Beaches & Fun Things to Do
Beaches & Fun Things to Do
Portland is full of gorgeous beaches, waterfalls, markets and art galleries, eco-tourist destinations, recreation and other fun things to do. Here are some of the hidden gems:
- Athenry Gardens and Nonsuch Caves: A former coconut plantation and agricultural research station, the gardens have many exotic and native species. The caves have 14 separate chambers, dimly lit with electric lanterns revealing stalagmites and stalactites. Fossils of fish and other sea creatures are seen in the limestone formation proving that Jamaica was once beneath the sea. One chamber has a ceiling forty feet high and is a favorite haunt for bats. Nonsuch is about 20 miles from Port Antonio. You'll see a sign for the turnoff at Red Hassel Road. From there, you'll go about 1 mile to the Breastworks community, then another couple of left turns for about 4 miles. There's a secure parking lot and great views of the coastline from this spot. The entrance fee to the caves and garden is USD$6 per adult. For kids under 11 years of age it's USD$3. Hours are 9AM to 5PM daily, but call to be sure: (876.993.3740)
- Blue Lagoon: Believed to be the crater of an extinct volcano, the Lagoon is over 180 feet deep and is a popular haunt for divers. In 1951, “Blue Hole” (the local name) and the surrounding lands were put under the Jamaica National Trust Law. It is one of the most scenic spots in Jamaica. Famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau claims to have dived down to 200 feet and found no bottom. Its blue and green hued water is kept cool by hundreds of tiny, underground mineral springs. Undergoing a change of ownership, it is technically “closed” to the public. The resident rastas will be happy to guide you to an area where the spectacular Lagoon can still be viewed. The facility is reportedly being renovated and there is a new hotel under construction next door so, hopefully, this will improve the access soon. The best way to access the Lagoon is by boat so you can see all the fabulous surrounding villas. Negotiate! For a panoramic video of the Blue Lagoon, click here.
- Boston Beach is 20 minutes east of Port Antonio and conveniently located near the famous Boston Jerk Centre. It is highly popular among surfers and bodysurfers as tides are often high. Most of the little beach has been all but washed away but, if you fancy a little surfing, then Boston Beach is your best bet in Jamaica. Boston was once owned by Roger Moore (author of The Happy Hooker and The Green Berets), who donated it to the Jamaica government. You can rent boards at the beach. Watch a short video shot at Boston Beach.
- Boston Jerk Centre: Boston is the home of jerked pork, a spicy snack which originated with the Maroons who hunted wild boar in the Portland mountains and smoked it over open fires. You will see and smell the jerk pork and chicken being smoked over pimento wood in the family-run jerk stalls. They are open every day, late into the evening. Be sure to ask the prices BEFORE you order to avoid paying inflated "tourist" prices (and comparison shop from one vendor to another). Come hungry. You won’t regret it! Boston Jerk Centre video.
- Cricket Field. Check to see if any cricket tournaments are taking place while you’re there so you can enjoy this lovely field close to the center of Port Antonio.
- Ennis's Bay Beach. This beach, also called Innis's Bay, is worth finding when you pass through Long Road, not far from St Thomas parish. The owner has plans for a beach club but, at the moment, you're likely to find no services when you go. The beautiful protected bay is calm, the swimming is great, and you may have it all to yourself. Invest in some water shoes because the shoreline is quite rocky as you enter the water. Ennis's Bay Beach.
- Errol Flynn Marina in Port Antonio. Located within one of the most beautiful and protected harbors in the world is the $14-million Marina at Port Antonio. Built in 2002, it includes 32 slips for mega yachts and a full-service marina. They provide 24-hour Customs and Immigration Services. There is a long promenade running along the waterfront. There are several nice shops and good restaurants here. Pick up an ice cream cone at the Devon House Ice Cream Shop and take a relaxing stroll. Also visit them on Facebook.
- Frenchman's Cove: This small private cove, just about 4.5 miles from Port Antonio, boasts one of the prettiest white sand beaches for miles. (Get a glimpse in the video linked under Boston Jerk Centre above.) A stream winds along to the white sand beach so you can enjoy fresh and sea water. There is a snack bar and a secure parking lot. There is a small fee (J$200 or about US$3.00) to use this beach and most area hotels provide passes. There are outside showers and changing facilities. You can rent beach chairs and buy food. The beach is closed on Tuesdays.
- International Marlin Tournament. The oldest Marlin tournament in the Caribbean takes place in October every year in Port Antonio’s old Sir Henry Morgan Harbour, with typically 40 to 50 yachts participating. 2008’s tournament was the 45th annual event. The event attracts anglers from all over the world. Besides the fishing, there are several parties held at the same time.
- Jamaica Agricultural Society Shop - This modest shop is easy to miss but can be found at 11 Harbour Street across from the police station in Port Antonio. Support local farmers and pick up some honey, cocoa, spices, Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee and even wine at fair prices. Hours: 9AM-5PM, Mon-Fri. Phone: 876.993.3743.
