When you search for things to do in Negril, you’ll quickly realize that the list is a bit limited compared to other destinations. It really is a place to just be at peace. You’ll find normal water activities like a catamaran cruise, snorkeling, and parasailing readily available. You will also receive plenty of recommendations for Rick’s Cafe and the majestic sunsets to observe there.
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However, if you would like something a little off the beaten path in Jamaica, you might consider looking at what Zimbali Retreats has to offer for Negril excursions. You can stay for the night or enjoy a day trip for a cooking show, foodie experience, or cultural experience. Their experiences range from hiking to a Rasta camp for lunch to a farm to table cooking show or diving with sunset and jerk grilled dining.
For villas in Negril that put you closer to nature with farm to table dining, Zimbali has rooms from $80 in the Fall and $90 in the Winter. The largest room is a 2 Bedroom villa from $220/night. Continental breakfast, WiFi, and a complimentary beach shuttle are included but an all inclusive dining option is also available.
Booking & Transportation
It’s pretty easy to book on their website, viator, or tripadvisor if you have a preference. You can also book through many resorts. There is an option to add a taxi that will pick you up from your hotel for $20 per person roundtrip. The drive was about 40 minutes from Azul Beach Resort Negril with the last 15 minutes on a mostly winding dirt/gravel road. Nothing too hair-raising or out of the ordinary for those trying to get closer to nature. Occasionally, it felt like our driver was playing chicken but he always won so it’s fine.
Tucked away in Canaan Mountain hides a natural retreat powered by solar, near a natural spring, and surrounded by plentiful farms. On the Rasta lunch tour, you have the opportunity to hike up the mountain to meet Rasta “Fiyah” at his farm “Camp Survival” and learn about natural living and farming.
Rasta cooking focuses on being healthy, connected to the earth, and free of additives, chemicals, and most meat. Traditional Rastafrian food is mostly vegetables and fruits with no salt but lots of natural herbs and spices. You may have heard that “ital is vital” which represents the importance of ital cooking = eating natural and raw.
Arrival at Zimbali Retreats
When you arrive at Zimbali Retreats, you receive a warm welcome and a ginger pineapple juice drink. There’s plenty of pets looking for a rub or cuddle as you pass the colorful cottages and enter the inviting dining/waiting area. There’s also a small gift shop with art, books, and crafts to browse.
The Hike up to Camp Survival
You’ll head back out and down some of the path that you drove by to arrive here before winding down another road drenched in a bamboo canopy that keeps you cool with each step. After about 10 minutes, you pass Gracie’s Spring where your guide may stop and get water. As you walk, you’ll uncover the various herbs and plants growing like turmeric and breadfruit. You’ll also see some of the largest hornet nests I’ve ever seen in person.
About another 5 – 10 minutes and you’ll turn off onto a small path where you can tell the adventure really begins.
It doesn’t start off too bad and you think, this is fine. I really couldn’t see what the big deal was since I was warned by multiple people that they didn’t think I could do it. It definitely gets harder before it gets easier but it’s not unbearable. I made it! I tend to rush and not pace myself well but I made it. I just never want to be the one slowing everyone down so I probably push too hard sometimes and then I’m really slowing everyone down. Note to self and anyone else with this problem: take your time, it’s not a race. Luckily, we were the only ones that booked our session so we had our guide all to ourselves.
Another reason to slow down would be the rocky portions and the parts where you need to hold onto the rope guide. While much of the ascension seems to be steep stairs, there are breaks in between. There are also moments where you think that if you didn’t have the guide, you would have no clue which way to go next.
Once you make it to the top, you can swing in a hammock, learn about the Rastafari and their crafts or just catch your breath. I spent most of my time trying to catch my breath and taking in the sights and sounds, so much so, that I didn’t get to see the meal being prepared. You can go upstairs to see the treehouse style accommodations that some people book for a truly exhilarating outdoor experience.
The first thing we received was fresh passion fruit juice with a hint of lime juice. Absolutely refreshing as a cool breeze flows by and you realize you have arrived at Camp Survival. Followed by some tastings of fresh soursop and passionfruit where we practiced giving the seeds back to the earth so it can grow again.
While lunch was being prepared, Patrick gave us a detailed example of how he carves the coconuts. He also explained the rasta colors used in the bracelets he makes, red for the blood of those killed, green for the land, gold for the riches, and black for the people. “One love” is used often and represents unity.
Our lunch was callaloo which was so flavorful, it was my favorite part. There were so many veggies that I might have missed a few, but definitely corn, pumpkin, breadfruit, jackfruit, tomatoes, peppers, okra, and green onions.
What is callaloo? It’s an ancient green leafy vegetable similar to spinach and collard greens. One cup of callaloo cooked in water has fiber, protein, vitamin A, calcium, vitamin C, iron, vitamin K and more vitamins and minerals. If you like greens, you’ll love it!
When traveling outside of the United States as an American, assume everything you encounter will be different than what you’re used to. Different doesn’t mean worse or better, different just means it does not match your previous experiences. With that in mind, if you’re heading into the forest for a hike and lunch outdoors, expect bugs, bring water, comfortable hiking shoes, and hand sanitizer if you’re the kind of person that needs hand sanitizer.
I like to think that I’m a seasoned traveler that’s always prepared but sometimes I fall short and make a mistake. Sometimes, I even stack the mistakes. And this is where I failed or as my son would say, “Big Ooof”. Water was not provided although it does list bottled water on the description of the tour. That may be the reason why I was surely dying on the way up, I was completely dehydrated, especially after a night of tiki cruising on Seven Mile Beach with rum punch. (Yeah, don’t do that the night before.)
I also failed at bringing bug spray, I had it and somehow took it out of my bag right before I left. I failed at the shoes also, so I wore cutesy tennis shoes instead of rugged hiking shoes. The hike up has some parts where it gets pretty rocky and during rain, it would be incredibly muddy, keep that in mind when planning a visit.
I always have hand sanitizer though, it would be helpful if it kept mosquitos away too. I wore leggings with pockets which made it easy to grab my phone for a pic but also to put it safely away when I needed both hands. I also wore this breezy blouse that might’ve not been the best choice for maximum comfort during the hike.
TIP: Bring cash for purchases and tips. Whether you decide to purchase coconut bowls or handmade bracelets or maybe just to say thanks to them for their time, you’ll know that you have acted honorably and appropriately if you hear “respect”. If you don’t want to purchase anything, you can always say “no thanks, I’m good, respect”. It’s just a way of saying I have all that I need, I see you, and appreciate you for asking.
As usual, coming down works much faster than going up. We managed to make it back to the main road within 10 minutes. We had cut our visit a little short since rain was looming and they grew concerned about our safe return. We made it back to the Zimbali entrance before a drop even fell so it was a good call, I genuinely didn’t want to be slipping around in mud.
The hike, the lunch, and the Rastafari are all worth it. While it may not be the experience for everyone, those of us that seek it will enjoy it. If you love real cultural experiences, vegetables, hiking, fresh air, peace, and tranquility at the top of a mountain, then this is absolutely for you. Not to mention, it’s a great mother and son adventure.