Small

Geejam Hotel

A music-infused getaway in Jamaica where local and luxurious meet.

ALONG THE NORTHWESTERN coast of the tiny island of Jamaica, there is a well-trodden bounty of perfectly manicured, vacuum-sealed white-sand resorts, the kind with all-inclusive honeymoon packages and all-you-can-eat breakfast buffets. But on the northeastern side, in the quiet parish of Portland, there is something quite different: the Geejam Hotel. Tucked away in the forested foothills of the Blue Mountains, the winding estate offers glamorous villas, intimate cabins, and minimalist guestrooms. There’s a full-service recording studio for musicians and a small beach for guests down a long cement staircase that bends through locals’ backyards.

Geejam is the antidote to the “White Lotus” set of resorts. It’s a real place for real experiences. “You’re part of the community. There’s a real connection with the locals and I think that’s what makes it special,” says Jon Baker, Geejam’s founder. “It’s an adventure.” Baker never imagined himself a hotelier when he bought the original piece of land, about 15 minutes from the peaceful town of Port Antonio, back in the early ’90s. He was a music industry figure with a love for the island — its sounds, its people, its energy. His vision was to build a special kind of getaway, a place where artists could come and decompress, stay as long as they like, and write and record records in a lush Shangri-la. And come they did: No Doubt, Rihanna, Drake, and Amy Winehouse, to name a few, have all recorded at Geejam.

Slowly, over the years, Baker and his business partner Steve Beaver built it out as a place for more and more people to visit, complete with restaurant Bushbar, an infinity pool, and three levels of experiences — from high-end villas to the more modest but chic guestrooms. The mix of price points and options means the crowd can be a real hodgepodge. “Different people pass through from different walks of life,” he says.

We’re saying, go and look at these incredible waterfalls, go down to our beach, go and enjoy.

Baker is originally from the U.K., but lived in New York for years. He has a keen sense of what overworked city folk are looking for: The place is known for welcoming its fair share of burnt-out creatives, particularly from Manhattan, who want to unwind from the stresses of the city but still mingle with a cool crowd. “Engaging with people in the creative industry, when you bump into each other in New York, everyone’s guard is up,” he says. “Here, it’s a different vibe. When the neurotic New Yorkers check in, if we’re doing our jobs, within 24 hours they'll say, ‘Ah, we’re just going to chill.’”

Perched atop a hillside, the crown jewel of the estate is arguably Cocosan, a hidden villa that Beyonce and Jay-Z have stayed in, with its own pool and a master bedroom that opens up to an arcadian view of the rainforest and the sea. Baker envisioned it less as a place for quick vacations and more as a longer-term spot to ground oneself in Jamaica — Daniel Craig once spent five weeks there, enveloped by the trees and sounds of nature. “There’s just this magic, a green therapy. All the oxygen, all the plants,” Baker says.


Advertisement

For Baker, it’s as much about being outside the grounds as inside. “If you go to a lot of the other hotels, they like to keep you inside their boundaries,” he says. “We’re pushing you out the front door first thing in the morning. We’re saying, go and look at these incredible waterfalls, go down to our beach, go and enjoy.” Nearby is the Blue Lagoon (a gorgeous, serene cove for swimming, with contrasting warm- and cold-water currents), a bay to paddleboard and turtle-watch in, and a chance to raft down the river in the Rio Grande Valley, perhaps eventually stopping at a small riverside restaurant owned by a woman named Belinda. She cooks nestled under the palm fronds, just as her mother did. “We can keep visitors busy for 15 days with absolutely different things that they can do,” says Baker.

The pandemic has been tough on Geejam, as it has been on every hotel, but international restrictions encouraged Baker to make the space even more neighborly. “We focused on our local business and we’ve had so many cool Jamaicans come — and they’re still coming, coming on weekends. It’s created a new energy,” he says. “It's sort of started to take on a new life of its own.”

And things are hopeful all around. Baker is building another restaurant at the foot of the property, right on the ocean. Plus, though Geejam is now a circuitous three-hour drive from the main airport in Kingston (the hotel can arrange a car for you) up mountains, astride cliffs, and down gulfs, a new road is being built along the water that will cut the travel time in half. “Until then, it’s a bit of an Achilles’ heel for us — I can't lie. We just try to get really comfortable cars,” he says. Still, even if he wants as many people to experience Geejam as possible, he also understands there’s something bittersweet about opening the proverbial front gate wider than it is right now. “The long drive does filter out a lot of the less adventurous — they don’t even want to give it a go,” he says. “Sometimes you have to try a bit harder to get something a little more special, don’t you?”

Where to Eat and Explore in Port Antonio, Jamaica

Writer Alex Frank’s Favorite Spots

  • Belinda’s Riverside Restaurant

    The absolute must of any trip to Geejam. Take a boat down the river and, if you organize ahead, a kind woman named Belinda will cook you a delicious lunch on the banks of the water.

  • Frenchman’s Cove

    The most picturesque beach in the area — white sand, blue water, big sky.

  • Reach Falls

    A heavenly waterfall that’s absolutely worth seeing.

  • Blue Lagoon

    A secluded, quiet lagoon with crosscurrents of warm and cold water to swim around in.

  • Piggy’s Jerk Centre

    Jamaica is the land of jerk, its signature piquant seasoning, and the best jerk in Port Antonio is at Piggy’s Jerk Centre. It was popular with Daniel Craig when he was in Jamaica filming the Bond movie “No Time to Die.”

  • Belinda’s Riverside Restaurant

    The absolute must of any trip to Geejam. Take a boat down the river and, if you organize ahead, a kind woman named Belinda will cook you a delicious lunch on the banks of the water.

  • Blue Lagoon

    A secluded, quiet lagoon with crosscurrents of warm and cold water to swim around in.

  • Frenchman’s Cove

    The most picturesque beach in the area — white sand, blue water, big sky.

  • Piggy’s Jerk Centre

    Jamaica is the land of jerk, its signature piquant seasoning, and the best jerk in Port Antonio is at Piggy’s Jerk Centre. It was popular with Daniel Craig when he was in Jamaica filming the Bond movie “No Time to Die.”

  • Reach Falls

    A heavenly waterfall that’s absolutely worth seeing.

Explore More
Our Contributors

Alex Frank Writer

Alex Frank is a Manhattan-based freelance writer and editor covering music, fashion, and global culture. Frank previously worked at vogue.com as deputy culture editor. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, GQ, Pitchfork, New York Magazine, Fantastic Man, and the Village Voice.

Sean Sullivan Photographer

Sean Sullivan is a New York City—based photographer, curator, and art director. He is currently an art director at Departures.

',
Newsletter

Let’s Keep in Touch

Subscribe to our newsletter

Come On In

U.S. issued American Express Platinum Card® and Centurion® Members, enter the first six digits of your card number to access your complimentary subscription.

Learn about membership.