Jamaica's Best Kept Secret: Treasure Beach - Stays, Experiences & Eats
If there's anything 2020 has taught me, it's to be thankful for life and its endless blessings. Alamar Villa, nestled in the heart of Treasure Beach, was the perfect place to do so.
Treasure Beach has been on my bucket list for a while now. As a born and bred Jamaican, I've always felt somewhat fraudulent that I've never visited this scenic and idyllic spot on the island's south coast. I promised myself that 2020 was the year I would explore my island deeper, so it felt like the perfect place to ring in a new year of life.
As someone who loves to celebrate their birthday exploring hidden gems and must-see spots across the island, I knew that it was only right that I embarked on a journey to Treasure Beach for my 22nd birthday. After all, I fell in love with St. Elizabeth when I visited for my 21st birthday, to tour the world-renowned Appleton Estate, and knew that it wouldn't be long before I returned.
Treasure Beach is Jamaica's best kept secret and was everything I needed after the past few stressful and isolating months in quarantine. This laid-back and tranquil oasis is the perfect chill spot to escape the busy city life, take a mental break and simply be present.
The energy in Treasure Beach is just unmatched- I can't exactly put my finger on it. The entire staycation, our family kept joking that we felt like we were in a foreign country and on a 'real' vacation. It truly comes to show Jamaica's diversity and complexity and how much there is to discover- even as a local.
One thing that stuck out to me during this trip was Treasure Beach's noticeably strong sense of community. I was truly inspired by how tight knit, trusting and kind everyone was. This was present in day-to-day interactions, yes, but also evident in how they cared for their shared environment. Whether it be designated bins to collect plastic bottles or a clear difference in levels of pollution in comparison to other areas of the island, it was truly uplifting.
Looking back, this now makes sense why Treasure Beach reminded me a lot of Port Antonio- one of my favourite places in Jamaica. Both spots are very dependent on environmental tourism and embrace Jamaica's natural gifts. This is a form of tourism I will always be on board with; not only celebrating our environment's beauty but doing everything we can to protect it and combat the detrimental effects that tourism and travelling often have on it.
While I wasn't able to experience all that Treasure Beach and St. Elizabeth has to offer in the few days that I was there, I hope that my stories and experiences are able to help you in planning your first or next trip to this beach wonderland. As always, please feel free to recommend any of your favourite spots in Treasure Beach!
COVID-19 note: During the time I visited- and when this post was written- St. Elizabeth is generally considered a more low-risk area on the island. When embarking on staycations- especially, if travelling from high-risk areas, such as Kingston/St.Andrew, Clarendon or St. Thomas- please try to keep to yourself and keep interactions with locals to a minimum. Let's protect one another and Jamaica.
S T A Y S
When looking for the perfect place to stay in Treasure Beach, I was almost overwhelmed by the amount of incredible choices! From villas to hotels to Airbnb's, there is an array of options for everyone; multiple price points, locations, decor styles and more. When Alamar Villa was recommended to us by a friend, we knew it was the place for us.
Alamar Villa is nestled in the heart of Treasure Beach in Billy's Bay. The prime location of this serene villa is fairly central to many restaurants, destinations and other stays. This brown-sand beach is also home to 77 West- which we unfortunately weren't able to visit- and a fisherman's village- where we eventually caught a canoe to visit Black River and Pelican Bar.
What I truly loved is how less busy Billy's Bay was to other beaches in the area. You can tell it's a local's secret, with the occasional groups coming in and out. Not only is this a plus for the tranquil atmosphere it brings, but also comforting during a pandemic to avoid crowds. There were tiny spots where you're able to swim in the shallow water but make sure to never let your guard down- no matter how shallow it may be- due to the area's dangerous tides and currents.
If you're a HGTV fanatic like myself, (House Hunters, anyone?) then Alamar's aesthetic and interior design is your dream. Alamar embraces Jamaican culture and its natural beauty evident throughout the house from vintage dancehall signs and loodi boards to hanging plants in the entrance way to gorgeous outdoor showers. I loved the structure of the house and how simple yet inviting it felt.
