Since two years ago, to celebrate my mom’s birthday, we’ve tried to do something different every year, organizing eco-adventure and glamping trips with our closest friends and family to celebrate life and enjoy our time together. This past summer, we decided to go on a yoga retreat to Jamaica. My sister didn’t know this yet when we planned our vacations, but my mom and I knew this could be our last trip together, just the three of us, since she recently got engaged and the proposal happened right after our Jamaican getaway. So this was an opportunity for us to re-connect and spend some quality time together.
I was still in Australia when we started planning this outing and found this retreat on bookyogaretreats.com. I honestly don’t know what got into me that I really wanted to go to this island in particular, compared to so many other retreats offered in Costa Rica or even in Mexico. Anyhow, that’s how I stumbled upon Go Natural Jamaica. They offer several retreat options that go year round, such as detox, master cleanse, raw food, weight loss, among others. It seemed exactly what we needed, daily yoga in a low-key and eco-friendly accommodation, with vegetarian/vegan food for a 7 day mini detox and cleanse holiday surrounded by nature.
We flew from Miami with a 2 hour delay due to ever unknown reasons, but I was luckily able to contact Gaelle at Go Natural to let them know about this. And when we landed, Henry was already there waiting for us. We bought a fresh young coconut on the highway and made our way to Portland. The drive took more than 2 hours and a half, a bit more than expected, and we were quite crammed in the car, although to be honest it was partly our fault since we had a big suitcase each. However, no one asked about this and we didn’t think of letting them know in advance; my bad.
Gaelle welcomed us and helped us take our luggage to the villa, which is not really a villa, just the name of our room. It was all very nice and it looked peaceful. But the truth is, it definitely looks way nicer on the pictures featured on their website. We unpacked and had some tea while Gaelle explained the logistics of our stay, the activities, schedules and showed us around. We then joined a short meditation on the terrace and we finally had dinner afterwards; we were starving by then. I think this was one of the best meals we had during our stay. It was some sort of very tasty coleslaw and something similar to kale or spinach, but very bitter.
Our room was the biggest one, and although we all had our own bed, the space lacked air and ventilation. We had a fan that barely worked, not enough. It was way too hot, I mean very very hot. We tried opening the floor-to-ceiling windows very unsuccessfully, due to excessive mosquitoes and all kinds of bugs. Which by the way reminds me of the mosquito nets we were supposed to have over our beds; nowhere to be seen. Despite everything, we did not sleep badly.
We started every morning with our ayurvedic practices: oil pulling, tongue scraping with a copper scraper, tooth-brushing (with no toothpaste) and drinking a glass of warm lemon water, followed by kundalini yoga. I found this yoga style quite challenging, the breathing techniques are not easy to get used to, but time and practice always help, of course. Plus, our tummies were loudly demanding some food by this time. We had only fruit for breakfast most days and a fresh coconut always, except for a couple other days when we had a corn and a banana pudding which weren’t exactly tasteful. I was always feeling hungry, like literally very hungry, all the time.
Day 1 – After breakfast, they took us (only us three) to these amazing waterfalls called Reach Falls. Just a short hike away from the road we found a charming intense blue river and we couldn’t wait to just jump in. It was beautiful and we had so much fun. Our tour guide Byron was super helpful and nice, he took some pictures for us and helped us cross over the river while carrying all of our stuff. We swam and jumped off some small falls (maybe 3m high), went inside a small cave behind the curtain of water and swam some more. It was really cool! Although I have to say, I ended up with as many mosquito bites as you can possibly imagine after this. And yes, I was wearing repellent, haha! We ate some nuts and almonds as our mid-morning snack while Tony drove us back.
Day 2 – In spite of being directly on the seaside, as established on their website, you cannot really swim there; it is surrounded by coral, very rocky and lots of sea urchins which are quite dangerous. So, we walked for about 8 minutes from Go Natural to the closest beach named Long Bay. It was nice but the waves were a bit too wild and there was no one in the water, so I didn’t dare go in. We enjoyed the time to ourselves to sunbathe and read.
We always came back to have lunch with everyone (we were all women and most of them solo travelers) and then had some free time to read and nap in the hammocks. I do have to say, there are only two hammocks under a roof or protected by shade and only two sunbathing chairs, whilst the total capacity is to accommodate up to 15 guests, not enough for sure. Then came another snack in the evening, usually a delicious smoothie or vegan dessert (very small portions I might say). Herbal tea and Hatha yoga, followed by dinner to end the day and off to bed. I will talk about food later on. Did I mention I was always hungry?
Day 3 – Same routine as always: our ayurvedic practices, kundalini yoga and some tropical fruit for breakfast. We stayed all morning there for a natural cosmetics workshop with Ramjas. It was quite fun and enjoyable, and I learned a few different recipes to make natural body scrubs and face masks. She also talked about nutrition (vegan), food combinations and how this affects directly our general wellbeing and health. It was interesting but nothing surprising or new, at least not for us; a bit overwhelming and too long, and it was so hot and with no breeze whatsoever that we ended up with a bit of a headache.
