What comes to mind when you think about Jamaica as a travel destination? Sunburned, beer-bellied vacationers? Sequestered, all-inclusive compounds with razor wire perimeters? Mobs of cruise ship passengers day-tripping on canned island excursions?
There is another side to the Jamaican travel experience, literally and figuratively. Treasure Beach is a two-hour drive – and a world away – from the often contrived environs to the north of the island.
The transition begins almost immediately, as you depart Montego Bay heading inland. A narrow, twisting road leads into verdant hills dotted with humble villages. You pause to yield the right of way to the occasional goat, and to smiling throngs of immaculately groomed children making their way to school. Curiosity, as much as hunger, prompts you to stop at one of the many roadside produce stands. The affable vendor is eager to acquaint you with a whole new lexicon of edibles: ackee, callaloo, sweetsop, and the comically, but aptly, named stinking toe.
Approaching Treasure Beach and the island’s southwest coast, the jungle gives way to arid land. The road becomes rudimentary. As you enter town, you notice that most of the traffic is pedestrian. Everyone seems well acquainted.
Within a day or so of arrival, you, too, are walking along the streets of Treasure Beach. Rather than cross the road to avoid the fellow wielding an ominous looking knife, you stop to taste the fresh-cut sugar cane he offers. You dine in a thatched-roof seaside shack on a table built by the same man who caught and cooked your snapper.
By the end of a week in Treasure Beach, you have somehow become part of a brotherhood. It is now second nature to end each conversation with a fist-bump and the exchange of one heartfelt word: ‘respect’.
When it is time to leave Treasure Beach, you do so reluctantly. You explored a pristine jungle graced with cascading waterfalls and downright exhibitionistic flowers. You strolled along a beach otherwise occupied only by fisherman plying their trade. You were welcomed by a community of good-hearted, gregarious people who genuinely made you feel at home. You never once took off your shorts and flip-flops, or scrutinized your grooming in a mirror, yet, you never felt so comfortable in your skin. You found Treasure Beach: Jamaica unplundered.
Treasure Beach, Jamaica: When You Go:
Some places to stay are reason enough to make the journey. Jakes, in Treasure Beach, is one of those rare places. Laid back and bohemian, everything about Jakes says ‘unplug’. Even the diversions at Jakes are escapist: yoga sessions, spa treatments, Jamaican cooking lessons. Sure, anonymity seeking celebrities favor Jakes for the off-grid location. But the usual crowd is a congenial mix of Jamaican natives and in-the-know travelers.
The guest accommodations at Jakes are colorful, rustic-lux, seaside cottages and villas playfully named after sea creatures. Snag a oceanfront abode, like Sea Puss 2, and your connection to the natural surroundings is profound. From the alfresco shower made of shells and sea glass, to compelling sunsets over the ocean horizon, and the nightly lullaby of rhythmic surf, the experience is blissfully elemental.
Jakes has good karma, and there is a reason for that. Owner Jason Henzell is a driving force behind Bred’s Treasure Beach Foundation, which sponsors a profusion of projects benefiting the Treasure Beach community, including a youth sports park and a sanctuary to replenish depleted fish populations. Jakes guests are encouraged to get in on the good deeds by participating in the Pack for a Purpose program.
Eat and Drink:
Jakes Restaurant spotlights the bounty of the surrounding soil and sea, artfully prepared, while the rakish Dougie’s Bar supplies rum-laced libations. Jack Sprats, just down the beach, features features pizza, fresh fish and jerk chicken accompanied by reggae and Red Stripe, the local beer. In Treasure Beach, Smurf’s Café and Pardy’s are neighborhood hangouts for Jamaican breakfast and lunch fare at bargain prices. At the Fisherman’s Nightclub in Treasure Beach, you can toast ‘the one that got away’ in the company of sympatico locals. The new kid on the beach is the Lobster Pot, in Great Bay, where the proprietor, Birch, will fry you up whatever he pulled in that day.
You will be hard pressed to leave your seaside lounger, but two excursions are definitely worth the effort. YS Falls, a 45-minute drive from Treasure Beach, is an unspoiled Eden with a dramatic seven-level series of waterfalls. Zip lines and rope swings are available at YS Falls for wannabe Tarzans.
Not to be missed is the 20-minute boat ride from Treasure Beach to one of the weirdest watering holes on the planet, Floyd’s Pelican Bar. Built on stilts on a sandbar almost a mile out to sea, Floyd’s Pelican Bar is a ramshackle assemblage of driftwood and palm fronds. There is no power, and be forewarned, no toilet. The intrepid tourists who find their way to Floyd’s Pelican Bar are usually outnumbered by the local regulars, but the domino table, reggae beat and rum punch foster an instant, carefree camaraderie.