UNIGLOBE Donaldson Travel Cambridge's Blog

Do You Know Your ABCs? Islands, that is.

They're as far south as you can go in the Caribbean Sea. A stone's throw north of Venezuela, the 'ABC' Islands are blessed with a location outside the Caribbean's hurricane zone… and on the radar of travelers in the know.

Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao were part of what was formerly known as the Netherlands Antilles, and they are still part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Colorful Dutch colonial and West Indies heritage, unique climates, landscapes and ecosystems much different from the rest of the Caribbean, and that slightly more remote location, make the ABC Islands a haven for travelers looking for a new kind of island experience.

ARUBA

The closest of the ABC islands to Venezuela, only 15 miles off its coast, Aruba is still only a 2½ hour flight from Miami, and has the most standard 'Caribbean' tourist development.

But instead of the tropical humidity and frequent rain you associate with the Caribbean, Aruba's climate is a dessert-like dream: dry, sunny, and breezy with constant trade winds crossing the flat surface of the island.

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The western and southern coasts are known for their white, sandy beaches, ideal locations for the majority of the island's hotels and resorts. Palm Beach, Eagle Beach, and nearby capital of Oranjestad are home to the island's international restaurants, shopping, casinos, golf and other international travel amenities.

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But make sure to get off Aruba's beaten track. The famous trade winds shape one of the most famous symbols of Aruba: the divi divi tree, bent into fantastical, bonsai shapes.

The arid landscape is also dotted with cactus and aloe vera plants; a tour in Arikok National Park, which covers nearly 1/5th of the island, is a great way to see this unusual Caribbean landscape, as well as caves and archeological remains of original inhabitants, and the dramatic rocky eastern coast of the island.

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Don't miss San/Sint Nicolaas, and up-and-coming 'second city' for all that is young, hip and artistic in Aruba. Public murals painted by artists from around the world, an early fall art festival, and trendy hipster bar and restaurant scene make it worth your while to explore farther afield from the capital.

BONAIRE

The smallest of the ABC Islands, Bonaire is essentially a coral reef pushed out of the sea and surrounded by one of the world's most celebrated coral reef systems. The reefs start from the very shoreline and have made Bonaire a bucket list destination for divers who considered it one of, if not the very best shore diving destinations in the world.

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Bonaire has led the Caribbean in nature conservation and eco-tourism. The entire coastline, from the high-water mark on land to a depth of 200 feet offshore, was designated a marine sanctuary in 1979. It protects the 350 species of fish, 60 species of coral and 4 species of sea turtle in its reefs.

Bonaire's shoreline is dotted with lagoons and inlets that are home to marine birds including one of only four nesting grounds of Caribbean flamingos. Outside of that highly protected area, mangrove forests are popular kayaking and snorkeling destinations for hotel guests and passengers in port from cruise ships.

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Nearby Lac Bay on the windward side of the island is on the map of the world's top wind surfers. With reef protecting the entrance to the bay and consistent trade winds, it's one of the stops of the PWA Windsurfing Freestyle World Cup. In fact, the island's most famous export might be its windsurfers; half of the world's highest-ranked freestyle windsurfers are from Bonaire. So if you have been meaning to take up the sport, this is the place to find both ideal conditions and expert instruction.

In the southern part of the island, Bonaire's unique topography has salt water flowing over low lands, enabling the island to commercially produce salt by evaporating seawater. One of the more unique – and delicious - souvenirs you can find in the Caribbean.

CURACAO

Larger than Aruba or Bonaire, Curacao is also a more commercial center with financial and oil-refining business. It's a popular cruise port and has direct flights from cities on the Eastern seaboard as well as Miami and the Netherlands.

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The capital Willemstad dates from the first half of the 1600's. Its collection of well-preserved Dutch colonial architecture, cotton-candy and lacy versions of design typical of Netherlands in the 17th century, is the best example of the style in the Dutch Caribbean and has earned UNESCO World Heritage status.

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In addition to the marvelous pastel-perfect streetscape, the Dutch built forts in the 1600's to protect themselves in the age of piracy and European marine warfare. Six can still be seen today; preserved historic sites, or transformed into hotels, casinos, and even plazas.