- Lady G’Diver Scuba Diving Facility - Port Antonio has the most diverse diving of anywhere on the island for beginners and experienced divers alike. There is almost no current year-round and dive sites are easily reached by short boat rides. Dives are to the east and west of the beautiful bay through 8 miles of relatively undisturbed coral reefs with plentiful fish life. A few miles off this coast is the Cayman Trench where the sea floor drops to nearly 5 miles, one of the deepest areas in the world’s oceans. Lady G’Diver is located at Port Antonio’s Errol Flynn Marina in the middle of town behind the craft market. Operating three boats, they are fully insured, licensed with the Jamaica Tourist Board, and take no more than 12 divers per trip. Training classes take place at their main office at #2 Somerstown Road and there are usually no dives on Tuesdays. Contact them for information about their dive packages and PADI certification courses. Phone: 876.715.5957.
- Long Bay. About 25-30 minutes from Port Antonio, Long Bay Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in all of Jamaica. The long, crescent-shaped bay has white sand, a palm-fringed beach, deep turquoise water, and strong breezes that make it a consistent surf spot on the island. It’s good for swimming, especially if you would like a little bit more excitement than most of the very placid beaches, but watch out for a very strong undertow. It is best not to swim out further than you can stand. There are a number of rustic, beachside bars that offer refreshments and reggae music, particularly the Chill Out bar & restaurant (open-air, good food and view of the ocean). Enjoy beautiful Long Bay via video.
- McKenzie Falls are located in the Rio Grande Valley and cascade into the Sarah (pronounced “say”) River, a tributary of the Rio Grande.
- Musgrave Market. Built during the banana boom, the Musgrave Market is one of the liveliest spots in Port Antonio. Located right at the center of town on West Street, it’s crammed with stalls selling fresh produce, fish, meat, clothes, and you'll find crafts and souvenirs on the north side. You should be able to find just about anything you’re looking for here! The main market day is Saturday, when it is the busiest. It is closed on Sundays.
- Nanny Falls You can take a 30 minute hike to Nanny Falls from Moore Town. Crystal clear waters shoot forcefully into pools deep enough for swimming, while sunlight cuts through the trees and glistens off the falls. Due to its remote location, there are rarely any tourists around; often you’ll find yourself completely and blissfully alone. Watch a short video shot at Nanny Falls.
- Nayamka Drummers. Every Saturday night at Great Huts in Boston Bay you can enjoy the rhythms, beats and chants of this Jamaican drum troupe. Guided by Sista P of Portland, these drummers were the 2001 overall world champions at the World Championships of the Performing Arts held in Los Angeles, California. They capture the very rich Afrocentric and religious feel of Jamaican music. Confirm before you go.
- Nonsuch Caves. There are 14 separate chambers full of stalactites and stalagmites. Steps lead into the caves, which are lit by electricity. The limestone was laid millions of years before Jamaica rose above the sea, as indicated by fossils of fish, coral and other sea creatures. There's a secure parking lot. See more details above under the Athenry Gardens & Nonsuch Caves listing.
- Pellew (a.k.a. Pelew or Monkey) Island. Pellew Island is one of Jamaica’s many small, near-shore islands. Located just off the San San coast near Port Antonio and originally part of Cold Harbour Estates, it was purchased in 1953 by Baron Heinrich Thyssen as a Valentine’s gift for his fiancée, and has been privately owned ever since. The island sits at one end of a coral reef, which protects the San San Bay. It is surrounded by healthy sea grass beds and wonderful swimming areas. Jamaicans and visitors alike visit the island by boat, laze on the small beach, snorkel at the nearby reef and generally enjoy the gorgeous setting. The current owner plans to construct four villas on the island which could unfortunately result in loss of public access to the beach.
- Portland Art Gallery - Stop inside the old Port Antonio (Orange Bay) Railway Station to see the Portland Art Gallery which specializes in the paintings, landscapes, etc. of Hopeton Cargill, a self-trained artist from Mount Pleasant. Mr. Cargill runs the gallery and other artists from Portland display their works here as well. The museum is open Monday-Friday from 9am to 6pm, sometimes longer. Phone: 876.882.7732.
- Portland Jerk Festival. Originally held in Boston Bay, this annual festival is now held at the Folly Great House at the eastern side of East Harbour in Port Antonio. The aroma of sizzling pork fills the air and both visitors and Jamaican residents are invited to sample lobster, fish, chicken and pork cooked in the traditional island “jerk” way. There is great reggae entertainment along with things for kids to do. The festival has been expanded from a 1-day event to a 3-day weekend event and is held in early July.
- Reach Falls (sometimes improperly spelled Reich). Known as one of Jamaica’s most beautiful natural waterfalls, a series of cascades tumble over limestone tiers from one pool to another. A half mile hike upriver leads to Mandingo Cave, which has a whirlpool and is worth the hike. The well paved road up to the falls is half a mile south of Manchioneal in Hector's River. It's a spectacular one-mile drive as you follow the valley of the Driver's River into the foothills of the John Crow Mountains. They are open 8:30am-4:30pm Wednesday through Sunday and on Monday or Tuesday only if it's a holiday. Admission (which includes a short tour) for locals is J$150 for kids 4-12 and everyone over 12 pays J$300. For visitors the fee is US$5 for kids 4-12 and US$10 for adults. There is a life guard and changing area. Bring your own food & drinks. There is a picnic area for lunch.Visit Reach Falls via video.
