• Nicole

Five Day Escape to Runaway Bay, Jamaica


THE PLAN:

A short trip to Runaway Bay on Jamaica's north coast with friends during off-peak season in February.

GETTING THERE:

Jamaica is located in the Caribbean Sea and is famous for music, sunshine, beaches, food. It is also home to beautiful terrain, from rugged mountain ranges to lush, green rainforest-like areas.

Due to colonization, one can find African, Spanish, English, Chinese and Indian influences in the people, the patois dialect, and the cuisine.

There are direct flights to Jamaica from Calgary, but on the days that we were travelling, the direct flights were not an option. (Ugh.) We ended up flying from Calgary to Toronto and then to Montego Bay with WestJet.

CURRENCY AND A WORD ABOUT MONEY:

The local currency is the Jamaican Dollar (JMD). Currently, a rough conversion is $1000 JMD = $10 Canadian Dollars (CAD). It still freaks me out a bit when I buy a small bag of spices and am asked for $100 (Jamaican), but you get used to it pretty quickly.

If you’ve got US currency hanging around, bring it. The US Dollar (USD) is widely accepted everywhere on the island. Bring smaller bills for tipping and shopping. Exchange your Canadian currency at money exchange stores and kiosks in Montego Bay or Kingston when you leave the airport. If you are heading to a resort on a shuttle, exchange your money at the airport. If you wait until you get to your hotel to exchange your cash, you will get fleeced hard because most hotels offer you a super shitty exchange rate.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION:

We arrived in Montego Bay the day before our friends. We stayed the night in the hills near Montego Bay before heading to our Runaway Bay resort the next afternoon with our pals.

Runaway Bay is located on the north coast of the island, just over an hour’s drive east from the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay. The drive along the A1 highway is smooth and there is lots to see.

Our Resort was the incredible Gran Bahia Principe which have been to before. It is a large, but not massive hotel that features restaurants, pools with music, a pool in a quiet area, beaches, gazebos, beach huts and everything you need for whatever you want your resort getaway to be. The restaurant right by the beach has the most incredible food.

[Travel Tip:] Tip your room attendant and throw a buck or two in your bar fridge with a nice note requesting extra bottles of water (and beer). You’ll be happy when you wake up parched and looking for water (or beer) in the middle of the night.

HOW DID WE GET AROUND?

Our driver Henry. We have hired the same driver every time we visit Jamaica. We have known him for over 10 years and trust him completely. He is courteous a great driver and genuinely enjoys seeing his charges happy. If you want to stop at a roadside jerk pit, for salted cod fish and roasted yam or anywhere else, he will make it happen and ensure that you do not get charge ‘tourist’ prices. Over the years we have referred him to friends and family members and he always gets the best ratings.

I enjoy going private because tour busses suck. I don’t like stopping at hotels to drop other passengers off or places that I don’t wish to see and the only way to avoid this is to go private. If you are headed to Jamaica and wish to do the same, hit me up for Henry’s contact information.

Runaway Bay is not within walking distance to many things, so hotel tours or better still, a driver is a must if you would like to get off of the resort and see some other places. (Keep reading after the pictures.)

WHAT DID WE DO?

Our friends had not been to this particular resort before, so we definitely wanted time to recharge and enjoy everything it had to offer.

We did, however, visit the following places:

Scotchie’s Restaurant: It is a must. It is always our first stop after arriving in Montego Bay. You can find jerk chicken and pork roasted on pimento wood over open flames. You can buy accompaniments such as yam, festival (similar to a sweet fried dumpling), breads and veggies. Dine in or take it to go. The chairs are beer kegs with cushions on top. Choose to sit open air or under a thatched roof. There is also a rooftop patio, bar seating and a more private area surrounded by fragrant flowers. Enjoy a cold delicious Red Stripe, which is the local beer or other island drinks like Ting or icy coconut water.

This spot is reasonably priced and extremely popular with locals and tourists alike. Leave yourself at least an hour (or more) to order, check the place out, receive and eat your food.

Cool Blue Hole/ Island Gully Falls: Bliss. Absolute bliss. It is a wonderful feeling to have been to Jamaica nearly 20 times and still find a place that I’ve never been. Nestled in a lush green rainforest-like setting in the hills above Ochos Rios, the swimming holes are the most brilliant blue-green hue and isn’t cold, rather cool and instantly refreshing. You have the choice to jump from the falls, use the rope to swing out before plunging in the water. Or you can just chill out on the rocks and pretend to be a mermaid. The guides are experienced, fun and really look after you to ensure everyone has a great time. Plan for about 3-4 hours. Admission is $15 USD and $10 USD for children under 12 years of age. islandgullyfalls

Travel Tip: On the way up to the falls, you will likely run into people wearing shirts that say 'Staff' who will ask you to stop the car in an effort to try to corral you into another area with smaller falls. They will also ask for admission. Don't stop the car and don't follow them if you want to see the real Island Gully/ Cool Blue Hole falls. You need to drive all the way to where there is a big (rusty) iron swing gate. It is at the top of the hill and you will see people selling water shoes, and there will be a wooden admission hut.]

Tour busses do not come up here due to the roads. You will need a private driver or perhaps your hotel can arrange something for you. My choice again is a private driver because he/she will wait for you until you are done and you can negotiate a price in advance. Henry was not available for our day trip so we hired Dean, who was recommended by a good friend of mine who lives in Jamaica and knows him personally. Dean was courteous and we would most definitely hire him again.

Bring your water shoes or buy some for USD $10. You will need them. No negotiating on this one. Bring a towel as well. You can take your waterproof camera or buy the disc of great quality photos taken by the photographer for USD $60. Bring cash for photos, beverages and tips.

There are many other places to visit on the island. A few fun spots are: Dunn’s River Falls near Ochos Rios. It’s a good time but a MAJOR tourist area. Go early to have the best chance of avoiding a gazillion other people.

Rick’s Café, Negril. On the westernmost tip of the island, a 90-minute drive from Montego Bay. Again, a massive tourist trap. It’s expensive but beautiful and you should consider going once to enjoy the sunset, the pool and if you’re feeling brave, to jump off of the cliffs.

There are so many awesome spots, waterfalls, caves…I could go on and on.

SAYING GOODBYE:

End your trip by booking at the Club Mobay (Or Club Kingston) airport lounge before you go. When you have checked in your bags at the airport, you find your way to the Club Mobay kiosk right by where you enter the security screening hall. You get whisked through security quickly without waiting in the super long security line and an escort brings you directly to the very lovely lounge. Once in the lounge, drinks and an array of sandwiches, soups, hors d'oeuvres, non-alcoholic and alcohol are included. You can also pay extra for massages. Keep an eye on the reader boards and there will also be an announcement. I familiarize myself with where my gate is located before I enter the lounge so I know where I am going. The main terminal is loud and is always packed. It makes me anxious, so Club Mobay is a must. At CAD $38, it is worth every single penny and makes departing this amazing island a little easier.

IS JAMAICA SAFE:

This is a question that I have been asked by countless people. My answer is and always has been YES. I’m not saying that every area is perfect, but keep in mind that there are places in every city and country that you may want to avoid. Jamaica is no different.

When travelling to any country, a great resource is https://travel.gc.ca/travelling/advisories(or your country’s equivalent). Checking the advisory before you go can give you a heads up on areas that may be sketchy.

THE VERDICT:

I love everything about Jamaica. It is a beautiful and magical place. I will keep going back. The direct flights from Calgary and other Canadian airports are reasonably priced when travelling during off-peak times of the year. If you haven’t been, do yourself a favour and go!

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