I visited Jamaica for the first time in 2011 with my partner, it was also her first time there so we weren't really sure what to expect but were nonetheless very excited about visiting this most famous of Caribbean islands. I feel I have to give you a very brief history of that holiday back then as it is on that first visit in 2011 that a chance encounter set the tone for the rest of my holiday choices, it is long, but hopefully helpful for anyone thinking of using a private tour operator.
Jamaica 2011 (Trip 1)
We were only there for a week back then so threw ourselves into going on as many excursions as possible, all booked through our holiday rep/agent at the hotel in Runaway Bay. Whilst these excursions were good (and actually rather expensive too) and some of the nature even better, we felt like we were somewhat rushed through all the points of interest with barely enough time to take anything in, often part of a large crowd of other tourists. This is obviously done to ensure the maximum amount of tourists possible through the attraction thus generating more money (of which I am pretty sure the Jamaicans themselves see very little of) and while this is obviously good business sense, it comes at the 'expense' of the paying tourist who are rushed up and down the attractions at a speed that doesn't allow you to really enjoy it properly or take in this Islands stunning natural beauty.
This, remember, was 2 years ago, and I only bring it up as it is important to know it was on this holiday that by pure luck we met Mr Glen Garwood.
We were on our last hotel excursion and were expecting another long journey on another very hot and full bus, to be rushed through another 'blink and you'll miss it' tourist attraction only to come out the other side to be harassed by people trying to sell you yet more trinkets (as seemed to happen on every trip) when to our surprise a gentleman approached the lobby of the hotel where we were waiting and addressed us by our names. It turned out that he was our taxi hired by the hotel to take us to the Excursion (Martha Brae River rafting, only a few people were going so a bus wasn't required thankfully, in case you were wondering) and instead of the hot full bus, we were in a air conditioned MPV, with bottles of water and Red Stripe beer in a cooler in the back! It wasn't a particularly long journey and if it was then it was made to seem very fast as it turned out our taxi driver was an all singing all dancing Encyclopedia of Jamaica. This guy just radiated warmth and friendliness and you felt yourself becoming immersed as you were given a fascinating insight into the history and culture of his Island as we drove past various points of interest. It was like having your favourite teacher giving you your favourite lesson back at school! After he returned to take us back to the hotel we were treated to more history and more laughs, this man was so easy going and knowledgeable you couldn't help but love him instantly. I learned more about Jamaica in those few hours with Glen than I had done on the entire trip up to that point. We resolved to remember his name and if we ever came back to Jamaica then we planned to seek him out and see if he could take us places and teach and tell us more about his country.
Jamaica 2013 (Trip 2)
Fast forward to June 2013, nearly two years after our first visit and we decided to go again, I don't usually go to the same place twice, let alone twice in a row so I was a bit apprehensive that if we couldn't find this taxi driver from our first visit then we would most likely spend all our time within the grounds of the same all-inclusive resort, which while it was fantastic in it's own right, it wasn't really seeing much of Jamaica. We had done the majority of the tours organised by the holiday rep on our first trip and were not keen to do them again as it was expensive enough then, let alone now. Naturally I had long forgotten Glens name within the two years,(just his name you understand, it's impossible to forget him as a person!) my girlfriend eventually tracked him down by going through our holiday rep's Facebook friend list (she befriended him or whatever the term is) and there beaming out of the photo was our taxi driver Glen Garwood. My girlfriend got in touch with him while we were still in England and told him we were coming back to Jamaica within a few months and could he possibly or even kindly take us out somewhere. It turns out that Glen Garwood was not just a taxi driver but also a private tour operator with all the relevant accreditations and insurances. This was a very welcome surprise as I had just assumed he was a run of the mill taxi-driver, suddenly we now had the chance to tailor our holiday around numerous excursions without having to do it through the somewhat over commercialised hotel tours. Glen offered to take us to some places we had not heard about on our first visit and said to leave it in his capable hands and he would suggest a plan of what days to do what and so on. My partner is the boss so I left the details and money side of things for her to sort out. I just went with the flow. It turns out we paid a whole lot of unnecessary money to the hotel tour people on the first visit two years ago as Glen would prove. We had budgeted the same amount of 'excursion money' as the first time round, which was a lot but hey, we're on holiday and this time it was going to be better. Without going into actual figures we ended up using not nearly a lot of the money we budgeted, for twice the amount of excursions. I suddenly had a lot of spending money (well, the boss did) and was now looking forward to 4 days out with Glen over the holiday encompassing 10 different places all neatly planned to maximise the time spent in each one. I am not going to write a review of the attractions and places we visited as they speak for themselves, this review is about our tour guide Glen and his 'Jamaica Xplored Private Tours' Glen was exactly as we remembered him and it was brilliant seeing him again. He was always on time for every pick up and his vehicle was air conditioned, spacious, clean and very comfortable. The trusty cooler was in the back that I remembered from the trip 2 years ago and it was indeed filled with bottles of water and Red Stripe Beer. I referred to Glen's encyclopaedic knowledge on the first holiday and this was again apparent in abundance . He was extremely knowledgeable on every aspect of Jamaican life and whenever we asked a question he would know the answer instantly. It didn't take long at all for us to stop feeling like clients/customers and more like old friends and I felt supremely comfortable and relaxed. Glen gave us a fascinating insight into all things Jamaican and he would point out and often stop at the perfect spot for taking photos, his vehicle even had a huge sunroof that went all the way back so you could literally stand up inside the car through the sunroof and get some amazing pictures. We tried all manner of fruits, authentic Jamaican foods and drinks and quite often off the beaten track and in lesser known beauty spots. Glen was simply brilliant in every aspect, his attention to detail and the way he looked after us in everyway plus his vast knowledge on the subject matter to hand was superb and he was the main reason for our holiday being amazing the second time round, every destination was arrived at on time with no dramas whatsoever and I couldn't praise him enough for everything he did to ensure our holiday was the best one ever. Glen Garwood is the only private tour guide I would wholeheartedly recommend and I now consider him a friend.