I had rather hoped to leave the dull and dreary English weather at home when I’d hopped on the plane and travelled 4,600 miles from the London Heathrow to Jamaica – but instead I find myself sat on my room’s balcony, sheltering from the tropical downpour that’s gatecrashed my Caribbean escape.

Earlier that morning, resort manager Keish was showing me around the property when she commented ‘it always rains on Tuesdays’, as we glanced up at the ominous-looking grey sky.

And, as I hid away from unwelcome tropical storm, I realised the weather posed the perfect question: what’s there to do other than sun yourself on the beach at a Jamaican all-inclusive?

And besides, if you’re like me, and you’re forced to keep the SPF 50 close on any trip abroad due to a pale and freckly appearance, you’ll know laying on a beach all day just won’t do, regardless of the weather.

Flying and flopping on a holiday is no fun for people who burn incredibly easily – so what else is there to do in idyllic Jamaica in an all-inclusive resort apart from sipping on piña coladas on the palm tree-lined beach? (Although, don’t worry I still did plenty of this too).

Thankfully, the resort I’m staying at, Sandals Dunn’s River, has plenty to keep me busy away from the sun lounger. The newly-renovated hotel itself – located on the bustling north coast of the island near Ocho Rios – is the 17th resort in the Sandals portfolio, and is brimming with antidotes for itchy feet.

From five different pools to a spa, plus excursions and local restaurant partnership, here’s how I made the most of my trip…

Take to the Caribbean waters 

Restless souls who can’t simply lie on a sun lounger all day can lap up the idyllic Caribbean coastline on the water itself. Sandals Dunn’s River has a whole host of watersports – for thrillseekers and those simply wanting to dip their toe in. 

Kayaking was first on the agenda for my partner and I. On arrival at the watersports corner, the team ushered me to sit at the back of the kayak, which to my delight meant my slacking with the rowing wouldn’t be in plain sight. Eventually we found our groove and were taking on the waves and doing laps up and down the shore.

However, for me, it was paddleboarding the following day that was a real highlight, as we peacefully waded along the front of the resort, soaking up the reverse-view of the palm-tree lined sand from the calm turquoise sea. I can see why the location of the resort itself was hand-picked by Sandals’ late founder, Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart for its pristine stretch of beach – and a place he used to spend time fishing as a boy.

Scuba diving is also on offer, with various dive courses tailored to your level of experience and interest. Hobie Cat sailing was another watersport I was keen to try, sadly this trip, the weather wasn’t on my side – and a red flag indicated that it was too windy unless I wanted to end up vertical.

Daily boat trips (including glass bottom ones) also run from the resort – typically twice a day depending on the weather.

Hit the road on an Island Routes excursion

Next up on the tropical thrills itinerary was taking to Jamaica’s roads in a Mini Cooper, courtesy of Island Routes – a travel tour company that offers a whole host of experiences for tourists across the island.

Our excursion – named ‘drive your own adventure’ – involved cruising from Ocho Rios to Falmouth along the beautiful north coast of Jamaica and making some scenic pit-stops along the way.

We were picked up by our guides for the day, and I was (heavily) relieved to find out that Jamaicans also drive on the left. Of course, I needn’t be worried, I was convoying behind the guide car in front, and a walkie talkie in our car conveniently provided us with a fascinating history of the area and sights as we went. 

Jamaica is home to more than 1,600 churches, but for every church there’s a bar too, our guide assures us, as we drive through neighbouring villages.

Our first stop off is a scenic viewpoint, followed by a tour through a wealthier Jamaican neighbourhood, followed by another impressive view of nearby Turtle Bay Pier and Reynolds (aka, James Bond) Pier.

You can opt for either a half or full day depending on how much driving you want to do, and along the way you’ll tick off local hotspots, viewpoints for pictures and even get a chance to shop for souvenirs.

Climb Dunn’s River Falls

One thing every Jamaica first-timer should check off is Dunn’s River Falls. It’s somewhat of a national treasure when it comes to the island’s attractions. It was one of the stops on our Island Routes excursion, but tours are available every day.

