Unique Things To Do In Jamaica | Guided Tours by Locals
Well, Jamaica changed me, at least it did with the people that I was able to encounter there. I am not one who likes to follow the herd of crowds, sometimes I inappropriately moo like a cow when I'm stuck in a big crowd. I know its childish, but I just can't help it. Any-who, I am unique, and so I like to do things that are unique - especially when I'm traveling. This trip I ended up hiking up a river to waterfalls, tried some wild Turmeric, jumped from a dead tree into a mystery pool, saw marijuana for the first time in my life, and learned all about some amazing people who call this place home. Come with me on a journey as I show you all the unique things to do in Jamaica!
Is Jamaica Safe For Solo Female Travelers?
I know a lot of things are put online about how 'safe' Jamaica is or isn't, but I have a list of rules I tend to follow when traveling solo that keep me safe. There are precautions I take when hiking in the woods by myself, and I also have an arsenal of Emergency Wilderness Medicine because I work in the medical field.
The most dangerous thing for me on this trip was a tick that wedged itself on my foot because I was wearing sandals and not proper hiking shoes. Beyond that I would say Jamaica is safe, as long as you are smart, and don't leave your items alone. I got into leaving nothing out because I have a dog name Zoey, who if I leave a piece of ANY food alone for 2 minutes or less she will snarf it down.
I mean my dog can open tupperware to get to food, and also chews through backpacks to get to food. I promise I feed her, but you get my point, just pick up your shit and keep it attached to your body.
Booking Our Jamaica Shore Excursion
We met up with Carolyn, from Barrett Adventures, and her tagline "off the beaten path" was literally like I found a kindred spirit a half a world away! I LOVED Jamaica, her, and the adventures she had in store for us. So I talked with Patricia who was very hesitant in doing anything that did not involve the overly priced shore excursion, with 80 other people photo bombing you throughout your expensive trip.
Through my negotiating powers, and begging and pleading, she agreed to do go with Barrett Adventures; but said I would be held personally responsible by her husband if anything should happen to her. She said she was only half joking (insert large gulp). Well we got to Jamaica, Carolyn was there waiting for us with a sign, and she quickly whisked us away from the main town center ahead of the crowd. We started winding up the hills, were taken through the small beach side towns, and would stop frequently to show us the different plants that were so abundant on the island for anyone to eat.
Plant life in Jamaica
I had no idea how much Cocoa plants look like acorn squash! Not only that but how tough the skin is to cut through, the sticky outer shell that has an incredibly slimy texture, but is so sweet you think you just ate a piece of candy, and then the slightly powdery bitter center that is the chocolate bean itself.
It was the part she said next that really got me, "now you see how it has that bitter taste? Think of how much sugar they are actually putting inside chocolate to make it taste so sweet. Something to think about".
Travel Tip: If you have a sensitive stomach like me, be sure you know what your getting into when biting into Jamaican Food
Carolyn's Journey To Jamaica
We continued on our journey, Carolyn told us about how she ended up in Jamaica. She was actually one of the only female divers that were able to be accepted into a diving school. When she told her parents, they nearly disowned her and chained her to her bed. But Carolyn's adventurous and strong-willed nature propelled her to what she calls her life today.
She left the East Coast, with all its stuffy over cramped buildings and headed to the ocean, where she was this young woman who was keeping company with.... well..... roughens of her time. Guys who were likely just let out of jail and a diving job is what they could get. She put up a good fight, learned how to swear like a sailor, sail like the best of them, got her own boat and toured around the islands of the Caribbean. She actually met her husband in Jamaica, as a chance meeting.
He was so enamored with her that he came to the place where she was staying, knocked on the door and pronounced, "I would like to marry you, and I'm not leaving until you say yes". Well, he stayed out there for about a week or so, and Carolyn decided that if he was that determined, why not. So they got hitched an started up, 'Barrett Adventures', which is now one of the top rated tours on Trip advisor.
We came to Mayfield Falls entrance, walked down the slippery entrance, while the locals were just walking down barefoot and fancy free--- literally --- yes this did include exuberant singing and conversations with all the strangers who were walking along the same path. One such fellow decided to befriend me, can't think of his name at the moment because I was kind of crushing on him a little bit. So sue me, I have a thing for foreign guys, something about the accent makes me want to swoon......lest I digress.
He ended up being our guide, and was so fun! He would help us over the harder spots when we were hiking up the river, then sneak ahead and jump out right in front. Having worked at the Trauma 2 Hospital at night, I pictured one of the more terrible cases I had helped with & I was going to watch it happen right before me into this shallow riverbed. Well like all magic tricks, and to my shock...wonder....awe....there was no mangled body, he just disappeared below the water & came up smiling like a little kid at our shocked faces.
Jumping From A Tree
At one point I even joined him, as afraid of heights as I am, I climbed up a very precariously built ladder onto a tree that had been cut in half as my landing pad. Patricia was yelling, "BE CAREFUL!" and then, "JUST DO IT!" while laughing the whole time. I was hyperventilating because I'm so scared of heights, well of what happens after you fall, as I have seen the worst of the worse in my day--- but I did it.
