One wouldn’t blame you if all you envisioned in your mind is Reggae when you hear the word Jamaica or perhaps you start visualizing drinking Rum Runners on a sandy beach under a straw hut with Bob Marley playing in the background. While Marley and other music greats like Peter Tosh and others have added to Jamaica’s mystique, there’s a entirely different side to this Caribbean island nation which has no shortage of lush mountains, rain forests and reef-lined beaches.
Sure, families and couples are known to flock to some of Jamaica’s all-inclusive resorts, which tend to be clustered in Montego Bay, known for its British colonial architecture, and to Negril, renowned for diving and snorkeling. Its capital Kingston is the largest city on the island and is home to the Bob Marley Museum, dedicated to the city’s most famous son. Kingston is home to most of the city’s nightlife and there are many luxury boutiques around the island as well as popular luxury resorts like Sandals.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if I didn’t listen to Reggae music during my most recent jaunt to Jamaica’s west coast, but the experience was more about silence than it was about music and partying. I spent the bulk of my time in the St. Elizabeth Parish, which is one of 14 on the island. St. Elizabeth is referred to as the “Bread Basket” of Jamaica in that it is most known for its farming and fishing, and provides 80% of the agriculture in Jamaica. It is also at the forefront of sustainable agriculture and farm-to-table dining, of which I experienced several while on the coast.
I flew into Montego Bay, which is what I’d recommend if you’re up for a little nature and yoga exploration, as it’s a scenic drive to head west along the north coast, which winds down to Negril which is also home to luxury and family properties along the beach. From Negril, there’s more natural beauty to be found, stretching all the way down to the coast to Treasure Beach and beyond, which is where I spent the bulk of my time.
Consider taking a trip dedicated to wellness — you’ll be surprised at the results and who knows, perhaps even be transformed in the process. Also be sure to read my recent write-up on how to stay healthy on the road.
Negril Yoga Center
If you’re a conscious eater, integrate wellness into your life, happen to be a yogi (or not), then a trip to this part of Jamaica will be a gem of a choice for you anytime of year. I went in October, so we did experience some cloudy skies and rain showers in the afternoons, but it wasn’t substantial and because it’s not considered prime time, rates on hotels are more reasonable and beaches are less crowded. While I didn’t do a yoga class at the Negril Yoga Centre, I did do a site visit and I’d be remiss if I didn’t start here since they’re the oldest yoga center in the area.
The Negril Yoga Centre offers charming but basic rooms and cottages on-site among a little oasis of gardens and trees. They have daily Yoga Classes and Spa Services and their kitchen provides an all natural cuisine with foods and fresh juices catered around your dietary needs. You can also take private yoga classes or just spend time meditating in the garden or on one of their swaying hammocks which are so prevalent in Jamaica. The space is a 20 x 32 foot open aired wooden floored studio and they have both morning and evening classes, with yoga mats, blocks and belts on-site if you don’t have your own.
What I love about the property is how tranquil the gardens are as we meandered through them to visit one cottage after another. Imagine an abundance of palm trees, fruit trees, flowers, butterflies and birds scattered among seven cottages and villas. It’s small and intimate and a lovely getaway if you want to get your yogi on for a week or more, and also great if you’re traveling solo.
If you’re after luxury and pampering, this isn’t necessarily your spot as there’s no pool or bar so you need to head elsewhere for social life. The center is however, a great place to be at peace with the world, get away from western stresses, breathe and read that list of novels you’ve been meaning to catch up on. In the quiet of the night, you can hear the different sounds of crickets which brings you back to nature, the way life should be — the sounds of nature are incredibly calming for the nervous system and for your soul.
Before we left, I had a chance to relax in one of their hanging hammocks. Oh so bliss!
Negril Yoga Centre
1 Norman Manley Boulevard
239-566-2284 or 876-957-4397
Not far from the Negril Yoga Center lies the pristine Rockhouse Hotel, which not only boasts glorious views but will send you back in time to where serenity and tranquility were the only order of the day. They consider themselves a casual hotel but it exudes touches of luxury in that chic boutique kinda way, with small huts that overlook the ocean, all of which are perched perched upon the scenic cliffs of Negril’s Pristine Cove.
