With palm ferns rustling in the wind, the hypnotic sound of lapping waves and balmy ocean breezes to chase away the heavy, hot air, Jamaica is like a Hollywood stage set for wellness. The only challenge is to script and cast your perfect escape. Jamaica offers pampering resort wellness and retreats with local flavor.
If you like your Namaste to come with added niceties, then a resort wellness getaway featuring pampering and Pranayama is the way to go.
I start my island wellness tour at one of Negril’s newest properties, The Cliff Hotel. As the name suggests, the 22-room, four-villa boutique property sits on five-acres overlooking the Caribbean Sea. I have a junior suite, which is a bit of a misnomer, as it really is just a standard room. In the future I’d choose a one-bedroom suite or splurge on one of the villas that come with a private garden and secluded outdoor tub.
I meet with Carolyn Jobson, the spa director at the property, and she tells me that The Cliffs is in the process of building out its spa facilities. Right now, the spa consists of an outdoor yoga pavilion overlooking the ocean and two treatment rooms that are also open to the sea.
My morning starts with yoga, offered either as individual or in group sessions. Our group of four elects to ease into the day with a gentle hybrid of flow and Hatha poses. While my mind and spirit is nourished from the class, my stomach is grumbling as I walk the cliff path to Zest Restaurant, created by Chef Cindy Hutson, who has won rave reviews for her Caribbean food from Eater, The New York Times and more. While I know my healthy breakfast of scrambled egg whites isn’t challenging her culinary chops, I appreciate the use of local fruit, including succulent, sweet mangos and papayas and the strangely mealy Jamaican Otaheite apple. I wash it all down with a glass of soursop juice, a local fruit that claims cancer-fighting properties. It is incredibly sweet with notes of coconut, strawberry and pineapple. I later learn that a soursop has over 400 calories!
With that in mind, it’s time to hit the gym or try another class like Tabata, body sculpting or Pilates. For guests like me who want to pack in a lot of fitness and spa treatments, there is a Wellness Package that includes three fitness experiences and three spa treatments.
While the spa itself doesn’t have any amenities like sauna, steam or even a locker room, what it does have is a stunning view and a soundtrack of waves, birds and, in the distance, the music from the nearby pool area. I select the Deep KiYara Bodywork massage to work on chronically knotted muscles. I am lucky as Carolyn herself performs my service, and she is an expert at working on my tight neck, an area I feel many therapists gloss over or simply do poorly.
To get a feel for wellness island wide, I head to Jamaica’s second largest city, Montego Bay and the Round Hill Hotel and Villas. The historic property sits on over 100 acres and has direct beach access. Ralph Lauren redesigned its 36 deluxe guestrooms in the Pineapple House; the designer owns two of the villas on property. While you can’t rent his homes, you can choose Villa 3 where Ian Fleming stayed, or Villa 10, where John F. Kennedy and Jackie honeymooned, or Villa 12, where Oscar Hammerstein met Maria von Trapp and wrote The Sound of Music. Villas vary widely in size and décor, so visitors are advised to choose the specific accommodation they want for their stay at the time of booking.
The seven-room Spa at Round Hill is set on 10 acres fronting the beach where guests can relax on loungers and day beds. I am surprised that a spa this size has a very cramped locker room with none of the typical spa facilities; nor is there a relaxation room to wait for the therapist. There is a terrace, but on the rainy day I was there I wasn’t quite sure where to camp out before the service.
Just as at The Cliff Hotel, the quality of the massage more than made up for the lack of extras. I booked the customized massage, which was very similar to in style and pressure to my prior massage and continued to make headway on my deep-rooted knots. For guests looking for a more indigenous treatment, I suggest the Jamaican Coffee Bean Body Scrub. If the scrub is as good as my morning coffee was throughout the trip, you’d be in heaven.
I use the rainy day to make good use of the well-equipped fitness center, and when the weather does clear, I meet Damon in the new outdoor yoga pavilion for a private group class. Damon is a stickler for form, and I appreciate how the tiny tweaks he suggests make a difference in the integrity of the pose.
By far the most elaborate spa I visit is The Fern Tree Spa at Half Moon in Montego Bay. It has the requisite locker room, sauna, steam and relaxation room that the other two were missing. Additionally there are gardens, a meditation labyrinth and spa pool. A standout feature of the spa is an over-water bungalow where you can book treatments or a variety of different yoga and Pilates classes. For a unique experience, start your spa day with the Jamaican Bush Bath and spend 30 blissful minutes soaking in a bath steeped with fresh herbs, leaves, roots and fruits before indulging in the Jamaican Allspice Sugar Scrub.
If you’re looking for a more rustic, local experience, try Jackie’s on The Reef in Negril. While there is no beach, it is located right at the edge of the sea and when I’m there, the waves are crashing into the reef, creating a rhythmic soundtrack for the breathing class that owner Jackie Lewis teaches our group.
Jackie, a vivacious 78-year-old with platinum blonde hair greets us in a bikini top and sarong. She has strong energy and is firmly rooted in a natural, spiritual way of life. I love her vibe, but if you aren’t already a little New-Agey, you may feel differently.
Visitors can come and enjoy a class as I did–or treatments ranging from massage to past life regression. Reviewers online raved about the quality of the therapists at Jackie’s, and I wish I’d had a chance to try a treatment out for myself.
Jackie is a big believer that none of us is breathing correctly. During a class using sound bowls and breath work, Jackie guides our group to recognize how we are breathing and what breathing correctly feels like. It’s amazing how something so natural can become so messed up!
Guests can stay in one of the five rooms at Jackie’s on the Reef, but be forewarned that they are not air-conditioned. She also holds retreats with guest presenters throughout the year.
However you like your wellness, from luxurious to local, you can’t go wrong with getting your Zen on in the lush, tropical paradise that is Jamaica.