The feeling of being weightless for about 10 seconds, everyone holds their breath...hoping you jumped out far enough not to who everyone what the inside of your skull looks, then the rush of the water as it swallows your toes then legs then shoulders like a very hungry boa constrictor; only to emerge victorious & giddy with Adrenaline. Ahhhhh... I love the Adrenaline rush, and it is kind of like you won the talent show, as everyone claps & laughs. Bonding......isn't it great. Well, on with our show, our guide showed us all the hidden caves where you could swim under the water and come up breath for a few & swim up river again.
An Unexpected Tragedy
Where are the pictures you ask of this amazing adventure? In a cruel twist of fate, my camera battery died about 20 minutes into the trip! Yes, you can all groan and cry a little for me.... I was devastated! How would everyone know how much fun I had?!?! Well, as they say, the show must go on--- and I dare say, I enjoyed my time so much more than I possibly would have if I would have had that camera in proper working order. I actually looked around me, smelled the things around me, laughed a little more, stressed a little less about how I looked & who would notice my rolls and cottage cheese on my legs. Who cares!
I think this is when I really started to appreciate that I had a body that was working, I could do the hiking, I could keep up (relatively well, lol) -- and my memories and being able to connect with the people I was traveling with actually is what made it all so worth it.
Mayfield Falls Is Worth The Adventure
We got to Mayfield Falls & we were the only ones there, it was so BEAUTIFUL with 4 cascading waterfalls one after the other, gurgling, swirling and spinning like a dance under the bamboo canopy of the Jamaican Jungle with 4 unlikely people enjoying God's green earth & this hidden gem, off the beaten path.
Meeting Harry and Seeing Real Marijuana
In order to keep schedule and not be stranded in Jamaica without our passports we quickly moved on to the hike through villages and the Jungle. This is where we met Harry, the mysterious man with the unspoken rough past, standing there in his tank top, phanny pack, shorts that were far to big for him & emblazoned with (what should be the countries official plant) Marijuana leaf.
I was a little nervous at first seeing him, but as soon as he started speaking, I relaxed and his jovial infectious nature & positive vibes just had us all laughing and really enjoying our time.
Slavery In Jamaica
He took us through the Jungle and pointed out all the plants. There was one plant that when Slavery was a still present was planted around fields --- it has a special characteristic to it. That if you touch it, it will close its leaves rapidly for about 20 minutes & all that is required is a light touch.
This way if the slaves tried to run, the 'owners' could catch them and know exactly where they had run to. When I saw this, suddenly I became quiet and wanted to cry, its like the earth of this place testified of what he was saying, and its almost like I could feel a glimmer of how trapped these people had felt.....and for so long.
The cruelty that humans are capable of, against their own species......it makes the strongest of us cry. People may think this sort of thing doesn't happen today, or are just blind to it, just like they were in that time period, excusing it as a, "oh it's just how the world works right now" -- but thank God above for those who had the courage to stop the atrocities that happened on this beautiful island.
Hiking Through The Jungle
Next we literally bushwhacked our way through the thick vines, overhang, wet a slipping and a sliding over the humidity coated palm and banana leaves. Through a village, where Harry secretly showed us some Marijuana plants; how they grow etc..... Being a Physician Assistant, I have never actually tried the stuff, and care too much about my license to try it for recreational purposes; but again, was amazed at how humans fight over this small unique leafed plant that is only about 12 inches tall. I was beginning to feel the weight of how humanity is so backwards.
There is abundance in Jamaica, someone from the States may come to Jamaica and think, "look how poor they are with their tin roofs collecting the unsanitary water from the rain. Look at the terrible life they have"; but in reality....the people here have more opportunity and communal community than anything I have experienced within the USA. We may be the greatest nation in military and monetary value, but sometimes I feel we traded that for things that have far greater importance....I will let you think of your own opinion on what those things missing in the States could be.
A Humbling and Unique Adventure in The Jungles Of Jamaica
In the end, this trip humbled me in ways that were very surprising.... I realized how selfish I was, how much beauty and quality of life is really in the eye of the beholder, how much the media contributes to skewed images of what the 'perfect' life is because of how lucrative commercialism is. I know some may disagree with me, but living a life of luxury and showing off my amazing trips became less important to me. The stories of the people I meet, their lives, their hopes, their fears and what drives them to get up everyday are the things that I vowed I would cherish the most from this trip.
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Welcome to Culture Trekking!
My name is Janiel, a leader in the travel industry with over 20+ years of experience with international travel. I specialize in solo female travel, cultural connections, sustainable adventures, food and history to help make your travel experiences fun, meaningful, and delicious. My experience in travel, and my personal story have allowed me to get published in Fodor's Travel, Atlas Obscura, Metro.co.uk, Trip Advisor, and multiple Podcast interviews. You can find me on pretty much every social media channel YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, TikTok. To read more about me and my story click here. If you are a brand and would like to work with me, click here.