Everything about our stay at Alamar was perfect; waking up to the breathtaking views to taking afternoon swims in the pool to watching the sunset on their rooftop. The villa was our escape from reality and the perfect place to either spend the day at or wind down after a long day of exploring. As always, I had high expectations for my birthday and Alamar Villa fulfilled them all.
While I stayed at Alamar Villa, there are multiple other stays that caught my eye in the area. Some of the many include: Kotch Villa, 77 West, Jake's, Lashings, Katamah & more. An awesome resource for villa rentals (and major inspo) is the South Coast Villas Instagram page.
E A T S
Lobster Pot was our first official meal in Treasure Beach and it truly set the bar for all food expectations for the rest of the trip. This stilted wooden shack on the water is a hidden gem and home to the freshest and most delicious seafood ever- so good that I didn't even get pictures!
While I stereotypically ordered their fried fish, they offer a variety of seafood options from conch to lobster rolls. It was such a relaxing atmosphere listening to the waves crash upon the shore and seeing the bright stars above. We loved it so much that we even ordered more food for take-out on my birthday! 10/10 would highly recommend.
Jack Sprat is one the most well-known restaurants in the area, connected to the Jake's hotel. While we were unable to stop for lunch, we made sure to head by for drinks before our drive back into Kingston. It's located on a gorgeous white sand beach and is full a vibez. I love visiting spots where there is always something to learn or discover and at Jack Sprat, their walls are an ode to Jamaican culture and history- adorned with photos, posters, art work and more.
While my review is truly only based on a blended limeade, it was so refreshing and cooling in the scorching Treasure Beach heat and simply delicious. Hopefully I'll be able to return to Treasure Beach soon to try their iconic pizza!
E X P E R I E N C E S
The first adventure we embarked on on our first evening in Treasure Beach, was a 30 minute journey to the infamous Lovers Leap. This site is rich in many things, from its breathtaking views to its local history. This lookout is home to the highest elevated lighthouse in the world (at 1,800 feet) and the story of Mizzy and Tunkey- one I heard very often growing up in Jamaica. While the site offers historic tours for around $300 JMD, it's very straight-forward to navigate and enjoy by yourself.
It was all of my family's first time visiting this spot and we were all blown away. It was such a peaceful place to watch the sun set while enjoying a drink. It didn't feel overwhelmingly touristy- honestly, it just felt like a restaurant/bar on top of a hill- and was super inviting.
This spot was truly the best way to kick off the trip- and it almost didn't happen. We were planning to visit on the way into town on Tuesday but fatefully decided to go that Friday night. Otherwise, we wouldn't have been able to due to their temporary hours because of COVID-19. If you're visiting during this time, I'd definitely recommend calling ahead for their opening days and hours.
While YS Falls isn't generally in the Treasure Beach area, the hour drive is worth it. Not only is the journey majestic and scenic but the destination is completely rewarding. They have so much to offer; from zip-lining over the waterfalls to a pebble stone pool to beautiful gardens and property (full of the cutest horses and cattle). There truly is something for everyone to do!
Upon arrival, you're transported to the main attraction on an open-air safari bus. This ride was potentially one of my favourite moments from the visit. On this journey through their vast property, you can witness nature in its truest form. From the river flowing downstream to old and large trees, it felt so surreal and for a moment I felt like I time-travelled to Jurassic Park!
However, the best part of YS Falls is their namesake- their multi-layered falls. The anticipation is real when you're approaching the falls and hear its roar. This gem is truly breathtaking and so captivating. I was so surprised at its grandeur and how large it was- it probably is one of the largest waterfalls that I've visited on the island. While I chose to climb the wooden steps to the mouth of the falls, visitors can swim in designated areas and even jump into the falls from a swinging rope!
It truly is the perfect place to spend the day with loved ones appreciating Jamaica's natural beauty. While I was pleased with their COVID-19 protocols, I'd recommend going early in the morning or on weekdays to avoid crowds.
Black River is one of the longest rivers in Jamaica and is best known for its mangroves and wildlife, including various species of birds....oh, and crocodiles. While I visited the Black River when I was a kid, I never actually saw a crocodile and was determined to see one on my last day as a 21-year-old.
