The Soulhaus
Category: Travel

Island Girl Guide: Converting Jamaica’s Tourists to Travelers 

Traveling like a local is not just about seeing the world; it’s about making a positive impact, fostering cultural understanding, and creating meaningful memories that enrich both the traveler and the destinations they explore. It’s a transformative approach that promotes immersive and soft tourism in cultures that rely heavily on tourism dollars. Since transplanting myself back to Jamaica, I’ve been able to host a series of  friends, colleagues and family members, subsequently introducing them to corners of the island they have never met before. I was chatting with my friend Effie and I loved what she had to say about the traveler mindset.

“When you’re traveling you have to remember that this is not your space. Finding new ways to interact with the community [in a way] that’s not just about taking; it’s so important to find ways to create equity in your stay.” – Effie Cudjoe

Effie came to visit me earlier this year for my birthday celebrations in St. Elizabeth. We stayed at Upful and hopped around St. Elizabeth to the Maroon Festival up in Accompong to a lovely dinner at Jakes in Treasure Beach. Effie Cudjoe is a Ghanaian-American marketing strategist and co-founder of Re-Florish — a boutique floral company founded in the heart of Bed-Stuy. Travelers like Effie prioritize quality experiences over ticking off a checklist of destinations, allowing for a deeper connection with each place.


When you think of Jamaica, what comes to mind? Beautiful beaches, reggae music, and vibrant culture, right? Jamaica’s “living culture” is what separates it from many equally beautiful neighboring islands. Welcome to the “island girl” guide to connecting with the contemporary traditions, everyday people, and locales in Jamaica.

Travel Tip 1: Start with the Right Mindsight

When you think of Jamaica, what comes to mind? Beautiful beaches, reggae music, and vibrant culture, right? But how can you truly experience this incredible island beyond the tourist hotspots and all-inclusive resorts? Let the island direct your vibes. Having a trusted source to guide you in Jamaica is not only vital to an authentically good time but something you cannot just buy into. 

“By engaging with my family, who are there, only because it’s just easier for me to do things as a local and immerse myself with the culture. My mom was raised in St. Ann, so that’s where I usually go when we visit.” – Ayanna Wilks

Ayanna Wilks is the co-founder of the Brownie Agency, VP of Publicity at Epic records and a first generation Jamaican-American. I relate deeply to Ayanna’s perspective as a member of the Jamaican diaspora born abroad. While there is a ton of intrinsic familiarity with the land, our experience is not completely abstract from the curiosities that any traveler seeks when taking a deeper dip into Jamaica.

“My advice to travelers looking to experience more from Jamaica is to tap into other parishes because there is so much beauty in going to palaces that aren’t advertised as much. Be safe, but explore what Jamaica looks like outside the Negril, MoBay and Ochi.” – Ayanna Wilks (VP of Publicity, Epic Records)

Here’s the scoop on experiencing Jamaica to the fullest:

Connect with the people. Jamaicans love to talk! Ask about traditions, listen to their stories, and soak up their energy. Your dollars spent locally support their livelihoods too.

Immerse yourself in the culture. Festivals, dances, street parties…just follow the reggae beat! Going local means participating, not just observing. Open your heart and mind.

Head for the hills and hidden beaches. Lace up those walking shoes. The natural side of Jamaica is gorgeous. Discover secluded waterfalls and off-the-grid community spots. The best things aren’t on any map.

Taste the flavor. Hole-in-the-wall cook shops serve up Jamaica’s soul food, you know? Their jerk chicken and curried goat will give your tastebuds a party.  Always ask for recommendations, here’s Ayanna’s:

Ayanna’s Favorite Roadside Meals

    • Shandy 
    • Jerk Chicken
    • Festival 
    • Fried lobster & rice from the beach in Negril 
    • OR if we’re in Kingston, fried fish from Hellshire


To truly travel like a local in Jamaica, adopt a traveler’s mindset filled with spontaneity, curiosity, and living in the moment. Say goodbye to rigid itineraries and embrace the island vibes happening all around you. One of my dear friends, Tia Swint’s, style of travel has always impressed me. Whether it be Mexico City, a Dodgers game, or Munich Oktoberfest, Tia always moves from unique location to unique location with ease, adventure and a well curated Instagram carousel.

“Accessing and connecting with nature is my first and most important thing when traveling. Centering myself with the earth becomes a conduit to connecting with local culture, food, etc. Finding waterfalls, beaches, [and] parks, is most important to me when traveling. 

I want to be a part of debunking the stigma that you cannot travel to Jamaica alone. My mom actually traveled to Jamaica a lot on solo trips when she was younger. Now, I often take solo trips to Negril and stay at Rockhouse Hotel & Spa or Skylark for a few days to unwind on Seven Mile Beach.” – Tia Swint


I met Tia many moons ago while working at Def Jam Records in New York City where we connected on more than the artist roster, but on our shared interest for travel, fashion and a shared experience of attending university in Atlanta. Friends like Tia are my favorite travel buddies — aligned and excited to support local businesses and communities through conscious tourism.

Travel Tip 2: Stay Somewhere Different

On your next trip to Jamaica, I recommend you try something a little unexpected. While Jamaica’s known for white sand beaches, very few know about the chilly hills of Blue Mountain located in the Parish of St. Andrew but Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee is globally beloved as one of (if not the) the top Arabica coffees in the world. If you’re headed up Blue Mountain, I recommend staying at Wine Down Villa in an area called Greenwich. That’s where ATWASI comes in. ATWASI is a new Jamaican travel concierge that designs luxury travel experiences that directly benefit local livelihoods. With ATWASI, you get access to highly curated Jamaican experiences, personalized services, and insider connections specially crafted for those with discerning taste.

ATWASI’s travel principles are solid:

  • Cultural exchange and respect for traditions
  • Local recommendations from real experts
  • Holistic experiences that deliver the real Jamaica
  • Support for small businesses and artisans

As a part of its early booking access, ATWASI is inviting Soulhaus readers access to book fully-customized trips, as well as their upcoming Blue Mountain Coffee Retreat, hosted this upcoming February and March of 2024 at Wine Down Estate. Discover the captivating world of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee on this immersive four-day journey, which includes farm visits led by local women coffee producers, to see the pride and care behind this cherished legacy. Blending hands-on experiences, natural beauty, and warm hospitality, the Blue Mountain Coffee Retreat offers an enriching, one-of-a-kind opportunity to become fully immersed in the origins of one of the world’s most coveted coffees.

“My first and my most recent time in Jamaica were my most memorable. The first time I came to Jamaica, I immediately thought, ‘This feels like Ghana.’ My most recent time staying in Treasure Beach brought so much serenity. The previous times, I stayed in Montego Bay and Kingston where it’s much more touristy. The drive to Treasure Beach was a stunning journey. The Maroon Festival felt like home. It felt like such a Ghanaian experience.” – Effie Cudjoe

Travel Tip 3: Let the Vibes Carry You

Jamaica’s “living culture” is particularly what separates it from many equally beautiful neighboring islands. The conscious modern traveler eagerly desires to connect with the contemporary traditions, everyday people, and vibrant locales that are inaccessible with just a resort experience. The next time you visit Jamaica, I hope you take with you a sense of knowing that there’s so much more to bite into beyond the North Coast.

Port Antonio, from the vantage point of The Anton Luxury Villa in San San.