Reggae? Beautiful beaches? Endless vibes? What comes to your mind when you think of Jamaica?
After graduating from THE University of Southern California, my dream school, 6 of my closest friends and I wanted to plan our graduation trip somewhere new and exciting. Our initial plan was to go to Colombia, however with the rise of political and social unrest, we had to choose a new adventure...and what an adventure it was!
A Rough Start
The day we left for Montego Bay was the same day that all the servers for American Airlines went down, suspending all services from checking bags, checking in for flights, and of course preventing us from leaving LAX until 3 hours after our initial departure time. We landed in Miami too late to catch our layover, and a few of my friends made it on the first flight via standby, but 3 of us were left to fend for ourselves in Miami.
Being stuck anywhere is unpleasant, however, if there was a city to be stuck in--it was Miami!
Travel tips that I took away:
Your carry-on is not just for your clothes that don’t fit! Pack small toiletries, underwear, and a change of clothes in case your luggage is late/lost. My friends that made it to Jamaica on the standby flight didn’t get their luggage until the following day, so they were pretty miserable going from a cool 60 degree California night to the 85 degree and humid weather.
If possible, try to avoid checking a bag at all. You will cut down wait times for baggage check, the potential of your bags being delayed, and by just having a small carry-on, you can still go to restaurants nearby the airport while you wait to check into your hotel without causing too much attention. (Be safe, be mobile!)
Miami International Airport (MIA) is much smaller than Fort Lauderdale, so they have far fewer flights. Try to fly into FLD if possible, or be sure to take connecting flights that will allow you to arrive early at MIA to give yourself a time cushion and make the likelihood of getting on the next available flight much higher.
Snacks. You can travel with food! Bring a granola or bag of chips in case you get trapped at the airport when all the restaurants are closed.
A Night in Miami
We left the airport without a single plan, but that all changed when we hopped in our Uber. MIA is near the middle of downtown Miami, so our Uber wasn’t super expensive or as far as Fort Lauderdale. Our Uber driver spoke very little English, but lucky for us he spoke Spanish! He was super helpful and told us about some restaurants and clubs (because Miami never closed...lol) that would be fun for us to spend our 16 hours in Miami. I have a trip planned later this month in Miami, so here’s a little snapshot of what we did:
Where we stayed: Aloft Miami Brickell
Great location in walking distance to a lot of different restaurants and bars. We didn’t take the train, but there was a train stop within 5 minutes of our hotel. We stayed in a corner suite where you could see for miles the beautiful city of Miami.
Afternoon Activity/Food: Barsecco
We had no idea that this spot...was the spot! Only a 10-minute walk from our hotel, this place had FANTASTIC food (the margherita pizza was perfect), hookah with an endless number of flavors, great happy hour drinks, CBD drinks, and immaculate vibes. The DJ played an array of pop, hip-hop, dance hall and reggaeton. We got there at about 5pm and the 3 of us walked right in (which was shocking because LA has a wait everywhere). We literally spent 3 hours having a ball! The dress code ranged from casual to full on club outfits and heels by nighttime. Getting there early was perfect because it became super crowded by about 7:45pm.
Nightlife: Wynwood Arts District
This was the perfect area for us to feel out the vibes of different bars and also grab something to eat. Many of the restaurants, like 1-800 Lucky, also have a space for dancing in the back areas. 1-800 Lucky featured a food hall-type of set-up where you could buy a variety of Asian cuisine ranging from fried rice, to sushi, to pho. A lot of the “club” areas were playing EDM that night, but we ended up finding it fun to stop to grab a drink here and there, observe the street art on the sides of every building and occasionally dance at one of the restaurant-clubs.
Finally, in Paradise
When we landed in Montego Bay, all my stress melted. Something I absolutely fell in love with was the history of Jamaica showcased as you walked through the airport. From the indigenous groups of the Taino and Arawak people, to leaders of slave rebellions, to notable Jamaicans in literature, music, sports, and human rights. It made me wonder, ‘What do most American airports have to showcase to people first landing in our country?’ Something to think about.
