Hours: Open daily
Spend a day on the island once owned by actor Errol Flynn. It’s just a seven-minute boat ride from the mainland to this hideaway, which is home to several small cottages, a bar and a watersports operator. The ferry operates around the clock from West Street Harbor. Navy Island is a quiet place for a picnic.
The land on which Firefly sits was originally sold to Noel Coward by Chris Blackwell’s mother. After the playwright’s death, the property was given to the Jamaican government; today Chris Blackwell leases the historic site and manages tours. The tour is well worth the drive to Port Maria, especially for travelers interested in the early days of Jamaica’s tourism industry, when it attracted a rich and famous clientele.
5 Smatt Road, PO Box 89
Port Antonio, Portland
876-993-3881, fax 876-993-4962
E-mail: [email protected]
Perfect for the adventure traveler who really wants to get out and see more of Jamaica, Valley Hikes offers guided hikes into some of the most interesting regions of Jamaica. Tours are operated by one of 18 trail guides from the surrounding communities; all have been trained and certified by the Jamaica Tourist Board.
Excursions include visits to the Valley communities to meet descendants of Nanny of the Maroons, Jamaica’s only national heroine.
The goals of Valley Hikes are not only to introduce travelers to this region but also to generate income for the area residents and to promote and develop ecotourism in the Rio Grande Valley.
The company has developed many trails that offer a variety of experiences, from soft-adventure to rugged. Many hikes take place under a forested canopy that is home to many endemic bird species as well as the swallowtail butterfly.
Valley Hikes also works to promote environmental conservation by organizing special training for trail guides, sponsoring clean-up activities and environmental awareness programs.
In the Lower Valley, travelers staying in Port Antonio should budget two hours for return travel time to and from all hikes. The hikes include :
Darley Trail: This four-hour hike over medium grade begins at Berridale and crosses the Rio Grande by raft. You then continue with an easy walk to the Say River, following its course and passing three waterfalls.
Stanton Trail: This three- to four-hour hike of easy to medium grade offers the choice of two loop trails. Trails begin at Stanton and both offer a panoramic view of the Rio Grande.
Plantation Trails: These two- to four-hour hikes of moderate grade also offer two options. The long hike starts at Premiers Bananas and takes the Golden Vale route. On this hike, you meet at the end of a teak-lined walk and travel through banana and coffee plantations. The shorter hike is a loop trail that starts in Berridale and includes a tour of a local farm and plantation.
Bird Watching Trails: Valley Hikes offers several hikes along different trails of easy to medium difficulty; budget one to four hours for these hikes. You can pick the difficulty level and length of hike you’d like to take.
In the Middle Valley, budget three hours return travel time to Port Antonio hotels for these hikes:
Mooretown Trails and Falls: This four-hour hike over moderate grade starts in the community of Mooretown, home to descendants of the Maroons. Groups meet the Colonel, the leader of the community, on arrival.
Nanny Falls: This two- to three-hour walk over easy terrain is a good short hike in the Rio Grande Valley. It begins in Mooretown and continues down a dirt road. Along the way, you can sample fruits, learn about the herbal medicines and take a swim in Nanny Falls.
Cornwall Barracks and Dry River Falls: This three- to four-hour hike over moderate grade starts at Cornwall Barracks. You’ll cross a swinging bridge over the Rio Grande and continue for an hour to Dry River Falls. The return hike takes in more of the Rio Grande Valley as well as Maroontown.
Nanny Town: This overnight trip includes two full days of hiking over very difficult grade. It starts at Coopers Hill and follows a trail to Nanny Town, where you’ll overnight at a campsite on the Makunnu River. The trail continues to Johns Hall, a deserted village, and travels along steep slopes of the Blue Mountains.
In the Upper Valley, several hikes are offered. Times given below include four hours return travel time to Port Antonio hotels.
White River Trail: This nine- to 10-hour hike over hard grade starts at Millbank and continues to White River, which is known as a good spot to see swallowtail butterflies. Fit travelers can follow the river upstream to see the seven falls. On the return hike, the trail follows a higher ground to Millbank for excellent views.
Guava River Trail: This seven-hour hike over difficult terrain starts at Bellevue. The trail winds into the heart of the Blue Mountains, following the Guava River much of the time. You can swim and dive in the river and – if you’re super-fit – can continue upstream to see hot springs.
Watch Hill: This four- to five-hour hike over moderate grade offers two options to reach Watch Hill, once used by the Maroons as a lookout. Along the way you’ll see banana plantations still in use and an 18th-century sugar plantation.
Some of the island’s most challenging bike rides are in the Blue Mountains and on the roads south of Port Antonio. If you’re up to the challenge, you can rent a bike from:
D & L Rentals, 876-993-3282, or Rainbow Rentals, 876-993-2248.
BLUE MOUNTAIN BICYCLE TOURS LTD.
Main Street, Ocho Rios
876-974-7075 or 974-7492, fax 876-974-0635
Excursions with Blue Mountain Tours include brunch, lunch, refreshments and all bike equipment. The tours cover 18 miles (all downhill) through the Blue Mountains and the tropical rain forest.
Adventures on Water
The beaches of Port Antonio are one of the town’s top attractions, drawing visitors from overseas as well as local families who come to enjoy the soft sand.
Boston Beach. Located at Boston Bay about 11 miles east of Port Antonio, Boston Beach is one of the most popular. It is open daily and no fee is charged. After a spicy meal at one of the jerk stands, take a dip in the sea. Be wary of waves at Boston Beach, which are often high enough for surfers.
Navy Beach, out on Navy Island, is accessible by ferry, which costs about US $3 per person. Navy Beach is quiet and peaceful, one of three small beaches on the island (one is clothing-optional).
San San Beach is five miles east of Port Antonio. The beach is small, but the water is beautiful.
