How to Vacation Like a Local in Montego Bay

Discover some unexpected gems like Jamaican patty joints, a Rasta village and even Johnny Cash's former home. 
 

Photo from iStock Images

Montego Bay (MoBay to the locals) is Jamaica’s tourist mecca, thanks to a large cluster of hotels situated along eye-popping beaches, and to plenty of tropical sunshine. To get the most out of your journey, venture outside the all-inclusives and open yourself up to the more local side of Jamaica, where you’ll find offbeat historical and cultural gems, dining beyond the buffet table, and a whole new way to look at the ocean.

1. Meet a Rasta at the Rastafari Indigenous Village 

In popularizing reggae, Bob Marley spread his Rastafari roots worldwide, yet Rastafarianism remains an obscure culture. The Rastafari Indigenous Village is a residential community in MoBay that gives you a peek into what it’s all about. Your guide will introduce you to native plants, show you around a Rasta kitchen and give you a chance to drum and chat with local Rastas.

rastavillage.com

2. Eat Jamaican patties at Juici Patties

Jamaica’s most famous dish is jerk chicken, and it’s definitely a must-try. But, for more low-key local flavours, be sure to taste a patty. You won’t find one at your hotel. Juici Patties is a popular Jamaican fast-food chain where you’ll see locals from all parts of society. Try the chicken and beef patties, which feature strong notes of curry and are nestled inside hot, flaky dough.

juicipatties.com

3. Go Diving at Runaway Bay with Jamaica Scuba Divers 

Many of Jamaica’s reefs have suffered from overfishing, but good dive spots do exist. Jamaica Scuba Divers in Runaway Bay, about an hour’s drive from MoBay, can guide you to some of these spots, including the Canyon site, where you’ll dive between two reef walls that drop down to more than 130 feet and likely encounter schooling Bermuda chub.

scuba-jamaica.com

4. Have a drink at a “chill spot”

Seek out a “chill spot,” which is a Jamaican term for bar shack. These spots are ubiquitous throughout the island, even inspiring a recent hit song, the aptly named “Chill Spot” by Jamaican artist Christopher Martin. Try the Reggae Bar on MoBay’s popular Hip Strip and order overproof rum with Ting, a citrusy soda, for a classic Jamaican drink.

5. Take a Tour of Cinnamon Hill

Johnny Cash lived in Jamaica for part of each year after he bought a home there, called Cinnamon Hill, in the 1970s. Take a tour of the place—a 20-minute drive from the airport—and see his belongings as he left them before he died. The house sits on the haunted Rose Hall plantation, home of Annie Palmer, a.k.a. the White Witch, whose murderous exploits will be recounted by your guide.

rosehall.com/tours

 

[This story appears in the December 2015 issue of WestJet Magazine and has since been updated.]