I think it’s always very nurturing to learn about other people’s ways of living, of thinking, even more when those are extremely different from ours. It’s important to listen to them, while always listening to ourselves, or else we can get lost in our own beliefs. As you can imagine, I didn’t quite agree with half of what she told us. Partly because I know for a fact that some of her so-called absolute truths were scientifically unfounded and simply wrong, I’m a food science engineer, after all. And some other ideas simply because it’s not something I want for my life; not because it’s wrong but because I don’t believe it suits me best. However, we did learn a few things here and there and we got to pamper ourselves with the scrubs and masks. We spent the rest of the day just lazing around, reading in a hammock and enjoying our stunning view. Evening yoga was great!
Day 4 – Ready for another adventure, we embarked on a trip to the Blue Lagoon and Monkey Island, a fascinating place and a delightful experience we very much enjoyed. Crystal clear warm water, dazzling scenery and an ice-cold local beer to cool off at the end of the tour. We also enjoyed a natural mud face mask at Monkey Island, which you can get by blending some water with the clay found in a corner of this pretty island. Travel tip: carry a sarong with you to cover your shoulders during the boat trip to avoid sunburn. We went back and enjoyed a very empowering session of Yin yoga. I think one of my favourite things about this trip was meeting Jolien, our yoga teacher and one of the most beautiful souls I’ve met, truly inspiring and wonderful to share our experience with. Also, we kind of fell in love with her toddler daughter Luna. Visit her blog and read more about her 🙂
Day 5 – Since rainy days are not exactly ideal to go to the beach, we decided to visit the town. We went to Port Antonio’s market and the marina. And although we had a good time in spite of the rain, we had a rough experience with our Go Natural driver. He made us wait unnecessarily to attend his personal needs (fixing his car, grocery shopping, etc.) without even consulting us, and had a terrible attitude towards us. We didn’t let this bring us down and we had a lot of fun, even though the town seemed pretty much deserted, probably due to the rain.
Day 6 – Our last day on the island was spent mostly at the beach. The driver from the day before actually came to us and apologized for his behavior, and he drove us to Boston Beach. It is indeed very pretty to look at but not as comfortable to spend the day. The only shade to hide from the flaming sun was one single tree, it was a bit dirty and several dogs and pups kept running around us, covering us and our things with sand and dog drool. Don’t get me wrong, I adore dogs and animals in general, just not so much when I’m trying to have a relaxing day reading at the beach and the owners don’t take responsibility.
If you ever come to Portland, Jamaica, I hope you find these tips helpful.
What to do and where to go
Go to Reach Falls and ask for a local tour guide both to take you there and go all the way down to the falls with you. Hire a tour to take you to the Blue Lagoon and Monkey Island, totally worth the money. Stay at the beach right in front of the boarding dock and enjoy a few drinks and snacks. It’s pricey but it’s beautiful. Prepare yourself to go up what feels like a thousand steps if you need to use the restroom. Go to Boston Beach and try to cross over behind the rocks on your right side to a more pleasant part of this beach. Bring snacks, drinks and a beach umbrella. We wanted to stay here all day, assuming we would find several vendors and shacks to buy some food and drinks, but found absolutely nothing and had to go back to have lunch. Come here by taxi, a “tour guide” who takes you here will be way more expensive. Take a cab to Port Antonio and visit the market, go to the marina to eat something and have a drink. Try not to engage with the guys trying to sell you necklaces and crafts, they seriously don’t take no for an answer.
General Review for Go Natural
They promised vegetarian and vegan food, but we had fish and chicken everyday. I’m not a vegetarian but my mom is, and she had a hard time trying to figure out which of the pots at the center of the table she could actually eat. I was very disappointed by their food. I thought it would be a detoxifying and healthy experience, but it was the opposite. Food was terribly balanced, and we ate pretty much the same every single day: pumpkin and sweet potato; in stew, in soup, cooked, boiled, but still the same taste. Bitter and tasteless is not a synonym for healthy. When I first found this place online I swear I read every review, and they were all 5-star comments. I guess if you are used to eating fast and processed food on a daily basis and live under extreme stress, then yeah, this place will seem like a big healthy change. But for us who already have a healthy and balanced diet, conscious about our environment and general well-being, exercise regularly and practice yoga, this was a huge disappointment. I thought I would come back glowing and light and even lose some weight. Instead, I gained 3 pounds and came back extremely bloated and with a seriously irritated digestive system. Also, they were never punctual, something we found quite disrespectful. In general, and except for the food, everything was pretty much okay, but way too expensive for what it really is. It’s not that it was bad, but it didn’t feel worth the money. Nevertheless, we made it an amazing experience for ourselves. The purpose of this trip was to be together, learn from each other and grow. I believe we achieved our main goal, and that’s what is most important for us.
They were right about one thing, though. Jamaica is with no doubt a surprisingly beautiful island, with its majestic waterfalls, enchanting virgin beaches, breathtaking mountain peaks, intense blue waters, surrounded by green wild jungle; all of this while pulsing with the beat of reggae.
“Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.” – Bob Marley