The island also has a thrilling geological feature for avid scuba divers: the 'Blue Edge', where the sea shelf drops sharply off only 200 feet from shore.

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Also famously blue, and possibly more famous than the island itself, is its world-famous namesake liqueur. Curacao is the famously peacock blue liqueur that's also a top souvenir of any trip to the island. It's distilled from the island's Laraha fruit, a bitter orange that is the failed result of very early Spanish settlers' attempts to raise Valencia oranges in the dry, poor soil. Although its fruit is almost inedible, the peel is powerfully aromatic. And that trademark blue? It's always just been added color.

With their extraordinary terrain, climate, heritage and lifestyle, the ABC Islands should be on any traveler's list of top Caribbean destinations.

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Go Coastal! 5 Beaches you Can't Miss in Maine this Summer

Summer in Maine defines coastal living. Wood-siding summer homes in nautical colors along miles of beaches begging for you to stroll and dig your toes in the sand, examine shells and driftwood, inhale the cool Atlantic breezes, walk the dog among sandy dunes, and of course, enjoy the sea.

Maine is blessed with some of the most beautiful beaches in the US, and by mid-summer, they've warmed up enough to beckon swimmers off the sand and into the waves. Here are five beaches you just can't miss on a trip to New England.

1. Old Orchard Beach.

Start with this seven-mile strand that has been welcoming visitors for over 170 years. It has the only beachfront amusement park in New England. You can even reach Old Orchard Beach aboard the Amtrak Downeaster, which stops just steps away from the beach. The 500-foot classic pier is a powerhouse of family entertainment with shopping, arcades, dining, nightlife and concerts and even fireworks!

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It's also the point of departure for fishing, whale watching, and birdwatching tours.

2. Scarborough Beach State Park

For those seeking a little more tranquility, Scarborough Beach State Park has waves that attract local surfers and a wide beach that's ideal for families. Scarborough Beach offers some of the best swimming in New England with water temps in the high 60's through out July and August.

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It's also the nesting grounds of endangered Piping Plovers; visitors help protect them by following bans on dogs, bikes and kite flying April through November.

3. Ogunquit Beach

This beach (pictured top) is ranked among the top beaches in the United States, great for swimming, bodysurfing, and searching for shells and driftwood. It's a 3 ½ mile peninsula of sandy beach and grassy dunes; a natural barrier between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ogunquit River. (There's a footbridge across the river at the midsection of the beach).

You can rent chairs, umbrellas and floats, launch a small boat at the boat ramp, and stroll along Marginal Way, a mile-long cliff walk that extends along the ocean, and pass Marginal Way Lighthouse en route.

4. Goose Rocks Beach

The picturesquely-named beach at Kennebunkport is a wide beach with three miles of soft sand and moderate surf. A barrier reef offshore known as Goose Rocks, visible at low tide, helps protect the soft, white sands of the beach.

This is a perfect spot for you to spread out the beach blankets, chairs and umbrellas for a fun day of sunbathing, relaxing, swimming and combing the shore for sand dollars. An ideal relaxed family day at the beach.

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5. Popham Beach

Finally, Popham Beach is a wilder beach in Midcoast Maine. It's part of Popham Beach State Park, one of Maine's rare geologic landforms. The Kennebec and Morse rivers border each end of the long stretch of sandy beach. From the beach, you can see offshore islands, such as Fox and Wood Islands, where you can explore at low tide. You can even get a geologic tour of the beach.

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Top Caribbean Beaches for a Winter Escape

Maybe you thought you could tough this winter out in the cold. Or maybe you've been planning a break in the sun all along. Well, if you haven't booked a winter escape to the warm embrace of the Caribbean yet, here are our favorite, more under-the-radar beaches to inspire you to try a new island, a new beach in this year's travel plans:

1. Crane Beach, Barbados

Crane Beach was originally a harbor, is considered one of the most beautiful in the world with its dramatic cliffs and surrounding vegetation. If you think 'Crane' beach is just for birdwatchers, you're wrong: it refers to the large crane that once sat on the top of the cliff loading and unloading ships. The waves in this area make the Crane beach a great spot for body surfing.

