Jamaica is known for its mega, all-inclusive resorts. But there’s more to the island’s accommodations story. Jamaica has unique boutique hotels, too. Good things come in small packages. You’ll cheat yourself if you don’t explore this option.
Going small has advantages. For sure right now, big crowds are less desirable with COVID-19 still an issue. Experiences are more intimate when there are fewer people around and open spaces feel wider. Who isn’t feeling like they need more breathing room after months and months of the pandemic?
So if you usually go big, consider doing something different next time. You’ll have no regrets with these boutique hotels. I’ve stayed at all but one, and am a bit jaded, and not easily impressed. I know the difference between good, great, and “Oh yeah baby, I’m living large.” Take your pick, there is no wrong choice.
Geejam Hotel is the “It” spot in Port Antonio. It is secluded, located where the rainforest meets the sea, luxurious, and home to a music studio, A-list celebs like Drake, Rihanna, Alicia Keys, Beyonce, and Jay-Z have stayed there. With three private villas, four deluxe jungle cabins, and 12 newly launched Rumba Rooms, each with more than 40 pieces of art, you’ll feel like royalty too. I sure did.
Another recent addition is the infinity pool with a panoramic view of flora, fauna, and the ocean. You’ll only want to get out when you’re water-logged and the lounge chair is all but calling you. Not a pool fan? No worries, relax on the private beach or take a kayak out. If billiards are your thing, grab a cocktail from the Bushbar and show off your skills at the outside pool table. You can blame an off game on Mother Nature’s distracting beauty.
What I like is that there’s nothing cookie cutter here. Take for example the four-bedroom Panorama Villa, once the vacation getaway of Audrey Hepburn. At Geejam, the vibe is sophisticated, hip, but comfortably chill. The food is fab. Breakfast is so sumptuous you won’t need lunch. Fill up on the national dish ackee and saltfish, plantains, callaloo, green banana, yams, and Johnnycake.
Dinner is romantic from the open-air Bushbar, overlooking the ocean. Jerk marinated lamb chops with mashed potatoes and garden veggies with champagne or a wicked rum punch are highly recommended. The service is high touch, impeccable, the staff warm. Chances are you’ll meet Steve Beaver, co-owner and music industry veteran. He freely mingles with all his guests. Don’t be surprised if he pulls up a chair and chats. On departure day you’ll feel like you’ve been visiting a friend. It sucks to go home.
Bluefields Bay Villas
There’s something to be said for being in a world of your own. You can do that at Bluefields Bay Villas in Bluefields on Jamaica’s stunning south coast. They are perched along the hilly coast and overlook the ocean. There are a mere six all-inclusive luxury villas, so privacy is a premium. Each villa has IG-worthy views, private pools, butler, maid service, full kitchen, and chef. You can get nanny service 24/7. There is elderly care for seniors. Here there’s no pressure. Do as little or as much as you like. You can arrange dive tours, deep sea-fishing, glass-bottom boat cruises, and more.
What I enjoyed most was the solitude. I could hear myself think. I made my way down the stairs that lead to a private, spacious gazebo, with hammock, and comfy chairs and tables. The view of the ocean extends as far as the eye can see. During a short storm, the rhythm of the rain was so soothing, that while sitting in the gazebo, I who never naps, fell asleep. The next morning, I ventured beyond the gazebo down the stairs and into the very warm, welcoming clear waters. Heaven. At night the biggest noise was the cicadas’ concert. The food is scrumptious. For lunch, think red snapper in callaloo sauce, roast pumpkin, and salad with mango dressing. The service is first class, with real silver cutlery, china, and antiques, but with that down home Jamaican ease.
Pro Tip: Bluefields is about an hour from Negril. Take a day trip to Negril for one of the great restaurants and the famous Seven Mile Beach.
Eclipse At Half Moon
Half Moon in Montego Bay is one of Jamaica’s legendary luxury properties spread over 400 acres of grounds that were once a sugar plantation. Last year Half Moon unveiled its latest addition, Eclipse at Half Moon, a resort within a resort. When you enter the enormous open-air lobby of Eclipse and glimpse the glistening Caribbean Sea, it’s just wow! This is paradise. Eclipse, designed by resort architects Hart Howerton, exudes luxury. It has 57 rooms and suites, two restaurants, three bars, a market café, Fern Tree Spa, infinity-edge swimming pool, and the private beachfront with a swimming cove. Choose among three types of accommodations, all outrageously spacious. A big bonus is the covered outdoor space, a patio to dine, as well as chill in a lounger looking at the sea.
Relax. The 68,000 square-foot Fern Tree Spa is over-the-top. Pamper yourself. Enjoy the whirlpool, and the Fern Tree Falls, which has three separate pools for cooling off between hot steam and sauna rooms. Treat yourself to a massage and yoga classes in overwater bungalows. Once revitalized, there are activities from golf, kayaking to snorkeling. Wind down your day listening to the calypso band before dinner. What’s your mood? Go for a private dinner for two on the beach or Italian seafood overlooking the sea at Delmare. Finish the night at Lester’s with cocktails made from a vast selection of Caribbean rums.
Then there’s Kanopi House in San San. For a total escape, check in here for a stay in an eco-friendly luxury treehouse snug as a bug in a jungle of 100-foot Banyans. The view from the secluded hillside that overlooks the Blue Lagoon is one you’ll never forget. A year later, I’m still longing to go back.
You make your way around the property via stairs and more stairs, winding bamboo and pathways with ginger lilies and an array of flora and fauna. It’s downright dreamy, just like your treehouse, think luxury, comfort. The bed is the kind you never want to get out of. Lounge at the lagoon, take a tour of the lagoon, kayak, or let the concierge know you’d like to have a boat take you to nearby Monkey Island for a picnic on the beach. The Living Room is an open-air restaurant, bar, chill out spot. Often on Saturday evenings, there is live music. Even after you’ve finished your meal of authentic Jamaican dishes like coconut curry chicken, ginger scallion fish, ackee, green banana, and callaloo, you’ll find reasons to linger, and it’s not just the library. The views of the Caribbean sea from on high are sensational, especially in the evening over a candlelight meal. It’s romance 101. There are no crowds, with just eight treehouses, it’s you and yours, and an energetic, friendly staff.
Pro Tip: When you want a taste of the outside world, consider rafting down the Rio Grande or jumping off a waterfall at Reach Falls.
You know what they say about location. Rockhouse has that covered. It’s perched high atop the cliffs of Negril’s West End. The 40-room (villas and thatch-roofed huts) boutique hotel is a sight to behold. I haven’t stayed there yet, but the photos speak volumes. Each room is built with timber, stone, and thatch, ideal because of the surrounding fossilized rock and jungle landscape. The buzz is about the new Ocean View suites, featuring king beds, a separate daybed, lounge area, and a huge balcony, perfect for watching the sunset with a glass of champagne in hand of course. How would you like to start your day? A swim in the Caribbean Sea, a class in the Yoga Pavilion where you can meditate and take in ocean views? The spa at Rockhouse has a mission, “to help you unwind by any means necessary.” Who will argue about that?
One of the signature treatments is the Blue Mountain coffee scrub in the tropical garden. When you’re ready for action, snorkel, or go to nearby mineral baths or zip line. You know you’re someplace special. Word is that in the 70s Bob Marley, The Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan hung out on the cliffs at Rockhouse. The Rockhouse restaurant puts its own spin on traditional Caribbean cuisine. Here it’s about local ingredients, including hyper-local from the property’s own garden.
Jamaica is among the top Caribbean destinations: