Jamaica offers sun, peaceful inns

There are those who visit Jamaica-and then there are those who really visit Jamaica. These visitors come back time and time again to enjoy the many delights this tropical paradise has to offer.

Winnipegger James Long is one of the latter. A retired electrical engineer of indeterminate age (“That’s for me to know and you to never-mind,” he says without a grin), Long has visited his favourite Caribbean island countless times since discovering its unique charms in the 1960s.

“It’s so much nicer than places like Florida,” says Long. “It’s always warm and sunny, yet never stifling. Wherever you happen to be on the island, there’s always a sea.”

Long travels solo since his twin brother and travelling companion passed away in 1992. He prefers the cozy 26-room Hibiscus Lodge in Ocho Rios to the large resorts with their 24-hour-a-day party atmosphere.

Park-like paradise
One of Jamaica’s classic small inns on the north coast, the Hibiscus sits high above the Caribbean Sea in a park-like setting. Walking trails meander through lush tropical gardens, past exquisite beds of fern, dahlia, rose and geranium and across a stream that snakes throughhe property.

One pathway leads directly to the hotel’s private beach area. Guests can snorkel and swim in the emerald water, and may see the occasional stingray or other exotic marine life swimming by.

“You get a tremendous amount of sun here, even during the winter months when I visit,” says Long. “I get easily sunburned, so the trees and shade help keep me cool. Even the beach has shaded areas, which is a real treat.”

Busy port
The Hibiscus is only a short walk from downtown Ocho Rios, a busy port of call for cruise ships, whose passengers disembark regularly to visit the town’s craft markets and duty-free shops. Long prefers spending his time relaxing on one of the Hibiscus’ garden patios overlooking the water – chatting with other guests or swimming in the sparkling Caribbean Sea.  

“I think these smaller inns are much healthier places to stay in than those big resorts,” he says. “You get to meet people, and it’s much more social. You’re never alone.”

Pool with a view
On the other side of the island sits another property that meets Long’s exacting expectations of a small inn. There’s plenty of sun and shade, peace and quiet and a friendly, social atmosphere.

Strawberry Hill, nestled in the tiny village of Irish Town some 3,100 feet above Kingston and half way up the Blue Mountains, is a little piece of heaven. From each of the inn’s Georgian-style cottages is an incredible view of both Kingston and the mist-shrouded mountains, home of the world’s best (and most expensive) coffees.

The view is equally dramatic from Strawberry Hill’s common areas and its 60-foot-long “negative edge” swimming pool. The pool’s water seems to cascade toward Kingston.

Dating its origins back to 1780, Strawberry Hill is one of the first coffee plantations in the region. It attracts overnight guests, but also lures tourists passing by and locals who come in to soak up the ambience. They also come to enjoy the Inn’s famous Sunday afternoon high tea, a tradition since the 1940s.

Getting there
Jamaica’s international airports in Kingston and Montego Bay are regularly serviced by Air Canada and Air Jamaica, as well as Canada’s major charter airlines. Flying time from Toronto is four hours.

The Hibiscus Inn in Ocho Rios is approximately a two-hour drive from either Kingston and Montego Bay, or a hop-skip-and-jump on a domestic flight from either international airport.

Strawberry Hill is an hour and a half drive from Kingston’s Norman Manley International Airport or, if you can afford it, a spectacular 20-minute helicopter ride to the inn’s own heliport. However, if you do shell out for the helicopter ride, you’ll miss the more than 200 twists and turns of the last eight kilometres of road from Irish Town to the property.

The cost of a stay at the Hibiscus starts at approximately $140 Cdn. a night (single occupancy) during the low season and increases to $160 Cdn. during peak times, with breakfast included.

Strawberry Hill’s rates during peak season begin at $295 U.S. ($450 Cdn.) a night for a one-bedroom with a mountain view (single or double occupancy).