Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 8/2/2020 (872 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
I have found the Fountain of Youth. Explorers have been scouring the world for the mythical water for thousands of years, but we came across it almost by mistake while evaluating a number of day trip options near Negril, Jamaica. Moped rides? No, thank you. Swim with dolphins? Too touristy. Eternal life? Okay, let’s give that a shot.
Oh, sure, they don’t say that in the brochure for Mayfield Falls, located a little more than an hour outside of the tiny beach resort town on the island’s west coast. But they should.
Of course, the road to the Fountain of Youth is not well-travelled and if you think you can get there using Google Maps, you’re sadly mistaken.
The tour drivers know the precise route, including every switchback, gigantic pothole and goat crossing along the way into the lush countryside in the parish of Westmoreland.
If you’ve been to Jamaica before, do not confuse Mayfield Falls with Dunn’s River Falls, which is located in Ocho Rios, a few hours to the east. Dunn’s River is a super fun experience and is arguably the biggest tourist attraction on the island. And while the lineups to climb the falls aren’t quite Disney World-esque, they can be lengthy and a world away from Mayfield.
After your driver drops you off at the entrance — literally an opening in the trees on the side of a mountain road with no signage and nothing even close to resembling a parking lot — and once you say hello to all of the chickens and goats wandering around, you descend a bamboo staircase, walk across a couple of man-made bridges and down a path where the trees are so tall and thick that sometimes you can’t even see the sky.
The only thing even remotely commercial is a small sign nailed to a tree that says — "Dis mus be da place."
One of the most eco-friendly tourist attractions you’ll find anywhere, the experience at Mayfield Falls is a hike up two waterfalls featuring 44 mineral pools and 21 natural jacuzzis.
They say you can go barefoot or wear runners but I wouldn’t recommend it. When they offer to rent you water shoes for US$6, slap your money down.
It’s the same footwear that a growing number of Manitobans wear each summer so they don’t cut their feet if they step on a zebra mussel. The grip provided by the sole is invaluable primarily for peace of mind, not because any of the rocks are slippery. (They aren’t.) If you’re really on the ball, buy them at Canadian Tire or Walmart for about the same price before you go.
If you’ve got a waterproof camera, this is the time to break it out. If not, don’t bother pulling your iPhone out of a plastic bag every time you want to take a picture, simply ask your guide if they’ll double as your official photographer, and tip accordingly.
River guide Oral Colquhoun knows every inch of the trail. He says the water washing over you during the meandering river walk/wade/swim/climb contains 95 different types of minerals.
"You’re swimming in natural swimming pools, natural jacuzzis and you get massaged by the jacuzzis, which are good for the muscles and joints. It makes you feel 10 years younger," he says.
"And frisky," he adds with a wide grin.
"It’s like a healing process. Many times people have pains in their muscles and joints. After they do (the falls), they feel brand new. Many people come here for relaxation and just to sit in the pools and get some mineral water soaking into their skin."
Mayfield Falls offers all kinds of opportunities to get the most natural of back massages, practice your cannon balls and swim underneath rock formations and mini-caves.
Along the way, guides will show you where you can pull out handfuls of clay and cover yourself literally from head to toe for the most natural full-body detox you’ll ever get.
The most famous of the jacuzzis is right at the top — the Washing Machine. It’s about three metres high and entering this cascade is arguably the closest you’ll ever get to experiencing what your dirty socks go through.
You can also drink the water in the Washing Machine because it’s pure. Further down the falls, of course, the water has come in contact with everybody climbing up.
"It’s safe with us. All you have to do is trust your guide, do what we say and you’re okay," Colquhoun said.
There’s just one problem, though. The eternal youth from Mayfield Falls goes up in smoke with your next Red Stripe lager or rum and Coke when you get back to your resort.
Mayfield Falls is just one of the excursions available through Sunwing Experiences. You can pre-book excursions before you land in Jamaica as part of your overall vacation package and pay in Canadian dollars. For more information, visit sunwing.ca or contact your travel agent. Sunwing representatives are also on site at your hotel, and are hard to miss in their distinctive orange outfits.
Sunwing offers vacation packages to Jamaica at top-rated resorts including RIU Hotels & Resorts and Royalton Luxury Resorts with direct flights to Montego Bay from Winnipeg every Monday until March 30.
GO JETS GO
If you want to watch a Winnipeg Jets game when you’re in Negril, Chris Tomney has got you covered.
The former Winnipegger and graduate of Kildonan East High School owns the Sea Star Inn, a 17-room property in the coastal village. His satellite TV package includes Jets games, and if you call ahead for a reservation in his lounge and tell him you’re a Winnipegger, you’ll find your table right in front of the big-screen TV.
Hanging on the wall to your right is a Jets 2.0 banner and a vintage Bobby Hull jersey.
Tomney used to come down to Negril on vacation with his buddies and he liked it so much, he started up a business renting out motorbikes and scooters. He eventually bought a piece of land and started to build the Sea Star, "one room at a time."
He has also built his own life, marrying a Jamaican woman 20 years ago and together they have a six-year-old daughter.
"I’m a Jamaican citizen now," he says proudly.
While he doesn’t do anything to cater specifically to Winnipeggers, there’s no question they make up a significant portion of his guests each year.
