Getting Lost in The Caves
When the likes of Harrison Ford, Scarlett Johansson, Bono and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit photographers visit Jamaica they head to The Caves. Down past the tourist-paved beachfront of Negril, at the quaint southern extremity of the resort area’s long stretch of sand and sea, is one of the most romantic getaways in the Caribbean…
Still within reach of all the snowbird hotel resorts (but far enough removed that you may not notice), The Caves has easy access to all the night life and amenities that come with industry giants like Sandals, Beaches and Hedonism II (to which you can request a free day pass), but none of the package-deal feel. In fact, you will rarely notice other vacationers while visiting The Caves. This is partly because the resort has only ten villas, and partly because of the ingenious layout of the resort, which allows you to feel completely safe, secluded and relaxed no matter where on the grounds you happen to be.
The Caves is a truly unique retreat. It boasts ten acres of tropical jungle and seaside cliffs, with stone walkways leading guests through lush greenery to some of the most breathtaking sea caves in the Caribbean. These spectacular grottos were carved by eons of waves breaking against volcanic rock and they now allow guests to jump through gaping holes in the ground straight into the crystal-clear sea thirty feet below.
As you might imagine, this also makes for some amazing swimming, snorkeling and diving. We suggest you grab some snorkeling gear and embark on a little expedition through “Blow Hole”, a large cave underneath the resort. If you’re lucky, you’ll be joined by the dolphins, sea turtles, or parrot fish that frequent the reefs hereabouts.
Steps and platforms are hewn into the honeycomb cliffs, and we wondered why until we stopped at Rick’s Cafe, a famous night spot and restaurant that just happens to be next door. There, we watched the locals (and the occasional tourist) leaping into the sea from 50 foot platforms. Back at The Caves, my travel partner was daring enough to catapult himself into the 20-foot deep water from the highest platform at the resort (about 50 feet); I, being a little more cautious in nature, jumped from the 30-foot ledge. Skydiving, I can say from experience, is less punishing. But these unique cliffs and caves are only a part of what make this resort so special.
No two cabins in this intriguing resort are the same, yet all maintain a luxurious yet rustic Jamaican atmosphere.
Every piece of custom-made wood or chunky bamboo furniture is hand-painted in bold island hues. Paintings on the outside of the thatch-roofed cottages provide a clue to their names (for example, there are dolphins on the ‘Blue Dolphin’ unit and birds on ‘Bird’s Nest’).
The inspiration for this painterly approach to design becomes clear when you meet the resort owners, Betram and Greer Ann Saulter, a Rastafarian couple who both happen to be talented artists as well as successful entrepreneurs. They moved to Negril to escape the noise and bustle of city life in Kingston. When they purchased the land in 1990, it was nothing more than a couple of acres of coastal jungle choked with sea grape, almond and banana trees. The only sign of civilization visible from the property was the lighthouse perched on a cliff at the southernmost tip of the island. The region was so undeveloped that they had to home-school their children, as there were no schools (let alone and hotels or shops) in the area.
The Caves evolved out of their friendship with Island Records founder Chris Blackwell (who had a hand in launching the careers of Bob Marley, U2, The Cranberries and Steve Winwood). About the time of their meeting, Chris was opening a number of unique and funky luxury resorts under the name “Island Outpost”. [He has since sold Island Records and now focuses solely on the Island Outpost resorts.] Encouraged by Chris and resigned to the inevitability of Negril becoming a resort town, they set out to create their version of the ultimate getaway.
Betram designed the huts and the furniture while Greer Ann dreamed up the interiors. Bright colors abound and tasteful, understated luxury is evident in every detail. In the rooms you will find a collection of the best island music to play in the stereo. We loved the “Island Outpost” [volumes 1 through 4] CDs for their relaxed, reggae-inspired island vibes. You can pick these up at check-out for about $20 and bring home the island feeling.
The white stone walls and staircases that etch the surface of the cliffs lend themselves nicely to lounging decks where guests can tan (often topless) in semi-seclusion.
The food at The Caves is delicious island fare. From fresh grilled lobster with garlic butter sauce to perfectly seasoned and juicy jerk chicken, you won’t be disappointed. The Caves takes pride in catering to your specific needs and, in keeping with that tradition, you’re free to ask the chef to prepare virtually any meal you can think of. Breakfast starts with a course of fresh island fruits such as delicious papaya, banana (you’ve never tasted banana like this!), and pineapple. You can then order whatever suits your fancy–if you can dream it up, you got it.
One thing you absolutely must not miss is a private candle-lit dinner inside a grotto beside the “Blow Hole”. It is the ultimate fantasy dinner — I guarantee you can’t top this for sheer romance. Listen to the waves lightly lap at the rocks and admire the romance of the light of countless candles dancing on the inner walls of the cave that surrounds you, as you are served a five-course menu of your picking, by your own personal waiter. It came as no surprise to us that this is a popular spot for marriage proposals! The feeling of “just the two of us” is embodied here like nowhere else. Be sure to reserve well ahead, preferably when you book your visit.
The resort faces due West, and sunsets are breathtaking in deep shades of pink, orange and purple. At night, the cliffside steps lead to a room carved into the volcanic rock that houses a large Jacuzzi tub. Here that you can run yourself a private bubble bath and open the very large shutters to reveal the moonlit sea. After your Jacuzzi experience, you can find your way to one of the two dining and lounging areas up top and have yourself a snack, or one of the resort’s signature “Cliff Hanger” drinks. Food and drink is available at all hours of the night and desserts are always left out for those with a persistent sweet tooth.
The Caves also offers a number of spa treatments, performed in a small blue cabin overlooking the sea. Their Aveda Spa treatments range from body wraps to massages to foot reflexology. If you’re looking for more active pastimes, The Caves can arrange scuba certification ($300 US), motorcycle rentals, horseback riding, river tubing, and more. Ask for Pierre, the personable and ever-helpful manager, who made our visit all the more special by making sure that all our needs were taken care of. On our last night he even took us to a happening live music club called ‘Roots Bamboo’, where we waded in the warm water and danced on the beach to the rhythms of live reggae music.
The Caves does not accept children under 16, however, they do accept numerous celebrities (including Harrison Ford and Naomi Campbell, both loyal fans of the Island Outpost group), but expect everyone to treat them like just any other guest. Which is only fair: after all, didn’t we all come here to be treated like VIP’s?
Reasons to visit: Casual luxury with an on-site spa and delicious food whenever you’re hungry. The sound of the ocean from your bed. Privacy.
‘Room’ for improvement: If you’re looking for opulent luxury and Frette sheets, this isn’t the place for you. But if you’re looking for casual luxury and loads of charm, you’ve found your heaven!
Favorite accommodations: Stardust is the most private and has a mini kitchen and a balcony with fantastic ocean views. Moon Shadow has two bedrooms, ocean views, and is a great choice if you’re traveling with another couple or family.
Pricing: $388 per night with taxes and fees, or may vary according to the dates of your stay. January to April has higher rates because it’s the high season.
Best time to visit: Jamaica is a year-round destination, January to April is the best time to visit though, since rainy season extends from May to November (but rain occurs only in short bursts).