1. Where to Stay
Swim in the cliffside pool above Kingston Harbor at Strawberry Hill (from $195), an upscale resort of intricately carved cottages and villas created by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell in 1994. Ask to see the framed Bob Marley Gold Records, displayed in a little-used room within the main building.
Choose between the Swiss chalet-style main building and one of four rustic wood cabins at Forres Park (from $75), a 60-acre coffee plantation. (Request the one deluxe room with a private Jacuzzi.) Hike or bike along one of several trails to Blue Mountain Peak, the tallest mountain in Jamaica.
Sit on your private veranda overlooking the flower-filled gardens at Starlight Chalet (from $70), situated on its own small mountain. The Lily room, which is slightly secluded from the rest of the hotel and has an adjoining balcony, is the best choice for couples.
2. Where to Eat
Sample Jamaica’s robust flavors in the spicy curries, fresh salsas, and jerk-seasoned seafood dishes at Gap Café (Hardware Gap, Newcastle; 876-997-3032). Snag a table on the deck for views of Kingston and the surrounding peaks.
Try regional specialties like guava juice or curried goat at Crystal Edge Restaurant (876-944-8053). End your meal with coffee and a Blue Mountains–inspired dessert like cappuccino cheesecake or a plantain tart, which servers bring over from the adjacent Café Blue.
Scoop up healthy stews served over rice and peas at Jah B’s Guesthouse (Hagley Gap and Penlyne Castle; 876-377-5206), a hotel and alfresco restaurant that follows the Rastafarian diet of meatless, saltless, and dairy-free cooking. Call the day before to reserve a table if you’re not staying at the Guesthouse.
3. What to Do
Catch the sunrise from the summit of the 7,402-foot Blue Mountain Peak. The hike takes about four hours, so leave between 2 and 3 a.m. to see the panoramic view well before afternoon fog sets in. A ride to the base and a guide up the mountain can be arranged through any Blue Mountain hotel, from $200.
Take a free tour of the Old Tavern Coffee Estate with owner Dorothy Twyman, whose family has been cultivating and harvesting beans there for nearly 40 years. (Call ahead for an appointment; 876-924-2785.) Meander among the coffee plants along the hillside, watch workers roast the beans, then sample Old Tavern’s dark brew fresh from the source.
Admire vibrant orchids and Japanese cedars at the Cinchona Botanical Gardens, one of the highest botanical gardens in the world. More than 1,000 species of plants grow here, where British colonizers originally attempted to grow tea.
4. Insider’s Tip
Though Blue Mountain coffee costs up to $50 a pound in New York, you can get it at peak freshness from the source for a steal. Stock up at the 87-year-old Mavis Bank Coffee Factory (876-977-8015), where a pound of just-roasted beans is $16.
5. Oddball Day
Drive to Port Antonio in the scenic Rio Grande Valley, an hour and a half northwest from the Blue Mountains. Start at the Musgrave Market (Port Antonio Square, at West Street), and stroll among stalls selling fresh produce, sweets, wood carvings, and jewelry. Order lunch at Norma’s at the Marina, a Caribbean fusion restaurant close to the pier that serves seafood flavored with Jamaican herbs and homemade mango salsas. Then set out on a bush medicine tour (Grand Valley Tours, 12 West Street, Port Antonio; 876-858-7338), where a guide will explain how herbs and roots like cerasee and soursop have been used for generations to heal an array of ailments. The three-hour tour cuts inland to Berridale, where you’ll weave among fields of pineapple and banana trees. Follow the winding trail to Scatter Falls, a small cascade flowing from the Fox Caves where you can cool down. Afterward, your guide can arrange a slow-paced rafting trip along the Rio Grande, which snakes past banana plantations. Finally, kick back with a Red Stripe beer and fiery jerk chicken or pork at the Boston Jerk Centre (on Boston Beach Lane), a series of roadside shacks regarded as the island’s top destination for jerk.
Read about native plants and animals at the Nature Conservancy in Jamaica’s Blue Mountains overview.
Sun Venture Tours can arrange customized trips throughout the region.
Speak Jamaican provides a good introduction to Jamaican patois and culture.
Jamaica Birding is the authority on birdwatching in Jamaica and arranges birding tours.