This story originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of ESSENCE.

I’ve traveled to Jamaica more times than I can count, and each time I go it’s hard to leave. When I do leave, I’m already making plans to return, which I’ve done consistently for the past 20 years. The island has that effect on me. My connection to Jamaica runs deep. It’s where my people are from.

My father was born in Hannah Town, a close-knit community on the west coast in Kingston, Jamaica’s capital city. When he was 8, the family moved southeast to Vineyard Town, where he has fond memories of walking to Gunboat Beach every Sunday with his late father, whom we affectionately called Father, and all seven sons in tow.

Situated on the north coast in Saint Ann, the largest parish on the island, is the small rural settlement of Alexandria. That’s where my mother’s family is from. Boasting impressive ocean views, Alexandria has become a popular site for luxury vacation rentals, but back then it had vast areas of farmland nestled in plush countryside.

Fall in love with the serenity of Treasure Beach.

My mother’s grandpa Washy farmed the family land there until he was 98. In 2010 I road-tripped around the island with a friend who was penning a Jamaica travel guide. I tagged along for moral support and because he promised to introduce me to a Jamaica I’d never seen—a thriving island with hidden gems tucked away in all 14 parishes. We journeyed beyond the gates and walls of my upscale, all-inclusive resort to uncover a more authentic Jamaican experience—but we bypassed the untapped beauty of the island’s best-kept secret, its less explored south coast, along the way.

Jakes Hotel is relaxed, whimsical and authentically Jamaican.
Indulge in locally grown fare like caillou and saltfish, boiled yam, banana and dumpling.

Since I always find a reason to return home, this time around I was determined to discover the south coast. Venturing south is not as easy as getting to popular resort towns like Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Negril, but the picturesque drive from Sangster International or Norman Manley International airports is worth it. You’ll spot almond trees towering over their neighbors in the bush, herds of goats claiming their space on the road, and idyllic beaches and fishing villages. And when you finally arrive, red-skinned, red-haired, blue-eyed natives, said to be the descendants of Scottish sailors who were shipwrecked here in the nineteenth century, greet you with a smile.

Kick back at Dougie’s with a Red Stripe and take in impressive ocean views.
Floyd’s Pelican Beach Bar has one of the purest vibes I’ve ever felt on the island. Be prepared to post up all day.
The community connection is what keeps travelers returning to Jakes. 95% of the staff is from Treasure Beach.
If you’re a mango lover, Jamaica’s mango season starts in April and ends in July. FYI.


YS Falls is hidden in St. Elizabeth’s lush jungles. Rope swing into the cascading waters or chill in spring-fed pools and admire the century-old guango trees.

Avoid the crowds at Dunn’s River and head to YS Falls. It’s so serene
Don’t leave without rope-swinging into the cascading falls.


Lovers Leap got its name because legend has it that rather than be torn from each other by a jealous plantation owner, two slaves fled to this cliff, 1,700 feet above sea level, and jumped. The storied spot promises next-level views.

According to locals, this is the place to be on Sunday nights. Noted.


Jack Sprat serves up some of the best seafood on the south coast. Order escovitch fish with steamed veggies and a side of bammy. Little Ochie Seafood Restaurant & Bar is another must. Pick your fish and tell chef Blackie just how you want it.

Seafood on the south coast is sourced from local fishermen, which in turn supports the local economy.


Floyd’s Pelican Beach Bar, perched on stilts in the ocean, has the island’s purest vibes. Before you go, have one of the Rastamen hand-carve your name in the wood.

One visit to Floyd’s and you’ll understand why it’s considered one of the coolest beach bars in the world.

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