By Peter Ivey
If you are planning to visit Jamaica and you find yourself deeply conflicted with the question of whether to stay on the island’s coast or in the big, little city of Kingston, then welcome to the “Town” or “Country” debate. The preference for “Town” or “Country” is not a new one but, thanks to the Jamaica Tourist Board and their partners, the offerings in both regions of the island have gotten so alluring that one is forced to choose OR experience both in one trip. And with the construction of Jamaica’s new highways, the distance to travel between“Town” and “Country” is a hop and a skip away. WhereItzAt Magazine recently got an opportunity to explore these two contrasting ideas of vacay and it all began with the touchdown in the city of Kingston, which has been designated as a UNESCO Creative City of Music, for its culture and creativity since 2015. The high paced energy of Kingston can be felt starting with the quick drive from the Norman Manley International Airport to the city’s premier hotels located in the area known as New Kingston.
The Courtleigh Hotel located in the heart of New Kingston is a gem in the crown of, arguably, the City’s most preferred hotel group that also consists of The Jamaica Pegasus and The Knutsford Court Hotel. For two nights The Courtleigh Hotel wowed my eyes with impeccable style and fed my spirit AND appetite with world-class customer service and exquisite culinary offerings including complimentary breakfasts. It then rocked me to sleep at night in a suite fit for royalty adorned with amenities such as highspeed Wi-Fi and a flat-screen TV that kept me connected to the world. The upper floors of this hotel provide panoramic views of Kingston City to prepare travelers for days of endless “town tings” to do. Ms. Nicola Madden-Greig, the hotel’s Group Director of Marketing and Sales boasts, “Kingston is a fantastic city with lovely people. We are the sports, entertainment and cultural capital…there is everything to see and to do and to have fun…and the beach is not too far away”, further increasing the difficulty of the “Town” or “Country” debate.
The home of reggae legend Bob Marley in Trench Town, now a museum is officially known as the Trench Town Culture Yard, is a must see and do while in Kingston. Trench Town has retained its rugged charm and appeal, all while evolving into a powerhouse tourist attraction for global fans of the music icon. Guests can expect a guided tour at the famed tenement yard where Marley lived, peek inside his old sleeping quarters and even sit inside his old Volkswagen van. Colorful and vibrant, some of Marley’s friends still find time to greet guests and even do an impromptu performance of songs written or produced by Marley himself. After being asked about Trench Town’s influence on Bob’s music, tour guide Donnette “Sophia” Dowe explained that she is not surprised that Bob Marley was inspired by Trench Town because it “…was the first town in Kingston and when you live in a certain place for a certain time you can write a book about where you live.” Chatting and laughing with those who knew Marley personally to get first-hand insight into the life of this great legend was a real bonus.
Switching gears from the business district of New Kingston to chatting with friendly “Rudebwoys” in Trench town can work up a big appetite, and Kingston is a foodie’s paradise. Kingston has a gastronomy network and a Taste Jamaica program that maps the island’s best and unique eateries for visitors. To understand what a foodie haven looks like we visited SummerHouse Restaurant in New Kingston owned by the dynamic sister duo, Suzanne and Michelle Rousseau. Recently opened, but already creating a buzz, the sisters have created an eclectic menu featuring a cooking style they call “Modern Heritage Dining” that fuses global and local influences and incorporates Jamaica’s culinary history. A delectable Callalloo quinoa salad disappeared from my plate as soon as it arrived, and it was the same story with the steamed bammy with lobster and the “Root” chips made from various ground provisions known as “grunge”(ground) food.
A 30-minute drive from your New Kingston hotel could be the beginning of driving up the windy roads of the celestial Blue Mountains known for its rich greenery, fresh air and, yes, the world’s best coffee. The only thing better than drinking Blue Mountain Coffee is understanding the history, science, and production behind the coffee bean and appreciating why the tiny island of Jamaica produces the world’s best. The Craighton Estate is centuries old with rich roots in coffee production. It is also the home of Alton Bedward, who I have dubbed “The Coffee Professor”. Mr. Bedward will woo guests to Creighton with his deep and impressive understanding of all things coffee using detailed charts, giving a tour and of course offering complimentary cups of Joe after explaining what to look for in real, authentic Blue Mountain coffee.
“Kingston is now a great jumping off point for visitors to the island”, says Ms. Madden-Greig. “Tourism is much more than sun beach and sand…City tourism is growing and Kingston allows you to live like a local.”Kingston’s appeal is set to grow exponentially with the annual Jamaica Food and Drink Festival in October as well as the upcoming Kingston City Run Marathon and Carnival festivities in early 2019. The arguments for “Town” also include places to tour on the outskirts of the capital city. There are great tourist offerings that lie just outside of the Kingston border such as a visit to Hellshire Beach or the historic Spanish Town Square, which are must-do’s in our book.
Keep an eye out for Part 2 of this article in our next issue, where we explore the arguments for visiting “Country” and see how it stacks against “Town.” In the meantime, if you have a trip planned, it doesn’t matter where you end up because JAMAICA is WHEREITZAT!