Jamaica’s second largest city after Kingston, Mo Bay is charged, hip, and gritty, with a lively music scene that reaches its frenzied height at Reggae Sumfest, a reggae and dancehall marathon that showcase star performers from dusk till dawn. Jamaica is the birthplace of reggae, its heartbeat, soul, and inspiration, and of all Mo Bay’s music festivals, this is the one that locals save up for all year. Evolved from aka (a heady combination of African traditions with rhythm and blues) and the slower rocksteady and infused with the “one love” message of Rastafarianism, reggae still owes its greatest debt to the late Bob Marley, a national (and international) folk hero.
For those who have come to loll in the lap of luxury, staying put in Mo Bay means great golfing and fine resorts. Half-Moon is one of the Caribbean’s best big resort: With 400 well-manicured acres and almost as many rooms, not to mention 54 swimming pools, a 2-mile private beach, and 13 lit tennis courts, if feels more like a town – albeit one with an equestrian center, dolphins lagoon, and thrilling Robert Trent Jones Sr. 18-hole golf course. It’s also home to Fern Tree, one of the island’s newest and largest spas, where local elders helped integrate traditional Jamaican healing practices into the treatments.
The most serious (and seriously wealthy) golfers shortlist Tryall Club, a 2,200-acre former sugar plantation whose 18-hole golf course is known for its difficult, unpredictable holes. Designed by Ralph Plummer in the 1950s, it is considered by many to be the island’s best and is open only to guests who book privately owned villas centered around an 1834 Georgian-style great house.
Jamaica’s most famous – and infamous – great house is Rose Hall, built in the 1700s in the heyday of the sugar-plantation era and occupied in the 19th century by Annie Palmer, the “White Witch” of the region, local lore says Annie was cruel voodoo-practicing slave owner who murdered several husbands and eventually was herself murdered by one of her slaves. The beautifully restored house, alleged to be haunted, is set on a hill with sweeping lawns overlooking the sea.
And lastly, don’t miss Mo Bay’s spicy, succulent fare at the Pork Pit, a long-time local institution. The beach crowd arrives around noon, when the fiery jerk is ready to be lifted from its bed of coal and fragrant wood and slapped down on the communal picnic tables.
BEST TIME: Nov – Apr for nice weather; late Jan for Jazz & Blues Festival; mid-Jul for Reggae Sumfest.