Jamaica’s most famous export is arguably reggae music. Once you arrive in the Caribbean island nation, it’s easy to see why the gorgeous beaches, green mountains, and rainforests inspired the relaxing tunes. With the bright blue skies and waters, it’s easy to let any worries literally wash away.
Most of the major resorts in Jamaica are in Montego Bay, located on the north coast and known for its British Colonial architecture. That’s where you’ll find Round Hill Hotel & Villas, a laidback yet luxurious resort spread across a verdant 110-acre peninsula. Oceanfront rooms overlook the infinity pool and private beach, and each was decorated by Ralph Lauren in his signature clean, sophisticated aesthetic. Think all-white interiors and canopy beds, with navy and nautical accents. The designer owns a striking white private villa at the edge of the shore. (It’s worth swimming out a bit to catch the view.) Or you can rent one of the private villas nestled in the hills. Whether you spring for the whole house—it’s ideal for traveling with a group of friends or extended family—or just a bedroom, you’ll reap all the perks. Most villas have a private pool and ocean views. And breakfast takes on a whole new vibe, as each villa has its own staff to cook up a fresh meal from scratch for you every morning on your private terrace.
Speaking of food, it doesn’t get much better than Monday nights, when Round Hill hosts its beach barbecue buffet. But don’t let the term buffet fool you—the food is scrumptious, and it tastes even better when you’re surrounded by candlelight with your feet in the sand. For the other days of the week, Round Hill has three restaurants on the property, helmed by their James Beard Award-winning executive chef, Martin Maginley, that feature modern Caribbean cuisine—and plenty of ocean views.
Burn off those meals by taking a walk over to the secluded end of the beach, where you’ll find the open-air yoga pavilion that boasts panoramic views of Jamaica’s northern coast. If downward dog isn’t your thing, there’s a fitness center where you can work out solo or with a trainer. On the same 10-acre stretch is the Wharf Spa, housed in a restored 18th-century plantation house, which focuses on natural and indigenous treatments such as their Pineapple Body Buff, Jamaican Coffee Bean Delight massage, and Sweet Vanilla and Brown Sugar Body Scrub.
You can’t come to Jamaica without spending some time in the sparkling blue water, and a glass-bottom boat ride lets you see just what’s underneath the surface without getting wet. In other words, it’s the lazy traveler’s alternative to snorkeling. You can watch small fish dart around below, but the real scene stealer is the coral rehabilitation. Round Hill and a few other resorts are working with Seascape Caribbean, a coastal ecosystem service that is reintroducing coral and coral reef back into the waters through special conservation techniques. The guides will point out the coral nurseries as well as other sea sights.
Ghost hunters and house hunters alike will be pleased to spend an afternoon at the 18th-century Rose Hall Great House. Built between 1778 and 1790 by wealthy British planter John Palmer, at one point it spanned more than 6,500 acres. But it’s his wife people remember. Originally from England, Annie Palmer moved to Haiti when she was 10 years old with her merchant parents and when they left her an orphan due to yellow fever, her nanny, who was allegedly a voodoo priestess, adopted her and taught Annie her ways. After marrying John Palmer, she became known as the White Witch for her powers and mean streak. According to the grisly legend, she went on to murder him and two more husbands, as well as her slave lovers once she grew bored with them.
To discourage slaves from running away, she’d hide bear traps on the property and then would place the injured runaways in the basement prison cell, which is now a pub. But she got her comeuppance when her slave lover, who was said to be a medicine man, strangled her in her sleep. The act was done in revenge for placing a curse on his beloved granddaughter that led to her death.
In the 1960s, the largest grand mansion on the island was meticulously restored down to the mahogany floors, silk wallpaper printed with palms and birds, wooden paneling and ceilings, chandeliers and European antiques. But they say it’s still haunted by the ghost of Annie Palmer to this day. If you’re looking for extra chills, Rose Hall also offers a haunted night tour.
If roaming a haunted plantation works up your appetite, then it’s time to dine at a hidden gem that locals flock to. You’re not likely to see many tourists at the aptly named Peppa’s Cool Spot. Instead, you’ll see a pretty view from the courtyard tables and an extensive menu that spotlights traditional local cuisine, such as curried goat and conch, made with fresh Jamaican produce and washed down with something from a long list of cocktails.
To get up close with nature, spend the day at Mayfield Falls. Tucked into Westmoreland, it’s a series of 21 cascading waterfalls. Hire a driver to take you up the winding, narrow dirt roads—unless you’re brave enough to rent a car and give it a go yourself. The scenic drive gives a glimpse into rural Jamaican life. Along the bumpy route you’ll see homes, schools, and lots and lots of greenery. Once you arrive at Mayfield Falls, hire a local guide. You’ll be hiking through the river, working your way through the water and climbing over the rocks and falls to reach the next level. Consider it a scenic way to get in a workout. The guide is essential to pointing out the safest path and keeping you on course. The tall trees cover the path, creating a cool shade and a sense that you’re in the middle of the jungle. Don’t miss a natural mud pool, where you can slather yourself in the stuff for a full-body mud mask that leaves skin baby-soft.
Whether or not you make it to Mayfield Falls, Jamaica is all about following those waterfalls. Just take a minute to soak in some reggae with the palm trees and ocean in full view, and suddenly all of those songs will make a lot more sense.