Why I struck gold in Treasure Beach

Ever since I moved to Jamaica, I’ve been lucky enough to have been able to see parts of the world I never knew existed. Is there anything more satisfying and enriching than traveling the beaten track then finding a hidden gem tucked away off the well-trodden tourist trail and preserved in all its unspoilt glory?

Well, that place for me is Treasure Beach. Quite simply, I truly believe it’s one of the most beautiful and calming planes on earth.

How can I say that, you might fairly ask. Obviously I haven’t been to all the places yet.

But I’ve decided to show you in a few carefully selected photos why Treasure Beach really is one of the brightest jewels in Jamaica’s crown. And why I think my heart belongs there.

Getting there

Treasure Beach is on Jamaica’s south coast. It’s only a six-mile stretch and is split into five main bays – Billy’s, Calabash, Fort Charles, Great and Frenchman’s.

It’s ostensibly a fishing village, dotted with a few small restaurants, accommodations and a handful of small shops.

It’s roughly a two-and-a-half hour drive from Kingston and from Montego Bay, if you choose to fly into there instead.

A Typical Day

I say typical because Treasure Beach isn’t one of those places you go to party and jampack your schedule with activities. There are a few key highlights including the Black River Boat Tour to find crocodiles like this one:

And perhaps the most iconic day trip – Pelican Bar.

Basically it’s a tiny bar made out of drift wood perched on stilts in the middle of the sea.

There’s no electricity so the beer is warm, oh and there’s no loo!

But what it lacks in modern amenities it makes up for in charm, character and uniqueness. You can jump in the water, have a swim, sing, dance, get some food and just generally be merry. Truly it’s a once in a lifetime experience and one of my favourite things to do in Jamaica.

The boat ride is about 20 minutes, you can catch a boat from behind Frenchman’s restaurant for approx $50USD per person and, best of all, you don’t need to deal with tour guides and booking agents. In true Jamaican style, just arrive with your cash, find one of the captains (you’ll spot them, trust me!) and hop aboard for a truly unforgettable day at sea.

Other must-dos include Lovers Leap viewpoint and the Appleton Estate Rum tour.

And the breathtaking YS Falls:

Where to stay

I actually couldn’t wait to write this part because it’s definitely where I really struck gold.

Katamah describes itself as a small family-run guesthouse right on the beach.

But what it really is is paradise.

Think Moroccan-inspired wooden rooms, suites and cabins, outdoor showers, cabins, glass-walled bedrooms and sheer tranquility.

It’s also very reasonably priced and there’s a communal kitchen where you can store and prepare food, buy beer from the fridge or grab a coffee.

Bliss! Especially when you wake up in the morning, walk out the little wooden gate and onto this:

Where to eat

There isn’t a lot of choice given that Treasure Beach is so small, and that’s another thing I love – the familiarity and casual vibe.

Breakfast has to be in Smurfs – there literally isn’t anywhere better. And if you’re lucky you’ll catch the Rastas strumming and singing while you eat.

I highly recommend the fresh fruit juice and the Smurfs Omelet.

For a cheap and cheerful lunch or dinner overlooking the sand, try Frenchman’s. But beware – go about two hours before you expect to feel hungry!

Jake’s Hotel is a beautiful spot to eat, just for a drink, or to stay or book in for a pamper treatment.

It’s more expensive than the alternatives in Treasure Beach but it’s very beautiful as these pictures show.

I stayed there once and while it was nice, I didn’t feel it was worth the money.

But I would highly recommend eating there and having a few cocktails while watching the sun set.

The last trip we made, we tried a new place for dinner called Streaky Ts.

Basically it’s owned by a local who is a chef in the States but comes home seasonally and basically has opened a little restaurant in his garden.

The food was great, the rum was also great and the music plus the chef’s dancing were even better! A must visit.

So there you have it. My treasure trove of highlights from Treasure Beach.

It really is like stepping back in time and it’s simply breathtaking. Just switch off, snooze and breathe in every bit of its unique simplicity.

There really aren’t enough places like it.

Why Cuba is a must on your 2019 travel bucket list

I was lucky enough to have been whisked off to Cuba for a special birthday weekend.

I will readily admit that until I moved to Jamaica, I didn’t realise Cuba was a Caribbean island. The largest in fact, FYI.

Other things I didn’t know include its proximity to Jamaica and just how quickly I would fall in love with the Republic.

