What’s a Rastafari?

With recent news that rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg has decided to become a Rastafari, start singing reggae and change his name to Snoop Lion, there are a lot of questions about this Jamaican religion.

The Rastafari movement had its roots here in Jamaica back in the 1930s.  It grew out of a blend of old African beliefs and Christian traditions, and it was embraced as a push for freedom.

One of the cornerstone beliefs of the Rastafari movement is that oppression will end. Of course, the world’s most famous Rasta was reggae legend Bob Marley, who sang beautifully about emancipation in his “Redemption Song”.

Rastafaris believe in God, and put the value on the individual.  There are no formal churches or clergy.  Because so many Jamaicans have moved to live in every corner of the world, there are about a million people who claim themselves as Rasta living all over the place.

This belief system is one of the many interesting ways that cultures have come together here in Jamaica and have blended to create something new.  You can see it in the food, which is a blend of British, Indian and Caribbean flavors, and you can hear it in the music, which is a unique mix of African, Caribbean and North American sounds and rhythms.

If you plan on a Jamaica villa rental, you can experience some of these unique blend first hand.  Right in Montego Bay, you can drop by the Rastafari Indigenous Village to learn more about the philosophy and culture of the Rastas. There’s a vegetarian restaurant and lots of crafts and drumming as well.  It’s a fascinating glimpse into a uniquely Jamaican way of life.

A Day Trip to Jost Van Dyke

So, you’ve chosen to vacation in one of the gorgeous Tortola villas here in BVI, or you’ve arranged for a relaxing holiday at a pretty St. John villa rental in USVI,  and now you’re planning what to do with your long, lazy days in the Caribbean sun!  Along with sleep, swim, surf and sail, make sure to plan a day trip to the charming island of Jost van Dyke.

Jost Van Dyke is the smallest of the British Virgin Islands, and it’s just a ferry ride away from Tortola and St. John.  If you’re taking a ferry from USVI, keep in mind that the ferry only runs on weekends, and you will need to bring your passport with you.  You can also take a sail over, and drop anchor in one of the many pretty harbors here, which used to be where pirate ships hid out.

The island is tiny!  You can walk around the entire island, spending your day exploring the highlights.   There are roads or paths between all of the pretty beaches and bays.  Make sure to head up to Diamond Cay, where you can find Bubbly Pool.  It’s a natural pool, fed by the surf, and it’s a great place to splash when the swells are high.

Go for a hike from Great Harbor over to White Bay. It’s one of the most beautiful hikes in BVI, and the view from the top of the hill includes Tortola, St. John and St. Thomas.  It’s a little rocky, so pack some good walking shoes.

For lunch, stop at Foxy’s in Great Bay, home to the most famous New Year’s Eve parties in the Caribbean.   On weekends, Foxy is the place to hang out for every sailor or yachter in the Virgin Islands. You can even enjoy a drink or a song with Foxy himself.

Another highlight of any visit to Jost Van Dyke is to enjoy a famous Painkiller at the Soggy Dollar Bar in White Bay.  Made of Pusser’s Dark Rum (it has to be Pusser’s, or it’s not a Painkiller), pineapple and orange juices, sweetened cream of coconut and a sprinkle of nutmeg; the Painkiller is one of the most iconic Caribbean drinks.

A Great Literary Festival in Jamaica

If you love books and love the Caribbean, there is an international festival here in Jamaica you should plan to visit the next time you book a Jamaica villa rental.

The Calabash Festival is a three-day, May literary event that has been held here in Jamaica for more than a decade.  Sure, you’re familiar with Jamaica’s music and its food, but did you know that this sunny island is also home to a vibrant literary scene?

The festival is set up on a gorgeous stretch of sand in the small fishing village of Treasure Beach where you can buy both jerk chicken and the latest Jamaican poetry all at the same time.

Calabash has everything you need for a great literary festival in Jamaica, including authors doing live readings from their works, and the chance to discover and meet new authors with a distinctive Caribbean voice. Calabash happens every year in May, and has attracted island writers including Derek Walcott, Junot Diaze and Kevin Young, as well as authors from as far away as Asia and Africa.

