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Passport: Kingston’s Warm Sandy Beaches and Wine Up Workouts

From never-ending snowstorms to plummeting temperatures, Mother Nature is pounding America’s northeast. The blessed cure? Sun, sand and sea in Jamaica, Kingston to be specific. Despite its sometimes gritty reputation, the capital city is quite relaxed—and the government recently decriminalized small stashes of weed! Outside of the legalized ganja, Kingston boasts a pulsating nightlife, booming local music scene and, if you want to get away from it all, quiet enclaves perched atop mountains and hidden beneath shady trees along radiant ocean shores.

Spanish Court Hotel, built in 2009, is Kingston’s newest hotel in thirty years. The 107- room boutique hotel has a roof top pool and spa, a gym and plans are underway for a wine bar. Rooms have solid amenities like 42” plasma flat screen TVs with digital cable, gourmet coffee machines, oval shaped tubs with rain showers and cushy beds that make it very hard to leave. Sip cocktails at sunset on the Sky Terrace and watch the city ease into the night. ATMs are within walking distance and they have ackee and salt fish if you wake up early enough.

Just three minutes above Papine in the east, close to the University of the West Indies are Jamaica’s famous Blue Mountain range and on your way up, there are two places to stop and eat, Crystal Edge and Café Blue. Located on a deep bend just past Irish Town, Crystal Edge guarantees a hearty home-style Jamaican meal prepared by chef/owner Winsome Hall, who started selling pan jerk chicken and pork on the roadside. The menu, which changes daily, is small with five dishes like stewed pork, country fried chicken and curried goat and deep red walls and pine chairs fill the homey space. Right next door, Café Blue serves up delicious, freshly brewed Blue Mountain coffee with the modern options like cappuccinos, espressos and lattes along with pastries and cakes. The outside terrace has jaw-dropping views of the rustic Blue Mountain skyline as butterflies and humming birds whiz by for a visit.

For a more international fare, visit Marketplace off Constant Spring Road. Olympian Usain Bolt’s colorful sports bar Track and Records serves up casual eats like Appleton BBQ wings and street style jerk meat platters. Other restaurants on the premises specialize in Japanese, Lebanese, Mediterranean, Italian and ital (the Rastafarian term for vegan food) cuisine.

Café Blue, Irish Town Kingston & St. Andrew Jamaica W.I.
, Tel: 876-944-8918

Marketplace, 67 Constant Spring Road.

Kingston is really famous for its sound systems; giant speakers stacked around a venue with a ‘selector’ or DJ playing the latest dancehall tunes. This is the essence of reggae and dancehall. Sound systems were once roaming the streets where artistes honed their lyrical skills and musical street battles meant the victor had enormous street cred and an even bigger following. Sound system parties are essential to Kingston’s culture. Think part block party, part fashion show with a mix of some acrobatic dance moves and you’ll get the picture. Often times, streets are closed down for a night to accommodate a dance. These parties are perfectly safe as residents are responsible for security and don’t take too kindly to violence at their events, just leave obvious valuables behind. Head to Stone Love’s HQ for their weekly Weddy Weddy Wednesday party and prepare yourself for some bent over, wild dancing that would put an earnestly twerking Miley Cyrus to shame—though, won’t most things?

If you like your tunes served on a vinyl platter with a heavy bass, then all roads lead to Dubclub at Skyline in Jack’s Hill. The weekly sessions have become a Sunday night staple for party-goers seeking to revel in a different experience. Dubclub has an air of mystery; there are no flyers distributed, no banners hung, no radio or television ads, but they have a strong following. Pass the bar selling alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverage and proceed to the carved wooden benches under mango trees and mingle with European tourists, local intellectuals, art students and the Rastas. Let rockers, roots and dub tracks wash over you as you soak in the amber hue of the city lights below. Dubclub feels like the coolest house party on the island.

Stone Love HQ 41 Burlington Avenue, Kingston 10. Admission JMD $500.00

A long time local hangout of those in Kingston, Hellshire Beach is set apart by the fresh seafood offerings along with azure water. The beach is lined with restaurants made of small huts serving fish, crab, lobster and shrimp where diners choose how their meal is prepared. Escovitch fish, grilled lobster, garlic butter shrimp and curry crabs are a few popular selections and the dishes are prepared in cast iron pots warmed on top of blazing wooden fires. When you arrive, walk along the beach, choose a place where you will spend the day. Almost all the restaurant huts have wooden recliner seats lining the beach. Depending on your order, food can take as long as an hour to be prepared and delivered to you so don’t arrive super hungry. Do as the locals, order as soon you arrive and go for a swim or have a Red Stripe beer. If you’re lucky, you may catch the Oyster Man selling fresh crustaceans with delicious homemade sauces for $300 Jamaica a dozen (USD $3.00), a steal!

Hellshire is the city’s beach and is about an hour drive from Kingston to the parish of St. Catherine. There is no admission fee. A round trip taxi will cost $7,000 Jamaican. It is best to negotiate a price with your taxi driver beforehand and arrange pick up at a certain time. On weekdays many restaurant huts are closed and the beach has a laid back energy. Weekends is when Hellshire comes alive as cool reggae and dancehall tunes pulsate the serenity. Locals flock to Hellshire on the weekends and the small beach does get crowded. Peddlers sell everything from foot massages to traditional herb concoctions for ailments and stamina.

Fort Clarence beach is along the same strip as Hellshire and can be reached in a short five minutes drive along the peninsula. This government run beach does have an admission fee, along with no harassment and vendor laws in full effect. Changing rooms, lifeguards and public restrooms are boons on this beach. Three seafood restaurants have recently opened for hungry beach goers. The Lobster Shack’s grilled garlic lobster is a culinary delight. There is plenty of space for family picnics, swings for children and beach games. Here, locals play football (soccer) on the beach. You will see a mix of tourists, returning expats and locals in lounge chairs are available for sunbathers. The vibe at Fort Clarence is a laid back, family feel with lots of space to roam.

Regency Bar and Lounge at the newly refurbished Terra Nova Hotel is a plush red velvet oasis with gold accent décor. Indulge in 50-year old Appleton rum along with premium vintage wines and champagnes. The bar menu features curried lamb and jerk pork sliders, duck pizza and a decadent lobster mac ‘n’ cheese. Also when you’re in Jamaica, as a general rule, this is your chance to drink ridiculously over-proof rum … and you should use that opportunity. Learning is fundamental.

Regency Bar & Lounge, 17 Waterloo Road.

Last 5 posts by Diana O'Gilvie