A trip to the land of the Castros has always been a bucket list item of mine and I always presumed, rather unimaginatively, that Havana would be my first taste of Cuba.

Instead, my Cuban debut took me to Santiago de Cuba, the second largest city outside of Havana and the capital of the southeastern Santiago de Cuba province.

Its physical location (closer to Haiti and the Dominican Republic than to Havana) is a major factor in its uniquely Afro-Caribbean culture, yet it is steeped in colonial and revolutionary history, having been the birthplace of the Cuban Revolution.

And that spirit and passion has defied the test of time as it’s truly one of the liveliest, bustling and truly mystifying cities I’ve ever been to.

The journey

I didn’t really know what to expect as we hopped on our tiny Aerogaviota jet from Kingston to Santiago de Cuba and set off on our short 45-minute flight across the Caribbean sea.

But it may very well have been a time machine we boarded as we were instantly catapulted decades back in time on arrival.

The old cars everywhere immediately confirmed the romantic sentiment I had always harboured about Cuba.

In fact, romance somehow oozes out of every crevice in the city. And speaking of romance, a very old and cosy Lada with springy seats was our chariot from the airport into the city. (Cost was $20USD and journey time was approximately 15 minutes.)

Accommodation

We stayed in the Melia, the only 5* hotel in the city. I feel its important to point out that this isn’t 5* by modern standards.

The pool and the outdoor area were beautiful enough to rival any of the all-inclusives we’ve stayed at in Jamaica.

The interior of the hotel was dated, at least by Western standards. But suspension of those kind of expectations is a must in Santiago, because to fixate would be to deny the unique and classic beauty of everything the city has to offer.

The hotel staff were fabulous, the rooftop bar is a hive of activity with live music at the weekends and the most stunning year-round sunset views, and the jacuzzi bath in our room offering views right into the mountains was the pièce de résistance.

The Melia is outside the main centre so if you prefer to be right in the thick of the activity, you could try Casa Granda or the Imperial. If I was going back, I’d pick Casa Granda because it’s smack bang in the historical centre, its rooftop is a famous sunset view point and the salsa music nights are great!

Salsa

And speaking of salsa, wow! The Cubans were such good dancers I was afraid to put a foot on the dancefloor! But that was fine because I could watch them dance forever.

And we found the best bar to do just that. Casa Dela Trova, literally around the corner from Casa Granda. A live band, swinging hips, mojitos…. What more could you need? It’s an old townhouse decorated with balconies onto which the partying spilled out into the small hours of Friday night and we actually didn’t want to leave.

They even dance in the streets, literally!

So make sure you don’t miss the street parties every Saturday and Sunday night. Top tip – it finishes early on Saturday so my advice would be to go there early, around 7pm and just stay until it closes.

There’s street food and drinks and music and all the fun of the fair! And then they do it all over again, minus all the stalls, on Sunday evenings and it really is unmissable.

Chilled Cristal beers out of portable freezers, hotdogs if you’re peckish.

You see, Cuba really is a cultural explosion and it’s important to absorb as much of it as you can.

We also took a table at the Irie Jazz Club on the Sunday night after dinner which was a great way to chill and unwind it what reminded me of New York.

But don’t overdo the partying as there’s so much historical beauty to see too.

Acting the tourists

We took a private Cadillac tour of the city with a local driver and a self-designated tour guide who we met on the street. I can see mammies everywhere being horrified but trust me, it’s extremely safe and we hit the jackpot with this chance meeting.

The tour touts hang around outside most of the hotels and they’re extremely friendly. Ours was so friendly he didn’t want us to leave our tour five hours later!

For just $50USD we got to see every site including Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca del Morro (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), Cespedes Park, the Cathedral, Moncada Barracks, Revolution Plaza, the Malecon and of course Fidel Castro’s grave at Santa Ifigenia Cemetery.

Revolution Plaza
Moncada Barracks
Santa Ifigenia Cemetery
Fidel Castro’s grave
Santiago Cathedral

It was truly authentic to have a non-qualified tour guide recount Cuban history and tell us about what life is really like in the socialist republic. He gave us plenty of time to wander around and explore on our own too.

Definitely a must in my opinion.

Get in my belly

I hope you like ham and cheese because you’re going to see a lot of it!

Being lactose intolerant, I don’t think I was the most popular person in every restaurant. But jokes aside, the food was amazing.

