Jamaica’s unspoiled northern coastline stretching between the Blue Mountains and the Caribbean is home of the world-renowned Blue Mountain Coffee and is said to be the birthplace of jerk chicken. One must traverse this beautiful coastline to reach Portland Parish on Jamaica’s eastern seaboard. Here, just a few hours from Kingston or Montego Bay, small towns interspersed with beaches across from rolling hills showcase a side of Jamaica most foreign visitors never see — one far removed from the all-inclusive beach resorts. Embarking on a trip to Portland is a full-on escape that can be enjoyed in a relaxing yet adventurous few days. Here’s how to do so, and why it’s such an important part of a vist to Jamaica.
Base yourself in Port Antonio, the capital of Portland Parish
Jamaica’s northeasternmost parish is best known for the Blue Mountain range. Its capital, Port Antonio, has a small but busy town center with one main road that leads directly through the commercial district and back out in both directions to the meandering roads of the rural countryside. It’s a four-hour drive from Montego Bay and about two and a half hours from Kingston.
Although public transportation is possible, the best way to get there and to get around is with a private vehicle or to hire a private driver through a service such as Jamaica Getaway Travels. Plan to spend about $150 per day for a private driver. In a parish characterized by hidden waterfalls and remote locations, renting a car will give you the convenience of exploring at your own leisure. One of the most important things to remember when visiting Portland is that GPS is your best friend — always pick one up from the car rental agency if you do not have dependable local phone service.
Where to stay in Portland Parish and in Port Antonio
Portland is home to one of the biggest eco-tourism hubs in Jamaica. Additionally, it offers almost every kind of stay that you can imagine. You’ll find mountain view lodges and seafront rentals for a fraction of the cost of similar spaces in the tourism hotspots of Montego Bay and Negril.
The Fan Villa
For a cozy mountainside retreat, the Fan Villa awaits. This three-bedroom stone cottage overlooks the mountains and is just 4.3 miles from Port Antonio by car. Breakfast is served daily and the location makes it easy to access Winnifred Beach (eight minutes away) or enjoy a hike to the Folly Ruins and lighthouse.
If you prefer waking up to the sounds of the Caribbean Sea, Geejam Resort will give you direct access to a private beach on the San San Estate. This property features a bar, spa, a restaurant, and a recording studio. A free airport shuttle is also offered with your stay.
Moon San Villa at the Blue Lagoon
Moon San Villa at the Blue Lagoon gives you the best of the sea and the land. A stay here means free rides to the Blue Lagoon and Monkey Island, snorkeling gear, and access to the hills for a day of hiking. Complimentary breakfast for two makes it easier for you to get started on a full day of activities, especially since most restaurants in the area open after 8 AM.
Where to eat in Portland, Jamaica
Most villas, hotels, and Airbnbs offer complimentary breakfast but Portland is also rich in culinary adventures. Seafood spots like Anna Banana will satisfy any seafood craving from delectable steamed fish to freshly caught lobster. Located on 7 Folly Road, this restaurant offers an ambient vibe and live music. With menu options ranging from curried goat to stewed peas, you can definitely enjoy Anna Banana even if you don’t enjoy seafood.
Boston Jerk Centre
Our list of places to eat also includes Boston Jerk Centre, interestingly found half a mile away from the original jerk pits that were made in the 1940’s. Right at the entrance of Jerk Centre Lane in Boston Bay, where you’ll find a variety of options ranging from jerked pork and jerked chicken to jerked fish and jerked sausage. It’s the perfect spot to enjoy a quick bite, a cold beer, and a casual environment while sampling menus from the different vendors.
The BushBar at Geejam Hotel offers a more formal dining experience with expansive views of the forest and ocean. This restaurant features a blend of delicious Jamaican and International cuisine for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you have the time, ask for a tour of the recording studio and the lush landscaping that the property has to offer.
Things to do in Portland, Jamaica and in Port Antonio
In Port Antonio and throughout Portland Parish, the sights to see are primarily beach- and nature-related. Visit Somerset Falls to the west about 25 minutes from Port Antonio. Here you’ll find rushing water over a rock wall into the turquoise lagoon below. It’s popular to swim in and some even paddle towards the falls from the opposite side of the lagoon. Popular beaches in Portland, Jamaica, include Winnifred Beach and San San Beach.
Visit the Blue Lagoon and Raft to Monkey Island
One of the most serene experiences that you can have in Portland is immersing yourself in the luminous blue waters at the Blue Lagoon. The popular hotspot features a nearly 660-foot deep pool that is fed by underground springs as well as the sea. Local tour guides offer paid raft and boat tours around the lagoon and over to Monkey Island for about $30, but the lagoon itself is free to visit. Also known as Pellen Island, this small island paradise was named after the colony of monkeys that lived there some decades ago.
Explore Turtle Bay in Manchioneal, Portland
Eastern Portland is one of the few locations in Jamaica that gives you access to mountains, rivers, beaches, and this edgy (almost otherworldly) terrain where pristine waters aren’t the only star of the show. Turtle Bay is aptly named because of the rocky coastline and cliffs that elevate about five meters above sea level. This is an area that’s best visited with a local guide (inquire at your lodging property) because it is truly out there, although a stay at the Serendipity Villa will grant you direct access. If you’re up for the adventure, a 30-minute drive from Port Antonio followed by a quick five-minute hike will take you there.
Climb Blue Mountain
The famed Blue Mountain is close enough to the capital to make it one of the most popular weekend trips in Jamaica, but this picturesque corner of the country deserves a few days to take it all in. The UNESCO-listed Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park (BJCMNP) spans 4 parishes — St Andrew, St Thomas, Portland, and St Mary. The region is loved for its biodiversity which includes 200 species of resident and migrant birds and more than 800 species of endemic plants. Bird lovers will love exploring this region because it is one of the largest migratory bird habitats in the Caribbean. Ecclesdown and Hardwar Gap in the Blue Mountains are two prime locations to view much of the island’s tropical scene, including the largest butterfly in the western hemisphere, the giant swallowtail.
It’s also the home of Blue Mountain Coffee, which thrives in the cool, misty upper reaches of the mountains. For coffee lovers, a day trip to the Blue Mountain Estate will be the perfect way to learn the history and process behind the world-renowned coffee.
Visit Reach Falls
Reach Falls is a beautiful waterfall that was discovered in the Montanne Forest by runaway slaves. The falls sit on over 4 hectares of lush greenery in the John Crow Mountains.
The attraction is open to visitors from Wednesdays to Sundays and public holidays from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM. For non-resident visitors over 12 years old, the cost to visit is $10 and Uc$5 for visitors ages four to 12.
This entrance fee includes a 30-minute tour of the property and ends with an exploration of the waterfall which also boasts a river pool, underwater cave, and a naturally formed heart-shaped jacuzzi.
Head to Frenchman’s Cove
Beaches in Portland, Jamaica, are known for their coves and lagoons — and Frenchman’s Cove Beach is an exceptional example. Between the lagoons and waterfalls is a peaceful private beach just 20 minutes east of Port Antonio that is enveloped by the tropical biosphere that Portland is known for. This beach sits on a 45-acre property that also has a restaurant, yoga shala, and dedicated spaces for playing games. An early morning trip is best to avoid the crowds and truly enjoy the clear, warm waters.
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