The best part is that it all happens outside, right on the beach, with the sounds of the surf acting like an accompanist to the lilt and poetry of the spoken word.

Everyone grabs something tasty to eat, something cool to drink, and settles under the shade of the palm trees to soak up the sun and the joys of local literature. Authors say there is simply no other literary festival on earth that exudes this sense of joy and community.

Part of the fun is the location.  Treasure Beach is completely untouched by tourism.  Nestled on the southwest coast of Jamaica just an hour’s drive from the Jamaica villa rental at the Tryall Club, Treasure Beach has no resorts and no big restaurants.

Of course, it’s not a Jamaican festival without a little music, so Calabash also features nightly reggae concerts and acoustic performances.

Carnival in the U.S. Virgin Islands

In many countries around the world, Carnival is the best festival going.  Dancing all night long, plenty of live music, colorful costumes and great local food; a Carnival vacation creates memories for a lifetime.  In the U.S. Virgin Islands, 2012 marks the 60th anniversary of Carnival.

First celebrated to the song “Don’t Stop the Carnival” by the Duke of Iron back in 1952, Virgin Islanders love their Carnival festivities. Drawing on the African and European roots of the Virgin Islanders, Carnival is celebrated in the U.S Virgin Islands at different times.

On St. Thomas, the celebrations last through April and May.  On St. Croix, Carnival takes place over the Christmas holidays, with lots of Latin music and a Carnival Queen and King.  In St. John, the party goes from June until July, with parades, fireworks and a delicious food fair.

On the island of St. John, the Carnival also marks a celebration of the end to slavery on the island, and the Virgin Island independence.  It usually involves a great 4th of July party centered around Cruz Bay.  The streets are filled with dancing and costumed party-goers, as Virgin Islanders hop from island to island on the ferry making sure to make the most of the festivities.

Carnival is a great time to book a vacation in the U.S. Virgin Islands. There are wonderful St. John vacation rentals, which just are perfect for anyone who looks forward to enjoying Carnival activities, as well as quiet evenings by your own private pool.

The Irish in Montserrat, West Indies

There’s a reason why Montserrat is called the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean, and why it’s the only place outside of Ireland to officially recognize St. Patrick’s Day.  That reason is the strong Irish roots that grow on this gorgeous island in the West Indies.

The Irish in Montserrat, West Indies dates back to the 17th century, when Irish servants from nearby St. Kitts escaped their masters and found freedom on the volcanic island of Montserrat.  Their legacy is still felt island-wide, and in fascinating ways.

Names such as Sweeney, Ryan and O’Brien dominate in the local population.  The people of the two islands also share a love of stories and talking.  There are lots of local restaurants and pubs on Montserrat where the evening ends in song and in laughs, just like it does over in Dublin.

When you arrive in Montserrat, your passport is stamped with a green shamrock, and the national flag of Montserrat features a woman who symbolizes Ireland, carrying a golden harp, another symbol of the Celtic homeland.

Both islands also share a love for everything green and growing, and people take advantage of their lush climates to grow rich and beautiful gardens.  Of course, the gardens of Montserrat are more tropical in nature, featuring glorious frangipani and palm trees. You may also detect a slight Irish lilt when you talk to the people of this island.

Language experts say that the local language here, Montserrat Creole, has a lot in common with southern Irish English, as it does with other Creole dialects from nearby islands.

Of course, Montserrat is at its most Irish every March, when it elevates the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day to an entire week of parties, songs, parades and celebrations.

Why not come explore holidays in Montserrat for yourself?  Hurry and book a Montserrat villa before the wearin ‘of the green and experience this wonderful Caribbean island with a fascinating Irish twist.

Holiday at a St. John Virgin Island Villa in 2012

Here on St. John in the pretty U.S. Virgin Islands, they like to keep the party going all year long.  You can see that fun-loving attitude in January, where right after New Year’s Day, St. John observes yet another public holiday just five days later on Three Kings’ Day, commemorating the day the three wise men came to visit the baby Jesus.

From January all through the year, there are lots of great events and holidays to enjoy on vacations at St. John vacation rentals.

