Quieter than Montego Bay and no less scenic than Negril, Treasure Beach is a hidden treasure for locals and tourists looking to get away from the cacophony of urban life. The small fishing town is home to beautiful, secluded beaches that rival any of its North Coast siblings. Upful Villa provides its guests with a bit of sanctuary – modern affordances in unspoiled nature ensuring a relaxing and soul-nurturing stay.
While Treasure Beach is a sleeping giant of a tourist hot spot, it’s also a community with families trying to get by. Supporting the community in a way that augments their livelihood instead of bulldozing through their way of life was paramount to the villa’s co-owner Deika Morrison and her team. We caught up with Ms. Morrison to talk about what Treasure Beach means to her family, what “Upful” means to her, and what guests can expect from a stay at the Villa.
In your opinion, what is the magic of Treasure Beach and Upful Villa that everyone should experience?
Deika: Treasure Beach has a unique and special vibe. The unspoiled nature, rugged coastline, brisk sea breezes, spectacular sunsets, beautiful views of the Caribbean Sea and the Santa Cruz mountains, plus the people – altogether it is just magic. It’s like 1960’s Jamaica with authentic community spirit. Go for a bike ride at sunrise and say hello to community members in the farmlands. Stop by Dawn’s and have “the best breakfast in Jamaica” with her hand roasted coffee. Buy fresh fruits and vegetables from Cynthia on the corner, or farmers in the area. Take the Treasure Beach Walking Tour and learn about the rich history of the community. Spend some time in the Breds Treasure Beach Sports Park – 17 acres with facilities for cricket, football, tennis, basketball, swimming pool, children’s play area plus the General Colin Powell Challenge Course. Enjoy our signature sunsets at Jakes’ Dougie’s Bar with Dougie’s famous rum punch, which is a vibe. So much more to do and explore – restaurants, cafes, bakery, yoga, spa and wellness activities. The list goes on. Take a boat ride with Captain Dennis or any of the experienced boat captains along the coast, have a private beach lunch experience, explore the Black River and go out to the world-famous Floyd’s Pelican Bar. And when you feel for a quick trip even further outside of Treasure Beach, but still in St. Elizabeth, book a tour to nearby YS Falls, Lovers Leap, The Joy Appleton Estate Rum Experience and more.
What to experience at Upful:
Upful Villa is designed for indoor-outdoor living. The architect, Marvin Goodman, aimed to maximize natural sunlight and brisk sea breeze – both of which flow throughout the house. We say “be together, with space” – it’s 4000 sq ft. with the option of separate entrances on each floor, plus kitchen on the ground floor and kitchenette on the top floor. The bedrooms are as far apart from each other as possible – with two on each floor and when on the same floor on either side of the house with common areas to eat, lounge and chill in between. There are lots of outdoor spaces with lots of plants and flowers – we have a front lawn, a courtyard with an overflow pool, backyard with grill, and covered and uncovered roof decks with gardens. On the ground floor, the master bedroom and the second bedroom open to the pool deck on one side, and also have their own outdoor spaces on another side. The upstairs master bedroom has a private wrap around roof deck with garden. Birds, especially hummingbirds and mockingbirds, are seen regularly in our garden.
Upful is a home away from home. It’s modern-rustic – a newly constructed villa with modern conveniences warmed up with signature furniture pieces that have been in our family for generations – my grandmothers’ chairs, my grandparents dining tables, etc. We incorporated many elements of universal design for comfort for all ages and stages – step-free entry, extra large bedrooms on the ground floor, hand-held showers, grab bars, wide corridors, open design, lowest step risers possible etc. Then there’s the warm hospitality and the delicious home cooked meals by the staff – traditional Jamaican favorites, vegetarian and vegan options tailored to preferences (low salt, low sugar etc.)
I gather that Treasure Beach has been a life-changing place for you. Tell us why.
