The van drives up a steep, narrow, bumpy dirt road with almost no light except the glow of the vehicle’s headlights, stopping on the side of the road as far away as possible to pass someone coming down the mountain right in front of them. the outskirts of Kingston, Jamaica.
After spending a few days in the center of the country’s bustling capital, it’s a fun diversion to head into the hills for a spectacular view of the surrounding area at night to hang out at a hidden Rastafarian-owned reggae bar. in an aptly named hillside house on Skyline Drive.
Kingston Dub Club, run by owner Gabre Selassie, opens its doors every Sunday night to tourists and locals who want to listen to newcomers to the reggae scene.
And like many things in Kingston, it offers an immersive experience in the history and culture of the Caribbean country that has nothing to do with sun and sand.
The hillside adventure was the last item on the agenda of a multi-day exploration of Jamaica’s capital, the cultural and historical center of a country long thought to have a global influence far beyond its weight in food, music and sports.
Those who love the city, while acknowledging its turbulent past, now champion its rebirth and are eager for the world to come and experience it for themselves.
Our base of operations was the oceanfront ROK Hotel, perhaps a perfect example of the movement to revitalize the city center.
Locally owned and operated, the hotel was a former government building that sat dormant for several years until a Kingston-based ownership group undertook a complete renovation and opened under the Hilton banner in 2022.
In fact, ROK stands for Revitalizing Kingston, which marketing director Marlene Buckridge says is the spirit of the 168-room hotel: from the local art commissioned to decorate its public spaces to the Jamaican-inspired dishes on the menu and the hotel’s own music. country. through sound systems.
“We want to be the catalyst for change in downtown Kingston,” he said.
One of the best places to start for a newcomer to the Caribbean city is to take a walking tour of the center operated by Kingston Creative, a nonprofit organization launched in 2017 to promote art in all its forms in the city.
Its various tours cover everything from the country’s famous musical history to its vibrant food culture and architecture, as well as the visual arts represented by several blocks of city murals, especially along Water Lane.
On a hot Sunday afternoon, Kingston Deputy Creative Director Janet Crick joined a mural tour, featuring artistic renderings of reggae, ska, dance hall music stars and other cornerstones of Jamaican culture and history .
Crick, who previously served in Jamaica’s foreign service, said they are working hard to encourage visitors to the country to include the capital in their travel plans to absorb all it has to offer.
“It is important to us because of all the history, culture and heritage that resides here in downtown Kingston. That is something we want to show, we want people to be aware,” she said.
“For visitors to the island, this is something they won’t find anywhere else. This is where much of the culture was born; even the music, much of the reggae and other original forms of Jamaican music were born in downtown Kingston.”
Crick said the revitalization of downtown is providing a much-needed economic boost.
“When people come to downtown Kingston, they invest in the community that resides here. There are people who never left,” she said.
“We want to reinvest in them, feed back into the community, reignite, if you will, this downtown Kingston space.”
Perhaps Kingston’s most famous son is Bob Marley, whose music is still widely heard in Jamaica and around the world.
Moving from Kingston’s Trench Town neighborhood to the much more exclusive Hope Road, it was there that he made midnight snacks in a small third-floor kitchen, ran a recording studio, and was the target of an assassination attempt.
Now Island House, as it is known, operates as the Bob Marley Museum and runs regular tours with, in our case, a guide who sang snippets of his most famous songs to refresh your memory while his story was told. It is worth a visit.
Of course, Jamaican food did not go unnoticed, with delicious stops scheduled to enjoy its famous grilled Jerk cuisine at Peppa and Thyme, ackee and saltfish (the country’s national dish) for breakfast at the ROK Hotel, and Jamaican burgers to take away with chicken curry and beef.
The historic Devon House, once owned by the country’s first black millionaire, serves many of these delicacies and more if you want to do a small tasting in one place. You’ll also get excellent ice cream there.
To delve deeper into the multicultural country’s history, stop at the excellent National Museum of Jamaica, just steps from the ROK Hotel, to see temporary and permanent exhibits about its indigenous and colonial past.
The lively, multicultural city has a lot to offer when you’re ready for a break from the beach.