Looking for something interesting and fun to do? Buckle up and take the wheel of your own MINI Cooper during this first-of-its-kind journey along Jamaica’s beautiful north-west coast to the ‘capital of casual’, Negril! JOZU’s guests for its inaugural travel summit in Negril were treated by the wonderful people at Island Routes, one of the Caribbean’s largest adventure tour companies, needless to say, they enjoyed themselves!
This exciting new experience puts you in the driver’s seat as you follow behind an expert island guide to local spots and famous landmarks. Your journey begins with a short stop at a local coconut vendor. Then hop back in your MINI and drive through the historic town of Lucea. Once you arrive in Negril it’s time for some delicious food and a relaxing break on the Seven Mile Beach. In the afternoon drive to the iconic Negril Lighthouse at the westernmost point of the island where you can see the lighthouse and take in the gorgeous view. Next, visit the legendary Ricks Café where you’ll have the opportunity to witness the daring cliff-divers,
snap a few pictures and enjoy the stunning views. On your way back to Montego Bay you’ll make a final stop at an authentic jerk shack for a quick cooking demonstration. It’s time to take your island experience into your own hands on this fully-loaded adventure, but get ready because there’s nothing ‘mini’ about it!
For eight years running now, we take some time off our busy schedules annually to plan at least one amazing trip, where my husband, Karan, and I explore a completely new destination. Although we have a slight weakness and favor comfortable, if not luxurious accommodation, our wandering spirit veers us off tourists traps and fixed itineraries. Basking in a sun lounger with a coconut and rum cocktail in hand can no doubt make a perfect day but the thrill of finding secret waterfalls, secluded beaches, or roaming through hidden alleys to find a quaint coffeehouse is second to none.
For the first part of this trip, we stayed 3 nights at Tamboti Tent Camp within Kruger National Park where we rented our own vehicle and did a self-drive safari. Our semi-luxury safari tent was mounted on stilts and overlooked the Timbavati riverbed which gave us a direct view of spotting animals crossing to and fro. In the spirit of living within true wilderness, honey badgers visited our patio in the middle of the night and created a ruckus when they ransacked our outdoor kitchen in the hopes of finding scraps of food.
For the second part of our trip, we indulged and allowed ourselves to be pampered in the luxurious and intimate compounds of &Beyond Ngala Safari Lodge. Here, style and grace mingle faultlessly with the rugged natural beauty of the surrounding. My favorite part of this experience was spending quiet afternoons reading by the poolside and while watching wild animals saunter down to drink at the lodge’s private waterhole.
As we had rented our own vehicle for our time at Kruger National Park, we spent the first three days exploring the park compounds on our own.
There were times we drove for over 2 hours without a single sighting, while other times we’d see countless species within a 100m stretch. Being true animal lovers, the unpredictability of animal sightings added to the beauty and sheer appreciation of sighting them in their natural habitat.
It was also on this trip I discovered Karan’s incredible ability to spot animals in the wild, even when in a distance and camouflaged. We saw the Big Five within the first day and a half.
While in &Beyond Ngala Safari Lodge, we were taken on two game drives a day where sensitive off-roading practices allowed for close-up game sightings. One evening we chased behind a pack of wild dogs as they hunted a deer and watched them make their kill. We also saw the most adorable baby rhinoceros, a truly precious sight considering we unfortunately live in a world where their numbers are dwindling as they are hunted for despite conservation efforts.
If you are driving from Johannesburg airport, keep within the speed limit when passing through the small towns. The cops, often hiding in the bushes, pull you over for even a mere kilometre over the speed limit and you have to pay them off. We learnt the hard way. Several times.
Palawan, Coron, Philippines
Palawan is made up of pristine white beaches, dramatic rock formations, secret coves, rainforests and outstanding dive sites, alive with varied and colorful marine life. It was a no-brainer when shortlisting a destination to do our PADI open water dive license. We based ourselves at Busuanga Bay Lodge, perched on prime waterfront real estate promising sweeping and magnificent views of mountain and sea all times of the day.
