Over Thanksgiving 2020 I spent a week in Jamaica. It was a fantastic and relaxing time, wherein some impressive COVID Protocols were adhered to by the two hotels I chose to stay at. I spent 4 nights on the North Shore in Oracabessa at Goldeneye then I spent 3 nights on the South Shore in Treasure Beach at Jakes Hotel, run by the now 3rd generation of the Henzell family.
The two places I stayed at were quite different but both are locally owned/run and smaller in scaled than most of the options in Jamaica. Goldeneye is more upscale rustic luxury tied with its roots to James Bond and Ian Fleming. Whereas Jakes is rustic Bohemian Chic in a very secluded and local agricultural part of Jamaica where few tourists venture to. Both offer a unique and authentically Jamaican experience. Jakes actually also has ties to film, filmmaker and produce Perry Henzell directed and produced (along with Chris Blackwell, yes of Island Records and now owner of Goldneye) one of Jamaica’s most famous films, “The Harder They Come” (1972) starring Jimmy Cliff.
I enjoyed my stay at Jakes. It is a very authentic hotel full of charm and charisma and Jamaican love. It is family owned and run and the team here is definitely a part of the family, you can feel it. You will also see members of the Henzell family throughout the day, they are super friendly, they will wave, say hi and even strike up a conversation with you. Jakes is by no means luxury, or attentive service. But it will put you at ease. If it was not for COVID, I would have walked around town and explored the shack bars and restaurants and fisherman huts, but many if not all were closed. This is where you can come to not only unwind but to truly explore some of the untouched parts of Jamaica and meet some really friendly locals. I will note that you best do you research in regards to room types, as even rooms under the same category are drastically different and can make or break your experience, depending on what you are looking for and expect.
Booking and Arrival
I booked through AmEx travel as prepaid rates gave me 5x points, not a part of fine hotels and resorts though. Booking direct is also easy and offers same rates as AmEx, the hotel is also available through bespoke hotel booking sites such as KiwiCollection with visa perks, but oddly not available directly on their website, you have to contact Kiwi to book.
Rates are room only. They do not have any other rates, breakfast is not included, there are no all-inclusive options, and disappointingly in my opinion they charge for water beyond the 2 complimentary ones you get daily from housekeeping, 2 bottles is hardly enough to keep hydrated in this climate. Alcoholic beverages ranged from USD$2 to USD$12, food ranged from USD$5 to USD$30, very reasonable for a hotel in Jamaica. The lowest rate is $90/night for a twin room at Jakes Next Door, a separate apartment home across the street, but guests still have access to all public areas of Jakes main property. Lowest rate at the main property is a Garden View room at $115/night. I booked an Ocean View Room at $150/night, I was assigned in my opinion the least ideal Ocean View Room of the three available (the two better ones were occupied), as such on my second and third night I paid to upgrade to the $250/night Deluxe Ocean View Room, and requested the best one available (Abalone Up, the one most often pictured when googling this hotel). Completely worth the upgrade. If you are to book an Ocean View Room request for Jellyfish or Starfish (these have true verandas with loungers, loungers out on your own semi-private patio and screened windows), if they are unable to accommodate that request and can only assign Abalone 2, then book up to Deluxe Ocean View or down to Deluxe/Regular Garden View. Unless based off my pictures you are completely fine with Abalone 2.
Airport transfers are additional. $150 one-way from Montego Bay Airport, which is technically the closest airport at about a 2-2.5 hour drive, Kingston is 3-3.5 hour drive. My transfer from Goldeneye was booked through Jakes at $250 for a 4.5 hour drive. All rates are for up to 4 people. I was impressed with the COVID protocols on the drive. Masks required and worn by driver and myself the entire time, water offered, I was asked to sanitize with their alcohol outside before entering the vehicle and we ventilated the car with open windows since the car uses recycled air for its A/C. My driver Richard was fantastic, I ended up requesting him for my return to Montego Bay.
The drive to the hotel makes it worth it. You go from the concrete and American-like Montego Bay to raw and real Jamaica. The road goes from smooth to slightly bumpy especially after rain storms (potholes form, even on recently paved roads). You drive past so many townships and cities. You go from coastal Jamaica into the Jamaican hills and mountain terrains before coming back down to the Southern Jamaican coast. But you pass some fantastic towns and farmlands and get a glimpse into what real Jamaican life and culture is, even if a lot of things are closed during COVID.
Arrival procedures here are simple. No arrival cocktail or anything like that. Hospitable smiles welcome you and very laid back down to earth service. Nice to see them provide sanitized pens to fill forms and sign and then you drop it into the used pens bucket. Rooms are fully sanitized and sealed before you enter. While you are escorted to your room and given a basic room tour, the staff do not touch anything and only you are allowed to open the room door and break the sanitation seal. Some staff could do better with being masked at all times.
The Resort Experience
The hotel is very unique and special and has its own charms. You have to know what you are getting yourself into. It is rustic bohemian chic. A Jakes, the service is so friendly and no request is not met with a “yeah, man”. The wifi though is fantastic and is throughout the entire property. As mentioned, not all rooms are created or designed equal, even in the same category. There was just something about Abalone 2 that was not sitting right with me, even if it was nice to open the Moroccan arch window to the seaview, maybe it was the lighting, lack of a true veranda area to lounge in or lack of a desk/ proper area indoors to work/read.
