Men have lusted after Jamaica for more than five centuries. Christopher Columbus called it “the fairest isle that eyes have beheld.” The Spanish liked the island so much, in fact, that they decided to move right in, disregarding the native population. The British were the next to covet this piece of paradise. When they discovered the island’s potential for the spice trade in the 1650s, they happily relieved the Spaniards of their ownership.
By the 1850s, the island was a British crown jewel, producing much of the queen’s sugar. But it was success that came by the hand of African slaves who had been brought in to work the fields. Over the years, these nationalities began to mix, producing a culture unlike any other. “Out of many, one nation” is the Jamaican motto, and it’s this rich heritage that has given the island her colorful, free-loving spirit.
In 1962, Jamaica finally gained her independence … yet some things never change. People still long to walk the shores of Jamaica — only this time, the newcomers aren’t would-be conquerors, but tourists. Guests are drawn by the island’s sun-kissed beaches, tropical climate and the welcoming people of Jamaica.
Yet like every nation, Jamaica has had its difficulties. This country of 2.6 million is a developing land, and its rise from poverty has been a struggle. It’s not uncommon to see million-dollar mansions next to tiny concrete lean-tos.
There are certain regions in Jamaica that visitors should avoid, such as some inner-city neighborhoods of Kingston. And though the use and sale of drugs is illegal in Jamaica, it’s often a common occurrence.
Thankfully, such problems are avoided with a little common sense. Most Jamaican resorts are far from the hubbub of city life, stretched out along remote, quiet beaches, where the only worry is which drink to choose while you soak up the sun.
Actually, my only worry is whether my banana daiquiri will stay cold while I take a quick dip in the ocean with my friends at the Grand Lido Braco Resort & Spa.
This AAA four-diamond destination in Trelawny, just an hour from the Montego Bay airport, on the island’s northern coast, has pampered me so much that I’m beginning to feel like royalty. We’ve dined like kings, slept by the pool and discussed life from our beachside chairs. With such a daily routine, it’s easy to feel entitled.
This warped sense of reality, far removed from the stresses of daily life, is exactly what the resort hopes to provide. Designed as a traditional Jamaican village, complete with a small town square, cobblestone streets and gingerbread fretwork, Grand Lido Braco is a “super-inclusive” resort.
Nothing in life is free, of course, but at all-inclusive resorts such as Grand Lido Braco, you can at least enjoy the illusion. Guests pay one daily rate that includes accommodations, meals, drinks, entertainment, equipment rental and activities, including a vast array of water sports. You can even have a wedding at Grand Lido Braco, complete with minister, music, drinks and cake, for no additional charge.
All-inclusive resorts are popular in the Caribbean, but Grand Lido Braco brings the term to a new level with their higher standards for cuisine. You won’t find a tired buffet here. Superclubs, which owns Grand Lido Braco, puts a premium on creativity.
They lure top chefs from elite North American and European hotels; executive chef Joseph Stephens is a perfect example. Born in India, Stephens worked in numerous countries, including Austria, Holland and the United States, before landing at Grand Lido Braco. That international experience is reflected in his cuisine.
The 55-year-old chef especially shines during the resort’s annual Best of Jamaica festival each October, a five-day event that includes fine cuisine, cooking demonstrations, rum tastings and reggae music. Stephens’ cooking is enhanced by the man himself. With his trademark chef’s hat, Stephens is often seen mingling with the guests, explaining a dish’s nuances or giving out a recipe.
Grand Lido Braco has several restaurants onsite, including Munasan, a Japanese establishment with sushi bars and teppenyaki tables, a formal French restaurant (the only time I see my friends in formal clothes), and Jamaican, Italian and other establishments.
Each guest receives a complimentary manicure and pedicure at the Village Spa. I opt for a massage, as well (available at additional charge). My Island Refresher includes time in a sauna, then a lemongrass scrub. After an invigorating rinse, the therapist works on my back. The treatment ends with a cucumber facial.
By the end of my three-hour appointment, I’m a complete noodle, and stumble back to join my friend for drinks at the poolside bar. I’m not much of a drinker, but I see that many guests are. With alcohol available at no extra charge, some visitors like to party all day. Others are drawn to Grand Lido Braco for its “au naturel” side.
Of the resorts’ 226 rooms and suites, 52 of them are situated on the property’s “au naturel” beach. That side, I’m told, has a clothing–optional beach, whirlpools and swim-up bar. There are even au naturel snorkeling trips.