There are many ways to tour the river- just make sure you don't go for a swim. While there are designated, 'official' safari tours on boats (which we did when I was younger), we opted to take a canoe for a more personal experience. It was so convenient and picked us up right on Billy's Bay! The local fishermen are well-acquainted with the area and know the river like the back of their hands- even know where some of the crocodile's favourite spots are.
The river has a black appearance due to its dark river bed and in some instances was so still that it reflected the surface like a mirror! Maybe it's the anticipation and tension of hoping to come across a crocodile, but it definitely has an eerie and chilling atmosphere. Nevertheless, it truly is beautiful and it was so interesting learning about the various wildlife, plants and seeing the hundred-year-old mangroves deeply rooted into the river.
As we headed deeper into the river, some of us started to lose hope that we wouldn't spot a crocodile- we had travelled to most of the crocodile's favourite spots, the water was a bit high because of rain the night before and crocodiles usually like to appear early in the morning and not midday, when we were touring. Finally, 'Marta's' head appeared out of the water.
Marta was huge- although our tour guide tried to reassure that he's seen bigger crocs- and was nestled in the corner of a mangrove. As we appeared closer, she surrounded us and came way too close to the side of the canoe for my personal comfort. While I was pretty anxious that the height of the canoe would be too close to the water, we were definitely in safe hands. Hands down, this is an experience I'll never forget.
FLOYD'S PELICAN BAR
A highlight of the trip was definitely crossing a destination off my Jamaican bucket list- visiting Floyd's Pelican Bar. Pelican Bar is a wooden bar on stilts located just a few miles off the coast on a shallow sand bank surrounded by spectacular marine life. Since it was such a calm day on the sea, we visited on our way back to the villa after our crocodile-dundee excursion at Black River.
This spot has endless vibes and good energy- after all, where else would you find a bar in the middle of the sea other than Jamaica? It's adorned with flags, license plates, stickers and carvings of their visitors from across the world and it was so fascinating to just read them all. Whether you're visiting to enjoy a cold drink or eat some local bites, Pelican Bar is the ultimate chill spot.
When we docked, there was luckily only one other canoe, whose passengers were relaxing in the waist-deep water. This gave us some time and room to roam around comfortably on the open-air deck after our mandatory temperature checks and hand-washing. As it's such an intimate bar (and a hotspot), I'd recommend visiting before/after lunch hours when it'll likely be less busy.
While I didn't visit Appleton Estate on this trip to Treasure Beach, it was the perfect way to celebrate my 21st birthday on International Rum Day Weekend last year. This definitely is an experience to add to your bucket list when in St. Elizabeth- whether a local or visitor! Appleton is a household name for a reason. Being able to learn about and witness the behind-the-scenes and history of their world renowned rum is something you can't pass up.
Similar to YS Falls, the journey there is almost as rewarding as the experience itself. While we drove from Kingston last year (about a 3 hour drive), it is only about an hour drive from Treasure Beach. Driving through the cane fields and untouched beauty of Cockpit Country is unbelievably incredible. When you arrive, you're presented with a complimentary drink before the walk-through tour and rum tasting.
This tour is not only educational but simply fun! Their tour guides are so engaging and are so rich with knowledge. I've been on many rum tours, but the layout of this tour truly breaks down the process of making rum in an understandable format that's easy to digest and enjoy- from tasting the sugar cane to molasses.
S H O P
Callaloo is a brand that I'm somewhat familiar with seeing around boutiques and stores across Kingston, such as My Jamaica. Native to the Treasure Beach area, it was only fitting that I visited their shop. Their vibrant 'butik' is home to various items, many of which are locally and hand made; from apparel to dolls to soaps to artwork, accessories, home decor and more!
While it was my mother who wanted to visit, I was the one who walked away with a keepsake. I immediately fell in love with their zinc paintings- specifically, one of an old Jamaican tourist poster. It was calling to me and simply felt like the perfect way to commemorate this memorable and heartfelt trip.
I think that it's safe to say that while it may have taken me 22 years to visit Treasure Beach, it won't be long until I return to this South Coast oasis. Until then, I'll cherish this trip forever.