Deika: My first time in Treasure Beach was for the Calabash International Literary Festival. I was not there as a patron; I was working. Justine Henzell, the co-founder of Calabash, is a close friend and she asked me to come make some noise on social media about Calabash. I had previously led the #TeamShaggy4Kids campaign which trended globally. Calabash, is a weekend-long literary festival. I arrived on the Thursday, and by Sunday, Jason Henzell (Justine’s brother and the Chairman of Jakes) said, “You are never leaving,” and that is exactly what happened.
For years before, our family foundation – Do Good Jamaica – had an islandwide early childhood campaign called Crayons Count. We mobilized resources and donations to provide all early childhood institutions across Jamaica (that were registered with the Early Childhood Commission) with recommended learning tools. We also did teacher workshops and community events. We had been looking for a community to do more strategic work with schools and Treasure Beach is an excellent community for a pilot. Here, we worked with the early childhood institutions in the Greater Treasure Beach area – providing additional specialized learning tools, then added additional teacher training programs. Then we created Happy House in the Breds, Treasure Beach Sports Part – a learning through play early childhood community center (a collaboration with BREDS and UNICEF Jamaica), and the first of its kind.
While working with the schools, we experienced significant variability in the weather and saw how it was impacting the community and livelihoods. Do Good Jamaica applied for a grant from the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica to assess climate vulnerability and develop a disaster risk management plan. Out of that project we engaged in many different ways of community sensitization including a house-to-house survey, a documentary, and information fliers with the help of a local artist. We also donated two emergency water tanks for community use.
While working on our own foundation projects, we supported and helped facilitate projects by other community organizations – Breds Treasure Beach Foundation, The Treasure Beach Women’s Group, The Treasure Beach Turtle Group, The Treasure Beach Destination Management Organization etc.
While working on all these initiatives we got to know the people and the area better. It quickly became home.
What does the completion of the Upful Villa project mean for you and your family? What does the project embody for you all?
Deika: It has been a lifelong dream of my parents to have a home in the country. My mother’s family is originally from St. Elizabeth. My parents were founding members of the Mona Heights community organizations, so we were raised with family and community as extended family. In Treasure Beach, the strength of community spirit is palpable and is shown through the various organizations and groups that work together on a continuous basis. When my parents came to Treasure Beach – for the opening of Happy House, it felt like coming home especially given the warmth of the Treasure Beach community. They bought the land where Upful is a few weeks after that visit.
We started the project before the pandemic, then the pandemic turned the whole world upside down in many ways, but we pushed through with the help of the community who really rallied their skills, expertise and support to help us have the beautiful home we have today. It’s the realization of a dream, but it is the embodiment of the power of community support.
Tell us how Upful Villa is an extension of the multifaceted community work you and your family were already doing in Treasure Beach.
Deika: The house was originally intended to be a base from which we could do community projects, and invite people from around the world to help build the community. Since it has been constructed, we have continued our community efforts, most recently providing support to resilience and recovery efforts since the pandemic. We have accelerated our efforts to bring more students to the area, and develop relationships with academic institutions. We have facilitated a MOU with UWI and Missouri State University to work on Sustainable Communities – building on decades of work in the area, and we will be welcoming students and faculty from UWI, UTECH and the University of Pennsylvania to do work in environmental sustainability.
How do you hope your guests will feel and be positively impacted when they stay at Upful Villa?
Deika: The name of the house is deliberate. In an authentic Jamaican way, the word ‘upful’ has more than one meaning. It means positive/cheerful/ happy, which we hope our guests will feel during their stay. It also means living in a good, positive way and we hope our beloved community and environment will benefit from the visitors who come.
By design, Upful is a peaceful retreat to relax, rest and recharge for the three generations – grandparents, parents, children and grandchildren – who call this special spot home. We hope our guests – especially our fellow Jamaicans in the diaspora – consider Upful a home away from home. And we invite everyone to engage with us to help build a resilient community with sustainable livelihoods.