Jamaica stretching out with wellness efforts

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The holistic bathhouse at the Rockhouse Hotel features two soaking tubs.
The holistic bathhouse at the Rockhouse Hotel features two soaking tubs.

With the shimmering Caribbean Sea as a backdrop, a half-dozen women clad in neon-colored leggings listened intently to the soothing voice of the tall, blond yoga instructor. It was 7:30 a.m., and a soft breeze was blowing on the curtains surrounding the pavilion, but sweat was already dripping off our foreheads as we assumed the extended triangle pose.

Welcome to sunrise yoga at the Cliff Hotel in Negril, Jamaica. Our instructor, Joy Montes from St. Louis, was hosting a yoga and wellness retreat at the newly renovated resort perched on the cliffs of the West End.

As beautiful as Jamaica's beaches are, many visitors are seeking a healthier, more calming break from their cubicles than the usual drinking, eating and tanning associated with this Caribbean island's better-known, all-inclusive properties.

"Travelers are looking to stay fit, even on vacations, and the Jamaican tourism product is adjusting to meet that demand," said Paul Pennicook, Jamaica's director of tourism.

On a recent health-and-wellness press trip sponsored by the island's tourist board, I visited several boutique resorts that offered nourishment for the body, mind and soul with yoga classes, meditation sessions and spa treatments as well as unlimited fresh fruit and vegetable smoothies.

A relaxing body scrub and massage in a seaside cabana at Kiyara Spa provided the perfect cooldown after my yoga class. The Cliff, whose 33 rooms feature glorious sunset views and hammocks, blends modern spa treatments with Jamaican natural healing remedies. The scrub contained island sorrel and locally grown sugar, while the massage oils used were made from native Jamaican plants and seasonal fruits.

A Kiyara Spa cabana at the Cliff Hotel in Negril.
A Kiyara Spa cabana at the Cliff Hotel in Negril.

Nurturing at the Cliff includes nutritious meals of local produce, fruits and herbs. Our first dinner at Zest, an open-air restaurant at the cliff's edge, began with a lesson in making passion fruit salad dressing. Fresh papayas, bananas and pineapples topped the breakfast menu along with gluten-free pastries. Egg-white omelets as well as a traditional Jamaican breakfast of freshly caught fish also were offered.

Nearby at Negril's better-known Rockhouse Hotel, tours of the organic garden are an integral part of daily activities at this resort, whose 34 thatched-roof bungalows intermingle with the jungle greenery. Produce cultivated by Clinton, the Rastafarian gardener, is blended into daily juices served at the resort's breezy restaurant, which offers spectacular views.

In addition to snorkeling off the rocks, Rockhouse guests can take painting, cooking and yoga classes as well as learn African drumming and meditation. Spa treatments in the Relaxation Lounge start with the feet: a welcome cleansing in a bowl of fresh seawater laden with remineralizing salts. The invigorating foot scrub dispels tension and prepares you for what's next. That could be a signature wrap in island mint tea or rum or, even better, a hot rock massage.

At the far end of Negril's West End is Jackie's on the Reef, a rustic resort that entices the work-weary with five-day yoga and raw food retreats. A pile of yoga mats, dangling crystals and a table strewn with meditation books greet guests who arrive for tai chi, full-moon ceremonies, star-watching and a chance to connect with past lives. Jackie's five guestrooms include a geodesic dome with an outdoor shower and toilet. We spent several hours there under owner Jackie Lewis' care, meditating and practicing deep breathing techniques. A visit to Jackie's, as one guest described it, is like a warm hug.

The pool at Jakes, an enclave of cottages on Jamaica’s southern coast.
The pool at Jakes, an enclave of cottages on Jamaica’s southern coast.

On the island's hard-to-reach south coast, Jakes is an artsy enclave of cottages and villas where guests can practice mindfulness or train for a triathlon. No phones, TVs or internet compete with the sounds of the sea in guestrooms, although there is WiFi in the lobby. Sunrise and sunset yoga are practiced daily on an elevated platform. Massage tables sit on the water's edge, and spa products include seaweed, mango and coconut. Fresh local produce and seafood dominate the rotating menu at the resort's farm-to-table restaurant, where you can learn to cook with Jamaica's legendary jerk seasonings.

For more information about health and wellness getaways in Jamaica, see www.visitjamaica.com.

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