The Sea Star offers up top-notch reggae and African drummer performances every Saturday night and if you’re staying at another property on Negril’s famous Seven Mile Beach, Tomney’s shuttle will pick you up and take you back.
You’ll get the same kind of personalized service at the Beachcomber Club Resort. This 48-room boutique hotel has the feel of a bed-and-breakfast as it’s small enough that the staff not only know your name, but remember your favourite drink and how you like your food.
The Beachcomber is near the middle of Seven Mile Beach. It’s one of the rare tourist areas where the main thoroughfare is made of sand.
Buskers are very common on the beach and there is no shortage of guitarists and percussionists who can belt out Bob Marley’s Could You Be Loved or Peter Tosh’s Walk and Don’t Look Back. The more you pay, the longer they’ll play.
The Beachcomber usually shuts down its bar around 10 p.m. but if you want to keep going until the wee hours, Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville is right next door. There are also numerous beach bars, complete with reggae bands and dancehall DJs, of course, just a short walk away.
At the other end of the spectrum is the Riu Negril. Located a few kms away from the main beach, this hotel offers every kind of amenity imaginable. It has a number of restaurants specializing in a variety of cuisines, but if you want the full Jamaican experience, visit the Jerk Station, which serves a traditional Jamaican chicken lunch right on the beach.
It also has non-motorized water activities, including kayaks, pedal boats and stand-up paddleboards — which are free to take out as often as you’d like.
There are also two tennis courts on the property. They are wide open during the heat of the day, but there can be line-ups early in the morning.
The highlight of every night is the show put on by the entertainment staff, which ranges from steel drums and dancers to reggae bands. If you’re lucky, you’ll see an impromptu dance-off between various members of the staff.
If you’re smart, you’ll know enough not to try those moves yourself.
If you think Jamaica looks great from the beach, wait until you see what’s under the water.
Sure, snorkelling can be kind of neat, but if you want a truly other-worldly experience, go scuba diving.
Scuba diving is perhaps the tourist attraction with the most paranoid and illogical would-be participants. They want to do it, but for some reason, they think the instructors are leading them to their imminent, prolonged and Darwin Award-winning deaths.
Do yourself a favour and trust the dive instructors. They know what they’re doing.
Plus, killing tourists is bad for business. Giving them a mind-blowing experience, however, generates fantastic word-of-mouth advertising.
The first thing they’ll do is get you familiar with the equipment and used to breathing through your mouth using a regulator. Even in the pool, this can a little tricky at first because your natural instinct is to go back to the surface after a few seconds. After a minute or two of practice and swimming around, you’ll get acclimatized to it (and probably a little grossed out by all the gunk at the bottom of the pool).
"You don’t even have to be a strong swimmer," said Kurt Bradley, an instructor at ScubaCaribe in Negril.
Hand signals are a big part of scuba diving for obvious reasons and you’ll learn a few of them in the pool, too, as well as how to clear your mask if some water leaks in.
The most important skill you’ll learn is how to equalize the pressure in your ears. The deeper you go in the water, the more atmospheric pressure builds up and you’ve got to relieve it. The most popular method involves plugging your nose with your thumb and forefinger and trying to breathe gently through your nostrils a few times. Wiggling your jaw around often works, too.
Once you’ve mastered the pool, it’s time to graduate to the ocean. After a quick break, you’re on the dive boat heading offshore. And while the diving process is the same in salt water as it is in the pool, it’s natural to have a few nervous moments. The instructors will put your mind at ease and be by your side every step of the way.
"Everything under there looks like a fantasy," Bradley says. "It’s similar to skydiving with all the space at the same time. There are only a few things to compare it to. Not everyone is rich so you can’t go to outer space. I think the closest one to try is doing scuba diving," he said.
Once you drop anchor, it’s time to jump in. You’ll deflate your buoyancy vest and start to descend, using the anchor rope to guide you. Sometimes it takes a little while to get equilibrium in your ears and your instructors will tell you to equalize regularly as you descend to about 10 metres below the surface.
Then it’s time to explore.
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There will be schools of colourful fish EVERYWHERE but the instructors will point out other sea creatures you might not spot, such as arrow crabs, lobsters, puffer fish — the ones whose eyes seem to be bugging out of their heads — lion fish and spotted sea cucumbers.
The one cardinal rule of scuba diving is don’t take anything with you. Leave the ocean exactly as you found it (unless you come across something plastic, then by all means pick it up).
If you go:
You can pay for a lot of things with your credit card, but you’re going to need some cash, either U.S. or Jamaican dollars, to pay for things or to tip people. (Jamaicans don’t mind Canadian dollars as tips. “Money is money,” they say.) You can use your Canadian debit card to withdraw cash from the Scotiabank location in downtown Negril.
Jamaicans drive on the “wrong” side of the road, so look both ways a couple of times before you step off the curb.
The average high temperature in Negril from January through March is 30 C, with the night time cooling off just a few degrees. Pack a couple of bottles of sunscreen and a hat.
Every hotel staff member appreciates tips, but they’ll also be very appreciative of good shoes and name-brand clothes, school supplies, including crayons and backpacks, deflated soccer balls, books, hair products, tooth brushes, other toiletries, sports jerseys, Tylenol and other pain killers, vegetable seeds, guitar strings and drum sticks for the beach musicians, reading glasses from the dollar store, hand creams, beauty products, diaper cream and pantyhose.