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Treasure Beach - St. Elizabeth
Treasure Beach is one of the most laid-back places in all of Jamaica. The area has resisted the development of mass tourism and has successfully retained the charm of being a sleepy fishing village. This is the ideal place to relax and take a break from the hustle-bustle of everyday life, you wont find any large hotels, water sports or nightclubs here. However, there are plenty of hammocks, deserted beaches and friendly residents to help you pass the time of day. The residents here will make you feel like a guest than a tourist. Treasure Beach is now making its way on to the list of "must visit" destinations for alternative tourists and those seeking a truly authentic travel experience.
There are several small hotels in Treasure Beach but most of the accommodation options are villas and private houses which have been converted in to guest houses. The area also features the ultra-hip "Jake's" resort which Vogue magazine described as being "The chicest shack in the Caribbean". Jakes is run by Sally and Jason Henzell, the wife and son of Perry Henzell (director of The Harder they Come") and provides an off-beat accommodation option. Jakes also acts as an unofficial community centre, offering tours and excursions around the area.
The four bays of Treasure Beach
Believe it or not, there is no place which is actually called "Treasure Beach". The name Treasure Beach originates from the 1930s when a Canada man opened a hotel on Frenchman's Bay and named it "The Treasure Beach Hotel". "Treasure Beach" caught on and soon became the name given to four bays in the surrounding area - Frenchman's Bay, Calabash Bay, Billy's Bay and Great Pedro Bay. The sleepy "town centre" of Treasure Beach is around Frenchman's Bay, the other three bays comprise mainly private residences, villas and guest houses.
Unlike most beaches on the north coast you can find peace, quiet and solitude at the beaches in Treasure Beach. The four bays are usually deserted, particularly on weekdays and you can always find a spot to make your own personal paradise. The currents and surf are a little stronger here than on the North Coast of Jamaica. This provides some great body surfing opportunities but you should be careful and seek local advice if the sea looks too choppy.
Bars and restaurants
If you're looking for nightlife then Treasure Beach is not the place for you. There are several small bars scattered around (mostly around Frenchman's Bay) where you can play a round or two of dominoes over a beer. Street dances are held from time to time, ask local residents if you want to know when the next one is due.
There are several simple restaurants in Treasure Beach, mainly serving Jamaican food. Award winning Jamaican / European fare can be had at Marblue Villas and Suites. The restaurant has regularly won coveted Jamaica Observer food awards, it was voted "Culinary Destination of the Year" for 2010 / 2011 and has won the "Most Innovative Dish" award four years running! For more international fare check out the "Jack Sprat Cafe" on the grounds of Jakes hotel where burgers and pizzas are available.
Things to do
The main activity in Treasure Beach is just kicking back and taking things easy! However, if you're looking for something else to do several footpaths provide hiking opportunities (although get advice from your hotel before setting off). You can also pamper yourself at Shirley's Herbal Steam Bath or one of two spas, Driftwood Spa at Jake's and Joshua's Massage and Bodywork. If you're feeling artistic you can learn the fine art of Mosaic tiling at Rhonda's Mosaic Tile Workshop.
Treasure Beach's big event (and the only time the area comes close to being "busy") is at the Calabash Festival, an annual Caribbean Literature festival. The event features readings from Caribbean authors, public debates, open mic sessions, workshops and live music way in to the night. Entrance to the festival is free but voluntary donations are gratefully accepted.
Treasure Beach also hosts the Treasure Beach Jazz Escape, the south-coast leg of the Ocho Rios Jazz Festival. This takes place at the 2 Seasons Guest House in June each year (website www.2seasonsguesthouse.com).
Treasure Beach is enveloped by the Santa Cruz mountain range. These mountains act as a barrier, protecting Treasure Beach from rain clouds, leaving the area with a much drier climate than in other parts of Jamaica. The drier climate is reflected in the vegetation which thrives in the area, mainly dry-weather plants such as cacti, scrub grass and acacia trees. As a visitors you may be forgiven for thinking that they were in an African savannah or the Arizona desert instead of the Caribbean. That is, until you see the distinctive blue of the Caribbean Sea.
The history of Treasure Beach
Like most places in Jamaica, the Taino Indians were the first inhabitants of Treasure Beach. It is believed that a large Taino population was present in Treasure Beach as a great many artifacts from the era have been found. The Taino's didn't survive for long after the Spanish Invasion, many of them dying after being enslaved and others fleeing Jamaica. Pedro (the old name for the area which is now Treasure Beach) subsequently became popular with Pirates. One in particular, William Rackham (also known as Calico Jack), left his mark on the area as Billy's Bay is named in his "honour". A defining moment in the history of Treasure Beach was when a ship of Scottish sailors sank off the coast of Treasure Beach in the 1830s. The sailors settled in the community and established families with the local inhabitants. Their legacy continues to this day and many modern day residents of Treasure Beach (and elsewhere in St. Elizabeth Parish) have a distinctive red/brown skin colour.
The people of St. Elizabeth are know for being the hardest working in Jamaica. This working ethos is reflected in the productivity of local farms, earning St. Elizabeth parish the nickname "The Bread Basked of Jamaica", despite the low level of rainfall the parish receives. Crops are diligently watered from large water drums, crops are planted in such a way so as to conserve water. The main industry in Treasure Beach, however, is fishing. Fisherman can regularly be seen bringing in their catch at the end of the day.
Another way in which Treasure Beach differs from other parts of Jamaica is the emphasis on community tourism. Many businesses in the Treasure Beach area endeavor to "give something back" to the community with many active community projects in progress. One organisation which is particularly active in this area is "Breds" (an abbreviation of Brethren, the patois word for "brother").
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