I’ve recently taken an interest in travelling down south, thanks to the particularly chilly winter we’ve been having in Toronto. Nothing has been appealing more to me lately than the idea of turquoise waves lapping across stretches of soft sand! So when Air Transat reached out to me with an opportunity to take a quick 5-day trip to Jamaica at the end of last month, I jumped at the opportunity. I travelled with a group of seven bloggers/influencers including myself, our awesomely organized Transat representative, Debbie, and our guide to exploring the beautiful country – Charissa, from the Jamaica Tourist Board. Our home for the trip was the Royal Decameron Cornwall Beach Resort, a modern, Caribbean-style property with a luxurious private beach and stunning ocean views.
This trip was actually the first time I’ve ever travelled without the company of family or friends, and I was initially nervous to be visiting a new place with an entirely new group of people. I decided to take the plunge, and it was one of the best decisions I could have ever made! The people I met, sights I explored, and the experiences I had in Jamaica will never be forgotten. I challenged myself to step outside my comfort zone and live a little (for once!), and will always look back on this trip as an amazing milestone in my adventures.
We had quite a full itinerary for the trip, which allowed us to see and experience a lot within the relatively short time we had in Jamaica. When visiting anywhere new, I actually prefer to have a packed schedule so that I can see as much as possible of the destination! Here are the highlights of what we got up to:
Rose Hall Great House Haunted Night Tour: a chilling night time tour of a historic Georgian mansion in Montego Bay, retelling the legend of the White Witch of Rose Hall. This was actually my first haunted house experience – and while I survived, I likely wouldn’t return unless it was in the daytime, lol!
Martha Brae River rafting tour: a scenic ride down the Martha Brae River on a handmade bamboo raft.
Hampden Estate rum tour: a great way to spend an afternoon – the beautiful grounds of Hampden Estate were established in the 1750’s, and have remained true to the original distilling process. We were able to see how the rum is made, and sampled some of their award winning labels – Rum Fire and Hampden Estate Gold.
Visit to the coastal town of Falmouth: We were able to experience Jamaica first hand with a visit to historic Falmouth, once considered the most cosmopolitan city in the western world. I loved seeing the local people, colours and music on the streets! We were also able to stop at a few fruit carts for a taste of fresh coconut.
Tour & farm-to-table lunch at Zimbali Retreats: This organic farm grows over 500 fruit trees and provides a natural escape in a tropical mountain valley.
Beach time at Negril Seven Mile Beach: Negril is a popular tourist area known for its amazing snorkelling and scuba diving. Our group had soaked up the sun with some much needed beach time, enjoying the beautiful, soft sand and calm waters.
Sunset at Rick’s Café: The famous Rick’s Café is a popular tourist spot offering live music, food and drinks, cliff-diving (!), and an unbelievable view of the sunset. A few of the other girls had a blast plunging into the ocean from the rocks above, while I kicked back and enjoyed the view.
Visit to Dunn’s River Falls in Ocho Rios: Dunn’s River Falls is one of Jamaica’s most famed attractions and natural wonders. The stunning waterfall can be climbed from the bottom up and looks as pretty as a postcard. Most of the group tackled a series of seven ziplines over the falls, while I (being the chicken that I am) watched from the safety of the ground below.
Of the experiences we shared, two definitely stood out for me. The Martha Brae River rafting tour was unlike anything I’d ever done, and allowed us to take in the beauty of the land first hand from a thirty-foot long bamboo raft. The Martha Brae is located three miles inland from the town of Falmouth, a serene river surrounded by towering trees and local vegetation. The rafts are guided by experienced Raft Captains, who are also responsible for building their vessels by hand. We were able to learn about the different plants native to the area, and had one of the most serene experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying.
The other favourite of mine from the trip was our visit to Zimbali Retreats. The drive to this farm was an experience in itself, with winding dirt roads and plenty of potholes! The trek was well worth it however, when we arrived at the private retreat in the tropical mountains. After being given a tour of the farm, where all 500 species of plants are tended to by hand, we were treated to a delicious, farm-to-table culinary experience, made with ingredients grown right at the farm. I had the jerk shrimp, which was bursting with delicious flavour and spice.
Jamaica offers the most beautiful combination of mountains, lush rainforest, lively cities, and white sand beaches. I’m so grateful that we were able to experience each of these different aspects during our trip, thanks to the awesome itinerary planned out by Charissa and the Jamaica Tourist Board.
The Resort: Royal Decameron Cornwall Beach
Our stay at the Royal Decameron Cornwall Beach Resort was nothing short of exceptional. The beachfront property is conveniently located only a short, 10-minute drive from Sangster International Airport in the heart of Montego Bay. All 146 rooms of the resort feature a breathtaking ocean view, and include a terrace or balcony. Dining options include an impressive buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as two a la cart restaurant options offering Mediterranean and authentic Jamaican cuisine.
We were greeted at check in by a musical performance in the lobby of the resort, and served the cutest tropical drink in a pineapple upon arrival. We were each provided with a private room that was equipped with amenities including free Wi-Fi, a fridge and a television, with a sleek and modern Caribbean design. The room I was assigned actually had two double beds instead of a king, which was perfect to help me lay out all my outfits and pack for each day’s adventure. My favourite aspect of the room was definitely the balcony, which provided an unreal view of the sunrise and sunset each day.
A standout aspect of the resort – and one of the first things I noticed about the people when arriving in Jamaica – was the warmth and hospitality of the staff. The team at the Royal Decameron Cornwall Beach Resort went out of the way to ensure we were taken care of at all times and were more than accommodating when it came to any special requests!
I always need to make a quick mention about the food, wherever I visit! I went to Jamaica with high hopes for the food, and was not disappointed. The buffet at the resort had something for everyone (I especially appreciated the super crispy bacon served at breakfast), and switched up the dishes frequently for dinner. We had an epic breakfast spread one morning at the resort, filled with piles of fresh fruit, stacks of fluffy pancakes, and plates of yummy savoury eats.
We also made a few trips off resort for food, one of my favourites being a visit to local hotspot, Scotchies. Our group dove into an amazing spread of authentic Jamaican dishes: jerk chicken and pork, sausage, wings, festival, roast yam, steamed veg, and rice and peas. We washed it all down with Jamaica’s staple beer: Red Stripe. We also made a point to stop on the way back to the resort for Jamaican patties – I had a beef and cheese patty that really hit the spot!
Before I knew it, our whirlwind trip had come to an end and we were on our way back to the airport for our flight home. Our group flew Option Plus with Air Transat, which provides special privileges in Economy Class including seat selection, extras on board, and priority check-in, boarding and baggage handling. It was such a breeze getting on and off the plane on the way to Jamaica, and on the way back. As part of our experience, we were also able to pre-order on-board meals for our departing and return flights off The Chef’s Menu by Daniel Vézina. I had a Spinach and Basil Omelette for breakfast on the way there, and Sweet Potato Gnocchi on the way home, both of which were very tasty.
I’m so thankful to have participated in this experience, and never in my wildest dreams thought I would have had the opportunity to go on a trip like this! A huge thank you to Air Transat, the Royal Decameron Cornwall Beach Resort, and the Jamaican Tourist Board for showing me all that Jamaica has to offer.