Essentially, it involves scaling a 180-foot high and 600-foot long waterfall, made up of three main levels and lagoons, while rapids come gushing down towards you. In total, it takes around 45 minutes to an hour to climb, depending on the ages and mobility of the group.

‘You will get wet’ warned our guide – and he wasn’t wrong.

While I thankfully managed to avoid slipping and falling on my backside (the girl in front of me wasn’t so lucky), there were plenty of brilliant photo opportunities – including sliding down rapids and posing by the cascading falls. So if you don’t like getting your hair wet, sit this one out or opt for the ‘dry climb’ instead.

Our 15-strong group of all ages (including a few over 70s) did manage it though.

But Dunn’s River Falls is more than just a fun day-out activity, it’s a testament to the beauty of Jamaica.

It’s also pretty unique – the falls empty into the sea at Little Dunn’s River Beach, making the attraction one of the few travertine waterfalls in the entire world. So it is worthy of a visit for this factor alone.

Get a taste of local cuisine

One thing is certain, you certainly won’t go hungry at Sandals Dunn’s River.With 12 restaurants to choose from – covering Italian, French, Latin American, Asian Fusion and more – you’re truly spoilt in terms of options.

But no trip to Jamaica would be complete without sampling the local cuisine. With food being so central to Jamaica culture – along with music – I was determined to leave having consumed as much as possible.

We found ourselves heading to the hotel’s very own Jerk Shack on the beachfront most days. With crashing waves in the background and a tropical breeze flowing through our salty hair, we tucked into classic jerk chicken and pork as well as curry goat, and traditional fish in foil (white fish cooked with okra, pepper and chilli) – a new favourite of mine.

But for those with ‘cabin fever’ who want to get a taste of life outside the resort, there’s another option. Miss T Kitchen’s is a local restaurant in the centre of Ocho Rios – just a 10-minute drive away.

During our trip, we were lucky enough to visit twice, and tucked into a feast of Stamp and Go (traditional saltfish fritters) followed by a rich but melt-in-the-mouth Oxtail stew, classic curried goat, and rice and peas – all washed down with pina colada and rum punch.

It was comfort food at its best – the type that leaves you full and feeling food.

In fact, on the whole, I left Jamaica feeling really refreshed and rejuvenated rather than sluggish – thanks to the activity-fuelled itinerary. And, most importantly, no sunburn in sight.

What does the resort have on offer?

If you do just want a week relaxing, we’re not here to judge. Sandals Dunn’s River has plenty to ensure your stay is as luxurious and care-free as possible.

Skypool rooms

It’s safe to say I’ve never had a pool in my hotel room before. The Butler Suite, located in the Tufa Terrace building, really is a showstopper of a space and comes with its own Skypool built into the balcony. So you can spend sunset gazing out to the ocean from the privacy of your own pool.

The spa

The Red Lane Spa offers Caribbean-inspired treatments with regional products and services, including massages, facials and body treatment.

Butler service

As a concept, this was bizarre to me at first. But every Skypool suite comes with a dedicated butler who is available to you throughout your stay – just a text or a call away through a phone provided.

A top tip would be to use your butler to reserve your sunbeds around the pool or beach in the mornings. Also you’ll need to reserve certain restaurants at the resort through your butler.

A gym with a view

Lying around at the pool all day can make you feel like you need to work up an appetite for dinner. And I can honestly say the resort’s gym blew me away – and beats the concrete building view I get on the treadmill at my North London PureGym.

Off-site dining

The hotel will soon offer an offsite dining experience featuring a $250 restaurant voucher and transfers – so your trip to Miss T’s will be even easier.

A seven-night stay for two adults at Sandals Dunn’s River, Jamaica in a Tufa Terrace One Bedroom Skypool Butler Suite with Balcony Tranquility Soaking Tub costs from £4,489 per person.

Price includes all-inclusive accommodation, Butler service and 24hr room service, return economy class flights with Virgin Atlantic from London Heathrow Airport and resort transfers. For more info and to book visit sandals.co.uk

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