Play it cool in the glorious Caribbean, writes NATASHA JONES
I GRIPPED onto a rope, seven tiers of cascading waterfalls thundered beneath my feet.
"Jump!" shouted the crowd of swimsuit-clad tourists staring up at me.
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I could either back away from the edge of the high ledge of the YS Falls, one of Jamaica's finest natural attractions, having bottled it, or I could swing on the rope and fling myself into the bubbling rapids below to an eruption of cheers.
There was only one way to go. Without a scrap of elegance, I launched myself over the water, then dropped like a stone, holding my nose with one hand and my bikini bottoms with the other.
In truly majestic surroundings, with all seven waterfall drops in close succession, engulfed by lush greenery, there is a theme-park-type atmosphere at the YS Falls, complete with whoops and camaraderie. Everyone makes the most of the natural slides and people stand under the cascades to get back massages.
Birds This natural beauty spot doesn't take itself too seriously.
The place captures the true spirit of Jamaica where everything is cool.
We were on a Rum and Falls excursion with Island Roots Tour Company. We certainly got our money's worth as the trip also included a visit to the Black River, one of the longest in Jamaica.
Its name refers to the blackness of the riverbed caused by thick layers of decomposing vegetation. It has an amazing ecosystem, providing a home to more than 100 species of birds, and we even came close to a few crocodiles.
The tour also takes in the world-famous Appleton's Rum Distillery in the Parish of St Elizabeth. The tour includes a journey back in time detailing the history of the brand, visiting the barrel warehouse and, most importantly, sampling some Appleton's rum and other home-produced drinks. Seduced by the rich Caribbean flavours, and possibly being a bit tipsy, we ended up going a bit mad in the gift shop.
Then it was back to our incredibly chilled out resort, the Grand Pineapple Beach Resort in Negril. Owned by the kings of the Caribbean, Sandals, it's an intimate all-inclusive property, with 65 rooms. With one fresh water swimming pool, one restaurant and one bar, the atmosphere is very low-key compared with some of the sprawling resorts in the Caribbean. The buildings are cute and colourful, rooms have colonial-style d©cor, with most including a garden or terrace with a beach or garden view.
Being a smaller resort makes it big on charm. We walked from room to beach to bar in under a minute which made the whole holiday seem effortless. While Sandals holidays are famous for being couplesonly, this hotel is open to the whole family and facilities include sailing, water tricycles, kayaking and tennis.
But the beach is really the place to be at the Grand Pineapple. The seven-mile stretch of white sand is raked daily and the water is shallow and calm for a long way out to sea. Dipping a toe into the turquoise sea feels like stepping into a warm bath.
Food and drink are another highlight at the resort. The Orchid Terrace restaurant serves up Caribbean and international food right on the beach. Plus the chefs will rustle up hamburgers, hot dogs and grilled sandwiches at any time.
The Sunset Beach bar has Red Stripe beer, spirits and cocktails. My favourite time of the day was having a couple of lethal zombie cocktails as the sun set.
Views The Grand Pineapple is in a great location, within walking distance of Negril's town centre, entertainment zone and craft market.
We spent a blissed-out evening at Rick's Caf© in Negril. Its bar on the cliff top gives customers spectacular sunset views. Down the road from Grand Pineapple is the Jungle nightclub. Pumping out urban beats, it's a hub for locals and tourists and on Thursday nights ladies get free entry. Outside are a couple of jerk chicken stands for when you have the munchies.
Visiting Jamaica is great for those who want the fun factor of the Caribbean, mixed with days of absolute relaxation.
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Everyone from the hotel staff to market stall holders to passers-by in the street seem to be smiling here and the happiness is infectious. It really is a place to leave your cares behind.
SEVEN nights in Jamaica with Virgin with direct flights Gatwick Airport, at Grand Beach Negril on all-inclusive basis with start from £1,169 person based on two sharing a standard Prices based on departures from 19-26.
The V-room at Gatwick Airport costs £20 for and £12 for children.virginholidays.co.uk 0844 557 3859 or visit of Virgin's 90 stores in Debenhams and of Fraser stores resort details see co.uk, and tour details go to islandroutes.co.uk.