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Family Fun: The Ultimate Jamaica Vacation in Port Antonio

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The pulse of the real Jamaica beats in the island’s small towns and communities. You can taste it sizzling hot at the local jerk chicken BBQ and hear it in the vibrant sounds of reggae played in every corner of the island. It is music. It is food. It is the people. A holiday to Jamaica should have a healthy dose of all three to make you feel good.

We found our real Jamaica in the town of Port Antonio on the northeast side of the island. A three-hour drive from Montego Bay, this small village is far from the hustle and bustle and guarantees a complete immersion in the heart of the island. It’s an ideal destination for families looking for a mix of relaxation and adventure.

A hangout for celebrities such as Beyoncé and Scarlett Johansson, and the location for the 1990 film Lord of the Flies, this picturesque village has always been a popular spot for lovers of sun, relaxation and idyllic beaches.

Where to stay in Port Antonio

We stayed at Hotel Mocking Bird Hill, a tranquil boutique hotel set in seven acres of tropical gardens just outside Port Antonio. The hotel sits high on a hill overlooking the ocean, so all rooms have spectacular views and cool, fragrant breezes. Hoteliers Shireen Aga and Barbra Walker have transformed this cosy 10-room hotel into Jamaica’s premier eco-resort without sacrificing comfort and luxurious style. The wonderful staff and incredible food at the hotel’s Mille Fleur restaurant have earned a special place in our hearts (and stomachs).

The best things to do in Port Antonio, Jamaica

Reach Falls

Imagine yourself in the middle of a Jamaican rainforest, hiking up an aqua-blue river, clambering over boulders, exploring caves and splashing under breathtaking waterfalls. This is Reach Falls; this is Jamaica au naturel. Forget sharing this unforgettable experience with hundreds of people – we spent an afternoon walking and exploring with our guide and didn’t see another soul. Heavenly.

Rio Grande Rafting

Rio Grande rafting is the perfect family activity in Jamaica. On this relaxing three-hour day trip, you’ll float gently down the Rio Grande River on long bamboo rafts, roomy enough for two adults and one child. Tip: Make sure you hire a raft with a parasol as the sun gets hot on the river! Your personal river captain steers the raft with bamboo poles, pointing out turtles basking in the sun on logs and birds fishing for their dinner. We stop at Belinda’s Riverside Eatery for a cool swim, lunch and a puppy cuddle.

Frenchmen’s Cove

Frenchmen’s Cove beach is a small private beach where you never have to fight the crowds. The cove’s white sandy beach is bordered by both a small river stream and the warm ocean, creating nature’s own hot and cold water tap. The cool combination makes for a great swim and, as an added bonus, you can head back to the hotel without a gritty layer of salt on your hot, sun-kissed skin. Admission: $10 (includes WiFi access). Deck chairs and food are also available.

Winnifred Beach

While adults will appreciate the beauty of Frenchmen’s Cove, Winnifred Beach is a children’s vision of holiday heaven: lots of kids to play with, shallow and calm waters, plenty of shade and friendly food vendors. Winnifred has a relaxed, friendly vibe that both adults and children can enjoy.

Where to eat in Port Antonio

Bush Bar Restaurant

Open-air dining, an outdoor pool table and an incredible house band – Jamaica’s famous Jolly Boys – playing old-school “mento” music, the precursor to reggae and ska. How do you top that? It’s an experience that kids and adults alike will love.

Boston Bay

Follow your nose. Long before you see Boston Bay, you know you’re getting close. The smell of sizzling meat and the mouth-watering blend of paprika, allspice, nutmeg and cinnamon waft through the air, tantalising your senses. The birthplace of jerk chicken, Boston Bay is still home to some of the best and hottest jerk chicken shacks on the island. Visitors can sample the best of the best at the annual Portland Jerk Festival, usually held the first weekend in July at Folly Estates. The festival includes jerk cook-offs, lots of live music from local artists and local arts and crafts. There is also a carousel and face painting for the little ones.

Cover photo credit: Visit Jamaica

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