Think tropical gardens, a fabulous outdoor menu with views of the ocean and spa and wellness programs on the property. And, oh btw, the massages are done outside facing the Caribbean sea, so if you don’t show up in a tranquil state of mind, you are sure to leave with one.
They offer a signature tropical massage, which is a fusion of three powerful massage techniques; combining healing herbs, aromatherapy oils, hot poultice, bamboo and warm stones. Additionally, they have a wide range of individual massage treatments including Aromatherapy, Swedish, Deep Tissue, Hot Stone, Pregnancy and Sports Massage.
Run by Australians, their focus is on responsible and sustainable tourism. Not only is Rockhouse Green Globe Certified but they’re involved in community efforts through the Rockhouse Foundation, which transforms how and where Jamaica’s children learn. We had an opportunity to visit a nearby school which is supported by the Foundation and play with the kids for the afternoon.
After a couple of exhausting but exhilarating fun couple of hours with the children, it was easy to see evidence that the program is working. The Foundation’s 2015 project is focused on developing the region’s first special needs early childhood education center.
West End Road
Tensing Pen Resort
One of my favorite experiences on the island was at a breathtaking gem with an unusual name – Tensing Pen. As we walked up to the outdoor patio which faced the sea, I couldn’t help but notice the colorfully painted but peaceful rocks hanging out under the wooden stairs. It was a nice way to greet brunch that day which I’d strongly recommend doing whether or not you stay at the property.
Brunch of course came after a delightful yoga session which was held in an open-aired studio facing the sea, like so many of our experiences with yoga along the Jamaican coast. While yoga and great breathing exercises on a daily basis can be life transformative, combining these practices with awe-inspiring views while facing the soft breeze from the ocean on your face seems to transcend you even higher somehow. And, allow you to go deeper into yourself and reflect on the most important things in your life. Below is our small yoga class which we did one late morning with the most perfect breeze coming in and around the wooden beams.
Their local yoga instructor Fanette Johnson teaches the IYENGAR style of yoga which emphasizes alignment, balance and breathing. I loved Fanette’s energy, who was born in France and yet has spent half her life in Jamaica, moving to the island back in the 1970’s when yoga had not yet become such a popular practice.
The most remarkable thing about Tensing Pen is the fact that it so beautifully combines luxury and pampering with solitude. Its boutique property has thatched hut bungalows which overlook the sea, and given its idyllic location, you face cliff and ocean views at every turn. The bright blue/green crystal clear water combined with the stunning limestone cliffs off Negril’s West End are enough to turn off your work and family woes and worries for awhile.
The hotel is more of a secluded hideaway than the other properties we visited and stayed at, largely because the stone, wood and thatch cut cottages are sectioned off into areas where you can feel alone despite other bungalows around you. The vacation quarters range from cozy garden studios to cabins, bungalows, cottages and full size homes, so while I think it makes for a perfect romantic or wellness getaway, the larger cottages and homes make a great choice for family stays as well.
They have a salon and a spa on-site as well, so you don’t have to be a serious yogi to have an enriching wellness experience here. Adventure seekers can go snorkeling, mountain biking, scuba diving and parasailing as well, so you can mix up your trip with some nature and adventure and then have a day or two of relaxation, yoga and spa treatments to unwind and stretch out. Also unique here is a narrow wooden bridge that brings you from the main property where the outdoor restaurant is located, to more cliff-side bungalows. We couldn’t help playing around on this scary at times but lovely serene bridge which boasts top notch views in both directions.
Some of the bungalows and huts are smaller than others, so depending on your budget and amenity needs and interests, you can either go with something simple facing the back (quiet but without the ocean views) or splurge for one where you can hear the waves crash anytime of day.
The restaurant is known to be excellent as well and given the size of our group (8 of us that day), we were able to sample a number of items on the menu, including high protein omelettes and salads. They also have a variety of delicious juices and teas to choose from — the outdoor lounge area that is integrated with the dining area has a tea kettle so you can make a cuppa tea anytime you fancy.
Continental Breakfast is served daily in the main dining house and includes such indulgences as fresh tropical fruits, blue mountain coffee, cereals, toast and local jams. For dinner, the chef prepares Jamaican-style feasts using organic-grown vegetables, which we loved. Daily menus change depending on the seasonal ingredients and local grilled lobster, sweet curried Black River Shrimp, fresh caught fish and traditional jerk chicken are standard fare. It’s hard to go wrong with fresh locally caught lobster. Yum! I had lobster three times during my Jamaica stay.
