NEGRIL, JAMAICA — He looked 10 days older than dirt. Bamboo thin, he barely cast a shadow in the waning Caribbean sun as it slowly descended below the horizon, thrusting fingerlike ribbons of light into the low-lying patchwork clouds.
Sunset, a glittering boundary between day and night, seemed to energize the revellers at Rick’s Café in Negril, prodding them to rise from their carefully chosen spaces and move en masse, like a giant wave, toward the outdoor dance area. Here, the old man swaggered across a raised stage, alternately pumping his fist and exhorting the mostly young crowd dressed in scant clothing to embrace Bob Marley’s plea to “let’s get together and feel alright!”
The relentless, hypnotic reggae beat blaring from oversized speakers washed over the undulating dancers whose bodies seem to be tasting each note as if it was some delicious tropical drink. But the dance floor is not the only place in this wild, rolling landscape of human activity to be seen and heard.
Above: People jump off the cliffs into the ocean after consuming a few Red Stripe beers.
Nearby, groups of spectators perched on limestone rocks, watched and alternately cheered as one intrepid soul after another tested their resolve by jumping or diving from a designated platform on a cliff into a deep emerald green pool far below — many no doubt emboldened by profuse amounts of rum and Red Stripe beer. Flocks of gulls circled overhead, raucously mocking or admiring the proceedings, depending on your point of view.
This outdoor arena is an outstanding feature of Rick’s Cafe, a genuine tourist curiosity in Jamaica seemingly renowned the world over. From 1974 until the present, visitors and locals have made it the premiere gathering spot for sunsets and celebrations, even overshadowing the breathtaking and majestic 10-km-long beach not far away. Waitresses carted bottles of the genial and hearty Red Stripe beer in appropriately coloured red plastic buckets through the throngs of vacationers gathered here on a sultry June evening, the “canned courage” inspiring friendly encounters and small talk known locally as “Gi laugh fi peas soup,” (to joke around an have a good time).
Rick’s somehow personifies the achievement of what so many visitors come to Jamaica to get: fun, freedom and an excess of hospitality. Negril delivers.
Situated on the far western tip of the island, Negril is almost a two-hour drive from the main airport in Montego Bay. Aside from the beaches and the vibrant nightlife, it offers some sightseeing, such as Mayfield Falls, which touts all things reggae. At the entrance, a bamboo stairway leads to a wooden bridge that plops visitors into the middle of a Rasta Village dotted with huts where village tour guides accompany guests to the Reggae River, Reggae Style Island and point out the healing properties of the reggae plants.
Above: The only thing that can outdo the glorious sunsets at the Palms is the resort's luxury accommodation.
Before exiting Mayfield Falls, sightseers can opt to luxuriate in 44 mineral pools and 21 natural Jacuzzis while imbibing on homemade foods and juices along with seasonal fruit. Entertainment includes native folklore and tips on local culture. It’s a leisurely way to spend the day before the lure of the famed nightlife takes hold.
Additional activities can include golf, river rafting, canoeing, diving, touring by horseback, mountain biking or zip-lining. Those adventures, and countless others, can be arranged by the numerous resorts and hotels that crowd the coastline.
One such hideaway almost within hailing distance of Rick’s is Sunset at the Palms, an all-inclusive, adults-only resort cautiously tucked away in an ocean of tropical vegetation.
Infinitely interesting and surprisingly complex tree house-style accommodations are perched amid lush plants and flowers affording guests ultimate privacy. Each of the 85 wooden bungalows, three of them suites, are strategically located along meandering pathways and received high praise from Architectural Digest magazine for their distinctive design. Most feature peaked ceilings, gargantuan wooden fans, Asian-inspired furnishings, dark natural wood floors and private balconies. The tree houses provide the perfect haven to relax and unwind after a full day of island adventures.
The only prominent building on the property is the cavernous main dining room, a massive wooden pavilion with a soaring cathedral ceiling where vacationers come together to indulge in buffet-style Caribbean fusion cuisine. For those guests that want more intimate dining, small enclaves in and around the dining hall offer a more romantic cloistered setting.
The Lotus Leaf Restaurant is a more elegant venue and requires reservations and appropriate sophisticated resort wear. On select nights, the Executive Chef prepares authentic local cuisine to a very limited number of guests in an open-air venue that also requires reservations. The seven-course meal is a favourite with honeymooners looking for that special evening.
Sunset at the Palms is rated as one of the top 10 all-inclusive Jamaican resorts by many websites. With all its varied activities, including entertainment and an inviting beach a short distance away, there’s quite possibly no reason to leave the charming enclave.
But then, Rick’s Café and its mystique are calling. Very few don’t heed the call.