2. Trunk Bay, St. John, US Virgin Islands

This white sand beach has been a showpiece of the US National Park Service since it was donated by a Rockefeller family member to the Virgin Islands National Park. A one-of-a-kind, 650-foot underwater snorkeling trail provides terrific viewing of colorful fish and corals, including the rare, indigo-blue tunicates – in less than 20′ of water, perfect for every member of the family.

3. Eagle Beach, Aruba

Aruba is as far south as you can go in the Caribbean before you hit South America, and its uniquely dry, sunny, almost dessert-like environment, so different from elsewhere in the Caribbean, is worth a few more minutes in the air. Wide and white, Eagle Beach is home to two of the most photographed and renowned divi divi trees in Aruba (pictured), with their trademark silhouette shaped by the constant, refreshing trade winds. Low rise resorts line the beach, which is also a famous turtle nesting and hatching site.

4. Mosquito Bioluminscent Bay, Puerto Rico

This might be the only beach in the Caribbean best seen at night! Tiny micro-organisms, up to 160,000 of them in every liter of water - give off a supernatural, blue-white glow year round. It's the most luminous bioluminescent display in the world - and makes this the beach experience on Puerto Rico's Vieques island unforgettable!

5. Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda

This is the most famous beach in Bermuda, and one of the top-rated in the world. A very popular tourist spot, it lies on the main island's south (Atlantic) coast, shaped in, you guessed it, a horseshoe. Fringed by limestone rocks, the pink sand and turquoise water are mirrored by the British Caribbean island's pastel architecture.

This year, don't let your winter escape be the 'same old, same old' island experience. Discover a new favorite beach in the Caribbean.

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Go Island Hopping in the South Pacific

The very word 'Tahiti' evokes the mystique of one of the most remote and romantic island destinations in the world.

An island hopping escape to even a few of the 118 islands and atolls in this South Pacific paradise is not only the ultimate escape from northern winters, it's the trip of a lifetime.

Picture your arrival, welcomed by Tahitian music and fragrant Tiare flowers… and use these highlights of some of the key islands to start planning your island hopping fantasy escape:

They call the island of Tahiti 'The Queen of the Pacific'. It's the largest and most populated island, and is the starting point for travelers, who fly into the capital city Papeete. Don't miss Marae Arahurahu, an ancient Tahitian outdoor temple, or, in the centre of town, the market with tropical produce and fresh local fish and Tahitian arts and crafts, including the biggest selection of pareus (sarongs) in the country. Outside the city, Tahiti boasts spectacular scenery: lush green peaks tower over cascading waterfalls and rippling pools in the interior, and black- and white-sand beaches and turquoise lagoons at the sea.

Photos: Chris McLennan

Moorea is a mere 11 miles across the Sea of the Moon from Tahiti. If that doesn't already sound like a fairytale, consider Moorea's nickname: 'The Magical Island'. It is even said to be the inspiration for the mythical island of Bali Hai. You've seen it in the movies, from Mutiny on the Bounty to Love Affair. But film can never do full justice to the dramatic beauty of the island. Make sure you go to Belvedere Lookout, with its breathtaking views of Moorea’s twin bays, Cook’s and Opunohu. Look on Moorea's hillsides for its signature produce, pineapples, and visit a local distillery to sample exotic liqueurs from pineapple, mango, coconut, vanilla and other Tahitian flavors.

Here's another magical nickname: the 'Garden of Eden'. Huahine is 110 miles northwest of Tahiti, and actually consists of two islands joined by a bridge. Its main town, Maeva, means 'welcome' in Tahitian! Drive into the hills for spectacular views over white-sand beaches and brilliant turquoise lagoons, and visit restored Tahitian marae (temples), centuries-old stone fish traps, and plantations of melons, vanilla, coffee, taro, mango, and flowers. Do you surf? There are world-class waves at Avamoa Pass, and the world’s largest outrigger canoe race begins here each October.