Regardless, the hotel was fantastically accommodating when I asked to upgrade to a Deluxe Seaview Room and requested for Abalone Up. The bedding here is just fine, though the mosquito nets could use replacing as they had many large holes in them in both rooms I stayed at. Mosquitoes are no joke here, bring repellent. Given its natural vibes and mantra, the resort does not spray unlike Goldeneye, as such the mosquitoes are definitely far more vicious and prevalent. I love the outdoor space and daybed and chairs in Abalone Up and the vast uninterrupted treelined sea views. Perfect area to work out, drink Jamaican High Mountain coffee in the morning, and sip on Red Stripe or Jakes amazing Rum Punch in the evenings. All rooms come with water kettle, coffee maker, coffee/tea, 2 complimentary bottles of water, soap/shampoo/lotion. No hand sanitizer or insect repellent but there is the mosquito vape. Interestingly, Jakes still has laundry service. There are no TVs. In non-COVID times rooms have a wide selection of books for leisure reading. There is a communal TV in the media room where stacks of board games and books and magazines are also at your disposal. NOTE: there are also no telephones in the rooms, to call for service after hours or even during hours you are given a list of phone numbers to call. I found it easier to just walk to reception during hours. It is very much a DIY style hotel. But once you raise an issue or concern or have a question, it is answered/addressed with a smile, not always with haste but things still get done.
The public areas are lovely and quirky. It is great to see so much recycled material used in construction and decoration throughout the property. The main area includes a salt water pool with water pumped in from sea. A “beach”, sandy area with loungers, there is no real beach on the property itself given its volcanic rocky/cliffside landscape, but short steps lead you right into the cool Caribbean. There is also a jetty with loungers. Both the beach and jetty are technically closed from 6PM to 10AM without lifeguard on duty. Then there is the main bar, which is not manned at all times, but once the staff at the restaurant spot you or during happy hour, they come right on over. The Driftwood Spa is at one end of the resort, offering treatments of all sorts at very reasonable prices. Above the Spa is the open air but covered yoga platform where daily 8AM yoga classes are held or you can also grab mat and some TRX Ropes and do your own workout. Hand sanitizer dispensers were installed throughout the property and at Jack Sprat.
here is quite delicious and fresh. Jakes has one restaurant serving up primarily Jamaican flare for dinner and breakfast and a more fusion/international one for lunch. If the menu (written on the blackboards) at Jakes doesnt suit your fancy head on down to Jack Sprat, a local institution with incredible Jerk red snapper. It is connected to the resort by a locked gate accessible only by guests, though in reality anyone can open the gate as it is not key card secure but there is a high level of trust and respect in the community. Jack Sprat also has a real white sand beach that you can hang at. The drinks at Jakes are also fantastic, definitely try their signature family recipe Rum Punch, the best I had in Jamaica. While I was there, my last evening was Thanksgiving and their Thanksgiving dinner of jerk turkey and sorrel sauce was out of this world.
The Treasure Beach area is so incredible, and I wish to return post-COVID to truly experience and explore it, especially when all the shacks/ cook shops/ bars are fully running. Reception is more than happy to help arrange for excursions or offer suggestions. Hotel activities are basically all at an additional cost, except for relaxing on the beach or by the pool. You can arrange for a guided hike, or transport to nearby places like the Appleton Rum Distillery or scenic viewpoints or other beaches nearby. Regardless of what you decide to do, there is only one thing you absolutely MUST DO: a trip to the world famous Floyd’s Pelican bar. It is one of the most unique and special bars I have ever been to. A wooden stilted shack on the open sea off the coast, built by fisherman Floyd in the early 2000s as a small watering hole for fisherman coming and going it eventually blew up into an international institution. I can tell why, it is hard to explain, but once you are there you feel just how unique and special a place it is. Be it the names of the thousands who have set foot here cared into the wood panels, or the flags/T-Shirts/Souvenirs hanging on the walls and ceilings, or just the smell of Ganja mixed with beer, seawater and freshly fried fish. What was impressive was that they too had strict COVID Protocols in place! And who knows on the way you may encounter some dolphins! Jakes can arrange a local fisherman to take you to Pelicans and back for USD$80 for up to 4 people, the guide and fisherman will wait at and by Pelican for you, the boat and time is your’s, usually people spend about 3 hours for the entire trip.
Essentially I spent my few days here by working out, then having some breakfast, then lounging/reading in the main beach area, before spending the rest of the day lounging in my outdoor balcony. Then had dinner either at Jakes or Jack Sprat, ended with some cocktails and then went to bed. I went to Pelican Bar at 11AM on my second day which was a Wednesday, highly recommend going early to have the entire place to yourself and soak in the peace and uniqueness of it. If not, head over just before sunset to catch the stunning views.
You feel the family spirit and soul that has been poured into the hotel. Despite each room not being created equal, thought was still put into each, and each will suit a different type of traveler. There are more truly rustic luxury rooms available/ multi-bedroom off-property villas as well, so there is a wide range to choose from and each exudes a completely different vibe.
I highly recommend Jakes and Treasure Beach. Its the real Jamaica and a truly relaxing familial place with a unique funk to it. Jakes attracts families, couples, solo travelers and even locals. From the unique charm to the delicious local food and cocktails and the wonderful smiles of the staff, it is a place you wont easily forget.