Blue Lagoon is not really a beach, but with water this pretty, who cares? Blue Lagoon is a must while you’re in the Port Antonio area. Bring your towel and stay for the day. It’s just one mile east of San San Beach and is open daily. Admission is charged. This beautiful sight is one that has to be seen to be believed. The cool, spring-fed waters cry out to swimmers. Floating docks encourage you to sun a little or you can lie out on the small beach. After a swim, try some Jamaican dishes in the casual lagoon-side restaurant. You might hear that the lagoon is bottomless (Jacques Cousteau dove here to find out), but it has been measured at a depth of 180 feet.
Frenchman’s Cove in Port Antonio is one of the best beaches on the island. This stretch of sand is very popular with locals.
RIO GRANDE RAFTING
Hours: 8:30 am-4:30 pm daily, except Christmas and Good Friday
This river ride was the first in Jamaica and is still the most famous. Wear your swimsuit if you’d like to take a dip in the river. As you head down the river, be prepared for entrepreneurs to offer you everything from Red Stripe (“One for you and one for your captain”), overpriced Pepsis, carved bamboo cups, flowers, bird feeders made from coconut husks, bamboo whistles and more.
The ride is especially recommended in late afternoon (rafts stop about 3 pm) when you’ll enjoy the sounds of frogs and crickets, sometimes incredibly loud, from the shoreline. In the late afternoon the banks come alive with the activity of the rural residents who use this waterway for everything from clothes washing to bathing or fishing. On a recent trip we watched two young boys spear fishing along one stretch, a woman doing the weekend washing on rocks around another bend, and a young boy catching fish by hand under the muddy banks. Raftsmen expect a tip at the completion of the journey; US $5-10 is appropriate.
Port Antonio is a favorite of deep-sea anglers. Home of the Blue Marlin Tournament, the quiet community attracts those in search of tuna, kingfish, wahoo and dolphin. Check with your hotel for local operators or call the Bonita II, 876-993-3086.
The waters off Port Antonio are quieter than those of Ocho Rios or Montego Bay. Wall diving is especially popular here. Contact Lady G’diver (876-993-9888).
Dive sites near Port Antonio include :
Alligator Head. This 50-160-foot site is for intermediate and advanced divers and is known for its sea fans, sponges and tubes.
Alligator West. A good choice for beginners, this area has calmer waters. Look for coral formations and plenty of colorful fish.
Bluehole. Another beginner’s dive. Located near the Blue Lagoon. Watch for rays in these beautiful waters.
Fairy Hill. This 50-120-foot dive features a pinnacle covered with corals.
Trident Wall. Best for intermediate and advanced divers, this wall dive showcases black coral, sponges and more.
Whether you go out on your own or with a guide, you will see an impressive number of birds in and around Port Antonio. Hotel Mocking Bird provided us with this list of species that have been sighted on their property: ring-tailed pigeon (endangered), Jamaican parakeet, chestnut-bellied cuckoo, Jamaican owl, Jamaican mango, black-billed streamertail (endangered), Jamaican tody, Jamaican woodpecker, sad flycatcher, rufous-tailed flycatcher, Jamaican becard, Jamaican crow, white-chinned thrush, Jamaican euphonia, Jamaican stripe-headed tanager, orangequit, Jamaican oriole, Jamaican elenia, northern patoo, bananaquit, Caribbean dove, common ground dove, vervain hummingbird, loggerhead kingbird, greater Antillean bullfinch, greater Antillean grackle, northern mockingbird, greenrumped parrotlet, worm-eating warbler, ruddy quail dove, ovenbird, prairie warbler, grey king bird, Cape May warbler (migrant), white-crowned pigeon, stolid flycatcher, northern parula warbler, black and white warbler (migrant), American redstart, blackpoll warbler, black-throated green warbler, mourning warbler (migrant), turkey vulture, black-throated blue warbler.
Eco-Parks & Natural Delights
CRYSTAL SPRINGS RESORT
Buff Bay (1 hour from Port Antonio)
This eco-park is an adventure traveler’s delight. Here, among 158 acres, you’ll find over 15,000 varieties of plants, one of the largest orchid collections in the Caribbean and bird watching tours. Accommodations are also offered (see Where to Stay).
NONSUCH CAVES AND ATHENRY GARDENS
East of Port Antonio (first right after Dragon Bay)
Hours: 10 am-4:30 pm daily
The three-acre Athenry Gardens are home to the Nonsuch Caves, filled with stalactites and stalagmites. The caves can be seen on a guided walk along well-lit passageways. The gardens are especially nice, with many local species accompanied by mountain views.
East of Port Antonio off A4
Hours: daily during daylight hours
These falls are well known for their starring role in Cocktail (Tom Cruise’s character comes here for a little aquatic hanky-panky). A beautiful setting. Take a dip in the clear waters here.
A4 west to Hope Bay
876-926-0989 or 913-0108
Hours: daily 10-5
These beautiful falls on the Daniel’s River are surrounded by rain forest. Be sure to wear your bathing suit – you wouldn’t want to miss the chance to take a dip here. Take a ride on the gondola for a spectacular view, then stroll around the gardens.
This hometown of the Windward Maroons is 11 miles south of Port Antonio and was the home of Nanny, a national heroine. The Colonel, the leader of the Maroons, also lives here and you will probably have the opportunity to meet him during your visit. You are welcome to walk around the town. Be sure to see Bump Grave in the town square, the town’s best-known site and burial place of national heroine Nanny. The tomb of Nanny is decorated with flags.
Port Antonio has one notable shopping center, called the Village of St. George. Located on West Street, the building was designed using architecture from around the world to represent the many cultures that built Jamaica. This center is a good place for souvenirs, unique gifts and some food items.