Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wild & Wonderful Jamaica

I'm always on the hunt for authentic experiences and I found it in Jamaica in Port Antonio, a wildly lush land defined by the rugged Blue Mountains in the northeastern sector of the island.

1. Most visitors would probably choose a hotel or inn beside a golden sand beach. Instead, my base was an inn that sat atop a high hill and required driving along narrow winding roads that climbed steeply up the hillside. But it was all worth it. Staying at Jamaica Heights Resort is like bedding down in a botanical garden. The property is littered with red ginger, bougainvillea, wild orchids and hundreds of other botanical delights. It's a low-key, economical establishment where we had panoramic views of the mists coating the tall Blue Mountains. One of the cottages was my favorite: it's got expansive views on all sides so that you look out over Port Antonio right from your bed.


2. We boarded a small boat for nearby Navy Island -- it's officially closed to the public but that didn't stop us -- that was once owned by actor Erroll Flynn who entertained many a celeb guest here. On this little leafy hideaway with the faded ruins of his mansion, we walked through shallow waters from a protected harborside beach where there was some good swimming, to oceanside white sands that were backed with mangrove trees. We had the place to ourselves until a few snorkelers showed up.


3. I'm always up for walking and hiking and found the Swift River Valley provided a perfect venue for scenic treks. Here I found the land thick with cocoa, coffee, grapefruit and guava trees. Walking through the eponymous hamlet beside the trailhead, we spotted freshly-caught crayfish for sale. Further along, locals were fishing for mullet and trout in the adjacent river.
4. Everywhere we ventured in Port Antonio we marveled at the different hued waters. In the case of the Blue Lagoon of Brooke Shields fame, we found jade-colored deep waters. This couldn't be a more perfect place for a placid swim in a amphitheater lush with palms, almond trees and ferns.

5. One of our best lunches was at Winnifred Beach, a swath of sand where shacks sold chicken feet and boiled corn and an old Rastafarian practiced his yoga postures. My fave restaurant was plenty informal. Owned by Cynthia and Painter, this eatery served up large portions of freshly-caught snapper and lobster along with pumpkin and plantains.

6. Another culinary find is Dawn's Bar, a roadside stand in the seaside village of Manchioneal. Their seafood can't be beat -- we ordered the conch soup with crayfish and sweet roasted doctor fish stuffed with okra.
7. You can't leave Port Antonio without walking, hiking and taking a dip at Reach Falls. There are plenty of pools to take a dip. Along the way, we walked barefoot in the shallow river and along the parallel trail half a mile upstream, passing mini-waterfalls and plenty of foliage, including heliconia, and ferns.
8. Another activity that is synonymous with Port Antonio is a river rafting trip down the Rio Grande River. This was no ordinary raft, however. We sat in a 30-foot-long bamboo raft piloted by Captain Bell, a river veteran who once took Errol Flynn's guests rafting. For seven miles, we cruised through a serene landscape with great blue herons, vine-covered trees, shore-side boulders and towering cliffs.

24 comments:

Abfab Art Studio said...

Jeanne, this sounds divine! I'm adding to my list of 'Must Visit' places.

Thanks for making it sound so inviting!

Cheers
Teena
http://A-Night-in-Paris.com
http://twitter.com/anight_in_Paris

JTravel said...

Hi Teena, So glad you enjoyed the post. I think you'll really adore Port Antonio and especially the Jamaica Heights Resort. There were days when I didn't want to leave my hilltop retreat.

Alexandra said...

You make me want to drop everything and book a trip to Jamaica. Thanks for all these great tips. What an amazing place!

jcreaturetravel said...

Hi Alexandra, Port Antonio is an amazing place. I couldn've spent weeks there, exploring all the trails and hamlets. And mellowing out at the Jamaica Heights Resort. Even though I'm super type A, it's hard not to feel relaxed there.

Peggy Bourjaily said...

The hubby and I went to Jamaica years ago and we want to return! Maybe we should go to Port Antonio. Sounds amazing.

JTravel said...

Hi Peggy, I think you'll really enjoy Port Antonio for the authentic experiences the area offers. It had such a low-key vibe with little tourist traffic in some of the hamlets we visited.

marthaandme said...

I am always amazed by the different colors that water can be. We loved observing this in Hawaii and in the Keys. I would love to go to Jamaica and see the colors there!

Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart said...

Beyond the colors, I'm amazed at how different the ocean sounds, depending on where you are in the world and what kind of "land" you're on.

Stephanie - Wasabimon.com said...

This looks wonderful! I'm more a mountain person than a beach person, so this is right up my alley. I love lush greenery, fruit and flowers. I'd be there in a hot second!

Vera Marie Badertscher said...

What a fantastic place. I've been fearful of Jamaica because of all I read about crime, but this sounds like a piece of Eden.

Jennifer Margulis said...

I'm with Alexandra. Wish I could drop everything and go to Jamaica. I envy your travels but I'm so glad I can read about them here!

JTravel said...

Hi Martha and Me, Thanks for sharing your experience with many colored waters in Hawaii and the Keys. Love those places as well. Wish I could have a collection of all the different colors of water and then pull it out when things are dull.

JTravel said...

Hi Roxanne, You're right. That's a fab observation of different ocean sounds. It'd be nice to have taped the different sounds along the way as an ocean sound memory.

JTravel said...

Hi Stephanie, I'm very big on visiting mountains and exploring green spaces. That's what made Port Antonio so wonderful. Of course there were amazing beaches, but that's where everyone else hung out The other areas felt more untouched.

JTravel said...

Hi Vera Marie, I know what you mean. I'd heard the same. But I had absolutely no problems in Port Antonio. Everyone was super friendly and gracious.

JTravel said...

Hi Jennifer, Thanks so much for your kind comments. I appreciate your feedback.

kerry dexter said...

and you've got me thinking about baking a pumpkin now, too.

thanks for the great article, Jeanine.

JTravel said...

Hi Kerry, Thanks for your kind comment. Yum. Pumpkin pie. One of my favorites. Enjoy baking.

Sheryl Kraft said...

I went to Jamaica for my honeymoon (many moons ago) but never saw any of these places you mention. I'm ready to pack my bag and go back now!

JTravel said...

Hi Sheryl, You're not alone. Most tourists who visit Jamaica never make it to Port Antonio. But those who do find it to be a little snippet of paradise. Hope you get to return to the island and check it out.

ReadyMom said...

I appreciate that you're always including the "less traveled" spots, those that don't pack tourists. Usually, I think of Jamaica as a tourist mecca, but your post has me thinking differently! You can find inviting spots if you know where to look (or read).

JTravel said...

Hi Ready Mom, Yes, wherever I go, even highly-touristy areas, I try to find the sights that are more off the radar. I do a lot of research before my trips, hoping to find something that might be a little different from the tried and true. Thanks for your comments.

darngooddigs said...

We visited Jamaica a few years ago and traveled around the western half of the island - driving to Negril, Black River, Treasure Beach, Mandeville and then up to Falmouth. It was an amazing 10 days, and we can't wait to return! Next time we're definitely heading over the eastern half, Port Antonio and the Blue Mountains. Jamaica is a wonderful destination - certainly worth much more than just an all-inclusive hide-away if you ask me.

canvas prints said...

I still haven't made it to Jamaica but after reading through this post I feel I've been missing out and need to plan it.