On the first night, we ate in the Iré a Santiago and were serenaded by two musicians as we tucked into a beautiful feast of soup, lobster, beef and rice. It was such a stunning location with its open top and narrow stairways.

We sampled the street food on the Saturday night, washed down with some local beers and I’d highly recommend. When in Rome!

We saved the best until last and on my birthday on Sunday we chilled by the pool (one of the reasons I’d recommend the Melia) and then we took a cab back up to Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca to the breathtaking cliffside restaurant with views sweeping right across the Caribbean sea.

It was $30USD round trip and it was more than worth it.

Down time was spent meandering through the cobbled streets of the centre, sampling copious amounts of mojitos and generally just admiring every beautiful morcel of the city and its people.

Top pick

And just when it seemed the weekend couldn’t get any better, we had a very special last night dinner in Roy’s Terrace.

A tiny little B&B tucked away on Santa Rita with just six tables and a tiny bar on its magical rooftop terrace, this is my pick of the holiday.

It’s a set menu so you must book in advance and choose from chicken, pork or vegetarian. We didn’t ask any questions and were quite happy to wait in anticipation as each of the seven dishes were presented to us.

It was quaint, idyllic and so very romantic and I left wishing I could eat every meal at Roy’s Terrace for the rest of my days.

Verdict: I’d go back to Cuba in a heartbeat. Four days is more than enough in Santiago, unless you want to do all the museums – and there are plenty!

But there is a huge and very beautiful island for me to explore so as Arnie would say: I’ll be back.

Tips

The local currency is Pesos but you can spend USD. My advice is to get Cuban Pesos Convertible, which is 1:1 with the US dollar.

We had to get a visa from the Cuban Embassy in Kingston before we flew. They cost around US$20 each and you need to bring flight details, accommodation booking details, passport and proof of health insurance. So make sure you check what you need in advance.

Sundays are for fresh fish in Port Royal

Sundays; we all hate them, right?
Usually hungover from Saturday night, terrified to look at your Snap Chat story and last dialled list, and generally dreading another mundane Monday.
But since moving to Jamaica, Sundays don’t look like that for me anymore.
And I’m not bragging at all, because some weekends I’d love nothing more than to be nursing a hangover in my old bed, in my old apartment, more than likely ringing 37 Dawson Street to see if they found my handbag and my dignity.
But since moving to a tropical island, I don’t want to waste a single moment having a lie in or feeling sorry for myself lying on the sofa crying over the Notebook.
So now my Sundays often look like this.

And this actually.

This was last Sunday with beautiful friends in a beautiful little sleepy fishing village called Port Royal.
It just so happens that said sleepy little fishing village is home to one ofthe nicest seafood restaurants I’ve ever eaten at.
And this is what I actually love most about Jamaica. The fact it’s so raw and unpretentious.

Because the local places spend no time fussing over whether their crystal chandeliers match the crystal cocktails glasses. They spend all their time making sure you eat like a king and feel right at home.
Gloria’s in Port Royal is a hidden gem you have to see.
It’s what my mum would call rough and ready.
We ate at a plastic table, sat on plastic chairs and served ourselves drinks out of the fridge.
In fact, it’s so popular that there were no tables when we arrived. So instead of being told to wait or come back another day, they just took a table out of some storage shed and plonked it down close to the other makeshift tables.
Yes, the outdoor dining area is kind of just a road – but that’s what made it even more special.

I wouldn’t go there hungry, especially on a Sunday, as you will have to wait.
But because Jamaica is so laid back, I’ve gotten used to waiting – and thankfully I’ve become a lot more patient.
Anyway, when my shrimp arrived and I tasted my first bite, every second of that wait was worth it.
Plus what is a few hours in the sun on a lazy Sunday afternoon chatting with friends after a lovely morning on the beach?
The true beauty of Gloria’s is that we were sitting eating less than a stone’s throw from where our fish came in off the boat.

And we sat and watched as it was washed and cooked on the street corner.

