Combining a longtime love of travel with the recent infatuation with all things health and fitness, I jumped at the chance to visit Jamaica for the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10k. Vigorous walking and recent hiking trips were a motivation to sign up to walk the 10k portion of the event, and was equally excited to experience several off-the-beaten-path destinations while on the island.
Don’t be fooled by the jovial pre-race registration party atmosphere at the “World’s Best Pasta Party,” the competition is fierce. The event, in its 18th year, attracts world-class runners. The day began at 5:15am in complete darkness, yet the upbeat atmosphere and live music was exhilarating. I found myself running most of the way as the adrenaline propelled me forward. Each labored step brought me closer to the light, literally… sunrise was approaching and divine thoughts of jumping into the crystal blue waters and enjoying a Red Stripe beer at the finish line at Long Bay Beach Park were motivation to keep putting one foot in front of the other. My official time was not impressive, but it was such a rush to complete, and the dip in the bay was magical!
Tips: No cars are allowed near the racecourse so do take the shuttle buses to/from the location. Take advantage of the convenient bag check for last minute items you want to leave behind, or have waiting for you upon race completion.
Where to Stay
Stay next door the start/finish of the race at Beaches Negril Resort & Spa. It was a convenient hotel for race day, and they went out of their way to support all of the walkers/runners by offering a coffee and breakfast items at 4:15am in the lobby. The resort is family oriented and is quiet by early evenings, which is ideal the night before the race. Note that the walls in between rooms are on the thin side. We highly recommend you pre-book a post-race massage at the spa. I scheduled a session with Donna, a very skilled reflexologist who worked on my fatigue-ridden, knotted muscles and eased them into a more relaxed state. This resort is ideal for families – massive playground on the beach for kids, replete with waterpark, miniature golf, nightly entertainment and a plethora of beach games for kids. Their all-inclusive dining options also include some more upscale and adult focused restaurants – Stew Fish is our favorite dinner spot on the beach for its relaxed elegance.
Sandals Negril is their sister property, and is more adult oriented. It is also only a short shuttle ride away from the racecourse. With its blissful ambience of laid-back cool and uninhibited revelry, Sandals Negril epitomizes the free-spirited personality that has long made Negril the exotic playground of choice for fun loving travelers. This posh carefree resort is nestled within lushly landscaped acres along the island’s legendary Seven-Mile Beach, putting you closer to the water than anywhere else in Negril. A love for Mother Nature ensures that Jamaica’s hippest resort is also its most green – awarded an EarthCheck Double Platinum Certification for an unwavering commitment to environmental excellence for over a decade. They hosted a “mocktail” party for all racers the evening before the race with special local fruit juice concoctions designed to boost the immune systems and keep everyone well hydrated – what a fun way to meet fellow participants.
Tip: Both hotels have a receiving lounge in the airport to greet guests, handle luggage and organize the shuttles to the resorts which makes the transfers to the resorts easy.
Our group of runners/writers used Burton’s Transportation Service, which proved to be very beneficial. The local driver (Phillip Valentine) navigated the hairpin turns and washed out jungle-like roads with ease. We ventured about an hour’s drive from Beaches to Chukka Caribbean Adventures at Mayfield Falls. We had an amazing guide who performed water tricks along the way and knew a lot about the flora and fauna of the area. They schedule small group tours to ensure each set of guests has an intimate experience of the natural unspoiled beauty.
Tips: Bring a waterproof case and hand strap for phones or cameras so you don’t lose or damage them. Bring your own towels. You can rent water shoes or bring your own. Refrain from sunscreen that will harm the environmental waters.
Having worked up an appetite at the falls, we were starving and headed to lunch in the wilderness at Zimbali Retreats, an organic farm to table restaurant where chefs cook in the open air. We dined on local fish wrapped in banana leaves, coconut curry and jerk chicken and jerk shrimp delights. They have a chill bar overlooking the forest and a guesthouse that is primal and exotic. Ganga scents fill the tropical air while mellow dogs lie on the living room floor wagging their tails.
Tip: Book seats at the kitchen bar to watch the colorful chefs prepping your lunch. It’s a tropical “meal and a show” all at the same time.
Anyone can feel like a rock star using Club Mobay arrival and departure services at Montego Bay Airport. VIP Attractions allow you to use the fast-track access through security and immigration, club lounge access and a personal escort to your gate. Rates vary, but $35 seemed well worth the additional cost to save time and have a comfortable place to relax while waiting for the flight.
Safety and Security
Much has been made of Jamaica’s security issues, but there is a strong effort by the local police to crack down on crime as evidenced by the security checkpoints from the airport to Negril. This trend is going in the right direction according to local stats. Each Sandal’s resort has their own security – guests check in and out so the resort knows who is coming and going from their property. We felt safe at all times, however we always advise travelers to do their due diligence and check with the U.S. State Department for travel advisories and take them under advisement.