Celebrate Love in the U.S. Virgin Islands

St. John is a wonderful place to spend Valentine’s Day.  The nickname for the island is “Love Island” and there are free marriage renewal ceremonies offered every year on Trunk Bay Beach.  Nearly a thousand couples have renewed their vows here over the past decade.  It’s a great way to make your stay at a St. John rental house even more memorable by turning your trip into a second honeymoon!

St. John Arts & Music Festival

The St. John Music Festival is also staged in mid-February, with free concerts in Cruz Bay Park. Local restaurants also set up food fairs for the week-long festival, and artists set up tables to display and sell their arts and crafts.

St. John Blues Festival

The music keeps playing into March, when the island hosts the St. John Blues Festival. The best local Blues acts and musicians from all over the islands come to St. John for a week of mellow tunes and great music.

St. John Festival

St. John’s version of Carnival kicks off in June and lasts through until July.  There are a whole host of street parties and parades, masquerades, and plenty of excellent Caribbean treats to eat. The St. John Festival concludes with J’Ouvert, which is a July 4th all-night parade and street party.  Watch for evening fireworks over Cruz Bay, and the ever-popular moko jumbies (costumed stilt walkers)

Flavors of St John

In late October, the chefs of St. John host an evening of music, dancing and the best food on the island.  All the local restaurants and bars prepare special dishes and drinks for the occasion and everyone votes for their favorite.  It’s usually held at one of the island resorts and tickets are sold to raise money for the local Rotary Club.

Coral Bay Thanksgiving Regatta

Of course, St. John is a part of the U.S. Virgin Islands, so Thanksgiving is celebrated on the island, but here it comes with a tropical twist. The island hosts the Coral Bay Regatta at the Coral Bay Yacht Club, with races around several desert islands in the area.  It’s fun to race, or even just to watch from the shore.

Mongoose Junction All-Island Holiday Party 

When it’s time to get into the holiday spirit, the shops at Mongoose Junction in Cruz Bay host a great party on the second Saturday of December with lots of music, drinks and dancing.  With deals available, and a party going on, it’s a fun time to go shopping and have a good time.

Valentine’s Day Escape in the Virgin Islands

If you’re dreaming about a romantic getaway for two, why not come to the Virgin Islands for a Valentine’s Day escape?  Perfect sunsets, exploring colorful coral reefs together in turquoise waters, and long walks along the white sand beaches; the Virgin Islands have everything you need to spark, or rekindle, your passions.

The best Valentine’s Day escape is to book one of the lovely St. John vacation rentals that are right on the doorstep of the Virgin Islands National Park. Choose one that offers complete privacy, with your very own pool, where you can share intimate breakfasts, day long hikes, and candlelight dinners in your very own vacation home.

Spend a day on the beach in Trunk Bay.  Take a walk over to Cinnamon Bay Beach to go windsurfing or sea kayaking or hike up to the ruins of the Annaberg Sugar Mills.  For a fun day out on the water, charter a yacht for an afternoon and tour around all of the Virgin Islands.  Go horseback riding over to Coral Bay and have conch fritters for lunch on the deck at Shipwreck Landing.

Even if you’ve been married for years and plan to bring the kids with you on your winter getaway, St. John vacation rentals still give you lots of chance for romance.  Put the kids to bed in one room, and retreat to the deck to watch the sunset together with a glass of wine, just the two of you.

Rental villas offer more privacy than busy hotels and resorts.  No lining up for dinner.  No need to cram your entire family into one room to save on money.  Instead, have a whole house to yourself, with a full kitchen, a stunning view and all the room you need to be together, whether it is for a romantic week for two, or a quiet moment during a fun family getaway.

Birdwatching in Jamaica

If you’re a diehard birder, there is no better place to visit than here in Jamaica. It’s your chance to combine the perfect winter getaway with a stay at a gorgeous Jamaica villa rental and your favorite pastime.

The island of Jamaica is home to 65 species of birds, nearly half of which can be found nowhere else on the plant.

Come bird watching in Jamaica and cross the Jamaican Spindalis off your must-see list, as well as the Blue Mountain Vireo, the Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo, and the Sad Flycatcher. We have the most unique species of birds in the Caribbean.

