become so famous, many directors often choose Strawberry hill to shoot films and videos from its top point. It’s also become synonymous with luxurious accommodations and many celebs stay here when they take in Kingston. If you’re on a budget, plan to take it in for a day trip and enjoy lunch with a view.
Important note: you’ll need a whole day to enjoy Strawberry Hill, so plan on bringing a swimsuit, a sweater (it gets cold up there) and some Dramamine because the high altitude could make you a bit nauseous.
3. The Bob Marley Museum and Tuff Gong Studios: What is Kingston without the legendary Bob Marley? I say Kingston versus Jamaica because so much of Bob’s life and contributions to the world were from his upbringing in Trenchtown and Kingston proper. One tour through his incredible body of work at the Bob Marley Museum and you too will understand the importance that the city had on his work, music and world-views. Bring your tissues. The two-hour tour ends with a mini-docu movie in his own theatre that will give you chills. We lost Bob too soon but he has left an indelible mark on musical history and we can thank Kingston for being apart of that legacy. Long Live the Legend BOB.
4. Foodies, check out Devon House and Scotchie’s Jerk Hut. Famous for it’s desserts and homemade coconut ice cream, Devon House has become a hotspot for the entire island. Hundreds flock to take in the beautiful grounds and enjoy dessert every weekend.
Jerk lovers look no further; Scotchie’s to the rescue. We all know that jerk seasoning is synonymous with Jamaica and Scotchie’s takes that concept to another level. Bamboo wood ovens roast the jerk pork, chicken and fish for hours before its ready. When it is, the meat literally falls off of the bone, dripping with endless flavor. Pair that with a side of festival and topped with a dash of their famous scotch bonnet peppa sauce and yourself a traditional finger-licking lunch, Jamaican style. You can also find the original Scotchie’s in Montego Bay as well and they’ve recently opened shop in South Florida.
5. For a good time: Wet Sunday’s for a classic Dancehall party. Taking in that true Kingston vibe means you have to check out a classic Dancehall party. I just happened to catch one of the most talked about ones, Wet Sunday’s in the heart of town on a recent trip. Cars wrapped around the block and people lined the entrance to get into this party that started at midnight and went til 5a.m. Inside, I found a mix of R&B, Reggae, Dancehall, and Hip Hop and some seriously talented dancers doing battle in the middle of the dance floor. As a spectator, you’ll enjoy the sounds, smells, pure energy and vibes for sure! Tip: Wear comfortable flats.
Where to stay: The Spanish Court Hotel. Although Kingston is the capitol city, the luxurious hotels and all-inclusive destinations tend to be situated on the north coast. I did manage to find a one of a kind villa-style hotel in the heart of New Kingston that I simply fell in love with. The Spanish Court Hotel sits perfectly in the heart of New Kingston and is walking distance to the attractions mentioned above (Devon House and Bob Marley Museum). It’s the perfect mix of charm, quiet and chic and a great place to come home to after lobsters and Red Stripes on Hellshire Beach. I found it to be a fabulous hidden gem in the heart of bustling Kingston and the staff matched the ambiance of hotel.
Opened since 2009, The Spanish Court hotel offers Real Style and Real Service in the heart of Kingston. From the moment you are greeted at the gate to check in and even room service, the warm and friendly staff are all Jamaican and their hospitality adds to the charm of the hotel itself. I loved that you could get a classic Jamaican breakfast every morning of ackee and saltfish with festival and locally fresh squeezed juices to start your day. The Spanish Court felt like a home away from home and it will definitely be my hotel of choice every time I visit Kingston. Rates start as low as $185.00 per night. For complete details and to book a stay, visit http://www.spanishcourthotel.com/
And there you have it. My Cool Running’s in Kingston just in time for your next trip to the island. Regardless of what your mood calls for, you’ll be able to find it in the Jamaica’s capitol, get a good sense of the island and its warm and beautiful people.
Written by Vanessa James. All opinions are my own.
Like my travel posts? Here’s another one from my recent trip to Cuba and Barbados.
Point of correction Bammy is made of grated cassava root – it is not YAM. Other wise I like your post!
Kingston’s best local expert concierge at http://www.fun.tours.
Love it. Thank you! Will keep in mind for next time! Thanks Vanessa
Now I want to finally go to visit! Awesome article!
Great piece Vanessa. As a Jamaican native, but one that does not travel back home too often, I learned a few things. Thank you.
Hi Vanessa thanks fot this nice article, i will make sure to visit all the spots you recommend. i have one question: i am planning to do a airbnb because i am on a budget and trying to save as much as possible on the accomodation. Which district would recommend in kingston please?
I’m tired of telling foreigners that if they want to experience Jamaica for real, hook up with a local and let one of us show you what’s really good in Kingston and Portmore lol.
I’m glad you had a great time.
The North Coast is nice but it’s only a part of Jamaica both physically and culturally.
So agree Jermaine!! Couldn’t agree more.