OCHO RIOS, Jamaica - This Caribbean island is full of all-inclusive resorts, the ones that mimic cruise ships in their myriad amenities and single price. Some cater to adults. Others welcome children.
Many tourists tend to tuck themselves away in these exclusive enclaves and never venture out to see the island.
Big mistake. Jamaica has a rich culture and history and a beautiful countryside that's well worth exploring.
While the island has a reputation for crime, particularly in and around Kingston, the incidence of robbery and other crimes against tourists is much lower in rural Jamaica and in Ocho Rios, home to many resorts.
Wanting tourists to experience the warmth and cultural richness of their country, the resorts encourage guests to take independent outings or guided tours.
"We are very proud of our country, and we want tourists to see our beautiful island, meet our people and learn about our history and culture. The best way they can do that is by going out and about," says Brian L. Paisley, senior vice president of Ciboney, one of the all-inclusive resorts.
Coyaba River Garden and Museum tops the list of attractions near Ocho Rios, offering tourists an overview of the island's political and cultural history and its flora.
The museum collection includes pre-colonial artifacts, ancient maps and documents and historic photographs showing the island's development through Arawak, Spanish, buccaneer and maroon eras; through the plantation era and post-emancipation. Well-marked paths on the grounds are lined with various types of ginger and other native plants. There are natural waterfalls and pools filled with mullet, koi carp, crayfish and turtles.
The cafe serves Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, and the gift shop offers locally made clothing, jewelry, paintings, crafts and books about Jamaica.
Jamaica's thriving art scene is evident at Harmony Hall, a gallery housed in a historic mid-19th century mansion with broad veranda and gingerbread trim. The gallery features local artists, including Jonathan Routh's satirical Queen Victoria canvases and Llewellyn Xavier's collages of Jamaican birds and stamps. There are also landscapes, primitives, figurative and abstract sculptures and locally made musical instruments.
Firefly, the mountain-top home of Noel Coward, is now a museum of his memorabilia, including photos of him with Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren and Laurence Olivier. The dining room table is set with china used to entertain England's Queen Mother.
Mr. Coward's typewriter stands open on his uncluttered desk. His pianos fill the living room. His clothes hang in the closets, and his toiletries still fill the bathroom. There is even an unfinished painting on an easel in the studio. The author is buried at the far end of the estate's expansive lawn, at a spot overlooking the sea.
Irie Beach, on Bonham Springs Farm in the hills near Ocho Rios, converts swimming pools and waterfalls along the White River into a private play area. A favorite day retreat for Jamaican families, the beach offers swing ropes from jungle-clad cliffs, wooden decks for sunbathing, natural water slides and nature trails, as well as an outdoor bar and bistro with music.
Scenic Dunns River Falls provides adventure with guided hikes up the steep and slippery falls. Those who don't want to brave the fast-moving waters can enjoy the falls from a wooden walkway with many scenic overviews of a white sand beach below.
IF YOU GO: For information on travel, all-inclusive resorts and tourist attractions, call the Jamaican Tourist Board (800) 233-4582.
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