Who doesn’t want to go to the Caribbean? Well this fine lady, Lily, of the blog Sunshine & Stilettos is here to tell TraveLinkSites about her time in Jamaica.
One more to add to the bucket list…
1. Could you briefly introduce yourself, your site and your experience travelling in Jamaica?
My name is Lily and I’m a lawyer turned travel photographer, writer and blogger. I started my blog, Sunshine and Stilettos, when I took a break from the corporate world three years ago to travel and hop around the Caribbean.
I’ve visited Jamaica over a dozen times, including long-term. I’ve spent three winters there – from December through April of every year since 2008.
2. What made you choose this country and what were your first impressions?
Jamaica was on my radar for the longest time, ever since I first saw and met the reggae band Third World in West Africa when I was 12 or 13 years old. I was also curious about the country because of my heritage; I’m Ethiopian of origin and Ethiopia is at the root of and is the inspiration that gave birth to Jamaica’s Rastafarian culture. Of course I knew of Jamaica’s gorgeous beaches as well, but it was the culture I was eager to discover and the people.
I fell in love with the island from day one of my first trip there in 2007. I felt as if I were “home”. It reminded me of my days growing up in West Africa. It made such an impression on me that I returned year after year. I think I’ve been there a total of 15 times so far.
3. How much money can someone travel around Jamaica for? What are the greatest expenses? What things are relatively cheap?
Not that much money at all. I would say it depends on your traveling style.
Budget travelers would be quite happy here (if they can find relatively inexpensive flights to Jamaica of course), as would those willing to spend more. Jamaica has something for everyone.
Transportation is normally one of the biggest costs if you choose to have a private driver, because gas is expensive there. But if you’re an independent traveler, there are “coach” style buses that go between the big cities, such as from Negril to Montego Bay or from Montego Bay to Kingston. Local or “route” taxis are also super cheap, if you’re willing to rough it a little.
It’s also easy to find a cheap flight and hotel package to Jamaica (if you’re into all-inclusives). The more seasoned travelers stay in affordable locally owned guesthouses or cottages (there are many charging only US$50/night). You can even rent a place for a month in Negril for a mere US$400, which includes all utilities.
One of the cheapest expenses is food – for instance, you can get the most delicious quarter-size jerk chicken roadside for about US $4. Alcohol is also cheap – a Red Stripe beer or a rum and coke will only set you back two or three bucks each.
Expensive things are imported items you might buy when desperate – like sunscreen, shoes, clothes and imported foods and beauty supplies. And gas, for sure. But most people need those only when living there.
4. What is the local cuisine like? Did you find yourself trying new things or pining for the familiars of home?
Jamaican cuisine is to die for, with all sorts of influences from African to Indian.
There’s the famous “Jamaican jerk” – jerk chicken, jerk lobster, jerk shrimp and so on. If you love spicy foods, you’ll love jerk cuisine.
Then you have the curries – like curry goat or curry chicken. Oxtail is one of my favorites.
These dishes are usually served with rice and peas (which really is rice and beans), and sometimes sides such as dumplings, callaloo and plantain.
I’ve definitely tried new foods – and will continue to do so. I’m a foodie so I like to try everything at least once (unless we’re talking about fish heads or chicken feet). One of my favorite “firsts” was the traditional Jamaican breakfast, ackee and saltfish (and a cup of Blue Mountain coffee is a must).
But after living there for a couple of months, I do end up craving other types of food – particularly Ethiopian food. One can only eat so much rice and so much jerk chicken. For the most part, however, I know I’m there for a limited time so I eat up all I can. The vegetarian or “Ital” options are delicious too – the soups are my favorite.
5. What cultural activities and events would you suggest everyone seeing or taking part in while travelling in Jamaica and why?
I would recommend the Annual Maroon Day Festival, held every January in southern Jamaica, in the hills of Accompong Town. It’s a unique experience and look into some of the African history of Jamaica. There’s traditional dancing, chanting, outdoor cooking and plenty of vendors. It’s one big festival.
Other cultural events I suggest are a live reggae concert such as Rebel Salute, also held in January or Western Consciousness. Reggae music is at the heart of Jamaican culture and an all-day, all night music festival is something to experience at least once. There are also other concerts held frequently across the island.
Another fun cultural event is the annual jerk festival in Negril, Jamaica, usually held in November.
There are so many others, I couldn’t possibly list them all. That’s what makes Jamaica so unique. Jamaicans are very proud of their culture and their African roots.
6. What is your favourite thing about travelling this country? What is your least favourite thing?
I would say my favorite are the people and the scenery, followed closely by the roadside foods! Most Jamaicans are super friendly, funny and very open and curious. They love to share knowledge and teach you about their culture as well as learn about yours.
I honestly can’t think of much I don’t like about traveling the country. The only small thing I can think of are the cat calls while walking around solo during the day. But then that’s true of where I live in the US as well.
7. What things do you focus on most when you blog about this country? Why do you choose these things?
When I blog about Jamaica, I like to focus on the positive things – I write and photograph what makes my heart smile and what I think portrays the essence of Jamaica the best. So my focus is on the cultural aspects – from food to people to music festivals and traditional ceremonies. I like to show the vibrance of Jamaica, beyond its beaches.
8. What’s one thing you can’t travel around Jamaica without?
My camera. I carry it daily. There’s always something amazing and unexpected to capture – whether people, landscape, food or funny signs. A close second would be my sunglasses!
9. What kind of response have you had to your blogs about Jamaica? What post had the most interest?
My posts on Jamaica have the most views from all the other destinations. The post that had the most interest – it’s a tie between a review on the new airport lounge at Montego Bay airport and a photo essay titled “Jamaica’s Best Beaches”. Those remain in my top three most read blog entries. Jamaica seems to have so many repeat and new visitors every year, more so than most Caribbean destinations I’ve visited thus far. Like the Jamaica Tourist Board so appropriately coined, “once you go, you know.”
10. If you could think of one thing you wished someone told you before you started travelling in Jamaica what would it be?
The only thing I can think of is that I wish I knew I could get altitude sickness when visiting and going on a drive up to the Blue Mountains in eastern Jamaica. It makes sense in hindsight but I just didn’t realize how high up I would be until I got up there. I felt pretty dizzy after leaving there and almost fainted coming out of the car. Had I known, I would have prepared for it.
Thanks Lily! Great interview. Will someone send us some Jerk Chicken…?
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