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Perched on a bamboo raft, we cruise down Martha Brae River past giant banana trees and under dense rainforest canopies. Our guide Joseph navigates the 30ft vessel along the bends and straights of Jamaica’s historic waterway, a vital artery during the island’s plantation era, connecting Trelawny’s sugar estates to the port town of Falmouth.
He offers me a turn at controlling the raft. Handcrafted from a dozen-or-so poles lashed together, it feels surprisingly stable, so I give it a go. But the moment I take the helm, I discover Joseph makes this skill look easy and I inadvertently steer it towards rocks jutting out of the bank.
Panicking, I quickly hand back the pole to Joseph who smiles, shrugs, then casually weaves the boat another three miles downstream past brilliant orange African tulip trees.
Venturing beyond Jamaica’s mellow beaches and reggae-fuelled bars will cement this island paradise firmly into your memory.
Its lush green garden interior, spectacular mountains, cactus-strewn plains and extraordinary water features make this so much more than a fly-away-and-flop destination.
I had visited before the pandemic and it is now on the Government’s no-quarantine Covid amber travel list for double-jabbed holidaymakers.
The Blue Lagoon, a 180ft-deep swimming hole in Port Antonio, is another of its natural wonders.
Opening to the sea through a narrow funnel, but fed by invigorating freshwater underground springs, the water changes colour throughout the day, from bright turquoise to sapphire blue, depending on the angle of the sun. Known to locals as The Blue Hole, it was renamed following the success of the Brooke Shields film The Blue Lagoon, which was shot here in 1980.
It’s easy to see why Jamaica has long been a favoured filming location.
The brightly painted buildings and huts which form the towns, the colour-popping blooms, the crystal-clear ocean and the golden sandy beaches give it a glamorous onscreen presence and plenty of excuses for those famous swimwear scenes.
Who can forget a young Ursula Andress emerging from the ocean of Laughing Waters beach in the first ever Bond film, Dr No? The island also featured in Live And Let Die in 1973 and in The Man With The Golden Gun a year later.
In the latest instalment, No Time to Die, due for release in September, Jamaica is where Bond is seen enjoying his retirement.
A beachfront hotel is all part of the classic Jamaican experience and The Excellence Oyster Bay is a standout Victorian-style abode in Montego Bay.
Set on a private peninsula, the five-star, all-suite hotel is geared up for romantic holidays and honeymoons, with in-room Jacuzzis, private plunge pools and 24-hour room service.
Offering more than 10 dining options and seven bars, couples may dine alfresco at The Lobster House, where, in the evenings, shellfish is king.
There are classic tapas and paired wines at Flavor Market. Sipping sundowners is an evening ritual at X-Lounge, a sleek rooftop bar overlooking the sea .
Tour operator TUI offers all-inclusive packages here, as well as excursions including a trip to Frenchman’s Cove, one of the most alluring beaches on the island.
With an idyllic freshwater stream at the rear and a cute curve of white sand sheltered by vine-covered cliffs, it has real castaway appeal. But with a shack serving spicy jerk chicken, fresh juices and rum punch, there’s all you need to while away the hours.
If the west coast is your calling, TUI offers excursions to the Island Lux Beach Park in Negril, where watersports, a lively bar and restaurant, ruby red beach loungers and private cabanas await. Just down the sands is the powder-white perfection of Seven Mile beach.
If you’re looking for a base on this vibrant area, the five-star Royalton Negril Resort & Spa is a ready-made dream holiday for families and couples.
Facilities include a beachfront infinity pool, a splashzone area with slides for the kids, watersports and cocktail bars. Graze your way around the world at the grand buffets or enjoy relaxed dinners in the reservation-free a la carte dining options.
There are professional live shows every night, as well as discos, live sport, a teen hangout area and a kids’ club. Our highlight was the steel drum performances in the evenings.
If you crave some local flavour, Rick’s Cafe is a classic cliff-top hangout which started life in the 70s and comes with a unique element of entertainment.
In the afternoons, there’s a party vibe as the liquid courage served at the bar fuels locals and tourists to jump from the hair-raising 65ft platform to the waters below.
Come sunset, rum cocktails bounce along with live reggae bands and the atmosphere switches to seriously chilled.
TUI offer a week’s all-inclusive at the five-star Royalton Negril Resort & Spa in Negril, Jamaica, from £1,006 per person. Fly from Birmingham on December 8, includes transfers.
TUI also offer a week’s all-inclusive at the five-star Excellence Oyster Bay hotel, near Montego Bay, Jamaica, from £1,519 per person. Fly from Manchester on November 25, includes transfers. Gatwick flights to both also available tui.co.uk
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