I’m not that brave, though, so I stay on the “prude” side of the resort. We do talk Ian, one of our friends, into cavorting with his wilder side at the “other” beach, and he reports back that all went well and was actually quite nice.
But it’d be a shame to spend all our time at the beach, so we set off exploring the island. Most Jamaican resorts offer well-run trips and tours to various parts of the country. Thank goodness for our Jamaican driver, as the two-lane road is treacherous, filled with potholes, stretches of dirt road and brazen overtaking traffic.
For a while I watch the road in front of us, but when I look up to see a 12-wheeler barreling down on us in our lane, I decide to look out the side window.
The view is fascinating. We pass a man holding three Caribbean lobsters by their front feelers, along with a string of small red fish in the other hand. Then we sail past children in blue school uniforms skipping along a forest path to who knows where. Hundreds of gray cinder-block homes line the roads, many with chickens wandering out front.
My friends and I are eager to reach Dunn’s River Falls & Park, famous for its waterfalls. We hear the water before we see it, a powerful, natural phenomenon that is a favorite with locals and visitors alike. Dozens of people have donned water shoes and climb gingerly about the 600-foot falls; others sit in the pools.
My friend, Jenn, and I can’t help but join them. We leave the others behind and climb to a hidden part of the falls, laughing as the water pours over our faces.
When it comes time to leave the park, we have to pass through a gauntlet of outdoor shops selling wooden carved animals, Bob Marley music and paraphernalia, and shell necklaces. I don’t have money with me to purchase anything, so I hurry through the maze, hoping I won’t be stopped.
But of course I am. “Hello sister,” a young man with long dreadlocks says, smiling with bright white teeth. “Come see what I have to offer you.” He holds a large wooden fish, the same intricate carving that I have seen in several stands this week. “Oh, I can’t buy anything,” I tell him.
“No worries, mon,” he says, holding up his hand for me to clasp it. I’m a sucker for those with a smile, so I do. And then he makes a simple fist, and motions for me to do the same. “Respect,” he says, giving my fist a light tap with his. I grin, and then I’m on my way.
Our next stop is the Walkerswood Caribbean Foods factory, one of Jamaica’s most successful small businesses, and famous for its jerk sauce. Jerk, by the way, is what put Jamaican cuisine on the map. The term refers to an ancient practice of preserving and cooking meat with salt and spices. Today, it often means spicy dishes with a sweet kick.
Walkerswood is actually a small town outside of Ocho Rios. The community started a Caribbean food company to help with the area’s employment, water supply and other social needs. Its products were also a hit.
Walkerswood Caribbean Foods soon became the first Jamaican entity to export jerk seasonings. Now, jerk dishes can be found in restaurants all over North America. We sample some of those tastes during the factory tour the company offers.
We complete our day out with a stop at Reggae Explosion, the reggae hall of fame in Ocho Rios. Though I’ve heard Bob Marley’s name, of course, I’m too young to know his music well. (At least, that’s the excuse I use.) My friends give me an earful, explaining in great detail how this Jamaican native changed the course of music history.
For such a tiny island, Jamaica has certainly influenced the world. But I like the island best for its relaxed view of life. On our last morning at the resort, I walk the beach one more time. I come upon Eglon, who is knitting a pair of wool shorts (using Jamaica’s national colors, of course) and minding his table of hand-crafted seashell necklaces.
I’m not up for the shorts, but I do like his necklaces. “This is gonna look good on you, girl,” he says in his lilting Jamaican voice as he fastens the necklace around my neck.
“But I’ve no money with me,” I protest, giving the jewelry back.
“No worries, girl,” he says. “If you want it, take it. You can bring me the money later.”
I leave with two pieces of Eglon’s jewelry around my neck, wondering over his relaxed attitude. Then, as the bus readies to pull out to the airport, I run back to the beach, money in hand.
“Ya, mon,” Eglon nods. “Thanks, girl.”
Ya, mon, indeed.
If You Go
Grand Lido Braco Resort & Spa
Rates at Grand Lido Braco start at $450/night for two people; some specials can go down to discount prices of $186/ per person, per night. Grand Lido Braco comes with a good-weather guarantee. If a hurricane ever strikes or the sun refuses to shine, guests will receive a voucher equal to the number of affected days.
Walkerswood Caribbean Foods