Guys, I think it's safe to say I'm obsessed with Jamaica.
1. The beaches are seriously beautiful.
2. And you can eat and drink all the deliciousness you want at said beaches.
Jerk on the beach? Fresh fish on the beach? Red Stripe on the beach? ALL IN.
Pro tip: I took all of these photos at Winnifred Beach, which is a great eating beach. When you get there, go to Cynthia's, the shack at the end of the beach (pictured in the middle) and get the lobster or fish of the day (pictured on right). Cynthia's is a bit removed from the shore, so if you want to eat directly on the sand, head to the shacks on the other end (pictured on the left).
3. There are also beautiful, beautiful mountains.
4. And you can stay in them!
Staying in the Blue Mountains isn't something most tourists do, because it's not the beach — i.e. what most tourists go for — and it's a minor pain to get there (it's about three or four hours from Kingston, and the drive is rocky and bumpy and twisty and turny all the way up). But I cannot recommend it enough. It's a true local experience.
Pro tip: My boyfriend and I stayed in a Rastafarian guesthouse called Jah B's (pictured above) the first time we went, and a family guesthouse across the road called Wildflower Lodge the second time. They have more expensive places in the Blue Mountains, too, like Strawberry Hill and Lime Tree Farm, but I personally loved staying true budget-style. Jah B's is especially heady — Jah B is this old Rasta guy who's everything you'd think an old Rasta guy would be.
5. And even hike to the top of them for sunrise!
One of the best parts about staying in the Blue Mountains is that you can hike to the top — Blue Mountain Peak — for sunrise. The peak's elevation is 7,402 feet, so be warned: This is a huge hike! It's 14 miles, which will take you about seven hours, and you start at 2 am, so you hike for about four hours in darkness. But it's so worth it. Hiking by moonlight in Jamaica is as epic as it sounds, and the sunrise will leave you legit breathless.
Pro tip: A guide from wherever you stay will go up with you, but don't rely on them for supplies. Bring your own flashlight in case they don't have one, and dress in layers — the top gets realllly cold at sunrise.
6. Blue Mountain coffee is seriously amazing.
Drinking Blue Mountain coffee in Jamaica is like drinking the wine when you're at the winery: It just tastes better. It's straight from the source.
Blue Mountain coffee in particular is so fresh namely because of the climate. For starters, the beans are grown high up in the mountains, and that elevation is key — because higher altitudes produce denser beans, and the more dense the bean, the stronger the coffee. (To be certified as Blue Mountain coffee, beans must be grown at an elevation between 1,800 and 5,500 feet.) The next factor that makes Blue Mountain coffee so delicious is that the climate provides a perfect amount of shade, which means that the beans take longer to develop — and that gives them a stronger flavor. And finally, the soil in the mountains is packed with nutrients from previous volcanic activity. It's that trifecta that gives Blue Mountain coffee its deliciousness.
7. There's happy music playing everywhere.
8. And thanks to this music, there's a powerful feeling of consciousness that will seep into your soul.
On an even deeper level, the Reggae Revival goes far beyond the catchy songs — locals told me the movement is actually all about "consciousness." That means that, much like the reggae music from the golden era, the singers and the songs have a social purpose as well as a musical one. In this case, the main purpose is spreading hope and awareness. Many of the Revival musicians grew up poor, and they now sing spiritually-conscious songs of hope to inspire others in similar situations. (For example, in one of Chronixx's hit songs "Ain't No Giving In," he sings, "I know the system have you down and you feel pressed down like 50 feet," and then encourages everyone to not give up.)
And since music is such an influential part of Jamaican culture, that sense of hope nestled in the songs has truly spread to the soul of the country — and, after you spend a couple days in Jamaica, it will likely spread to yours, too.
9. You can visit the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston.
10. And even play around in the fields where Marley grew up.
11. You can wake up to views like this.
12. And then quickly move on to views like this.
13. There are beautiful tropical flowers everywhere you turn.
No matter if you're on the coast or in the Blue Mountains or anywhere in between, you'll definitely see (and smell) some tropical beauties.
