Throughout Jamaica it’s common to see pedestrians, but in Mandeville these walkers stroll, not just to the market or to a hotel job, but on their morning constitutional. Many folks spend their free time at the Manchester Club, the oldest golf course in the Caribbean. This nine-hole course is set on rolling hills. Nearby tennis courts challenge players and indoor squash courts offer more fast action. Other activities in Mandeville include a tour of the High Mountain Coffee Factory. Jamaica’s second best-known variety after Blue Mountain, this coffee originates on nearby plantations and is produced here at the factory. Tours can be arranged and a sample taste of the island’s java awaits at the gift shop.
Nature lovers flock to Mandeville. Twenty-five bird species are endemic to Jamaica and all but two are found in this region. Garden lovers can stroll the fragrant fields at Mrs. Stephenson’s Garden. The winner of many prizes from the Mandeville Horticulture Society, the gardens are filled with orchids as well as a fruit that was developed in Mandeville: the ortanique. The combination orange and tangerine is unique, hence the name.
In all directions beyond Mandeville’s borders, the roads continue their scenic routes, either into the hills of Christiana, the rich agricultural regions on the drive to Spanish Town and finally Kingston, or on one of Jamaica’s most scenic drives toward the South Coast. Here, Bamboo Avenue winds for over two miles, a green tunnel of tall bamboo that arches over the roadway. Along the road’s edge, vendors sell chilled young coconuts, cracked open with a quick machete chop to reveal the jelly inside.
The South Coast is home to the community of Black River, another must for eco-tourists. While travelers to the North Coast resorts are happy to hear “no problem” as an answer to just about any request, whether its for another Red Stripe beer or a taxi or more towels in the room, in Black River you’ll hear “no problem” in response to spotting a seven-foot crocodile. There’s no need to fear; these crocodiles represent no threat. Unlike their cousins on the Nile, the Americanus crocodilius is not aggressive. Like vacationers on the nearby beaches, they’re content to lie in the sun and take life easy.
INTERESTING FACT: The 44-mile-long Black River is the longest in Jamaica. It is named for the color of its water that comes from the peat bog runoff.
The water on the lower stretch of the Black River is brackish, as saltwater comes in and mixes with the freshwater during high tide. These conditions are perfect for mangroves, which have roots that cascade from high branches and reach the water. The result is a curtain of thick roots, an almost impenetrable fence that divides the river from the marshy swampland beyond the trees.
Black River fishermen use wire traps to catch blue Marie crabs. Shrimp are caught using a traditional trap, an African design dating back over 400 years. The bamboo trap, shaped like a large inverted bottle, holds coconut and oranges in the wide end. After two or three days in the river, the trap is checked and the shrimp fall out when the smaller end is twisted (much like pouring liquid from a bottle). Although crocodiles reside in these tea-colored waters, you’ll see men snorkeling along the river’s edge. With a speargun in hand, they fish for the evening meal. Others fish from dugout canoes, many using techniques brought from Africa’s Niger River centuries ago. The waters are also dotted with bull rushes, giant ferns (one of 600 species found in this country) and pancake lilies.
If you tour the river with a guide, he or she will probably point out things of interest, such as a 35-year-old termite nest and trees where over 3,000 cattle egrets nest nightly. But the biggest attraction on the Black River is the crocodiles. Once hunted, these crocodiles are now protected, but they remain wary of humans. Loud talk (or even a spear fisherman at work) causes the crocodile to take refuge.
APPLE VALLEY PARK
876-963-9508, fax 876-963-9531
Hours: Tuesday, Thursday, Friday 10-5; weekends 11-5
Apple Valley Park consists of parkland, lake and forest surrounding a plantation great house. It offers camping, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, birding and musical entertainment in the evenings. A tractor-pulled tour of the nearby Black River gorge is one of the most popular attractions. Because the park is visited by locals and visitors, it is also a good spot to people-watch.
CASHOO OSTRICH PARK
This 100-acre working ostrich farm is situated on the Black River. You can boat on the river, fish in ponds or visit a medicinal herb garden.
On A2 between Lacovia and Middle Quarters
Beyond Mandeville’s borders, the road west (A2) winds along one of Jamaica’s most scenic stretches, with a green tunnel of tall bamboo that arches over the roadway. Along the road’s edge, vendors sell chilled young coconuts (jelly coconuts), cracking them with a quick machete chop to reveal the jelly inside.
East of Treasure Beach off the main road
Hours: 9 am-6 pm, Monday through Thursday;
9 am-7 pm Friday, Saturday and Sunday
This sheer 1,700-foot cliff drops straight into the sea and provides a beautiful view of the coastline. Travelers can enjoy a drink at the Toby Bar (try the Lovers’ Punch) or dine at the Chardley Restaurant. A miniature farm demonstrates the dry farming technique used in this area. You can also arrange hiking excursions in the hills; call ahead to make arrangements.
A LOVER’S LEGEND
Legend has it that at this site a pair of lovers, escaped slaves, leapt to their deaths rather than face capture.
If you’ve ever visited Lover’s Leap and heard the sad, romantic legend about the cliffs, you’ll want to read Lover’s Leap. Based on the Jamaican legend, the novel was written by Horane Smith, who was born near the South Coast attraction.
