Relaxation meets conservation at Jamaica Inn

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The Jamaica Inn’s white sand beach, where hawksbill sea turtles nest.
The Jamaica Inn’s white sand beach, where hawksbill sea turtles nest.

As a child growing up in Jamaica, Belinda Morrow remembers snorkeling amid large schools of neon-colored fish nibbling on healthy coral just beyond the white sand beaches of Ocho Rios.

The resort's conservation efforts are part of the Oracabessa Bay Turtle Project, started a dozen years ago to help increase the turtle population on Jamaica's northern coast near Ocho Rios.

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Now 55, Morrow is on a mission to help restore the pristine beauty of the Caribbean reefs as a volunteer with the White River Fish Sanctuary, which opened this year. The grassroots effort involves transplanting fast-growing staghorn coral along a fringe reef near the Jamaica Inn, a small luxury resort owned by Morrow's husband, Eric, and his brother Peter.

On a recent glass-bottomed boat tour, we observed fresh growth from the first "plantings" of coral pieces tied to rocks along the reef — and more fish.

"It's working," Morrow said, beaming like a new parent. "If we can conserve this habitat, the fish will come and get bigger."

Local fishermen serve as sanctuary wardens, managing the coral nurseries and reinforcing the fishing ban. With financial support from the Jamaica Inn Foundation, among other groups, the five-year, $1 million sanctuary project is an important step in what will likely be a long-term proposition to reverse damage to area reefs from overfishing, pollution and global warming.

A bedroom in one of the Inn’s seven cottages. The small luxury resort also features three private beachfront bungalows.
A bedroom in one of the Inn’s seven cottages. The small luxury resort also features three private beachfront bungalows.

Focusing on the future and on family is characteristic of the Morrows and the Jamaica Inn, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. The family has owned the secluded property since the 1950s, when two U.S.-born brothers turned it into a luxury resort fashionable with jet-setters. (Marilyn Monroe honeymooned there with Arthur Miller, and Winston Churchill painted several Caribbean scenes while staying there.)

The fourth generation of Morrows — Belinda and Eric's daughters Olivia and Eloise — are already being groomed to take over the resort. The rambunctious black Labrador retriever that greets guests is Shadow the IV. When bartender Teddy Tucker celebrated his 50th anniversary with the inn, the beach bar was renamed Teddy's in his honor. Even the resort's colors, Wedgewood blue and white, haven't changed in 40 years, and for good reason.

With 700 square feet of white sand trapped between craggy outcroppings, the inn offers guests seclusion, serenity and luxury. Rooms are spacious, with antique, mahogany furnishings covered in crisp, white slipcovers. 

Open-air verandas that overlook the beach or the reef are key features of the inn's 47 suites, seven one- and two-bedroom cottages and three new private beachfront bungalows, some of which have private splash pools.

A cottage living room at the Jamaica Inn shows off the resort’s colors.
A cottage living room at the Jamaica Inn shows off the resort’s colors.

The private cove is ideal for swimming, snorkeling, paddleboarding, kayaking and sailboarding. Or guests can simply lounge in the shade of a palapa or snooze in a hammock. There's also a small pool and croquet court.

Seafood innovatively prepared is served alfresco overlooking the beach. A reggae band entertains nightly. Guests can also sample spicy meat patties and jerk chicken from the privacy of their verandas or on the beach.

Gentle sea breezes enhance the tranquility of a massage at the Ocean Spa, which uses seaweed, pineapple, Blue Mountain coffee and other local ingredients in its skin-care products.

Guests inclined to venture outside the resort can ride a bamboo raft on the gentle Martha Brae River, climb the steps at Dunn's River Falls, visit Bob Marley's birthplace in the nearby Blue Mountains, swim with dolphins at Dolphin Cove or bobsled at Mystic Mountain. Ocho Rios offers shopping and other dining options.

Room rates begin at $339 a night; for more information, visit www.jamaicainn.com.

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