Bora Bora is a tiny island with a big reputation. 'The Romantic Island' has been called the most beautiful island in the world. It's only 18 miles around, circled by a necklace of coral. Lush mountains provide a dramatic backdrop for the indescribable turquoise, lapis and aquamarine of the famous, sheltered lagoon. Bora Bora is home to world-class resorts and quaint continental restaurants, where celebrity A-listers vacation in luxurious seclusion.

The Tuamotu Atolls are the largest of the Polynesian archipelagos, Tahiti’s 'Strand of Pearls' with 76 islands and atolls spread over more than 7500 square miles. Four of these atolls – Rangiroa, Manihi, Tikehau, Fakarava – offer world-class scuba diving, horseback riding, shark feeding and deep-sea fishing. In addition, the ecosystem in the Fakarava atoll is a UNESCO biosphere reserve. And Manihi is 'the Pearl Island', the site of the first of many pearl farms that have made Tahiti famous for prized, cultivated black pearls.

Start your Trip!

 

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Saying 'I Do' Off-the-Beaten Path in Treasure Beach, Jamaica

With its famous tropical beaches, music and lifestyle, no wonder Jamaica is a favourite Caribbean island for destination weddings.  Most couples who travel to Jamaica to celebrate their special day at one of the remarkable all-inclusive resorts.

But some couples may want to venture off the beaten path to the southwest part of the island, where farming and fishing and a more authentic Jamaican way of life provide a different destination wedding experience far away from tourist crowds.

At Treasure Beach, guests are welcomed into a relaxed atmosphere where community and sustainability are the focus.  It's a different approach to travel that includes local food, farm-to-table dining events, and visitors integrating with the local residents.

If your idea of a dream wedding is a secluded beach at sunset, Treasure Beach can make that dream come true.  Charming local resorts like Jake's and the Sunset Resort and Villas provide wedding planners to help all the details come together, and also the small beach community atmosphere you and your guests will never forget.

Here are the top 10 things for couples and their guests to do while visiting Treasure Beach:

Eat and Drink:

1. The Pelican Bar: This place looks like it belongs in a movie set: a thatched hut on stilts built on a submerged sandbar 1km out to sea. Getting there is half the fun.  You have to hire a local boat captain as your taxi to what may be the most memorable place you'll ever have a drink. Chill with a Red Stripe or rum punch, watch dolphins in the surf, even take a dip yourself.  

2. Smurfs Cafe: The kitschy and fabulous experience you need to feel like a true 'local'. Smurfs Café is an unlikely combination of breeze block construction and Smurf décor that's open all hours serving some of the best breakfasts, can't-miss stove-roasted Blue Mountain coffee and divine key lime pie.

3. Jakes resort's hip, open-sided wooden restaurant that also serves diners on the patio poolside breakfast, lunch and dinner using farm and daily catch-fresh ingredients.  The menu changes with the harvest or the catch and offers modern twists on Jamaican recipes. 

4. The resort also has another, more chill and traditional restaurant, Jack Sprats, where the dishes stay more traditional and you can chill with locals playing dominos.

5. Eggy's Bar: Looking for the perfect drink overlooking the perfect sunset? Eggy's Bar is off the main road by Frenchman’s Bay and the spot locals themselves gather to drink Red Stripe and watch the sun set.

SHOP:

6. Treasure Beach Women's Group will set you up with all the gifts and souvenirs you need, from crafts made from calabash shells and other local materials, batiks, coffee. This shop can also save the day if you forget or misplace swimwear, sandals and other beach necessities.

PLAY AND EXPLORE

7. Beaches:

Frenchman's Beach: This is the most centrally located beach of the community, with the landmark buttonwood tree you see in photos.  The place to find woodcarvers selling their wares, local boat captains arranging trips to the Pelican Bar or Black River and a place to watch the sunsets. 

Jack Spratt Beach: West of Jake’s Place, this is the safest beach for swimming, where brightly painted wooden fishing boats are pulled up on the sand, and local fishers ply their nets.

Great Bay Beach: The least developed area of Treasure Beach,  where the beach and a patchwork of fields provide a rural atmosphere.  The main business here is still the local fishermen's co-op.

Old Wharf Beach: Privacy comes at a price, so it takes some effort to reach the most private beach in the area.

