Where to stay, what to do and how to make a positive impact in Jamaica

Where to stay, what to do and how to make a positive impact in Jamaica

From hotels lifting up their local communities to excursions that give back, here's how to ensure your holiday to Jamaica does good

How often do we return home from a trip enriched? Inspired and revitalised by what we’ve seen and those we’ve met, raving to anyone who’ll listen about a newly explored country and culture. It is, after all, the reason we travel: to take home experiences, lessons, and memories. But less often do we reflect on what we gained from our travels and what we left behind. 

Low-impact tourism has long been a travel buzzword. Of course, we all now strive to make eco-friendly choices — to leave no trace. But while we gain so much from the privilege of travel, what if instead of our impact being low, it could be positive?

Jamaica, more so than many, is a country that gives. On the global stage, the small island nation contributes incredible talent in music, art, and sport which far outweighs its relative size and resources. Walking through its towns and cities, the people exude energy and warmth. It is impossible to visit any Jamaican living in the luscious countryside without your arms being filled with the sweetest home-grown produce they have to share. 

Every year, the island warmly welcomes more than three million visitors, with tourism accounting for more than 30 per cent of its entire economy. How and where travellers choose to spend their money can therefore have a huge impact.

On an island that will gift you so much, here’s how to ensure your stay gives plenty back in return. 

Where to stay?

Jamaica Inn, Ocho Rios

Jamaica Inn, Ochos Rios
Jamaica Inn, Ochos Rios
Jamaica Inn

Jamaica Inn emanates old-school elegance. Pulling up to the hotel, the first sight is that of its pristine private beach, framed by the bright white and blue arches of the hardwood-furniture-filled lobby. The hotel’s 55 rooms and cottages all have a sea view and centre around a perfectly manicured lawn on which croquet tournaments take place at the weekend. Here, the hotel owners and managers greet guests every evening for cocktails in the library, and staff meaningfully welcome you ‘home’.

In 1957, Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller honeymooned here. Ian Fleming sipped martinis at the bar while writing the Bond novels, and Winston Churchill made one of the cottages home, spending afternoons painting the fishing boats passing by his veranda. While more than 65 years have now passed since the current family owners took over, the glamour, serenity, and many of the staff at Jamaica Inn remain the same. 

When I visited, the hotel had just given awards to their longest-standing team members, including their head of housekeeping of 56 years. Nearly half of the 175-strong, all-Jamaican team have worked here for more than a decade, speaking volumes for the hotel’s familial atmosphere and dedication to its staff. The Inn recently launched the Teddy Tucker Scholarship Fund in honour of beloved staff member Herbert ‘Teddy’ Tucker, who was with the hotel for 62 years until his passing in 2020. The fund will continue his legacy, by providing training and education for local children who wish to pursue a career in the tourism industry.

With positive impacts already spanning generations, one younger staff member told me of how as a school child she had visited Jamaica Inn to take part in one of their regular turtle releases. The effect had been long-lasting and she’d never chewed gum or mindlessly thrown away plastic pollutants again. More than a decade later, she is now welcoming a new generation of students to the property as part of the Oracabessa Bay Turtle Project — imparting the same lessons and ensuring the safe release of turtles now numbering the many thousands. Just one of the projects supported by the hotel’s non-profit organisation, the Jamaica Inn Foundation has also worked with local fishermen to create a fish sanctuary in response to an 85 per cent reduction in coral coverage since the 1970s.

In their daily practices, the hotel is also leading the way in green initiatives. It recently installed hydroponic herb gardens, electric vehicle charging points, and solar panels as part of its efforts to become carbon neutral by 2025. 

Whether through its loyal staff, environmental practices, or local wildlife conservation, Jamaica Inn has long been ensuring it delivers a positive impact to the land and community within which it operates. As such, if it’s timeless beauty and unbeatable hospitality with a side of good conscience you’re looking for, this is the hotel for you. 

