Hellshire Beach ... Shed Style at one of Jamaica’s Best Destinations
Beautiful white sand beaches, fantastic mountain vistas and let’s not forget about the mouth-watering food from the numerous shack style bars. If your travels take you to Jamaica, then you should make your way to the Hellshire Beach which is located near Kingston in the adjoining parish of St. Catherine. If you are in Kingston, depending on the traffic, it can be as little as a 30 minute journey. This hotspot has become a must-see attraction and offers many photo opportunities. Hellshire Beach is not in the running for Jamaica’s most picturesque beach but it is still quite beautiful in an authentic way with its white sands, turquoise water and, of course, the varied selection of food severed from the beach front shacks. It is very popular with locals and so it can be best to visit on a weekday when it is less crowded and you can get served faster. But if you are going with a group of friends the weekend is the time to go for a really exciting and unique experience. As this is when the locals come out and there is much more of a party atmosphere. Once the sun sets, the parties go into overdrive and the rhythmic Reggae /Dancehall music never stops.
Jamaica got its name, Xiamca, from the native Taino who Columbus found there and the name translates to “The land of wood and water”. Hellshire Beach is an embodiment of this with the beach and many wooden structures used for shelter and furniture. The architecture of the bars is reminiscent of a backyard shed or a log cabin you would have in your garden, albeit a bit more rustic. This “shack” style decor is the prominent feature you will see in the Caribbean and it really makes sense for maintenance purposes. Other types of materials would require a lot of care when subjected to the elements and the salty air which you cannot escape at the beach. It is advisable to take a beach towel with you, so you can be more comfortable on the provided wooden benches or chairs and loungers.
There is a paid beach directly beside the public beach called Sugar Man which offers changing rooms, showers, restrooms and different seating options. These amenities are a bit lacking on the public beach so it is good to know where to find this area. It is usually more orderly there, unless there is a party in swing, of course. Sugar Man Beach is a popular party spot so if you are into the parties and nightlife this is a good jam. The Hellshire Beach Club also known as the Sugar man Hotel and Beach Club is in close proximity and offers rooms at a reasonable price but is apparently more known as a per hour business. As the majority of the locals use the free section of the beach, the paid area may be a good choice if the beach is crowded. The paid section is located more to the east and also boasts very delicious meals so you won’t be losing out if you decide to dine and hang out there.
On arrival at the beach, you are usually greeted by locals who will assist with parking, keep an eye on your vehicle and suggest a restaurant for you. Don’t feel pressured as parking is free but you may tip anyone who assists you when you are leaving your vehicle and contents are secure. There is a police station in the nearby community and fairly regular patrols to the beach area but you should still practice caution and keep an eye on your valuables as petty theft can occur anywhere. On a whole there is no need to be concerned for your safety as the patrons of Hellshire Beach are there to have a good time and the residents are invested in the beach as key economic driver of the local economy.
The choice of restaurants is entirely up to you so look around and choose one which appeals to you. Many people believe that “Aunt May’s”, “Aunt Merl’s” or Prendy’s have the best cuisine but most of the others are really good as well. If you do not visit the beach with a local, then you should shop around and compare the prices. Don’t be afraid to haggle and get the best deal as this is a part of the experience. Jamaica’s “No problem, mon” and “Everything irie” (irie is Jamaican for all right or good vibes) is a way of life there and it shows in the service. It is best to relax, have a chat, soak up the vibe and let the experience come to you.
After choosing a place to have your meal, you are then presented with many options of food fresh from the sea, whether it is lobster, conch, shrimps, crabs or a variety of fish. The fish is so good that people travel many miles and wait quite patiently to sample it.
Fried or Escovitch fish is the most popular main dish but you can also get your fish steamed, or brown stewed which is also well done and appetizing. Most of the restaurants will charge by the pound and weigh your chosen fish to determine the cost. If you don’t fancy spicy food, then you are advised to let the cook know this in advance so you will enjoy your dish. The steamed fish is usually served with okras and carrots which most find complementary. The most common side dishes available are festival, bammy, lettuce and tomatoes. Festival is a mix of cornmeal, flour, baking powder, sugar and salt which is deep fried. Bammy is made from cassava and other ingredients and is considered to be a flatbread. These two side dishes are delicious and go very well together. Many patrons order extra portions to enjoy later which usually end up being eaten on the journey back from the beach. All the food is prepared to order and if it is a busy day then you may have a long wait.
It is always nice to order your meal and then take a dip in the sea to build your appetite. If the waves are good, you can also enjoy some other water sports or just take a leisurely stroll. As it is a public beach there may be glass from broken bottles so you should bear this in mind. The restaurants make an effort to keep the beach clean but they cannot always ensure that their patrons cooperate. It is also possible to take a horseback ride or get on a jet ski for a price. This beach is not ideal for snorkelers or divers so don’t go with that expectation and you will avoid disappointment. Even with sunscreen on, it is important to get into the shade and not have prolonged exposure to the sun. Of course, you can order a beer or some rum, kick back in the shade of the shack and get your mellow on while listening to the provided music. However, be careful or the gentle breeze might lull you off to sleep.
There are many different types of vendors at the beach which range from those with an established location to others who roam the entire beach. Along with the restaurants there are artists, fruit sellers, towel sellers, jewellery and of course, coconut vendors. Coconut is widely touted as being healthy, good for hydration and it really hits the spot on a hot day. Coconut water is a great chaser with rum, in particular, and tastes even better sat on the beach. It should be noted that Marijuana, or “Ganja” as it is locally referenced, has been legalized in Jamaica, in small quantities, so be prepared to likely to encounter its sale and usage. If second hand smoke is a concern then, do not hesitate to state your objections as most people will understand and relocate
Wi-Fi access is a key factor in today’s online world and it is available on this beach so there are no worries about connecting with friends and family or updating your favourite social media platform. It is great to capture every moment for future posterity and let the folks back home know what they are missing. If only you could also record the taste and aroma as well, but no problem, as these are sure to remain vivid in your memories. There are also fishermen who will bring their catch in daily and it is common to see some boats moored on the beach. Fishermen are the same all over and if you want to hear some wild tales and have a good laugh, then these guys will keep you entertained.
Friendly faces, fine food, fun and frolic! Hellshire Beach brings all these things together to offer a rich authentic experience of the Jamaican lifestyle. If you are able to make a trip as a group, then this would serve to enhance the experience. There aren’t many things that can compare to sitting on a beach with your mates, drink in hand and great food in abundance. So get off the couch, get out and live it up!