Rocksteady Dive Centre surpassed all our expectations with their high safety standards and quality equipment. Our dive master spoke fantastic English, was patient and had a great sense of humour. He quickly sensed my slight awkwardness when underwater and paid extra attention to my needs. It’s most important to feel safe when underwater whether you are beginner or an avid diver. We saw plenty of marine life, diverse coral reefs and got to explore several wreck sites during our 5-day certification course
A day trip of island hopping is mandatory while in Coron. We rented a private banca (indigenous boat in the Philippines) from the pier at Coron Town and headed to Kayangan Lake, Twin Lagoon and Siete Pecados for a packed day of snorkelling, cliff jumping and swimming through coves.
Each of these sites blew us away; I promise you crystal-clear waters, palm-fringed coves, emerald lagoons and an abundance of marine life. At midday, we stopped at a small secluded island only inhabited by an indigenous fisherman’s family where our boatman cooked fresh seafood on the boat and served us lunch. It was quite the perfect day. We even found an inhabited island with an abandoned plane.
Change your Philippine pesos before you depart your home country as 90% of the island will not accept credit cards. There are only 2 ATMs in the town center and they didn’t work for us.
Negril, known for crystal clear coves and its famous 7 Mile Beach, is situated about 81km from Donald Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay. Most tourists coming from Miami or New York, try to fly directly Montego Bay. The easiest way to get to Negril from the airport is to take a private shuttle or a pre-arranged taxi to Negril – a scenic drive that usually takes 2 hours, depending on traffic conditions.
I enjoyed the food. The breakfast menu may seem simple at first glance but we loved the option of an authentic Jamaican breakfast. Breakfast is included in the room rate which is a nice bonus. We also attended a private dinner party on the right on the beach at Country Country hosted by JOZU For Women. The dinner menu was fantastic and tasty. The only downside to the dining experience is that the service can be very slow, but this is the case for most of Jamaica.
The beach area was truly splendid. There was plenty of seating and a staff member on site to make sure that hustlers selling items on the beach don’t bother you. Not that they were bothersome overall. The funniest experience was when I was walking fast on the beach to go meet someone and at least three random locals hollered out, “Slow down, enjoy!”
Wifi on the property can be a hit or miss, especially in the lower rooms. However, there is a comfortable and roomy area above the restaurant that’s used as a Wifi Lounge. This is a great spot to quickly check in on your emails and get any urgent work done.
The most commendable and memorable part of the stay was the staff. They were all delightful and helpful, all the way from the front desk right to the bar. I frequently got hugs from several of them – they enjoy friendly visitors. For the price point, service and intimate ambiance, this is without a doubt the spot I would choose again for my next vacation to Negril.
Riding horses for as long as she can remember, Trina deLisser, director Half Moon Equestrian Centre, has had a lifelong affair with horses. She recalls spending glorious afternoons after school riding the hills just outside of Kingston Jamaica with her father, who was a polo player.
The Halfmoon Equestrian Centre has something to offer everyone. We have pony rides and an experience in the pony park for the little ones. Rookies Round Up is a beginner horse ride for anyone above 6 years old and never ridden before.
Start with a short lesson in the arena with a basic level of instruction, then a jaunt through the property. Sand Stroll, also for beginners, further includes a scenic walk to the beach and walking along the shallow waters with your horse. Turf and Surf, a favorite with guests who have riding and swimming experience, starts in the arena where riders can trot or canter. We then move down to the beach where the horses swim with guests on their bare backs. Positive Empowerment is an unmounted session with a horse in the round pen. Using body language alone to first control the horse and it gain its trust. This is a great way to build confidence and learn to build a deeper connection with horses.
All riders must wear helmets, which we provide, and be properly dressed, with the correct footwear. If you are entering the water with the horses, life jackets are provided and must be worn. All instructors have been trained to ensure each and every rider is comfortable and know what they are doing while on their horses. All our rides are semi-private (one guide escorts two persons) to ensure personal attention. Our guests’ comfort, safety, and experience are Half Moon Equestrian Centre’s absolute priority.
At the Equestrian Centre, we love to introduce everyone to our world of animals and have created an environment where we can welcome just about anyone and everyone. We encourage persons of all ages and special needs to visit with us even to just interact with our animals and hear stories about rescues and successes in rehoming injured, abandoned horses, dogs, and cats. Horses have great healing abilities and we often hear back from our guests that they find solace here.