Balcony Suites at Jamaica Inn start from £440 per night

Rockhouse, Negril

Rockhouse Hotel, Negril
Rockhouse Hotel, Negril

Perched atop the cliffs of the West End Negril, surrounded by eight acres of lush tropical gardens, Rockhouse was built to the mantra of esteemed designer Frank Lloyd Wright that “a house should be of the land, not on the land".

Built from timber, stone, and thatch, the 40 rooms here feel totally at ease with the natural landscape, each linking to the cabana spa, infinity pool, and stunning restaurant via a maze of jungle-like paths. 

Opened in 1973, the hotel was the first in the area and quickly attracted some of the biggest musicians of the time including Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, and the Rolling Stones. Since then, the iconic volcanic rocks and caves of Pristine Cove have been a backdrop to films, fashion shoots, and even a Jay-Z music video.

Impressively interlinked with its natural environment, the boutique Rockhouse is a leader in green practices and has been environmentally certified for more than 20 years. All of the hotel’s furniture — made from local hardwoods and timbers — is built on-site at the Rockhouse woodwork shop. Next door is its organic farm and plant nursery which supply the spa, bar, and restaurants. The hotel even has a candle-making facility, where the captivating Trevor leads classes for guests in between producing all of the organic soy wax candles used on-site. 

The Rockhouse credo of responsibility, reinvestment, and regeneration is also extended to its 185 staff. Guaranteeing fair compensation, health care, and a pension plan to all, the hotel hires only Jamaicans. It invests in the education and training of its staff and strives to promote people from the most junior levels to provide important career progression.

Through the Rockhouse Foundation, the success of the hotel also benefits the broader community. Since 2004, it has invested $8 million (£6.3m) in building, expanding, and renovating six local schools as well as the Negril Community Library. 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the foundation delivered more than 250 tonnes of food to the local community, sustaining over 1,000 people weekly.

Living in absolute harmony with its stunning natural environment and neighbours, Rockhouse is the perfect eco-escape for those looking to relax and rejuvenate. You can be safe in the knowledge that what you spend is directly reinvested into this island paradise.

Rooms at Rockhouse start from £125 per night

Skylark, Negril Beach Resort

Miss Lily's, Skylark
Skylark, Seven Mile Beach, Negril

Located on Negril’s world-famous Seven Mile Beach, Skylark has the feel of a Palm Springs beach club with a distinct influence from Jamaica’s rich musical history. By day, sip cocktails on the loungers lining the bath-temperature Caribbean Sea. As the evening draws in, enjoy a spectacular sunset from the bar, and once darkness falls, put on your dancing shoes for dinner at the hotel’s lively beachfront restaurant, Miss Lily’s.

Rooms here are bright and modern, with accents of colour from vivid vintage travel posters contrasting whitewash walls and minimalist natural woods. Lush native palms and ackee trees punctuate the classic Caribbean sea view. 

With a focus on celebrating Jamaican culture, Skylark features a rotating programme of musicians, DJs, exhibitions, and art installations.

As part of the hotel’s efforts to ensure guests venture out and give back to Jamaica, visitors are also given a Skylark ‘Roots & Culture Passport'. This encourages them to take full advantage of everything the surrounding community has to offer, including snorkelling, paddleboarding, glass-bottom boating, parasailing, painting classes, and meditative tours.

A sister hotel of Rockhouse Hotel, Skylark also contributes to the impressive Rockhouse Foundation which directly impacts the lives of thousands of children and their families every day.

Room rates at Skylark start from £125 per night

Exploring the island

Wandering around Jamaica provides the ultimate sensory overload. The vibrant colours of indigenous plants, artwork, and brightly painted neighbourhoods; the smell of mouth-watering jerk; and the sounds of abundant nature and music from every direction. Yet one in five tourists who visit the island miss out on this rich culture by never leaving the confines of their hotel. Even if you're staying in a positive-impact hotel, to make the most of the island it's imperative to meet people, seek out authentic experiences, and spread your spending to local businesses, communities, and entrepreneurs. Here are just a few trips and tours to get you started.

