Adventures from Elle was founded nearly four years ago as a creative outlet where I could share my travel experiences with other like-minded individuals who wanted to enjoy Jamaica’s hidden treasures. Since then, I’ve expanded my niche to include more ‘touristy’ destinations because sometimes commercialized spots are easier to visit, but off-the-beaten-path gems remain my first love. In this post I share the good, the bad and the ugly about exploring off-the-beaten-path in Jamaica because it’s really not for everybody. However, if you make the venture, you’ll be glad you did.
Unpredictable Water Depth
The shade of blue can often give a clue but there are no markings on the river bank or at the shore to let you know how deep the water is, therefore you won’t know until someone gets inside. If there has been recent rainfall close to or at a river, water which is usually ankle deep can become waist or even chest high, and the water may change from clear to a murky brown. In Jamaica, we talk about a phenomenon known as “river come dung” which basically is a time when water depth changes really quickly in a river. Usually an experienced river-goer or country dweller can recognize when it’s about to happen or has started happening so everyone can get to safety. You may have only minutes to get out. These are important things for non-swimmers to bear in mind. Be careful.
I don’t know about you but I don’t like crowds at all. Nothing is more peaceful than visiting a place and feeling as if it’s your own private spot, like you’re the first human being who has ever set foot there, like the river and beach is your personal swimming pool. However, sometimes you don’t get so lucky. You may stumble across people from the community, “locals” if you will, cooking and smoking and drinking at the village’s watering hole. Sometimes you may even find people doing more domestic tasks too like washing clothes, or even shampooing their hair at the river. A rowdy group at a hidden gem can completely ruin the experience for other visitors that day, so each visitor’s experience can turn out completely different.
Getting Ripped Off
Uncommercialized attractions often harbour hustlers. Some are well-meaning individuals who actually play a role in keeping the attraction clean and maintained, while others are dirty scoundrels looking to intimidate, harrass and rip off unassuming visitors by making up admission fees to places which are supposed to be 100% free, or begging for tips. When hustlers demand an unreasonable price for attractions which should be free, I’ll negotiate then oblige a tip for a peaceful life, considering we’re encroaching on their community spot and sometimes end up needing advice from them. A little (or a lot) of discretion and bargaining can go a far way.
Little to No Amenities
True off-the-beaten-path places have no amenities whatsoever. Zero, zilch, none. You change behind a tree, come wearing your swim clothes or go in with nothing at all since there’s probably no one else there. However, when it comes to things like restrooms there can be a bit of a problem. Hopefully you won’t need to do much more than take a tinkle and that will have to be done stooping down somewhere for us ladies, or eek! In the water. Everything is rather improv. No one is profiting, so there’s no incentive or sponsorship to create any infrastructure. Therefore, it’s just you and nature and I’ve grown to accept that that’s not for everyone.
Security Not Guaranteed
I’ve never experienced this potentially ugly side of uncommercialized spots in Jamaica but the reality is that the risk is always there. Unscrupulous persons could prey on unsuspecting individuals who travel solo or in small groups, therefore the old adage of ‘safety in numbers’ is your best friend. To be honest, I’ve visited some rather desolate places with no other companion but a boyfriend or even a female friend like I did at Noisy River Falls, but thankfully no harm has ever befallen me. Be on your P’s and Q’s though as they say. You can never be too cautious, but honestly it’s a lot safer than you may think. I generally feel safer in rural areas than I do in urban places.
A disgusting feature of the Jamaican landscape is litter. I refuse to believe that it’s even a majority of the population, but there’s a sizeable number of nasty individuals who cannot visit beautiful places without leaving behind a trail of single-use plastics, Styrofoam plates and empty wrappers. At least 50% of the off-the-beaten-path places I’ve visited have been contaminated by garbage. Since these areas have no one employed to clean up behind visitors, the garbage only gets removed if residents doubling as self-appointed caretakers take it up, or sometimes there’ll be good citizens who travel with gloves and garbage bags to clean up the rubbishy trail other visitors leave in their wake.
Unbridled Beauty & History
My favourite point on this list: the unbridled beauty of hiking and swimming and sightseeing in untamed Jamaica. Despite all the commercialization and marketing of Jamaica as a prime tourist destination, there are still many gorgeous free untapped destinations. Stumbling off the beaten path often takes one to historic gems too such as old churches, and remnants of our colonial past like bits and pieces of railway, old waterwheels and decaying buildings from slavery and the sugar industry as I had discovered while hiking to Kwame Falls in 2018 for instance. For me, nothing beats the thrill of exploring lesser trodden paths and there are still so many more of them for me to take. Let’s go!
Related: Conquering Blue Mountain Peak
I tried not to glamourize going off-the-beaten path in Jamaica despite my preference so you can know what you’re getting into when taking the plunge. Let me know in the comments. Are you more of an on- or off-the-beaten-path traveller?
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Also, check out my debut Jamaican travel guide.