Jamaica has long had a reputation for violence as much as it does for its beautiful beaches. Kingston, the capitol, particularly conjures up images of gang wars and fighting in the streets. So I was conflicted and pretty nervous when a distant aunt invited my family to visit her in Kingston during our Jamaica trip. Of course, she had helped us tremendously by cluing us in on nice (safe) places to visit and the best methods of transportation around the island, so we felt obliged to pay her a visit. The only question I had was, would we be able to rent an apartment as we do everywhere else? Or would we be stuck in a hotel?
A quick internet search revealed that self-catering apartments were indeed available in Kingston, but the reviews were mixed and personal safety still remained a concern despite my aunt’s assurances. Then I stumbled upon the Blue Mountain Lofts, a beautiful house perched 20 minutes above the city at the foot of the Blue Mountains in a small town called Irish Town, famous for the renowned Strawberry Hill Resort owned by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell.
For only $75/night (off season) we rented this lovely property that sleeps seven and is well-stocked with all the amenities you might need from bedding and towels to tea, rice and other staples that might help you prepare a meal. It even has warm water in the showers! A rare treat in Jamaica. Whatever else you need (meat, produce, beverages) might be found in one of the small stores along the road a mere 2 minutes walk away. If there are any specialty items you absolutely need, make sure to stock up in town before you take the taxi or bus back up the hill.
If you prefer not to cook though, right in town is the Café Blue where you can get a great Jamaican meal, cup of authentic Blue Mountain coffee and one of the best cheesecakes anywhere in the world! Further down the road (probably want to take a taxi), there is another clean little hut where you can get other Jamaican specialties. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to stop there.
The caretaker, Mrs. Schroeter, and cleaning lady who lives next door are excellent hosts, seeing to your every need. You are not only left with contact numbers for each of them, but also a cell phone is left in the house to make your experience more comfortable.
The only piece of advice I can give you is that if you are going into Kingston, especially on a weekend day, take the local bus (about 30 cents US per person) up towards the final destination a few minutes up the road. Buses on the weekend are particularly infrequent and are likely to be jam packed on the way back down, so this way you reserve your seat early. When you are coming back up from Kingston, you can take the bus or take a taxi, which runs about US$1 per person. Although some people seem to have reservations about the taxi drivers in Kingston, note that the bus may not leave for an hour or so from the main stop. These buses cram as many people as possible into them and won’t leave until they are packed to the hilt. So plan your time wisely.
If you really need to stay in the center of town, then by all means do so. But if you’re like my family and want to experience some peace and quiet away from the hustle and bustle of the city with the occasional trip into town, then I cannot give a higher recommendation than the Blue Mountain Lofts home in Irish Town.