Dougie’s Bar at Jakes on Treasure Beach. (Courtesy: Jakes)
Ask anyone who has been there where their favorite spot is in Jamaica, and they’ll likely name resorts in Negril, Montego Bay, or Ocho Rios.
I recently told a colleague I’d be visiting the Caribbean country. “Where?” she inquired, and said she’d been everywhere there.
“Treasure Beach,” I replied.
She’d never heard of it.
This sleepy beachside village on the south side of the island is a two-plus-hour drive of sharp curves, narrow roads, and pot holes from both Kingston’s and Montego Bay’s airports, but it’s worth every bout of nausea you’ll encounter along the way.
(Photo: Cassie Carothers)
Unlike the island’s more popular areas, you won’t find any resorts in Treasure Beach, which encompasses five bays on the south coast – Fort Charles Bay, Billy’s Bay, Frenchman’s Bay, Calabash Bay and Great Pedro Bay – in St. Elizabeth’s parish.
A handful of small hotels and rental villas are charming, restaurants are truly authentic, and it’s certainly safe to walk between them at night. Some of the coves provide for calm, mostly rock-free swimming, a rarity in other parts of the island.
What’s more, the area is more culturally minded than you’ll find in other areas. Part of that has to do with the Calabash literary festival, which occurs every two years at Jakes Hotel. Literati from around the world gather to mingle with and hear Caribbean and non-Caribbean authors read their work. This year’s headliner was Salman Rushdie, who was seen milling about during the entirety of the three-day event.
Veranda at Jakes. (Courtesy: Jakes)
When to Go
Weather is balmy year round, but summer months (July-September) do have an increased risk of hurricanes. December to March is the most popular time to go, so prices are at their highest. You can find good air and hotel rates, and great weather, from April to June.
How to Get There
You can access Treasure Beach from either Kingston or Montego Bay. The drive from Kingston is a bit easier, but be warned that it’s mostly on pothole-filled, narrow country roads. It’s about two hours from Kingston, and 2.5 from Montego Bay. There are few street signs in Jamaica, and drivers don’t seem to follow many road rules. You don’t really need a car once you get to Treasure Beach, so the safest bet is to hire a driver. Your hotel should be able to help arrange someone to meet you at the airport, or you can arrange yourself here.
Room at Jakes. (Courtesy: Jakes).
Where to Stay
This charming, almost whimsical place is owned and operated by the family of famed movie director Perry Henzell (“The Harder They Come”). It was started when, in 1991, Perry’s wife, Sally, bought a property next to her family (who built a beach getaway there in the 1940s), and constructed a restaurant, cottage, bar, and pool. She slowly expanded the property over the years, and now it consists of 30 brightly colored rooms, cottages and villas, each decorated by Sally with Moroccan, Indian and Adobe influences.
Regular rooms range from $115 to $395 during popular winter months, and from $95 to $325 in less popular summer months. Cottages and villas go for as much as $12,550 during winter months. All rates are available here.
Pelican Bar. (Courtesy: Jakes)
There are two restaurants on the property – the main restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and is described as nouvelle Caribbean fare. They also only use local ingredients. Next door, and also owned by the Henzells, is Jack Sprats, a more casual sports bar that serves seafood and pizza. There’s also the truly unique Floyd’s Pelican Bar, which is only accessible by a 20-minute boat ride. Once there you can drink, swim and sunbathe to your heart’s content.
Good to Know
Jakes doesn’t have a freshwater pool. Guests can take a dip in the rustic, mosaic saltwater pool at the center of the property, next to the outdoor Dougie’s Bar (order the mango daiquiri and you’ll see the bartender peel and cut fresh mango and toss it into a blender before adding rum). A set of steps allows guests access to the ocean, but be warned that it’s rocky and there are strong undertows.
Not all rooms come with air conditioning, so be sure to request one, if it’s a must-have.
And ask the hotel to help arrange transport. It’s worth the cost to avoid trying to navigate winding (and often signless) roads yourself.
(Courtesy: Marblue Hotel)
This property was constructed in 2002, after owners Axel and Andrea Witchterich, originally of Germany, fell in love with the Treasure Beach area. They were visiting when two planes struck the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001, and decided it was time for a life change. By December 2001, they owned the property, and opened by October 2002 with four guest rooms. Over the years, they’ve added another six rooms in another building, along with another swimming pool, and the beachside restaurant.
All of the rooms are suites and have private balconies. Rates are from $111 for the Junior Poolside Suites, and up to $275 for Verandah Villa Suites. One of the Verandah Suites has a private “plunge pool.”
Breakfast (eggs made to order, toast, fruit, juice, and coffee) is included in the room rate, and you can order extras like bacon, sausage, and pancakes for a cost. The dinner menu is mostly seafood based (fresh and smoked). Two vegetarian options are available most days. There is no lunch service, so come prepared with snacks, or plan to venture over to Jakes.
Good to Know
Not all rooms have A/C, so be sure to book one, if it’s a must-have.
There’s no lunch service, so plan ahead or go hungry.
They ask patrons to pay cash at the restaurant, rather than add it to your room bill or use a credit card, so make sure you get plenty of cash at the airport (or bring American dollars, which everyone is happy to take).