It was a treasure to spend time here and have an opportunity to do a yoga class – my only wish was that we had several days to just stare at the ocean so my mind could shut down for longer than a day. Hmmm, longer than a week sounds even better!
Areas where you can lounge about and relax, facing the ocean.
Tensing Pen Resort
Jake’s at Treasure Beach
We were fortunate enough to stay here for a few days, which included daily yoga, dining and glorious walks through the property which is a mix of luscious trees, plants and the wide open sea. They consider themselves a boutique resort and I’d say that it’s an accurate description given its layout and decor. While the rooms are basic, they have great energy to them, decorated with clean lines and bright turquoises and greens to remind you that you are in fact in the Caribbean after all….
Outside is the main attraction to the property as the cottages are spread out to the left and right of the main meeting area where they have a salt water pool, a lovely protruding dock where you can lounge in an Adirondack Chair and soak up the sun for awhile. The main area is also where the outdoor restaurant is situated and the lobby, which also has tables, chairs and couches with colorful cushions where you can relax. Bring mosquito repellent — after living in California for awhile, you forget how prevalent those pesky bugs are on the East Coast and Caribbean.
Above photo credit: Mary Apesos.
Also outside are lounge chairs where you can sit facing the ocean as well as a Jamaican-styled hammock if you simply want to disappear in that long awaited novel you’ve been dying to read. Jake’s is a great option as a romantic getaway but I’d also argue that some of their larger rooms and villas would make for a good family stay option as well. Mine had a side kitchen for example, even though it was a single room with only one queen bed.
Outside my room, I was greeted by a tiled patio which faced French wooden doors, and here, there were relaxing Adirondack chairs, comfy lounge chairs with cushions and a day bed. Lovely trees, dancing butterflies and an abundance of bougainvillea flowers lie scattered to the left and the right, with a tranquil view of the ocean straight ahead. There are many wonderful walks that you can take from any of the villas on the property and it all feels just a little “off-the-beaten” path.
All of the cottages are brightly colored and if you want to splurge, you can opt for the Treasure Cot, which is a charming beachside cottage famous for being the hideaway where Alex Haley wrote Roots. It is air conditioned (as was mine), has 2 bedrooms and 2 baths and a housekeeper.
Wellness is an integral part of Jake’s with a full service spa on-site. Driftwood Spa is energetically perfect, with soft turquoise blues plastered on the walls, massage tables which face the ocean and a team who genuinely care about your well-being. I had a fairly traditional massage that focused on upper body work, although you can customize your massage, whether that be deep tissue or more restorative in nature.
They also boast a number of body scrubs, body wraps, facials, reflexology and have a separate room facing a lovely courtyard where you have manicures and pedicures done and there are stunning views of the ocean from the open air massage room.
Yoga of course is a highlight at Jake’s since they have a couple of different locations where you can take classes, both of which face the wide open sea and seasoned instructors. We took classes in the early morning and at sunset to experience both. The yoga instructors are aware of where your practice is at, even if it’s as a beginner, and proactively recommend different postures and poses that best match your skill level and body type.
Because they have the space, they hold a lot of yoga retreats here, so it’s something to consider if you’d like to plan a getaway with a group of friends where you can eat, breathe and live yoga for a week under the Caribbean sky. I particularly liked Dr. Empress Thandi Wise as an instructor, who is also a certified colon hydro-therapist as well as a Full Lotus Birth Doula and an expert in Muscle testing EFT (Emotion Freedom Technique) and Tapping among other things.
Above the spa is one of their main yoga decks, which has 180-degree views of the ocean. There’s also a couple who teaches yoga therapy, tantra instruction and qigong and seasonal teachers offer mixed level Hatha, Vinyasa, Qigong and Pilates which can be done on one of the two yoga decks or you can also do a private class on site or in your villa.
