Jamaica is a beautiful little island located just south of Cuba in the Caribbean. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to see Jamaica for myself the summer after I graduated from college when I volunteered for a year. The great food, kind people, and gorgeous beaches made my time in Jamaica incredibly special, and I’m excited to share some of my top tips to help you plan your own visit to this island paradise!
HOME AWAY FROM HOME
The Jamaican people are exceptionally loving and warm. They open their arms, welcome you into their homes, and always have a good story to share. Walking down the streets, I stuck out like a sore thumb with my pale skin and light brown hair. As someone who was more than noticeable, I was greeted day after day by strangers who were friendly and genuinely wanted to know who I was and where I was from.
I not only fell in love with Jamaican people but also Jamaican food. My stomach was always cheerful because of the tasty dishes filled with exotic spices and interesting textures. Dishes such as curry goat, rice and peas, and jerk pork always left me speechless. It seemed both men and women, young and old, had the magic touch when it came to making traditional Jamaican dishes.
VOLUNTEERING IN JAMAICA
Throughout my year in Jamaica, I volunteered twice a week at a school for preschoolers. The class consisted of 32 children that were rambunctious and wild, but I loved them nonetheless. The teacher that I assisted, Ms Plummer, became one of my closest friends in Jamaica. She even invited me to attend her wedding.
I also spent two days of the week volunteering at St. Elizabeth Infirmary, in which I visited the elderly who were sick and bedridden. Initially, I was shocked by what I saw. There were 30 beds in one room that were side-by-side at arm’s length. Flies could be seen in the air and often bothered the residents of the infirmary as they would swarm around their faces.
I remember one man in particular who was bedridden with no arms or legs, completely helpless when it came to feeding and taking care of himself. Yet he was one of the most capable men I’ve ever met. He told me his life stories and about the history of Jamaica. Each time I arrived at the infirmary, he would always greet me with a loving smile. I grew fond of this man and the moments we shared and fortunately got to know him before his time on this planet ended shortly after.
My time with the residents involved singing songs together, reading passages out of their bibles, feeding those who were unable to feed themselves, and playing board and card games. Most of all, what these people craved was quality time. They yearned to have a hand to hold and another human to converse with. Countless times did a person at the infirmary grab my hand, look me in the eyes, and say, “I love you.”
Negril, a town in western Jamaica, is a stunning place worth seeing if you ever get the chance to do so. Unlike many of its brother beaches, Negril is a calm beach where you can enjoy a swim and not have to worry about the waves crashing against you. Negril comprises of miles and miles of white sand and turquoise water, also known as Seven Mile Beach.
This alluring Seven Mile Beach is where I had my first taste of snorkeling, parasailing and, dare I say it, skinny dipping. Negril offered me the opportunity to do these incredibly fun and crazy things, and I welcomed them with open arms. Negril is the perfect destination for those who are looking to step outside their comfort zone and create daring memories.
Located on the south end of Jamaica in a parish called St. Elizabeth which was another one of my favorite places to explore. YS Falls is a scenic allure consisting of seven different waterfalls surrounded by lush, green gardens. I visited this attraction on many occasions with the goal of forgetting the world and getting lost in the deep crystal blue waters. When I reminisce on the times that I spent there with loved ones, I can’t help but notice the big, silly grin that always comes across my face.
In Jamaica, there are countless mountains which I climbed that made me feel as though I was on top of the world. Even with the oceans that I swam in when it was raining heavily because the rain looked like little crystals the moment the drops hit the water. Jamaica, the island where I had my first bee sting, and then jellyfish sting. Jamaica, the place where I was initially lost, then found.
Before I arrived in Jamaica, there was a somewhat negative stigma attached to the Caribbean island; especially Kingston, the island’s capital. Unfortunately in Kingston crime is prevalent, but I can also say that I’ve walked through Kingston several times alone and felt perfectly safe. Every island, country, continent, has places that are “dangerous.” From my perspective, I believe it is important to not label an entire island dangerous and unworthy of visiting because of what’s happened in the past. Jamaica is one of the most beautiful places I have ever stepped foot on and I firmly stand by this notion.
Looking back on my year in Jamaica, I realize that I entered the island with the goal of making a change. Nonetheless, the person who was truly changed by this experience was me. I will always remember the immeasurable love that I received from the people at the infirmary whose hands I held, the children whose shoes I helped put on, and the strangers who I met every day that always greeted me with warmth and kindness. Jamaica is an island that should be on every travel lover’s list!
Have you ever been to Jamaica? If you have any additional tips for our readers or questions please leave these in the comments below.
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- The SPA Retreat Boutique Hotel
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