Jamaica is the third-largest island in the Caribbean; studded with sensuous beaches, skyscraping mountains and lush landscapes, it's a vacation destination for those in search of pure relaxation. But if you want to see the real Jamaica, throw away your guidebook, and take a few tips from us. These are Jamaica's best-kept secrets.
Hidden Pirate History
A visit to Port Royal will open a treasure chest of the island's hidden history. The city was a refuge and port for many of the real pirates of the Caribbean. Legendary men like Henry Morgan and Blackbeard made frequent stops at the city that used to be known as the "wickedest city on Earth."
Every naughty pirate needed a place to repent, and St. Peter's Church is believed to be Henry Morgan's preferred location. The church has stood on the site since 1726 and is now regarded as a makeshift museum of the city's seedy past. The church is open to visitors from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and still offers a Sunday service.
Another region of the island with a mysterious attraction is the small village of Bath. With the help of a local guide, you can find one of the island's oldest and most cherished secrets: natural healing springs. According to legend, a runaway slave discovered the Bath springs in 1690. The sulfur in the water is said to have therapeutic and restorative powers. The Bath Fountain Hotel is located on-site and features water pumped straight from the spring.
With stunning vistas at every turn, finding a beautiful place to stay in Jamaica isn't a challenge. However, for the discerning traveler with a taste for luxury and a desire for ambience, there's only one choice -- the all-inclusive resort. These resorts take the worry out of travel and won't break the bank; all the food, drinks and entertainment are available for one fixed price.
Breezes Resort in Montego Bay sits on 2,000 acres of prime oceanfront real estate. The secret world that makes Breezes more than just another beautiful all-inclusive? Its open-air circus. Swing with the greatest of ease and even learn to "make a catch" on the trapeze, or stay closer to land on the giant trampoline. These are activities you won't find anywhere else on the island, and they are the perfect release for your inner-child. And we mean inner-child -- Breezes is an adults-only resort.
Offering a completely different resort experience is Hedonism III. This resort is the party center of Jamaica and the Caribbean, encouraging guests to let loose and unleash their wild side. Everything that goes on at Hedonism III is kept a secret from outsiders -- to get past the gate, you must be a guest. The resort is set on 15 acres at the eastern end of Runaway Bay, and its stunning views and beaches are the perfect setting for a lively (and slightly wicked) Caribbean vacation.
Eat, Drink and Be Merry
It's no secret that jerk sauce is a culinary staple in Jamaica, but finding the best jerk the island has to offer can be a bit overwhelming. Jerk originated on the eastern-most part of the island near Boston Bay, and now the best can be found in a cluster of stands near Boston Bay Beach.
After a meal of jerk -- whether it's jerk sausage, shrimp, goat or chicken -- there's only one way to cool down your palate. In Jamaica the drink of choice is rum, and Appleton Estate is an icon in the rum world. Take a tour of the distillery just south of Montego Bay where rum has been brewed and blended since 1749. Tours are available Monday through Saturday between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. and include a rum-tasting and a complimentary bottle for each visitor.
With your belly full and a little rum flowing, it's time to complete your irie mood with some reggae music. There's no shortage of bars and restaurants featuring Jamaica's official soundtrack, but for those wishing to hear the best of the best, head to the festivals. Check out a complete list of Jamaica's year-round reggae fests.
To cap off the perfect insider trip to Jamaica, enjoy one of the island's unique pleasures -- rafting. For about $40, you and a friend can hop aboard a bamboo raft and enjoy a leisurely trip down one of Jamaica's rolling rivers. Click here to learn about rafting on the Martha Brae River and to find out about the island's number-one rafting attraction.