MILK RIVER MINERAL SPA
Milk River at Clarendon (22 miles from Mandeville)
Hours: 7 am-7 pm daily
Take a soak in natural waters whose high levels of radioactivity soothe aches and pains. The radioactivity here is higher than any other spa in the world, and 54 times more radioactive than the waters of Baden-Baden. The waters are a constant temperature of 92°.
Open daily except Mondays (closed)
Negril vacationers looking to get away from the sun-loving crowds for a while often take a day trip to YS Falls on the South Coast. These spectacular waterfalls cascade in steps through tropical forest. As spectacular (and far less crowded) as Dunn’s River Falls, YS has remained untouched by hassling vendors and long lines. At the top, swimmers enjoy clear waters under a canopy of ferns. “We try to keep this as private and natural as possible,” says spokesperson Simon Browne.
Why is this falls named YS? The shortest place name in Jamaica has been long debated. Some believe it comes the Gaelic word “wyess” (winding or twisting). Others say the name comes from a combination of the initials of the land’s 1684 owners: John Yates and Lt. Col. Richard Scott.
The land has a long history. The property went into bankruptcy and was held by the Encumbered Estates Court in London for some time. The great-uncle of the present owners traveled to London in 1887 to purchase a property in St. Ann; once he arrived he learned it had already been sold and so he purchased YS. For years, the 8,000-acre farm grew sugarcane, raised cattle and sold logwood trees to Holland, where they were used for making dye. Today there are still some logwood trees along the farm’s fence lines.
The farm covers about 2,500 acres and raises Jamaica Red Poll cattle and thoroughbred racehorses; you’ll also see many papayas grown on the plantation for export.
Coffee Factory Tour
HIGH MOUNTAIN COFFEE FACTORY
Open Monday through Friday; Admission charged
This coffee originates on nearby plantations and is produced here at the factory. Tours can be arranged and guests can stop by the gift shop for a sample taste. The visit isn’t terribly interesting – the factory is, well, a factory – but it has a good gift shop selling High Mountain products.
APPLE VALLEY PARK
876-963-9508; fax 876-963-9531
Hours: Monday, Thursday, Friday, 10-5; weekends, 11-5; Admission
Just west of the Appleton Estate, this park offers quiet hikes as well as fishing and canoeing. It’s closed on Tuesday and Wednesday.
MAYFIELD FALLS & MINERAL SPRING
876-957-9185 or 957-3075
Hours: 9-6 daily; Admission
You can take a guided hike to these secluded falls. Bring a bathing suit as well as some money for lunch.
Other hikes in the Mandeville area can be arranged through Countrystyle (876-962-7979 or 800-JAMAICA), or through Perth Great House (876-9962-2822).
MANCHESTER COUNTRY CLUB
Caledonia Road at Ward Avenue, near central Mandeville
This club has the oldest course in Jamaica, one of the oldest in the entire Caribbean. At an elevation of over 2,000 feet, it enjoys much cooler temperatures than the courses found along the coast. Nine greens, 18 tee boxes.
Adventures on Water/ Beaches
Treasure Beach is a great place for a quiet walk – you won’t see the crowds of Negril or Montego Bay along this remote stretch. If you want to swim or snorkel, plan your visit for the morning hours when the sea is at its calmest. These waters can have an undertow and strong currents.
Adventures on Horseback
This farm offers horseback rides for most ages. Call ahead to discuss specifics. Be sure to bring your bathing suit for a cool dip afterwards!
PERTH GREAT HOUSE
This 18th-century plantation offers rides on the grounds of the estate. A quiet place.
Near Alligator Pond, south of Mandeville
This small nature park has manatees and crocodiles. There’s a small visitors center here with information on the special residents, but there’s no guarantee that you will spot the creatures. The best time of day to see the shy manatees is late afternoon.
THE JAMAICA ZOO
Address:Burton District, Lacovia St. Elizabeth Jamaica
Hours of operation:
Monday – Friday (Reservations only)
Saturday and Sunday (No reservation required)
10 am – 5 pm
Phone: 876 435 – 9999 or 876 487 – 3001
Email address: [email protected]
The Jamaica Zoo has approximately 25 different animals including birds. Some of our animals include Lions (born in Santa Cruz, St. Elizabeth), Llama, Zebras, Monkeys, Crocodiles, Toucans just to name a few.
876-963-8569, 904-5454 or 962-7890
Nature lovers flock to Mandeville, and a top birding spot is Marshall’s Pen, operated by ornithologist Robert Sutton. Tours are conducted by Sutton and are by appointment only. Nearly 100 species have been recorded on this cattle farm and around its great houses. Of the 25 bird species endemic to Jamaica, all but two are found in the Marshall’s Pen area.
Folks don’t come to Mandeville to shop. We did find a very interesting store during our stay, however. The S.W.A. Craft Centre, sponsored by the Soroptimists and the Women’s Auxiliary of the Mandeville Parish Church, features the crafts of local young women. This short-term work provides assistance to unemployed young women, who work at the center sewing, crocheting, embroidering and preparing pastries. Located just off Caledonia Avenue, the motto of the shop is “God gives birds their food, but they must fly for it”