From the Capital of Casual to the Coconut Coast
Exploring two destinations in the Caribbean
Story and photos by Eric Twohey
The Caribbean paradise island destinations of Jamaica and the Dominican Republic have much to offer. Those who choose to come relax, explore and embrace the wealth of natural wonders, exclusive cultures and luxurious accommodations are rewarded with lifelong memories.
If you’re into warm, tropical water with stunning beach views, a relaxed atmosphere and luxurious hospitality, Negril, Jamaica is the vacation destination for you. Famous for rum and cannabis consumption, along with being the birthplace of reggae music icon Bob Marley, Jamaica offers significantly more than what meets the red-eye. The country’s indigenous Taino inhabitants referred to the island as “Xaymaca,” meaning the “Land of Wood and Water.” This is extremely evident in modern Jamaica from the looming Blue Mountains surrounded by lush tropical rain forests which sprawl out into rocky shorelines along white, sandy beaches.
You’ll fly into Sir Donald Sangster International airport in Montego Bay, Jamaica’s second largest city after Kingston, and then make your way by shuttle or taxi service toward the west coastline to Negril in Westmoreland, the westernmost parish in Jamaica. Negril is known for its snorkeling, diving sites and unobstructed sunset views. This popular beach resort destination remains quaint and intimate, with a local population of just over 3,000, no traffic lights and only one roundabout. Once you’re there, it’s easy to feel the local vibe and appreciate how Negril lives up to its reputation as “the capital of casual.”
Where to Stay
Nestled oceanfront among the scenic, rocky shores of Negril overlooking azure waters resides inviting Grand Lido (grandlidoresorts.com), an all-inclusive resort offering a sophisticated and relaxed naturist atmosphere. Private, exclusive and protected, you’ll be welcomed to one of 26 chic suites with an ocean. Each suite showcases modern décor, a walk-in rain shower and separate relaxing jet tub, bar with unlimited premium drinks, in-room dining and luxury. Guests of Grand Lido also have access to all the amenities and restaurants of two additional nearby luxury resorts, Royalton Negril and adults-only Hideaway at Royalton Negril, where you can enjoy myriad daily activities and nightly entertainment.
What to Do
With tropical weather year-round and a rich cultural heritage, Jamaica provides a welcoming environment to experience a plethora of remarkable activities. Some recommended day trips to experience while you’re in Jamaica include:
– Dunn’s River Falls is the largest and most majestic waterfall on the island. To reach it, you’ll take an exhilarating guided trek up among the cascades, enjoying scenic views of natural pools and a waterfall massage along the way.
– Nine Mile takes you on a journey through the hills of lush garden parish St. Ann to a small village tucked in the mountains. There, you’ll visit the house in which Bob Marley grew up, his Mount Zion rock meditation spot and his final resting place.
– Jamwest Adventure Park and Safari Tour provides a perfect opportunity to embrace the beauty of Jamaica’s natural flora and fauna on a swamp safari and aviary at one of few Jamaican-owned attractions. Fill the day with excursions such as zip-lining, ATV adventures, horseback riding along the beach and race car driving at the largest speedway in the region.
– Y.S. Falls pours down seven tiers of cliffs, which are tucked among 1,000 acres of a lush, green farmstead with visitors arriving via tractor-carriage.
– Rick’s Cafe is a world-famous spot that draws both tourists and locals in droves daily to watch brave cliff jumpers, enjoy food and beverages, and partake in their unrivaled sunset ritual.
– Black River Safari eco-tour is a comfortable cruise along tranquil waters through wetlands with red mangrove-lined banks where you’ll see some of up to 100 species of exotic birds as well as appearances from endangered American crocodiles of all ages in their natural habitat.
One world, one love. With its abundance of unmistakable culture and natural splendors, Jamaica should be high on your must-travel list. With more development and improved infrastructure planned that should further boost tourism numbers to tranquil Negril, the time to visit is now. Yah mon!
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Once you’ve absorbed the beautiful scenery, the contagious rhythmic vibe of the people and the serenity of the Dominican Republic, it’s sure to leave a lasting impression. The upbeat merengue music and dancing prominent in this culture will serve as a welcoming soundtrack to the wide range of outdoor activities, delicious cuisine, exciting events and enriching cultural experiences you’re sure to encounter during your stay. It’s no wonder this is one of the world’s fastest-growing tourist destinations.
You’ll fly into Punta Cana International Airport, the world’s first and most successful privately built, owned and managed airport. Originally constructed in 1984, it is now the second busiest airport in the Caribbean. Next is a short shuttle ride north along well-maintained roads to the Bávaro area, which along with Punta Cana, combine to form what’s known as the Coconut Coast. Punta Cana itself is in the easternmost province of the country where the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean meet. The region is famous for its long stretch of beaches with crystal waters and natural marine pools.
Where to Stay
Prominently situated on 121 acres along the white sands of Macao Beach, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana (hardrockhotelpuntacana.com) is the ultimate beachfront getaway and hot spot among Hollywood celebrities. The world’s first all-inclusive Hard Rock Hotel, this sprawling 1,775-room resort has copious amenities, including 13 distinctively different pools with four swim-up bars and an adults-only pool, nine themed restaurants to satisfy every craving, rhythmic ORO nightclub, the iconic Rock Spa, renowned Les Mills group fitness offerings, Rock Om program with yoga and music fusion, and the signature Jack Nicklaus-designed Hard Rock Golf Club. The spacious suites are adorned with custom furniture and artwork and include a private balcony, a double hydro spa tub, dual showers, personal liquor dispenser and beverage cooler, individually controlled A/C, free Wi-Fi, 24 hour room service and luxury bedding.
What to Do
As a highly lauded beach destination, the Dominican Republic’s most popular excursions are near the water. Visitors that take the opportunity to see more of the Dominican countryside through land-based excursions and eco-tours will be rewarded with some of the most beautiful views Punta Cana has to offer. Some recommended day trips from both land and sea include:
– Dominican Experience envelops you in the culture of the Dominicans with stops at a local elementary school, a sugarcane plantation and a typical Dominican home where you’ll witness the chocolate-making process and sample local coffee, honey and other flavors of paradise. Lastly, you’ll tour the natural beauty and lush greenery of the countryside on your way to see a cigar-rolling demonstration.
– Caribbean Cruise takes you on a catamaran party boat along the coastline of the beautiful beaches of Bavaro to a natural pool where you can snorkel among coral reefs teeming with colorful tropical fish.
– La Montaña Redonda (Round Mountain) is a natural gem of the Dominican eastern coast, where you’ll adventurously ascend the mountain onboard a safari-style truck to take in breathtaking, panoramic views of the epic landscape, bays and nearby mountain chain.
– Media Luna Natural Pool is a natural saltwater pool with transparent water where you’ll observe marine life in its natural habitat.
The marine area surrounding Punta Cana was declared a marine reserve in 2012, helping to preserve the region for future generations. Since the Dominican Republic has both invested in and protected itself to be more inviting to visitors, it’s a perfect time to place Punta Cana at the top of your travel plan list.
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