"Kingston, man? I been there once. It's crazy, full of crazy guys. Taking coke. They kill you, man. Treasure Beach is safe."

Ted the fisherman was cycling alongside me on the single road that makes up the fishing village of Treasure Beach, on Jamaica's south coast. I was walking, he was wobbling, trying to keep down to my slow pace in the 90-degree heat. Young, friendly, easy-going, he summed up one of the island's problems. "Murder capital of the Caribbean" is not a description you're likely to see used as a come-on by the Jamaican Tourist Board, but it is a well-known fact that downtown Kingston has a murder rate as bad as New York City. What visitors should remember is that there are plenty of rural Jamaicans, such as Ted, who wouldn't go anywhere near Kingston. And Yardies may mow each other down in Trenchtown, but they are not picking off tourists in resorts.

Montego Bay Airport is most people's first glimpse of Jamaica, and is about as appealing as King's Cross with a sweat on. Little wonder that visitors whizz off to their all-inclusive resorts and never set foot outside their comforts for the rest of the stay. Why bother? You've paid up-front and the touts are kept out. Is it surprising that those who do poke their pink noses beyond the security gates get descended upon by anyone with a suitcase full of wooden carvings and a bag of floppy Rasta hats? Jamaica is poor, you're rich, and everyone's got to make a living.

All-inclusives are a great, safe way to have a Caribbean holiday, especially for families - the ones who can afford it. Prices are high, but standards are too. Want another pudding? Help yourself, it's all paid for in the price. Watersports or a workout? Be their guest. Want to drink yourself senseless? Booze on. Not that many people do, as the target market is families and, in the case of the Sandals chain, couples only. Singles can head for the "anything goes" Hedonism II, in Jamaica's other main west-coast resort, Negril. The night I called in here - just curious, of course - there were three-legged races on the beach at midnight (not the nude beach, thank heavens), four-legged groin-grinding in the disco, who knows what happening under the mirrored bedroom ceilings and a Jamaican guy from Essex singing The Big Bamboo to sozzled American swingers in the piano bar.

Nude or not - and it's usually not - Jamaica's beaches are everything you could ask a Caribbean beach to be. The one at Negril runs for seven miles, a slope of silver-grey sand disappearing beneath an emerald sea, with the sky above usually a deep inky blue. Except at sunset when it bursts into swirls of red and gold, and the visitors down their Red Stripes and rum punches and toast the laid-back nightlife to come. The beauty doesn't come without a price, though, as the hustlers can hassle you like a pack of yapping dogs - "ganja, jool-ree man, carvings, good stuff, hey, jus' tekk a look, man, jus' tekk a look".

Just don't let the hassles get between you and the beauty of the island. Even Kingston is a pleasant surprise, Uptown Kingston at least - no one goes Downtown. It is one of the only places on Jamaica where you do need to take extra care, but Uptown Kingston is a delight of elegant mansions, ornate porticoes, old wooden buildings like the white-colonnaded prime minister's residence, Vale Royal, built in 1694. The National Gallery houses a collection of the island's vivid art, from the 1920s onwards, including a huge and imposing bronze statue of Bob Marley in the foyer.

The Bob Marley Museum on Hope Road is Kingston's most visited site. Marley bought the house in 1975 from Chris Blackwell, the Jamaican-born owner of Island Records. It's a typical late 19th-century Kingston town house, which retains its original marble steps, sash windows, staircase and other features. It was opened as a museum in 1986. To the right of the house is a herb garden, planted by Rita Marley, the singer's widow. It includes a ganja plant, the Tree of Life to Rastafarians. "Isn't it illegal to grow ganja?" I ask the guide. "Yes," she replies with a smile. Here, too, is a fig tree planted in memory of two of Bob's group, the Wailers. A mural depicts Marley's friend, Georgia, who appears in the lyrics of "No Woman No Cry", while on the back wall of the house is a beehive, reflecting the superstition that if bees make a hive on your house you'll be rich - or a king. "Bob became rich," the guide says, "and he was, of course, the King of Reggae."

You expect reggae in Jamaica, you expect rum, beaches, sunshine and even ganja, but nothing prepares you for the grandeur of the Blue Mountains, which have the kind of beauty that makes you whistle. The main ridge runs for some 30 miles behind Kingston and climbs to Jamaica's highest point at 7,402 feet. There are over 500 flowering plant species here, and tree ferns that grow to 35 feet high in the dank atmosphere. There's also the best coffee in the world, Blue Mountain coffee. Introduced to the island in 1728 by the British governor, the coffee remains highly prized. The Queen still places an order from the Old Tavern Estate, considered the best of the best. The Japanese can't get enough of it - over 90 per cent of the crop is exported to Japan, and some of the plantations are Japanese-owned. There is still more than enough to go round, though, and as long as I can still sit and sip my Blue Mountain breakfast coffee while watching hummingbirds zip among the hibiscus and feel the heat of the Caribbean sun build up, then I'm happy.