Anyways, after a short ride from the airport filled with our taxi driver telling us about the landmarks we passed, we finally reunited with our friends and officially began our vacation!
Resort: Rose Hall Hilton Resort
I have never had so much fun on a resort in all of my travel experiences! This resort felt like going to a family reunion, and I say that because there were so many beautiful Black people, from the guests to the workers, I was welcomed with nothing but kindness and positivity. There were 7 of us in my friend group, split between two rooms. We each had balconies with an absolutely gorgeous view of the thick green trees that covered the mountains to the right, and a picturesque view of the serene blue-green ocean waves to our left. Even though I was on vacation, I still had to check in to my internship every morning, so I often picked the balcony to get my work done and go to my conference calls because with a view like that, work seems much easier to knock out.
If you absolutely HAVE to be connected to the outside world, be sure to check in with your phone companies about data in other countries. Texts/SMS are typically included, but I would 100% recommend to download WhatsApp to alleviate charge worries, plus it's almost the standard way of communication outside the US. For T-Mobile, I typically had 3 bars and LTE that wasn’t super fast, but still allowed me to be on my Zoom calls.
We chose to spend most of our time in Jamaica at our resort, enjoying the all-inclusive food and drinks at multiple restaurants and bars on the resort, ordering 24-hour room service at about 2 am every night, spending hours at the beach--reading, talking, meditating,
drinking--swimming in the multiple pools that were open all night, and going to the nightly activities.
The food overall was SO good every single day. I would recommend going to the smaller restaurants over the main cafeteria-style restaurant unless you’re going in the morning. Having breakfast with a mimosa to a gorgeous view of the palm tree-lined pool amidst the sounds of the crashing waves on the shore is an image that still visits me in my dreams. If you’re interested in a candle-lit dinner on the beach, make sure to reserve that early because they fill up every day. Something I really loved about this resort, is that every night you could have a traditional Jamaican dish that was fire! Some of my favorite things to eat while I was there included:
curry goat, rice and peas, oxtails, red snapper (careful of the bones), and of course endless jerk chicken or pork, festival, and lots and lots of chicken and beef patties
Remember how I said the resort felt like a family reunion? This was attributed a lot to the night-life! Each night there was either a dinner + performance by local Jamaican musicians/dancers, family karaoke (of course, the homies and I killed) or some sort of dance party that consisted of a DJ set that had everyone dancing and sweating. My nights in Jamaica were like something out of a movie, and I’m talking literal dance battles, okay! It really felt like everyone on the resort had known each other with how comfortable everyone was, and the staff was also about my age, so it was fun learning a bit of “patwa” and dancehall dances. It made me so excited to be able to go to clubs back in the States when they open everywhere...but my expectations are now out the roof.
Climbing Dunn’s River Falls (Ocho Rios, Jamaica):
This excursion will really push you physically, but I have to say it was something I’m so glad that I did and just don’t necessarily ever have to do it again! We were climbing up several tiers of a waterfall with gorges of water gushing into our faces and pushing our bodies around. This let me know that I need to start upping my arm workouts! We laughed, we slipped, we slid down natural waterslides, and I did it all without losing my lash strips! :P There was a photo/video package that was about $60USD split between each of us, and it was totally worth it! I always say that I’ll try anything once, but be forewarned that you will be sore the next day from this total body trek.
Jamaica is a place I will absolutely be coming back to visit in the future! What really sold me wasn’t necessarily the amenities that I received at the resort, but truly the essence and energy of the people. Every local we encountered had so much pride for their country. They knew so many facts about their history, and as someone who is constantly trying to deepen my identity, I found it to be so inspiring. We have to admit, we owe it to Jamaica for hip hop, reggae, reggaeton, dancehall, weed culture, Bob Marley, Usain Bolt, the father of Kamala Harris, and the list goes on. Not to mention, if you talk with the locals just for a short time, your knowledge of Jamaican history and culture will expand.
Peace and blessings,