With rum and reggae the biggest sellers after sunny days and big beaches, it’s the Rastafari culture that is piquing the interest of those curious about more than the ingredients in their favorite cocktail. Born in Jamaica in 1932, Rastafarianism was spurred by a prophecy made by political leader Marcus Garvey, and inspired by Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie who is considered to be the Messiah. For trivia buffs, the word Rastafari comes from the Emperor’s real name which was Tafari Makonnen and the title “Ras” which means prince. Celebrating the February 6 birthday of Rasta icon Bob Marley, February has been designated Reggae Month with a musical calendar of concerts island-wide. “We are cautiously optimistic that the destination will experience a strong winter season,” said John Lynch, director of tourism. “With the addition of over 2,000 new and refurbished rooms, Jamaica will be better able to accommodate the increased number of visitors.“ www.visitjmaica.com
In New Kingston, tours through the Bob Marley Museum take fans inside his bedroom, to the gift shop that sells his Catch a Fire clothing line, for lunch in the Ital restaurant, and for a stroll through the herb garden. Easy to spot with its bright red, green and yellow exterior, the museum was Marley’s home until his death in 1981 and also the Tuff Gong studio where The Wailers recorded many of their catchy tunes. Although visitors cannot snap photos, mementos worth seeing include his Grammy Lifetime Achievement award, stage outfits such as his famous blue denim shirt, and the walls riddled with bullet holes from the 1976 attempted assassination. www.bobmarley-foundation.com
Ninety minutes from Ocho Rios in the mountains of St. Ann, Nine Mile is action-central for tours of the cottage where Marley was born on February 6, 1945. Rastafarian guides, some related to the Marley family, take folks inside the house to see the single bed that was immortalized in the lyrics of Is This Love?, to Mount Zion Rock made famous in Talkin’ Blues and to the mausoleum where Marley is buried along with his guitar - which is either a red Fender Stratocaster or a Gibson Les Paul, depending on who you ask. Sold by both Chukka Adventures (www.chukkacaribbean.com) and Island Routes (www.islandroutes.com), tours on the Zion Bus Line whisks reggae fans along winding roads, while guides pour potent rum drinks. “This is one of our most popular tours as the views, the villages and the music transport our guests into the heart of Jamaica,“ said Daniel Melville, director of marketing for Chukka Caribbean.
For those who prefer a bike to a bus, Blue Mountain Bicycle sells guided rides through the picturesque coffee plantations and past tumbling waterfalls. Routes are as long as eighteen miles, although most of it is downhill and delightfully suitable for novice cyclists. For spectators (or really good bikers), the Fat Tyre Festival from February 15 - 22 is an exhilarating race through Ocho Rios. www.smorba.com
New Year & New Resorts
New on Seven Mile Beach in Negril, 136-room Azul Senatori is the first Karisma Resort to open outside Mexico. The upscale property offers six restaurants, four bars, a Vassa Spa and plans to increase the room count to 300 later this year. “The spectacular beachfront setting, swim-up suites, chic design and gourmet dining are ideally suited to exceed the expectations of today’s global travelers,” said Mandy Chomat, vice president of sales and marketing for Premier Worldwide Marketing, the representative of Karisma Resorts (www.karismahotels.com).
The latest foray for Canadian-based Sunwing, whose Blue Diamond subsidiary took over the former Breezes in Negril last year, 352-room Royalton White Sands (www.royaltonwhitesandsresort.com) is open in Trelawny, near Montego Bay. The all-inclusive has five restaurants, six bars and invites with free calls to the US and a creative pillow menu in each room.
Adjacent to the Riu Montego Bay, 238-suite Palace (www.riu.com) is the fifth Riu on the island, and the first to target the adults-only market. Offering five restaurants, three bars, two pools and access to the facilities at its neighbor resort, amenities for grown-ups include premium alcohol and c
Formerly Hedonism III, 225-room Jewel Paradise Cove Beach (www.jewelresorts.com) is open following a $5 million renovation. The third Jewel property on the island, the adults-only all-inclusive is managed by Aimbridge Hospitality.
Opening later this year, the former Braco Village in Trelawny will become the 226-room Melia Jamaica; the first Melia resort in Jamaica. “We are an international leader expanding our footprint to all major vacation destinations in the English-speaking Caribbean,” said Gabriel Escarrer, chairman. www.Meli·hotelsinternational.com
Also planned for later this year, the former Ritz-Carlton Rose Hall will open as the Hyatt Ziva with 601 rooms and the full roster of Hyatt brand benefits.
Make A Date
January 3- April 27: Jamaica Carnival with Jump-Ups, parades and concerts. http://bacchanaljamaica.com
January 12- 14: Caribbean Travel Marketplace at the Montego Bay Convention Centre. www.caribbeanhotelandtourism.com
January 30- February 1: Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival in Trelawny Stadium. www.jamaicajazzandblues.com