Where to get your adventure fix in Jamaica
MYSTIC MOUNTAIN: Jamaican bobsled ride, zip-lining and a chairlift through the rain forest in Ocho Rios; rainforestadventure.com/welcome_mystic_mountain_ocho_rios_bobsled_jamaica.
BLUE MOUNTAIN BICYCLE: Bike tours through the Blue Mountains; bmtoursja.com/tours .
CHUKKA CARIBBEAN ADVENTURE: Tour company offers a variety of excursions, from river kayaking and horseback riding to ATV rides; chukkacaribbean.com/jamaica.php.
YS FALLS: River tubing, zip-lining and rope swings that let you jump into waterfalls. In St. Elizabeth, near the Appleton Rum Estate; ysfalls.com.
DUNNS RIVER FALLS: Climb the slippery waterfalls or walk up stairs and watch others make the wet and wild hike; dunnsriverfallsja.com.
GREEN GROTTO CAVES: Tour a 5,000-foot-long cave once used by smugglers running arms to Cuba; greengrottocavesja.com.
DOLPHIN COVE: Choose from a kiss, encounter or swim with the dolphins. You also can ride camels, feed nurse sharks and have a stingray encounter. Locations in Ocho Rios and Negril; dolphincovejamaica.com.
NEGRIL, Jamaica — “Have you ever kissed a dolphin?” the woman behind the counter asks me.
“It’s love at first kiss. Once you start, you can’t stop,” said Suzayne Moseley, who works at Dolphin Cove here.
“It’s like kissing a Jamaican man,” she continued. “Have you done that?”
Cracking a smile, I shake my head no. My guide, a ripped Jamaican sporting a fitted T-shirt, puckers his lips and aims them toward me.
In Jamaica, even if you aren’t looking for adventure, it seems to find you. It’s no accident that this is where Ian Fleming wrote his James Bond novels.
Sure, you can sit on the beach and do nothing but drink Red Stripe all day. But then you’d miss the best of what this island has to offer: plenty of adventurous ways to get your fill of fun — all set in a tropical paradise.
My fun started after landing in Kingston, where I hopped in a car with a guide and drove the winding roads through the Blue Mountains that grow Jamaica’s famed coffee beans.
My guide, Garfield, and I passed tiny rum bars with locals playing dominoes, cash-for-pot signs and roadside stands selling everything from hubcaps and curried goat to prepaid phones. Vendors wandered the streets hawking bread fruit and ackee, a national favorite that, when cooked, looks like scrambled eggs. It’s usually served with salt fish for a tasty breakfast.
A few hours later, I arrived at the Jamaica Inn in Ocho Rios and gave a goodbye hug to Garfield, who told me I’m now his second friend from Chicago.
The inn’s small thatched huts covered a pristine private beach. My cottage came with a hot tub that overlooked the Caribbean with its own stairway into the water. Every wall transformed into open-air French doors, making the king-size canopy bed feel like it was outside.
With no TVs, radios or clocks, this was the perfect spot to relax in quiet serenity. But I was determined to see as much of Jamaica as possible in the short time I had.
So the next day, I hired two guides and we traveled by boat to the popular tourist spot Dunns River Falls. Along the way, we passed fishermen floating in the ocean with masks, snorkels, fins and long spear guns used for hunting mahi-mahi, among other fish. One of the guides warned me to put on more sunscreen or risk becoming “Jamaican Stew,” the nickname for fried tourists.
The falls were filled with visitors — mostly from cruise ships — who scattered along the water-covered hillside like ants looking for their queen. The smart ones wore water shoes; the others began the slippery, 600-foot climb clasping each others’ hands. It took about 30 minutes to scale the rocks.
Back on the dinghy, our trio headed west on the Caribbean to Ocho Rios’ former Reynolds Jamaica Mines, where bauxite was scraped from this fishing town’s shores and used as a backdrop in the Bond film “Dr. No.”
We passed the beach where Bond girl Ursula Andress made her white bikini-clad entrance as Honey Ryder. Inspired, I jumped off the boat and swam to the beach amid catcalls from a few locals.
I didn’t linger because I wanted to hit Mystic Mountain, where you can ride a Jamaican bobsled-like roller coaster that plunges 3,200 feet. When I arrived at Mystic shortly after 3:30 p.m., the day’s last tickets had just been sold. I was quickly learning that Jamaican time means 9 a.m. until 3 or 4 p.m., not Disney hours.
My next stop on the island was still a few hours west: Montego Bay, or “Mo’ Bay,” as the locals call it.
My driver, a 30-something guy named Shorn Barrett, informed me that Wray & Nephew rum — over-proofed at a whopping 63 percent — mixed with the grapefruit soda Ting is the Jamaican drink of choice.
“There’s a saying here,” Barrett said. “The first drink will blur your vision. The second will blur your mind and by the third drink you won’t know your mom from a broomstick.”
We pulled up to the Ralph Lauren-designed Round Hill Hotels and Villas, where I stayed in an exquisite six-bedroom home called simply “Cottage 16.” It included a private lap pool, kitchen and living quarters that overlooked the water.
An equally extravagant ride — a 30-person motor coach for just me and my guide — came to pick me up the next day. We headed to Negril’s Dolphin Cove, populated by Canadian, American and British tourists.
I was paired with four other swimmers and a very kissable dolphin named Shakira, who aptly liked to shake it. She turned belly side up as we grabbed her strong flippers and off we went through the water.
After the kiss-and-ride with the dolphin, we followed the advice of locals and drove another two hours to the south coast. We arrived at YS Falls, where the adventure options abound: zip-lining, tubing and dangling ropes used to take swinging jumps into waterfalls.
I needed a little encouragement before taking the flying leap off a plateau and into the water.
When I released the rope, I went into a free fall and let out a scream. But I silently promised myself that one day, I’d come back to Jamaica. Vacationing here is kind of like kissing a dolphin. Once you start, you can’t stop.
Dawn Reiss is a local free-lance writer.
Information for this article was gathered on a research trip sponsored in part by the Jamaican Tourist Board.