8. Treasure Beach Sports Park:  One of the centers of community life, with tennis courts, soccer pitches and – most uniquely to North Americans – a cricket oval.  Jake's resort has posters and information about upcoming events.

9. Bamboo Avenue:  A stunning, two and a half mile stretch of the main road in the parish lined with giant bamboo that arch over the road and form a green, shaded tunnel.  It was established by owners of an estate to provide shade for travelers and prevent erosion, and remains the longest bamboo road archway of its kind in Jamaica.

10. Black River: The second longest river in Jamaica is home to an incredible wealth of wildlife including over 100 species of wetland birds and the endangered American Alligator.  River fishermen and professional guides offer tours.  Take some time away from the beach to explore one of Jamaica's most colourful ecosystems.

Start your Trip!

 

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Planning a Destination Wedding in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Puerto Vallarta, on the Pacific coast, is one of Mexico's top resort destinations. 

In town, in the ocean, or in forest, there's plenty to entertain visitors.  Boardwalks in town are worth a stroll to see sculptors and artisans at work.  On the water, active visitors enjoy snorkeling, diving and kayaking, and less active guests can to get on boats to spot whales and dolphins.  Thrill seekers head to the jungle for zip lining and bungee jumping adventures.

With something for every travel style, it's no surprise that this town on the Pacific coast of Mexico is also one of the country's top destinations for weddings, honeymoons, and vow renewals. With a gorgeous ocean bay and mountain views, an outdoor ceremony is guaranteed stunning photos.

If you're considering celebrating your milestone in Puerto Vallarta, here are some of the things you should know:

Paperwork:

Couples must provide valid passports and an original and copy of birth certificates annotated and translated by an authorized translator certified in Spanish. Death and divorce decrees are required if applicable. ** Check with a wedding specialist to confirm up to date requirements.

Ceremony Options:

  • Civil ceremony: In Mexico, as in many other countries, you aren't legally married unless you have a civil ceremony at the Mexican equivalent of the Registrar General's Office.  You need to plan ahead – at least four months before your planned wedding date -  and the result will be a legally registered marriage.
  • Spiritual wedding: Spiritual weddings can take place in any of the breathtaking locations in Puerto Vallarta, and officiated by a person of the couple's choice.  Some couples legally get married before at home, or have both civil and spiritual ceremonies in Mexico, and some prefer to share a spiritual wedding in this beautiful destination without the legality of a marriage license.
  • A church ceremony is one option for a location for a spiritual wedding especially for those who won't feel truly married without a religious blessing, but remember, only civil ceremonies are registered legal marriages in Mexico.

Your next decision is: where to celebrate?  We've picked 5 top Destination Wedding, Vow Renewal, and Honeymoon resorts in Puerto Vallarta to get you started:

