Treasure Beach first appeared on the Jamaican tourist map almost 25 years ago, with the opening of a hotel called Jakes. The then obscure fishing village on the island’s south-east coast quickly acquired a following among travellers drawn to adjectives like “barefoot”, “boho”, and “off-the-beaten-track”, and the rare blend of boutique chic and authentic Jamaica found at the hotel.Treasure Beach
There was little else for tourists in the village, though, save a handful of very basic guesthouses. The perennial worry with all hidden gems is that they will become victims of their own success, ruined by popularity, and since then Treasure Beach has grown almost beyond recognition – but not, happily, into a new Negril, Jamaica’s brash party beach resort. The village does now have a cashpoint, a luxury spa and reliable wifi, but there any similarities with Negril end.
It has become, instead, a destination for sports tourists, thanks to the development of a sports park open to everyone from local kids to international sports stars. Venus and Serena Williams have taught tennis on the courts, Lennox Lewis made a guest appearance at the open-air boxing camp in July, and in August 50 basketball coaches flew in from the US for a week to coach youngsters from the community. The Treasure Beach Pirates cricket team have hosted the Westminster Lords and Commons Cricket Club, and five-a-side football on Saturday nights draws a big crowd, not least due to the commentator who doubles as a DJ, blasting out dancehall between games, and the surreal talent contest staged on the pitch afterwards. Typical contestants include a man who can balance a bicycle on his head and a middle-aged belly rolling expert.
77 West, Treasure Beach
Overlooking the park are the Lashings Villas (four and five bedroom villas from $3,500 a week), newly built by the owner of the Lashings All Star international cricket team. The two luxury villas bring an upscale New York designer loft aesthetic to the dusty seaside village – all minimalist concrete and steel, vintage industrial fittings and stripped back wood – with private chefs who rattle guests around the neighbourhood in an open-top jeep and take them partying, as well as serve lobster and cocktails on the poolside terraces overlooking the pavilion. Anyone previously put off by the traditionally rather hit and miss rustic luxury of the village’s other villas can rest assured of finding Sky Sports on flatscreen TVs at Lashings.
Lashings Villas, Treasure Beach
But you do not need deep pockets to enjoy Treasure Beach. Its latest addition opened for business last month, offering one-bedroom cottages for under £100 a night. 77 West (rooms from $115 US a night) looks like a little bit of Mykonos has landed in the Caribbean. The simple, whitewashed clifftop cottages are perched beside a timber sun deck and pool, above a private beach accessed by a flight of steps leading down to azure waters framed by reef. Absurdly romantic, 77 West lies just outside the village and offers couples privacy along with the most breathtakingly panoramic views on the south coast.
Jakes’ sister restaurant Jack Sprat
The only real complaint Treasure Beach’s fans sometimes make is about the lack of culinary choice on offer. If you don’t like chicken – jerk, curried or brown stew – and aren’t a big snapper and lobster lover, options can be limited, but 77 West is about to do something about that. Its Slovakian co-owner brings a very different palate to the table, and the menu features zucchini soup, Thai green curry, bruschetta and fresh pesto.
Back in the heart of the village is Frenchman’s Reef, a bar and restaurant right on the beach which opened a few years ago and offers a wide range of Jamaican and international dishes for as little as US$5, and smoothies and cocktails along with the ubiquitous rum and Red Stripe. Like Jakes hotel’s sister restaurant Jack Sprat, it offers a delivery service for those too lazy to get out of their hammocks and down to the beach. Jack Sprat’s oven-fired pizzas draw diners from across the south of Jamaica, and on Thursday nights a chilled crowd gather for the weekly open-air movie night.
The wonderful Pelican Bar. Photograph: Getty Images
Amazingly, the beaches remain untroubled by hustlers and jet skis and parasols and hair braiders, making it perfectly possible to while away a peaceful week doing nothing but lie in the sun. For a few dollars, however, you can jump in one of the wooden fishing boats for an unforgettable ride up the coast to the rickety wooden Pelican Bar, built on stilts out in the ocean.
A 45-minute drive inland will take you to YS Falls (entry $19, zip-wire $50), a chain of waterfalls hidden away in the lush heart of a thoroughbred stud farm. If the rope swings over the falls aren’t enough of an adrenalin rush, there’s now an elaborate maze of zipwires 12 metres overhead. Suspended from a harness, you feel as if you’re flying through the tropical rain forest, coming to land on a perch in a majestic guango tree. There are also freshwater swimming pools, built beside a curl of the river below the falls, with a bar and restaurant serving snacks priced to be affordable for locals.
YS Falls, Jamaica
Jakes hotel remains the nerve centre of Treasure Beach village, and although it has now grown into an estate of cottages and villas, still has rooms starting from $95 in low season. What began as no more than a few chic shacks a quarter of a century ago has inspired a destination of rare character. How it will change over the next 25 years is anyone’s guess, but right now you cannot go wrong.