Jake’s at Treasure Beach
Jackie’s on the Reef
Near the center of Negril, you’ll find Jackie’s on the Reef, which is considered a spa and yoga getaway. The rooms are inside the main property for the most part although some of them are in nearby bungalows and huts on the property. This is more of a solo wellness getaway than a romantic escape, and makes for a great choice to rejuvenate your mind, body, and spirit through alone time, which can consist of plenty of reading on the outside colorful beds, or in nearby hammocks, or taking a yoga or meditation class, which we did one warm and sunny afternoon.
While the rooms are basic, feng shui has been incorporated; the simplicity combined with the gracious flow of the rooms make them feel ever so peaceful. Outside is where the true serenity captures you however, as the grounds are surrounded by trees and the large tiled balcony has day beds, hammocks and relaxing chairs where you can shut down for hours on end.
Yoga was a highlight of course, as the afternoon temperature was perfect, the views of the calming ocean were meditative and the instructor well-appointed with over 20 years of experience. Some of the stretches were hard for me of course since I’m not accustomed to doing daily yoga classes, however it challenged me to aspire to more — both my mind and my body. Pushing oneself beyond your comfort zone is always a great way to grow and be transformed in your life.
Outside Jackie’s veranda (pictured above) lies the ocean. To the left, an area is set up for massage and straight ahead is this small little pool facing the water – as you sit in it, you can at times feel the crashing waves. In other words, it’s about as close to raw nature as you can get with no other sounds in the world except for the ocean calling you to be present with the earth…and with yourself.
We were also able to take in a massage here, which like so many other resorts and hotels along the coast, offer them outside, so you can hear the crashing waves while you relax during your treatment. The views were spectacular and I felt rejuvenated and then some after the magic hands of my masseuse took the pain out of my overworked muscles.
They offer a wide range of choices on-site for it is a core part of staying here. There’s the Ion Cleanse which detoxifies the body, deep tissue and meditative massages, Reflexology and everything in between. For example, they offer Aromatherapy, which I wished I had time to try since I’m a huge believer in the value of essential oils. One of my favorite massages is hot stone, largely because they help to ease the pain in my neck and shoulders so much faster than a standard massage can do alone. It helps to balance energy and chakras, deepens the impact to ligaments and tendons and helps restore circulation.
There’s also the Bamboo massage, which is a technique that incorporates bamboo stalks of varying length and diameters to provide deep-tissue work. The massage itself promotes circulation, sensory nerve perception and lymphatic drainage and provides a deep sense of relaxation and well-being. Chinese, Indonesian and Japanese rituals and myths abound with bamboo symbolizing life energy, longevity, sexuality and fertility. In China, stalks of bamboo still symbolize eternal youth, strength, prosperity and peace. I LOVE this, although in the end, we had a fairly standard massage due to lack of time, but it was oh so blissful!
Other alternative therapies and treatments they offer at Jackie’s includes Facials, Reiki, which is energy work, Past Life facilitation, something I’ve always wanted to try, and Live Cell Analysis with nutritional counseling, which is rarely found at spa retreats. I tried this years ago at a holistic retreat in Fiji and found the results to be incredibly effective – it’s amazing what they can learn from your past health and life balance from a finger prick of blood.
Additionally, they offer an old Lakota tradition called the Rain Drop Technique, which an effective method of using seven different Young Living Aroma Oils on the spine for balancing and rejuvenating the mind, body and spirit. Cranio Sacral is available too (I believe in the power of this very subtle but effective practice) and Watsu, which is a water treatment that takes weight off the vertebrae and allows the spine to move in a way impossible on land. Stretches are applied as a way to open channels though which our chi energy flows.
Jackie is American born and left her boutique shop in New York City in the 1970’s to move to Jamaica to start this wellness getaway. She has always been interested in healing and through her center and has rejuvenated hundreds over the years.
The environment is incredibly peaceful and eco-friendly amidst organic gardens and overlooking 180 degrees of the majestic Caribbean Sea and Mother Earth. Ahhh yes, time to reflect…
I love their mantra and view of the world — they consider themselves a small temple of no particular faith and no matter where you are on your spiritual journey of life, they love to say “Welcome.” Gotta love the gentleness of the place….and we adored Jackie.
Jackie’s on the Reef
West Cliff West End Road
FOODIE ALERT: For Foodies or Culinary Wannabe’s, be sure to read my write-up on Jamaican food (aka the Jamaica Food Guide), which is a delicious summary of popular Jamaican food, eateries, restaurants and experiences.