Hampden Sugar Estate 

Across Jamaica, there are more churches and more bars per square mile than in any other country. The locals will proudly tell you this is why they’re so full of spirit; and after God, their chosen spirit is — of course — rum. No trip would therefore be complete without a visit to one of the island’s famous rum distilleries. Hampden Sugar Estate in Trelawny is one of the oldest and is world renowned for its intensely flavourful pot still rums. Employing more than 70 people, the 8,000-acre property not only supports the local community, but also created it back in 1753. With little having changed in the distilling process since then, treat all of your senses and step back in time with a tour and fiery rum tasting. 

Rafting on the Martha Brae

Rafting on the Martha Brae River

Created to transport goods downriver and now a popular tourist attraction, hop aboard the 30-foot bamboo rafts to experience the green forests and exotic wildlife of the Martha Brae River. Led by one of 85 experienced raft captains, glide three miles downstream in a relaxing ride and learn about “The Legend of the Martha Brae”. 

Rastafari Indigenous Village

A functioning community and home to several families, the Rastafari Indigenous Village serves to preserve, protect, and promote the traditional Rastafari way of life. As many of these practices are disappearing from modern Jamaica, the village invites a limited number of visitors each year to learn about and experience their often misunderstood nature-based ethos. Wade across the Montego River to see the traditional skills of the community first-hand, including drum making, sculpting, regenerative gardening, natural carpentry, and master foraging. 

Island Gully Falls

Island Gully Falls, St Ann's
Island Gully Falls

For a dose of adventure, head into the hills above Ochos Rios where you’ll find the beautiful Island Gully Falls. Famous for the electric-blue colours of its mineral-rich waters, visitors can follow walking trails alongside the streams and fauna; or, with help from an experienced guide, climb the lower cliffs and make the exhilarating jump into the sparkling waters below. 

Ahhh… Ras Natango Gallery and Garden

Named after the ‘ahhh’ visitors give at the tranquility of leaving town and arriving in this beautiful setting, the Ahhh… Ras Nantango Gallery and Garden sits high atop Montego Bay, offering panoramic views of the town and forest below. Born organically from the passions of artist Ras, and his green-fingered wife Tamika, the space the couple have built is nothing short of magical. The archetype of Jamaican hospitality, a tour of the space they’ve so lovingly created is not to be missed.

Downtown Kingston Art Walk

Downtown Kingston Art Walk

A great way to view the heart of any city is through its street art — and Jamaica’s capital, Kingston, is no exception. On Water Lane in the downtown district, the Paint The City project has created the most vibrant of outdoor galleries, transforming entire blocks into bold expressions of Jamaican history, music, and community. Join one of their passionate local guides for a walking tour, or go solo with their app to visit one of the brightest streets you’ll ever see. 

Shop for luggage that gives back

For those wanting to pack in style and give back to a positive local business, consider Kingston-based Roast by Bresheh. This is a premium luggage manufacturer working hard to revive Jamaica’s textile industry. Founded by two brothers, Roast by Bresheh was created on their mother’s veranda and named after her favourite food — breadfruit. Now providing vital employment and training to their local community, for every one of their stylish bags sold, the company provides mammograms to underserved communities in their home parish of St Thomas. 

Want to give?

If your trip inspires a charitable donation, there’s no better cause to consider than 360 Recycle. As its name suggests, this is a foundation with a full-circle view of its impact. Using waste products such as plastic bottles and styrofoam cups, 360 creates garden furniture, pots, and planters as well as spectacular sculptures commissioned by hotels across the island. But the team behind the creations aren’t who you’d expect. Offering live-in apprenticeships to young people from challenging backgrounds, 360 Recycle teaches core construction skills in a tight-knit family environment, readying those in their care for the world of work. Every plant pot-shaped, or sculpture welded has therefore come from the hands of one of the programme’s promising young students — many of whom have already gone on to launch their own sustainable companies. 

How to get there 

Offering direct flights from London Gatwick to Montego Bay, through the Tui Care Foundation, the airline supports numerous initiatives worldwide — including in Jamaica — to equip young entrepreneurs with the education and funding needed to build businesses that will harness local tourism to benefit their community.

Tui flights from London to Montego Bay start from £650pp.

Learn more about all that Jamaica has to offer at Visit Jamaica.