Being here has given me a much greater appreciation for, and awareness of, what I’m eating.
When something isn’t in season, you can’t have it. Full stop.
Sort of makes you wonder how supermarket shelves in Ireland are basically full of everything all year round.
You can’t imagine how mouth-watering it is to eat a mango that you’ve just picked off the tree in your garden, or to drink out of a fresh coconut some fearless man climbed a tree to pick for you.
And forget your meals in fancy restaurants (I do love a fancy restaurant and a ridiculously overpriced cocktail, don’t get me wrong!).
But wait until you’ve tasted the chicken off ‘chicken man’ as we affectionately call him.
Sitting on a Friday night eating the most delicious chicken with ketchup out of tin foil, washed down with a Red Stripe.
I usually share so much luxury from dream trips in exquisite hotels, which we’re lucky to have on our doorsteps.
But it’s the late-night dashes to chicken man, the coconuts from the roadside and the jerk shacks that make Jamaica truly exquisite and unique.
And they’re the parts I’d miss the most.

GoldenEye is my jewel in Jamaica’s crown

What do Jamaica and James Bond have in common? If you’re an avid Bond fan, you probably know the answer to that.

If, like me, you only became a Bond fan when Daniel Craig stepped into the tuxedo and bow tie, then you may not be so sure.

So here’s the answer – Ian Fleming.

Let me elaborate. Fleming was a commander in the English navy during World War II.

In 1942, he was sent to the Caribbean to investigate reports of Nazi U-Boats in the crystal clear waters – an operation dubbed GoldenEye.

Like everyone who comes to Jamaica (myself included), Fleming fell head-over-heels in love with the blissful island. And so when he found 15 acres in the picture-perfect banana port town of Oracabessa, Fleming snapped it up.

And so, hidden away behind the walls and enchanting forest of the estate he called GoldenEye, he dreamed up the world’s favourite spy, 007.

And it’s from this magnificent location that he wrote all 13 of his Bond novels – three of which are set in Jamaica. I mean, who doesn’t know the famous scene where the gorgeous Ursula Andress walks out of the water in Dr. No? And yes, you can go to Crab Key and try to reenact it!

Then enter stage left… Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records – the label that brought reggae to the world and, thankfully, Bob Marley and the Wailers

Blackwell became a location scout for Bond movies (he chose the beach where Andress emerged from the water like a goddess) and in 1976, 12 years after Fleming died, he bought GoldenEye – otherwise known as my FAVOURITE place on the planet.

Over 30 years since buying GoldenEye, Blackwell added another 25 acres to the original 15 Fleming lived on, and transformed it into the chic, secluded and unrivalled paradise that it is today.

It’s hard to put into words how somewhere so low key can ooze such elegance and glamour from every crevice. But that is perhaps the true beauty of GoldenEye, that it can’t be defined.

main pic

Bond himself is famous for his sophisticated style. So no wonder GoldenEye oozes opulence and a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ from the moment you find the secret entrance off the main road into the sprawling estate.

The tree-lined drive up to the resort itself creates as much intrigue as any James Bond plot.

Continue reading “GoldenEye is my jewel in Jamaica’s crown”

Home is where the 💗 is

Home is where the heart is, isn’t it? It’s where we feel safe, love and appreciated.

But I’m not sure ‘safe’ is always a positive thing. How many of us go through life never stepping out of our comfort zones, never challenging ourselves to take a risk and never doing the very thing that scares us most?

I was one of those people until I woke up one day – aged 33 – and realised I was an adventurer at heart and I wanted to take the risk and take the flight and find out what was waiting for me far away from home.

And turns out it wasn’t so scary after all.

It was the toughest decision I’ve ever made to quit my job and leave all my beautiful friends and family and my ‘safe’ life in Dublin behind.

But I knew the opportunity awaiting me in Jamaica was one I had to grab with both hands. And so I went.

And I haven’t looked back. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get homesick. Sometimes all you long for is familiarity, a cosy night in your PJs sipping tea out of your favourite mug on your favourite chair not having to think too much about anything because you’re ‘safe’.

Even when you have beaches and lagoons and breakfast parties and white sands on your doorstep.

But homesickness is not an actual physical illness, it’s a state of mind. And so to banish the down days, you have to be proactive and keep yourself busy.

And luckily I live on one of the most beautiful islands on the planet – so it’s not entirely difficult to find something to do!!

Yes there’s lots of idyllic trips when we swim in waterfalls for example – like the YS Falls in St Elizabeth below.

Or we take a boat ride on the Blue Lagoon or the Black River

Or we stay in a tree house for the weekend and eat breakfast in the clouds

But I’m not actually on vacation here – I live in Kingston where I do normal things like go to work every day, food shopping, dentist appointments, brunch with the girls, walks by the reservoir and sweaty gym sessions in the evenings.

