Safety, transport and planning ahead
Unfortunately, Jamaica has a bad reputation when it comes to violent crime. As with many other parts of the world, a degree of forethought and awareness is necessary. Read up, or ask people about places you intend to visit, as there are some areas it just isn’t wise to wander into. But remember, most people are friendly and there is nearly always someone on hand to help if you need it.
One of the best things about Jamaica is the relaxed approach people take to life, so embrace it. That does mean even the best laid plans will drift, so do be flexible. Try to pre-book transport through a reputable firm such as JUTA or a locally recommended driver. Route taxis and coaster buses cover most of the island and offer an affordable way of getting around.
The lighthouse keeper at Morant Point Lighthouse (Jamaica’s Eastern most tip) will allow intrepid campers to pitch their tents with an uninterrupted view of the sea and access to a deserted beach. There are no facilities, but the sunrise is unbeatable. There are also camping pitches at Holywell Country Park high in the Blue Mountains, from where a number of hiking trails start.
A favourite of independent travellers is Mount Edge Guest house, which is on the road leading up to Newcastle from Papine, and has unbeatable views and farm-to-table organic dining. Hikers planning to summit the Blue Mountains often stay at either Jah B’s, which is operated by local Rastas, or at Whitfield Hall, a working coffee farm owned and operated by two generations of the same family. Both places will arrange transport, cook food and provides guides if necessary.
Coastal guest houses and small hotels
Portland in the north east is Jamaica’s safest and greenest parish, and just happens to contains the best small ‘hidden’ beaches and coves on the island. Try staying at Drapers San Guest House or Goblin Hill villas. Over on the other side of the island in Negril there are many small hotels that cater for solo travellers, so try the Sunrise Club just across from the famous beach.
Explore the Mountains
It is perfectly possible to solo hike to the summit of the Blue Mountains. On a clear day, enjoy views all the way to Cuba from this UNESCO world heritage site. A locally arranged driver will take you to the start point, usually near Whitfield Hall.
Raft the Rivers
Jamaica is known for its beautiful rivers and tumbling waterfalls. One of the best ways to explore them is by bamboo raft. Try either the Rio Grande or Martha Brae rivers where local guides will do all the hard work for you.
Hang out with Ratsas
A number of Rastafarian communities have guest houses that serve as a great introduction to Rastafarianism. Try Riverside Cool Cottages in St Thomas, where Ras Solomon Jackson will prepare natural Ital food and organise local hikes and tours.