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Article by Dian Emery originally published in the December-April 2017-2018 edition of the Atmosphere magazine. Read the latest edition here.
“One love, one heart… Let’s get together and feel all right.” —Bob Marley
The pulse of the real Jamaica beats in the island’s small towns and parishes. You can taste it, sizzling hot, at the local jerk chicken BBQ, and it can be heard loud and clear in the vibrant tones of reggae played in every corner of the island. It is music. It is food. It is people. Vacations to Jamaica should have a healthy dose of all three to make you feel all right.
We found our real Jamaica in the town of Port Antonio on the northeastern side of the island. A three-hour drive from Montego Bay, this small village is far away from the hustle and bustle, and will guarantee full immersion into the heart of the island.
A hangout spot for Beyoncé, Scarlett Johansson and the on-set location for the 1990 movie version of Lord of the Flies, this picture-perfect village has always been a popular spot for lovers of sun, relaxation and idyllic beaches. Quiet and laid back, Port Antonio is also the perfect choice for a family vacation.
Where to Stay
We stayed at Hotel Mocking Bird Hill, a quiet boutique inn nestled in seven acres of tropical gardens, located just outside of Port Antonio. The hotel sits high on a hill overlooking the ocean, ensuring all rooms come equipped with spectacular views and cool, scented breezes. Hoteliers Shireen Aga and Barbra Walker have made this cozy 10-room hotel into Jamaica’s top eco-resort, without sacrificing comfort and luxurious style. Mocking Bird Hill’s wonderful staff and the incredible meals in the hotel’s Mille Fleur restaurant have guaranteed them a soft spot in our hearts (and stomachs).
Port Antonio Activities
Port Antonio offers a great range of real Jamaica experiences that showcase the natural beauty and culture of the island. Here are a few of the activities we experienced:
Picture yourself in the middle of a Jamaican rainforest, wandering up an aqua-blue river, scrambling over boulders, exploring caves and splashing under stunningly beautiful waterfalls. This is Reach Falls; this is Jamaica au naturel. Forget about sharing this unforgettable experience with hundreds of people—we spent an afternoon wandering and exploring with our guide and didn’t see another soul. Heavenly.
Rio Grande Rafting
Rio Grande Rafting is a perfect family activity in Jamaica. On this relaxing three-hour day trip, you’ll be floating gently down the Rio Grande River on long bamboo rafts roomy enough for two adults and a child. Tip: Be sure to rent a raft with a sunshade as the sun gets hot on the river! Your own personal river captain steers the raft with bamboo poles, while pointing out turtles basking in the sun on logs and birds fishing for their dinner. We stopped for a cool swim, lunch, and much puppy-cuddling at Belinda’s Riverside Eatery.
Frenchmen’s Cove beach is a small private beach where you never have to fight the crowds. The cove’s white sand beach is bordered by both a small river stream and warm ocean, making up nature’s own hot- and cold-water tap. This cool combo makes for great swimming and, as an added bonus, you get to head back to the hotel without a gritty coating of salt sticking to your hot, sun-kissed skin. Entry fee: $10 (includes WiFi access). Lounge chair rentals and food are also available.
Grownups will enjoy the beauty of Frenchmen’s Cove, but Winnifred Beach is a kid’s vision of vacation heaven: plenty of kids to play with; shallow, tranquil waters; tons of shade and friendly food vendors. Winnifred has a relaxed, friendly vibe that both adults and kids can enjoy.
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 can you top this?
Follow your nose. Long before you see Boston Bay, you know you’re getting close. The perfume of sizzling meat and the delectable mix of bonnet peppers, allspice, nutmeg and cinnamon drifts in the air, teasing your senses. The birthplace of jerk chicken, Boston Bay is still home to some of the best and the hottest jerk chicken huts on the island. Boston Bay visitors can taste the best-of-the-best jerk during the annual Portland Jerk Festival, usually held during the first weekend of July at Folly Estates. The festival includes jerk cook-offs, plenty of live music from local artists, and local crafts. A merry-go-round and face-painting are also available for the little ones.
Jamaica vacations in Port Antonio are a recipe for family fun within a safe, idyllic environment.