The best time to come birdwatching in Jamaica is during the first half of the year, from December until June, when the birds are mature and showing off their finest songs and plumage.

Among the best places to visit for bird watching is the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park around St. Andrew and St. Mary. It’s one of the prettiest parts of the island, with roughly 200,000 acres of pristine rainforest to explore.  It’s also the best place in Jamaica to find migratory birds. The area around Bluefields has been called one of the best birding areas in Jamaica, with nearly 30 Jamaican species of birds.

For water birds, the shores of the Black River are home to thousands of native waders, including egrets, terns and gulls.

Finally, make sure to stop by the Cranbrook Flower Forest near St. Ann. There are lots of pretty hiking trails and paths through the forest, and the area’s gorgeous flowers attract thousands of birds.

Plan a stay at the Jamaica villa offered by Tropical Island Retreats during the peak bird-watching months of December through June, and don’t forget to bring comfortable walking shoes and your best binoculars.

Celebrate Sailing in the British Virgin Islands

For more than 40 years, one of the world’s best regattas takes place here in the British Virgin Islands.  The British Virgin Islands Spring Regatta and Sailing Festival attracts hundreds of sailors and yachts and anyone who just loves sailing to the Nanny Cay marina on Tortola.

Organized by the Royal BVI Yacht club, this annual regatta has always had the goal of teaching everyone who loves the water how to be safe while enjoying all the water sports available in the area.  There are experts on hand and information available, whether you want to learn more about sailing, yachting, kite-boarding or windsurfing. Of course the main event are the sailing races.

For three days, gorgeous sailboats fill the Sir Frances Drake Channel, sailing from Tortola to Virgin Gorda.  If you rent one of our gorgeous Tortola villas or a villa Virgin Gorda, you can watch the races right by your very own private deck next to your private pool.

This year, there is a lot of buzz about the Paradox, a 63’ multihull yacht with a worldwide reputation for speed, as well as about the Equation, a monohull STP65 which has already won the Sydney-Hobart Race and the very first BVI sailing festival here.

Aside from the world class sailing, there are lots of parties that go along with this incredible event celebrating sailing in the British Virgin Islands. There’s an annual bikini show, beach parties, Moko Jumbies, and cocktail parties.

Next spring, why not come and see the beauty for yourself.  Arrange for your own British Virgin Island holidays in Tortola or Virgin Gorda, overlooking the Sir Frances Drake Channel, and watch from your own quiet deck as million-dollar yachts sail the turquoise waters between these islands jewels.

A Once-in-a-Lifetime Drink in Virgin Gorda

If you’re planning a once-in-a-lifetime trip to a villa Virgin Gorda, why not have a unique tropical drink in Virgin Gorda to go with it?

Virgin Gorda’s iconic yacht club, the Bitter End, serves fantastic signature cocktails, all named after some of the beautiful yachts and sailboats that bob in its harbor.  The tradition started back in the 1980s, when the bar staff at the Bitter End Yacht Club began making up frothy, frosty cocktails and naming them after the boat that the customer had just stepped off.

A refreshing example is the Lemon Crash, named for the J-24 sailboat that resort owner Dana Hokin sailed with her father.  It’s a blend of rum, lime juice, slices of lemon and crushed ice.

British Virgin Island holidays are simply not complete without a stop for dinner at the Bitter End.  It has been an island mainstay since the Hokin family bought a tiny pub on the shores of Little Dix Bay back in the 1970s. Since then, The Bitter End Yacht Club has grown into one of the best yacht clubs in the Caribbean, and it’s a great place to spend a day.

The harbor was once home to pirates including Sir Francis Drake, but today, there are nothing but luxury yachts, pretty sailboats and fun dinghies, dotting the sparkling waves.  There’s a great steak and seafood restaurant, a beautiful al fresco restaurant where you can dine on the beach, and of course, there’s the Crawl Pub, where you can look out over the North Sound and enjoy a refreshing cocktail.

There’s another great drink here called the Bitter End Buddy.  The mix of rum, pineapple juice and guava juice was invented during the yacht club’s first Freedom 30 Regatta, and was named after a sailor, Buddy Melges.