- Rio Grande Valley Rafting: Coming from an elevation of 3,000 feet in the Blue Mountains the Rio Grande River and its main tributaries the Back and Stony Rivers have carved a gorge between that range and the John Crow Mountains. Mainly banana fields crowd its banks. Rafting on the Rio Grande from Berrydale to Rafters' Rest at St. Margaret’s Bay is a favorite recreational activity for locals and tourists alike. Errol Flynn supposedly initiated rafting on the Rio Grande during the 1940's.The scenic 6-mile trip takes two and a half hours. Rafting first developed as a means of transportation on the river as the rapids prevented the use of boats. Raftsmen spend many years as apprentices. Trips are available 9.00 a.m to 4.00 p.m. and cost US$ 72.00 per raft. This price is set by the River Rafting Authority of Jamaica. Rafting offered by individuals may be a little cheaper but the raftsman is probably not insured. Raft the Rio Grande via video.
- Roof Club - This is Port Antonio’s hottest dirty dance hall located at 11 West Street. It is one floor above street level in an industrial building in the heart of town. This rough-around-the-edges spot is rather dark with mirrors and neon colors on black walls. The DJ's and the sound system are excellent. The Roof Club is open nightly from around 6pm, but the best action happens after 11pm, especially from Thursday through Sunday. It’s loud, crowded, raunchy, and you’ll probably get a contact high. Reggae music is pounding, bodies are gyrating all over the place and strangers will try to get you to buy them drinks, but this is Jamaica’s dance club scene! Leave your valuables at home, go with a group and have fun! Phone: 876.715.5281.
- San San Beach: This private beach, one mile away from Frenchman's Cove, was used as a setting for the cable movie Treasure Island. It is open 10am to 4 pm daily. Some villas and properties in the San San area have arrangements to use the beach at no cost; others pay a US$8.00 admission fee. There are some reefs a few yards from the shore that offer good snorkeling. The whole marine life area around San San Beach is protected by law. No fish shooting, fishing or fast boats are allowed here. Offshore is the tiny Pellew Island. Watch out for spiny sea urchins if you swim out to the island.
- Scatter Falls & Fox Caves. In the Rio Grande Valley, you begin your journey by crossing the Rio Grande on a bamboo raft at Berrydale and finish with a short hike to the Falls. The Thaxters, owners, have developed the area with restrooms and a bar. A short but steep hike from there you will find Fox Caves.
- Somerset Falls: Nine miles to the west of Port Antonio, these falls are well-marked and easily accessible on the main coastal road. A deep gorge on the Daniel’s River just east of Hope Bay provides the beautiful setting on the former indigo and spice plantation. A short boat ride leads to a hidden waterfall that plunges 33 feet into a small pool where one can swim in the cool water. The property has a small menagerie, a fish farm, a snack bar and rest rooms. Dive into Hidden Falls from the rocky ledge.
- Under the Rock Beach - In Hector's River at the south end of Portland Parish, just before entering Saint Thomas Parish, you cannot miss Under the Rock, the two-level bar/dance club at the bend in the road. It gets its name because the bar is surrounded by naturally-carved stone. Well, a nice little beach has recently formed here in the cove below and alongside the club! The beach is small but lovely. Entrance is free unless there is live music or sound system going on. You can buy drinks at the bar and there are usually food vendors on the beach. Every Sunday night there is music at Under the Rock and sometimes they have live shows with local talent. Nice bar, nice beach!
- Village of St. George - The three-story Village of St. George was built to resemble an eclectic European village, combining several architectural styles into one to represent Jamaica's many cultures. It contains shops, restaurants and cafes and is at the corner of West and Harbour streets in Port Antonio, behind the Shell Gas station. Some of it is now occupied by offices as well. You really can't miss it!
- White River Falls are at the end of a three-hour hike from Millbank, a village deep in the Rio Grande Valley. Getting to Millbank means a torturous drive along exceptionally bad roads, but with spectacular scenery. The drive takes at least two hours from Port Antonio, but the end result is reportedly well worth the effort.
- Winnifred Beach (sometimes called Fairy Hill Beach because it's located on Fairy Hill Bay) is one of Jamaica's last remaining, authentic public beaches loved by both Jamaicans and visitors to Jamaica. The beach is a secluded golden-sand crescent. A coral reef offshore provides for good snorkeling and protects the bay from the waves making for crystal clear water! There are usually several food and juice vendors at the beach. Parties are held here on some weekends. The turnoff to the beach is opposite the Jamaica Crest Resort. The road leading to the beach is bumpy and treacherous so drivers are advised to leave their cars at the top and walk down, but you can drive it - very cautiously. The government plans to improve the facilities with proper sanitation, changing facilities, and parking above the beach. The beach may therefore be closed at some point whenever they decide to do this. The ride is bad but the destination is worth it! Check out Winnifred via video.
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