Most visitors to tropical islands like Jamaica book their vacations at all-inclusive or large resorts where they rarely need to leave the grounds for the duration of thier vacation. For those of you who want a chance to experience authentic Jamaican countryside, culture, food and people I highly recommend you ditch the chain all-inclusives and opt for Zimbali Retreat Jamaica.
Zimbali is located about one hour outside the hub-bub of downtown Negril up in the mountains on a 7-acre estate. The Retreat is practically self-sufficient, with acres of organic gardens where the resort chefs can hand pick their daily produce.
The food at Zimbali is a draw in and of itself and if you opt not to stay at the Retreat you can book a visit for a lunch or dinner at the Zimbali Mountain Cooking Studio. When you book for a meal the price includes transport to the Retreat, a tour through the gardens where you will pick fresh ingredients for your meal, and a three-course meal (with wine)! The chefs are not just great cooks but are friendly and entertaining and make you feel at home. On our tour we shared food and the attention of the chefs with only one other couple. A truly personal and memorable meal.
The chefs have a meal in mind and when you arrive they set you to ‘work’, touring the gardens and grounds and picking out key ingredients for the meal. Sure, fresh picked lettuce is really great (and it was!) but when was the last time you chopped off Banana leaves for your lunch? Only in Jamaica! The grounds were beautiful and wild and by the time we returned to the main house we were definitely hungry. The focus at Zimbali is fresh local ingredients and creative preparations. The chef team started us off with a fruit sushi, a creation of theirs, that incorporated fresh tropical fruits, riced coconut and a sweet chili sauce. It was beautifully presented and tasty. Second course was fish cooked in Banana leaves with hot peppers and a savory fried plantain cake. Both were outstanding. Dessert was a fantastic chocolate cake made with black beans. We were shocked that this moist fluffy cake was entirely gluten-free.
The accommodations at Zimbali are one with their surroundings and beautifully kept and at $99-$149 per person/per night you can’t go wrong. The resort also offers a huge array of authentic, one-of-a-kind experiences with local Jamaicans as guides and hosts. For instance you can visit local farmers, artisans, have a massage or facial in a running river or under a waterfall and many guided hikes. No touristy stuff here! In a country where the tourist areas are so heavily developed like some endless copy of Margaritaville this is truly refreshing.