More than happy, too, to have found a corner of the island where you can laze the days away, lounging and walking and talking with the Jamaicans who are generally agreed to be the most hospitable on the whole island: those who live in Treasure Beach.

With only one hotel and a scattering of rooms to rent, Treasure Beach has a healthy level of tourism; not enough to ruin it, but enough to bring some prosperity to this laid-back community on the south-west coast. At many of the all-inclusive resorts, the food that you eat is most likely to have been flown in from America... and the money you spend flown back there, too. Dine in an ordinary village like Treasure Beach, though, and your curried goat will almost certainly have come from a nearby farmer - goatherds abound in the pastures around - and the fruit and vegetables will be either from the weekly market at Black River a few miles along the coast, or bought from the donkey women who come down daily from the hill farms, panniers packed with ackee, limes, pineapples, bananas. And you can be sure that the fish will have been bought from a guy like Ted, through one of the local fishermen's co-operatives.

In the evening before eating we would take a walk down the beach to Calabash Bay, past their fishing co-operative outside which the boats were bobbing or hauled up on the sand. Lobster cages lay around, and in the trees that lined the beach the frigate birds with their trailing tails had started to roost. People were lazily swimming, splashing around between the boats. On the shoreline an elderly couple sat on two upturned crates, watching the children play in the water. Beyond them the sun was slowly setting. It was the kind of peaceful evening scene that burns into your brain and stays there forever. And what about crime? The only crime in Treasure Beach is having to say goodbye.

FACT FILE

Accommodation

The author stayed in Treasure Beach's only hotel, the Treasure Beach Hotel, which has 36 air-conditioned rooms, including 16 Deluxe oceanfront apartments. Two weeks in August costs about pounds 660 on a room-only basis, including flight and transfers. Details of this and other small hotels around Jamaica from Just Jamaica, 1st Floor, 295 Soho Road, Birmingham B21 9SA (0800 272625).

Jake's Place in Treasure Beach has five cottages and a three-bedroom villa, from $100 (pounds 60) per night. Further details from UK agents Island Outpost, 421a Finchley Road, London NW3 6HJ (0800 614790).

Rooms and villas can be rented locally, or see Lonely Planet: Jamaica for a good listing.

All-inclusives

In August seven nights at the Grand Lido in Negril costs from pounds 1,681 per person, and seven nights at Sandals, Montego Bay, costs from pounds 1,487, both through Kuoni (01306 742222). Breezes, Montego Bay, from pounds 1,529 for two weeks in August.

Flights

The flight takes 10 hours. Charters to Montego Bay start from pounds 399 return in low season. Try Just Jamaica, listed above.

Air Jamaica (0181 570 7999) flies four times a week from Heathrow to Montego Bay and Kingston. Prices from pounds 684 return.

Further information

Jamaica Tourist Board, 1-2 Prince Consort Road, London SW7 2BZ (0171 224 0505).

and a scattering of rooms to rent, Treasure Beach has a healthy level of tourism; not enough to ruin it, but enough to bring some prosperity to this laid-back community on the south-west coast. At many of the all- inclusive resorts, the food that you eat is most likely to have been flown in from America... and the money you spend flown back there, too. Dine in an ordinary village like Treasure Beach, though, and your curried goat will almost certainly have come from a nearby farmer - goatherds abound in the pastures around - and the fruit and vegetables will be either from the weekly market at Black River a few miles along the coast, or bought from the donkey women who come down daily from the hill farms, panniers packed with ackee, limes, pineapples, bananas. And you can be sure that the fish will have been bought from a guy like Ted, through one of the local fishermen's co-operatives.

In the evening before eating we would take a walk down the beach to Calabash Bay, past their fishing co-operative outside which the boats were bobbing or hauled up on the sand. Lobster cages lay around, and in the trees that lined the beach the frigate birds with their trailing tails had started to roost. People were lazily swimming, splashing around between the boats. On the shoreline an elderly couple sat on two upturned crates, watching the children play in the water. Beyond them the sun was slowly setting. It was the kind of peaceful evening scene that burns into your brain and stays there forever. And what about crime? The only crime in Treasure Beach is having to say goodbye.

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