  • Palladium Vallarta Resort & Spa is in a magnificent setting, surrounded by lush vegetation and with a private, 300m beach front extending on the Mexican Ocean.  The resort was uniquely built to integrate into the natural surroundings and reduce impact on the local vegetation and wildlife.  Combined with its Mexican design, the resort offers all the refinements of an international all-inclusive resort with a local authenticity.  You and your guests will be able to choose between the family-friendly, all-inclusive experience, and the Royal Suites Punta Mita, an adult only exclusive hotel for those guests who want to enjoy privacy and tranquility with luxury services. Options for the location of your dream wedding ceremony range from a religious ceremony in a charming, colonial Chapel, to a clifftop terrace wedding overlooking the Caribbean.
  • The Riu Vallarta is a low-rise, all inclusive property in Riviera Nayarit on Playa de Flamingos beach overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  Amenities for your guests include 4 restaurants, 5 bars including a swim up bar in one of its 2 pools with jacuzzis, plus a children's pool, gym and sauna.  Your group can also enjoy the spa, outdoor activities and assorted water sports, with horse riding, cycling and golf nearby for the entire wedding party and guest list. There's an on site wedding coordinator who lets you enjoy a tropical vacation while making sure your special occasion runs smoothly,  and their wedding packages offer religious, civil/legal, as well as spiritual/ symbolic exchanging of vows.
  • The Riu Jalisco is also located on Flamingos Beach in the Riviera Nayarit, about 9 minutes from Puerto Vallarta.  This property has undergone a $12 million renovation, including updated décor in its 700 rooms - designed with families in mind to ensure multi-generation families attending  your special day will all have an ideal travel experience – as well as at its five Mexican and int'l restaurants, six bars, pools and Jacuzzis, a kids pool and play area, gym, steam, sun terrace and spa.   This is also an all-inclusive resort.Like the Riu Vallarta, on site wedding coordinators take the pressure off organizing local details, and the resort offers a range of ceremony options for every style of wedding.
  • Getting married at the Friendly Vallarta Beach Resort and Spa means you'll have the services of a professional event planner and a team of wedding specialists who focus on making sure your special day is enjoyable and memorable for you and your guests.  There are 5 spaces available to host your ceremony, able to accommodate up to 600 attendees.  Venues range from elegant ballrooms to a more rustic beach setting for the celebration or reception.  Catering and dining includes not just private banquets on the beach or canapés and cocktails, but also a multi-course tasting menu option.This property provides options for both civil and spiritual ceremonies.
  • The Crown Paradise Club Puerto Vallarta is a beach front resort designed with multi-generational family travel in mind, including an infinity pool, two zip lines, a central pool, and a kids area with a water park with a pirate ship, castle, 9 water slides, an outdoor area for family games.   This all-inclusive property offers a la carte specialty restaurants for dinners, snack bars and bars, and rooms that can accommodate two adults and three small children, offering a children’s sleeping area with a bunk bed, a nest bed and its own TV.  Resort activities also include gym sessions, tennis, spinning, yoga, and spa treatments. The top choice by brides for their wedding ceremony is the picture-perfect rustic wooden beach terrace with a grass roof gazebo for the wedding party.

Thinking of getting married in Puerto Vallarta?  Contact us to start your trip!

 

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A 'Treasure' of Authentic, Sustainable Jamaica at Treasure Beach

Many visitors traveling to Jamaica never see the island outside their all-inclusive resorts. But if you're an adventurous traveler who's willing to brave a few potholes driving on winding country roads, you'll find a 'treasure' of old Jamaica in the South West part of the Caribbean island.

Treasure Beach is a village on the coast in the agricultural heartland of Jamaica where farmers and fishermen are said to outnumber tourists 50-1. The region supplies the country with more produce than any other parish. Are you an early riser? The rhythm of daily life in Treasure Beach starts with the first catch coming in with the dawn, and sunset sees fishing rods on the beach.

Farming and fishing are the cornerstones of the Treasure Beach community. The local 'scene' that puts Treasure Beach on the map revolves around Jake's. The resort founders call their travel experience 'community tourism': where visitors and locals come together for arts, culture, outdoor and sporting activities that include weekly outdoor movies, cricket matches, live music and DJ's, monthly full-moon, farm- to-table-dinners in the fields, a yoga deck over the sea, and activities that focus on sustainability and world class festivals

Don't Miss These Events in Treasure Beach, Jamaica:

Fitness: Jake's Off Road Triathlon has been rated one of the top 5 international triathlons, and raises funds for the community. It welcomes both elite and amateur competitors who love to travel and maintain a healthy, athletic lifestyle. The annual spring event brings competitors and Treasure Beach's landscape together during a 300M coastal swim, a 25K off-road hill cycle, and a 7K run along country trails.

Outdoors: Hook 'n' Line Fishing Tournament isn't your standard fishing competition. In a sporting version of local concierge programs, this three-day tournament pairs local fishermen with visitors - very helpful for non-local participants, since teams compete using traditional fishing techniques!

Culture: The Calabash International Literary Festival is a free, three-day, biennial (in even years) event that taps into a global 'book tourism' trend. A crowd, that ranges from backpackers, hipsters, Rastafarians, international intellectuals and government ministers, celebrates the tropical destination as much as the global and Jamaican literary stars it features. Readings under breezy awnings, the festival's signature 'open mic' audience participation, and daily concerts round out the literary travel experience.

Want to discover the treasures of Treasure Beach, Jamaica? Contact us to start your trip!

 

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