Warning: This article is a crazy mixed up blend of good and bad. Here’s why…One of my favorite all-inclusive resorts is on Jamaica. The island is home to some positively gorgeous and unique areas and as resorts go, Sandals South Coast is a definite highlight. Believe me when I say that I can wax on like a travel brochure over its splendidness. And I will, farther into this article. But here’s the contrary part – Jamaica is experiencing crime issues. So much so, that in 2018 the U.S. State Department issued an advisory for Americans wanting to vacation there. Resorts take security very seriously and actively work to keep tourists safe, but venture off their grounds and all bets are off. To be fair, Kingston carries the brunt of it, but Montego Bay is running a close second.
https://travel.state.gov/content/travel.html (Great link for any international destination)
We took our trip in 2013 and never felt unsafe, except for that life-threatening shuttle ride from the airport to the resort. Yet even back then guards were posted at the property lines. We rarely saw them and it was easy to forget their presence, until you strolled far enough down the beach to hit the property limits. Then they materialize and warn you that going further becomes ‘At Your Own Risk’. Call us crazy, but we did so, walking out to the peninsula point in the picture below. Fortunately we had no issues.
Still, just look at that pristine resort. It’s hard to imagine it comes with risk. It’s blessed with gorgeous aqua shores and unlimited sunshine, a heavenly spot made for erasing all memory of a work-a-day grind. It’s impossible to think of spreadsheets and taxes and workplace shenanigans while lazing away the hours amidst tropical beaches and spectacular pools. Sandals South Coast is truly an exceptional experience.
But back to the warning label…Let’s say you don’t scare easy and the troubling travel warning doesn’t prevent you from visiting this fabulous gem. I applaud your sense of adventure. But let me share another morsel for you to chew on.
Before you can enjoy that dream vacation, you must first survive the white-knuckle shuttle run from the airport to the resort. Not kidding. They drive on the opposite side of the road from our USA, but that’s not the scary part. The island of Jamaica is very hilly. Mountainous, really, and the roads are in deplorable condition. They’re twisty, at times steep with non-existent guard-rails, chock full of blind curves that shuttle drivers don’t hesitate to pass a slow-moving car on. Just a quick beep of the horn and zoom… They aren’t fazed by the dangerous lack of road signs, or alarmingly aggressive drivers, or the escalating number of traffic fatalities. As a tourist however, if you aren’t solid gray from the stress and paralyzing fear over the ride, then you weren’t paying attention.
One last caution…The resorts are huge tax generating businesses, but monies paid to local governments don’t appear to be used to improve city or rural infrastructure. As you make your way to the resort, the view from the shuttle window can be depressing. When you pass through the reality of extremely poor countryside, guilt sneaks its way in. All you can eat and drink takes on a whole new meaning when not half a mile away people get their water from a rain cistern and cook outside over a fire in their front yard. The contrast dampens your enthusiasm for indulgence.
Wow, you say. Enough of the downer, where’s the good part?
Everything about the resort is the good part. The people who work there seem truly glad to see you. They’re friendly, helpful, and determined to make your vacation one for the record books. The location is outstanding and surrounding area free of the usual touristy whoopla. The best part – South Coast’s sprawling grounds are beyond beautiful, full of manicured landscaping, lush tropical flowers and trees, pleasantly meandering pathways, and graceful fountains. As if that wasn’t enough, they up the game by adding PEACOCKS.
The birds are seriously freaking cool. Those are untouched iPhone 6 pictures of a peacock roaming the grounds. There were two and I stalked those poor birds, snapping countless pictures. They didn’t seem to mind. In fact, I’d swear they intentionally posed for me. Every evening at sunset I loved to hear them call each other as they settled into their perches for the night. Ever hear a peacock? They sound like some wild jungle cat. It’s strangely compelling.
But there’s a ton of other things to do besides stalking avian residents. The resort boasts nearly a mile of pristine coastline and we walked it daily. We also enjoyed coffee on the beach every morning and then hit the pool’s swim up bar to partake in endless fruity drinks during the afternoon. We frolicked in the surf and snorkeled our way through an amazing amount of starfish close to shore. We totally failed at wind surfing. Had better luck kayaking and loved paddle boarding. Took to the wind with a couple guided catamaran sails during the day. And one glorious evening we embarked on a sunset cruise that included a bonus dip in the Caribbean Sea.
And let’s not forget the food! Sandals South Coast has nine distinctly different restaurants and one fabulous martini bar. The cuisine was out of this world. Italian, Asian, European, lunch cafes, dessert bakery, you name it. There were special events too, like Chocolate Delight night by the main pool. A cool evening breeze, colorful lights in the water, and champagne served alongside decadent chocolate treats. Wow.
I can’t say enough good things about that resort. It is a singular vacation destination. By all means, go. But heed the warnings, stick to the resort and their planned excursions, and never venture off on your own. While that sounds a bit unnerving, it’s actually sound advice for any depressed economy location you visit. And at South Coast, you really have no reason to leave the grounds. Everything you can possibly want or need is right there, including a spa.
It’s worth it.
Monica McCabe, Author and Adventuress