Exploring Portland, Jamaica

I had always heard of the vibrance and energy of Jamaican people and culture, but what had the biggest impact on me was the luscious nature. I love travelling to places far away from the pollution of cities where I can count the stars and see under the sea, but I was not anticipating such a beautiful, alive and thriving landscape. I counted at least 4 types of tree I had not seen before, and several different bird, insect and flower species. Being an Australian who welcomes not runs at the site of snakes and spiders, also hugging trees just because… the nature lover in me was in pure paradise.

I’ve listed some tips, recommendations and personal experiences below in hopes that anyone considering a visit to Jamaica will make sure to put the parish of Portland at the top of their list. It is a gorgeous corner of the world that I feel I only just scratched the surface.

How to get there:
I flew from New York to Kingston extremely early one morning, but it only took a few short hours to arrive in the Caribbean. We then drove roughly 2.5 hours through the colourful local towns and winding mountain roads to Portland on the North of the island. Our car blew a tire while on the mountain and it was the perfect excuse to have a break and soak in the fresh air and endless palm trees. I recommend an alternate route for anyone who suffers motion sickness as the winding roads can be nauseating.

Where to stay:
I stayed at Trident Port Antonio. It had beautiful views and the perfect infinity pool, but I also loved its sister hotel Geejam that was nestled among the treetops. It made each individual room feel like a Fern Gully treehouse, with a jacuzzi on the balcony and sweeping views over the sea. They also have regular Reggae nights which is the best reason of all!

Where to eat:
You cannot visit Jamaica without trying Jerk from Boston – known as the birthplace of Jerk cuisine. I had Jerk Chicken to go on the shore of Boston Bay’s clear blue waters.

While rafting down the Rio Grande make sure to stop in to Belinda’s wood fire kitchen for Jerk chicken and spicy crayfish. I was hesitant of the food safety (being beside a river with minimal refrigeration) but it turned out to be absolutely incredible, and my favourite meal of the trip.

Things to do, see and experience:
Rafting the Rio Grande
On my first day I went rafting down the Rio Grande. I did not know what to expect, and I believe no one can really tell you exactly what to expect. We boarded the bamboo raft with our highly entertaining and skilled captain at front, and a few sneaky Red Stripe’s in the back. On the first bend of the river I spotted a cow eating grass on the banks, followed by a horse a few metres behind, followed by a goat a few metres behind him. On the next turn an elderly local waded out to the raft to sell me a fresh coconut, which he casually hacked open with two swipes of his machete and an enormous grin. The river’s depth and current obviously changes significantly with the seasons, and was very low during my visit. We began the 2+ hour ride in the rocky shallows, to be floating past fishing families towards the open sea in the end. I highly recommend this to anyone who struggles to “switch off” like I do. There is nothing else to do but sit back, and appreciate the stunning mountain views on the winding ride. Remember to stop in for lunch at Belinda’s!

Reach Falls
Unlike most waterfalls I’ve visited, Reach Falls doesn’t require a long hike to get there. Although there is a hike option, the main waterfall is close by and at the basin of shimmering pools above. I was shocked that there were two other visitors, making the experience even more special when they left. There is a cave to the right side of the falls that you can swim into, and walk through. Please leave a donation to the life guards who are on hand to act as tour guides also.

Frenchman’s Cove
I’ve had only a few “The Beach” moments when Moby’s Porcelain begins to play in my head, and this is definitely one of the top. It is everything you could possibly imagine paradise to be. Clean white sand, clear blue waters, a swing hanging over a pristine lagoon, and rocks lined with caves creating a protected bay. Pure heaven.