South of the main A2 road between Black River and Mandeville, snoozy TREASURE BEACH is the bright spark of south-coast tourism. A string of laid-back fishing villages tucked under the Santa Cruz Mountains amid some of Jamaica’s most beautiful countryside, the area is the ultimate antidote to the island’s more commercialized resorts. Tourism is very much a community concern here: many of the accommodation and eating places are owned by local families, and as there are no fenced-off all-inclusives to create a barrier between the locals and the visitors, everyone mixes easily together. One of the safest areas in Jamaica, this tight-knit, proud community has both a solid tourist infrastructure and a strong sense of its own traditional values. It’s a tiny spot, with no neon beach-bars or jet skis or sun loungers on the beaches, and attracts a mix of hip, bohemian jet-setters and young backpackers who simply want to unwind and absorb Jamaica’s gentler, more pastoral side.

The Santa Cruz Mountains rise up from the sea just east of Treasure Beach and run northwest, providing a scenic backdrop for the village and protecting the area from rain clouds coming from the north. As a result, Treasure Beach has one of the driest climates in the country, and the scrubby, desert-like landscape – red-earth savannahs strewn with cactuses and acacia trees – is often reminiscent of the African plains. Despite the dry weather, though, this is very much farming country, and you’ll see rolling plantations of carrots, scallions, thyme, onions and watermelons scattered around the area. You may also notice that many of the residents have a very distinctive appearance – red or blonde hair; blue, green or yellow eyes; light skin and freckles – that is said to be the result of intermarriage between locals and a crew of Scottish sailors who were shipwrecked here in the nineteenth century. Whatever the reason, Treasure Beach’s “red” men and women, as they’re known, are famed islandwide for their unusual beauty.

There’s a good and ever-expanding range of accommodation options here, including a delightfully eclectic collection of villas and beach cottages to rent, some great places to eat and a couple of diverting attractions, while the bays that make up the area feature some spectacular undeveloped golden-sand beaches. You’ll probably stay on the long sandy sweep of Frenchman’s Bay, where tourism has largely displaced fishing as the main industry, or smaller Calabash Bay, where you can still see brightly coloured fishing boats pulled up on the beach below the newly constructed villas and guesthouses. To the east, Great Bay remains a basic fishing village with a sprinkling of guesthouses and some spectacular scenery, while west of Frenchman’s Bay the road runs out of town past Billy’s Bay, home to some of the more upmarket villas in Treasure Beach, some pretty, deserted beaches and a lot of goats.

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