It just so happens that my new normal is a little bit more amazing than anything I’ve ever known.

Many of you will have heard bad things about Kingston; that it’s dangerous, there’s nothing much to do, there’s no beach – so best avoid it.

But trust me. To avoid it is to miss out on a little taste of heaven.

Yes, there’s some danger. This is a third world country and crime is rife.

But is there really anywhere in the world where you’re totally safe?

Despite the headlines, I want to give you a glimpse of the beautiful, eclectic, culture-rich Kingston I now call home. And am very proud to do so.

Staring up at the idyllic Blue Mountains, Kingston is like nowhere else I’ve ever been. Perhaps like nowhere else on Earth.

And the Blue Mountains – famous for the coffee – make for the perfect day trip.

Even when it’s sweltering hot in the city, parts of the mountain trail are so shaded that it’s cold and very spooky – like this!

It’s also rare that you get a clear enough day to see the fantastic view – but the trek is worth the risk!

Other weekends we just brunch and lunch like anyone else in any other place in the world.

There’s lots of choice – which I’ll elaborate on in another blog post – but Fromage on Hillcrest Avenue is one of our favourites.

The fish in the Caribbean is to DIE FOR!

So are the cocktails!

I’m lucky enough to live round the corner from the Bob Marley Museum on Hope Road, where the legend himself lived. And to be honest, a morning spent there was one of my best experiences to date.

We all know of the legend that was Bob Marley, the godfather of reggae.

But as I learned on the fantastic tour of his former home where he was once shot alongside his wife and manager, I really didn’t know anything about him at all.

Bob was much more than a reggae artist, he was a cultural icon, a God-type figure in Jamaica and beyond, and definitely one of the most gifted and enlightened men, arguably, ever.

Then sometimes we head to the National Stadium and watch some of the best track and field athletes in the world compete. The same stadium where Usain Bolt ran his last race last year. He’s my neighbour now you know.

But other days we just sit in and watch a movie, grab a coffee and sit and read in the sunshine, or be really Irish and watch the GAA on TV and pretend we’re at home in Croke Park with a packet of Tayto and a Club Orange on our laps.

When really we’re sipping out of a fresh coconut and chomping on a mango that just fell off the tree in our garden! (Jealous much??!)

But we still miss the Tayto!

Because there really is no place like home, but there is a very big world out there waiting to be explored.

And home will be waiting for you when you get back.

So cheers to life, and adventure, and making new memories, new friends, and new homes.

Wagwan from Jamrock!

In case you don’t speak patois, ‘wagwan’ is a common greeting here in Jamaica. For all my Irish homebirds, it literally translates as ‘what’s the craic?’ Although it’s much more tropical I think you’ll agree. Just one of the many tropical new words I’ve learned since packing my bags and moving to Jamaica last November. Work took me to Kingston, the capital of the beautiful island that is affectionately known as Jamrock. And hence the very fitting title of this, my inaugural blog post on my irie adventure. Wagwan from Jamrock!

This blog will quite literally be a treasure trove of my travels and musings during my crazy journey from Camlough to the Caribbean.

me

And here are just some sneak peeks at what’s in store…

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My new home:

blue mountains

Yip, I live at the foot of these. The Blue Mountains. Famous for coffee, and hikes and the most stunning views of Kingston.

Living my best life:

dolphins

I’ve ticked so many items off my bucket list since moving here. This little fella swam up alongside our boat in Treasure Beach – my happy place. This remote village is for me the real jewel in Jamaica’s crown and a must-visit for anyone who’s ever dreamed of genuine peace and tranquility in paradise. But more of that later.

Weekends typically look like this:

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These are just some of the amazing people I have met since my big move and the crew I couldn’t do this without. Oh, and I met the love of my life here too. Maybe our paths really are laid out for us.

Jamaicans throw the BEST parties:

carnival

Just a normal Sunday in Kingston! This was in fact carnival Sunday, when the streets of the capital become a sea of feathers and glitter in all the colours of the rainbow. After experiencing carnival, I honestly believe everyone should get a taste before they die.

So that’s just a little taster to whet your appetites from the land where goats are curried, breadfruit isn’t bread or fruit and rum flows free.

They say the best memories are made in flip-flops, and I can’t wait to make many more.

“The biggest adventure you can ever take is to live the life of your dreams.” – Oprah Winfrey