14. And bars, too. So many bars.
If you want to drink in Jamaica, you will be able to find a bar within 30 seconds. They're everywhere. Most of them are just little outdoor shacks with one bartender, maybe two, holding down the fort. Also of note: Drinks average about $1.50, and, anecdotally speaking, the bartenders tend to have heavy hands — so you definitely get your money's worth.
15. Speaking of drinks, Red Stripe tastes good at any time of day — morning, noon, and night.
16. As does Rum & Ting.
Or a Rum & Ting. It's all about rotating between the two Jamaican staples. Ting is basically like Sprite, but with a much better flavor — and when you mix it with rum, it's heaven. I personally like to mix Ting with coconut rum, but it's very sweet, so white rum is better if you're in it for the long haul and want to drink multiples in a row. Darker Appleton rum is also good; it has a stronger taste than the others, but actually isn't any more alcoholic.
My advice: Try all of them! There is no situation that cannot be improved with a Rum & Ting.
17. You can smoke pretty much whenever and wherever you want.
18. There are tons of random secret parks and forest patches just waiting to be discovered.
19. The jerk situation is ON POINT.
If you don't know about jerk, it's a style of Jamaican cooking where meat (usually chicken or pork) is dry-rubbed with a spice mixture called jerk. And it is DELICIOUS. Like, so delicious. It's usually served with festival, which is essentially Jamaican fried dough, and equally amazing.
Pro tip: In my opinion, the best jerk chicken is at Piggy's, a shack right in the heart of Port Antonio. Piggy's chicken, pictured on the right, is so juicy and ~perfectly~ spiced, and their festival is perfectly crunchy and doughy at the same time. Others argue that the best jerk is at Boston Beach, which is just outside Port Antonio (pictured on the left). It's good, but I swear by Piggy's. The bigger point is that, depending on who you ask, there are lots of places that serve the "best" jerk in Jamaica — but the common consensus is that it's in and around Port Antonio.
20. And the rest of the local food is damn good, too.
Put bluntly, Jamaican food is DOPE. Pictured above, we've got plantain chips, rice & peas in the middle, and ackee and saltfish breakfast, the national dish of Jamaica, on the right. And there are so many other delicious local foods, too! Rastafarians, for example, follow the ital diet, which is based on the belief that all food you eat should be natural, pure, and from the earth, and increase your life energy ("livity"). Most Rastafarians who adhere to this diet very strictly are vegetarian, though there aren't really any hard and steadfast rules — so eating ital can vary from person to person.
Pro tip: If you're trying to get a local ackee and saltfish breakfast, go early. A lot of places stop serving it around 10 am because it runs out.
21. There are even a bunch of organic farms you can visit.
To get a feel for the real and true Jamaica, you've gotta hit up one of the organic farms – because farming is such a big part of Jamaican culture. I went to one called Stush in the Bush, just outside of Montego Bay, in the fields of St. Ann. The farm is run by a Rastafarian man, Chris, and his wife, Lisa, and they grow all of their own organic food and serve vegan food to guests — including homemade grilled pizza.
There are also lots of other organic farms around Jamaica you can visit, like the Lion House in Ocho Rios and Dool's Organic Farm in Treasure Beach, that'll give you a feel for the true farm-to-table scene.
22. The Blue Lagoon is a thing that exists.
23. There are tons of cute little cottages and Airbnbs.
My boyfriend and I stayed in the Airbnb on the right (only $50 a night!) and the owner lived in the cottage on the left. The best part is that there are tons of other similarly cute cottages scattered throughout Jamaica, all of which contribute to the laid-back island vibe.
24. The sunsets are just magical.
Picture's worth a thousand words on this one.
25. But perhaps most of all, Jamaica is the best place to slow down for a second, breathe deep, and just smile. Because everyting really is irie, mon ... just the way it should be.
The chips featured in #20 are plantain chips. A previous version of this post said they were ackee chips.