Travel Tips & Features

Cockpit Country Adventure

Written by Adam Rhoads

Less than an hour from the glistening blue water and sparkling white sand beaches of Jamaica’s north coast lays an enticing nature lover’s paradise and photographer’s dream known as Cockpit Country. Rich in history and culture, the region is riddled with towering cliffs, limestone caves, underground rivers and flowing waterfalls. The dense wet limestone forest, crisscrossed with hiking trails, is home to exotic plants, birds and reptiles, many of which are found no where else in the world. The Lonely Planet Guide describes early morning in the Cockpits as magical ~ “Mists float through eerily silent valley bottoms where you hear only dripping water and bird life.” Centered in the parish of Trelawny, the Cockpit Country extends to the neighboring parishes of Manchester, St. Elizabeth, St. James and St. Ann and encompasses approximately 550sq km of wet limestone forest. It represents Jamaica’s largest wilderness area and is of global significance for its Karst limestone topography and biodiversity.

Over the eons the limestone has been eroded by rainfall, leaving behind a unique landscape of conical hillocks and deep depressions called cockpits. There are more than 5,000 cockpits in the area creating a terrain likened to an inverted egg carton. Erosion of the limestone terrain has also left the area riddled with underground caves and rivers. This unique terrain provides refuge for numerous endemic and threatened species of flora and fauna the serves as the primary watershed for the western part of Jamaica, providing water for the Martha Brae, Great and Black Rivers. It is a valuable natural resource and attracts visitors from Jamaica and abroad. The forests of the Cockpit Country are being threatened by removal of trees for firewood, coal production, and yam stick harvesting and clearing of land for cultivation. Citizens in the area are littering roadways and forest areas with garbage, unaware of appropriate solid waste disposal practices. Efforts to protect and conserve the remaining forest must provide viable economic alternatives to these destructive practices. Eco-tourism provides one alternative by providing income to guides, restaurants, retailers, guest houses and transportation vendors.

Cockpit Country Adventure Tours currently offers three exciting tours into this amazing wilderness in which other activities such as bird watching, summer & weekend camps, picnics and educational tours for schools can be incorporated. With the Burnt Hill Nature Walk enjoy a leisurely walk through the beautiful hillocks of the Cockpit Country, keeping an eye out for endangered Jamaican Yellow and Black-billed Parrots overhead. Learn traditional herbal remedies and folklore as your guide points out many of the Cockpit Country’s endemic species of ferns, epiphytes and butterflies. Tour length is three hours and the suggested time to venture along Burnt Hill Road is early morning. The Rock Spring Cave and River Adventure takes you to a maze-like cave easily explored and containing many interesting formations and chambers throughout its 1.5 mile descent. To venture through this cave you are furnished with helmets and your guides will lead you through narrow channels and underground rivers. Emerge wet and dirty to relax and swim in the cool pools of the Mouth River cascades. The Quashie River Sink Cave is as specialized, high impact tour reserved only for experienced spelunkers. Experience an exciting descent into this cathedral-like cave, an exceptional natural formation accessed via a series of steep ladders and rope handrails. Scrambling over boulders brings you to the cavern’s massive “cathedral room” and rope assisted waterfall descent, where guides point out rare formations and ancient fossils. With your cave tour completed, take a swim under a 20-foot waterfall. This is a physically challenging tour, designed to meet the demands of the serious outdoor enthusiast. Helmets, lights and safety equipment are provided. A professional chef can prepare a hearty bush cook at the end of each tour.

We invite you to get out of the resorts and hotels and come experience the “real Jamaica” through our Bed & Breakfast Program. Overnight with a local family and participate in everyday rural life with warm and hospitable hosts. Take a trip to the river with the kids, head to the family farm to learn yam cultivation and cool out at a local bar while taking in the favorite Jamaican pastime, dominoes. Experience delicious country food and even help prepare the meal if you’d like. Accommodations range from rustic to modern. Choose from homes that have conveniences like indoor plumbing, satellite TV and gas stove or, if you are so inclined, experience the rustic lifestyle where you fetch your water, bathe outside and learn to cook on a wood fire. All homes on the program have been carefully selected by Cockpit Country Adventure Tours and are clean and safe with reputable and friendly hosts.

Cockpit Country Adventure Tours (CCAT) is headquartered in Albert Town, Trelawny, located on the eastern boundary of the Cockpit Country. CCAT is a small eco-tourism outfit managed by the Southern Trelawny Environmental Agency (STEA). STEA’s mission is to promote development in Trelawny and its environs by implementing environmental conservation and economic opportunity projects and CCAT is one way in which this mission is funded. CCAT uses the local resources of the Cockpit Country to provide an authentic Jamaican experience that is an alternative to the “sun and sand” vacations most visitors associate with Jamaica. Local guides familiar with the area are trained to take visitors to natural attractions, residents of the area open their homes to provide bed and breakfast services for CCAT guests and local chefs provide authentic Jamaican cuisine as part of each tour. By developing and using these local resources CCAT aims to provide high-quality, safe and reliable recreational and educational eco-tourism experiences based on the natural attractions of the Cockpit Country while providing economic opportunities for citizens of the area.

More information regarding Cockpit Country Adventure Tours, including rates and online booking options, can be found at our website at www.stea.net/ccat_main.htm.

About the author

Adam Rhoads