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Stunning waterfalls. A unique, casual hotel. And a ramshackle bar that rests on a reef hundreds of meters from shore.
The southwest corner of Jamaica doesn't get a lot of publicity. But it's a wonderful area to explore, with natural and man-made attractions galore and a super-chill vibe.
Here are a few suggestions for things to do and where to stay.
Floyd's Pelican Bar: This has been called "the coolest bar in the world," and that might not be an exaggeration. It's a rather dilapidated-looking affair made of wood with a thatched roof and a dock for visitors and their boats. If Tom Hanks had decided to build a bar in the movie Cast Away, it might have looked like this. But that's the charm. Inside you'll find plenty of pennants and goo-gaws and scribbled signatures from visiting Canadians and others. They also can make you up a simple meal. If you don't have a boat, hotels can likely set you up with a ride to and from the bar, which is near the town of Black River.
YS Waterfalls: This is one of those places the whole family will enjoy; a series of waterfalls and pools in the hills near Black River. There are seven falls and a natural pool fed by both underground and above-ground springs. They also have lifeguards on hand. In addition to the pools they have a zip line that will send you humming along roughly 13 meters above a waterfall and lovely tropical gardens, which makes it a great destination for visitors of almost all ages.
Appleton Estate Tour: Rum lovers will fall hard for this attraction, where you can take a tour and learn how they make one of the world's best-selling - and tastiest - rums. Located a short drive north of Black River in St. Elizabeth Parish, the estate sits in the beautiful Nassau Valley on fertile land for growing sugar cane. The original visitor centre opened in 1988 but was fully renovated and re-opened in January of last year. Tour purchasers get a free, welcome cocktail and can learn the secrets of rum-making from experts in the field. Later, you can sip a craft cocktail and dine on great local food at their Black River Lounge.
Jamaica Zoo: This isn't a huge zoo, but they have lions, zebras, monkeys, llamas, crocodiles and colourful toucans. Kids will enjoy checking out the snakes, too. There's a playground for the youngsters, so they can work off a little energy. The zoo is quite close to Black River, which makes it a breeze to visit YS Falls, Appleton Estate and the Zoo all in one trip.
Where To Stay: Jake's is a truly one-of-a-kind hotel at Treasure Beach, a few minutes east of Black River. Some of the units are painted in soft, beautiful colours and embedded with bits of glass, seashells, and other material that the owners found and incorporated into the design. When I was there my room (one of the beachfront bungalows, which have a cool Moroccan design) had an outdoor bathtub overlooking the coast and a beautiful rooftop relaxation area. The beach isn't much to write home about but there's a pool, a spa and a very good restaurant. Not to mention Dougies poolside bar, a legendary Jamaica spot for rum punch. The place was built by Perry Henzell, who directed the Jamaican cult classic "The Harder They Come," and his wife, Sally, who helped with the sets and costumes for the movie. Just a few feet away is Jack Sprat, a terrific, casual beachfront restaurant. Sandals South Coast has a beautiful, 3.2 kilometer-long, white sand beach and overwater bungalows, a pricey but truly magnificent treat I got to try at their resort outside Montego Bay a couple years ago. It's a great spot for weddings, with an overwater chapel.
More information: www.visitjamaica.com
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