Saint Mary Parish:
Things to Do, Things to See
Things to Do, Things to See
Tourism is said to have begun in Saint Mary in the 1920s when the rich and famous were drawn to this beautiful coastline. A local pioneer, named T. Dixon, built the 6-room Tower Hill Hotel to accommodate traveling North Americans and Europeans. Years later, on the same land, a businessman named Abe Issa built the famous and extravagant Tower Isle Hotel, which opened in 1949. The 80-room luxury hotel was on the beach and was reportedly the first high-rise hotel. In the 1970s, Sir Abe Issa’s Tower Isle Hotel was renamed Couples Hotel, an all-inclusive hotel for couples only. This sparked the all-inclusive mania that took over the island.
With such a lengthy history in this parish, there are some nice historical and cultural sites to look for. There are also great beaches, botanical gardens and stingrays! Here are some options:
- Annotto Bay Baptist Church: The first Baptist Church in Saint Mary, this church was built in 1824. It stands on the seaward side of the main road leading from Annotto Bay to Port Antonio, just beyond the Annotto Bay police station. Designed by Rev. Charles Barron of Scotland, it is believed that he cut the glass for all the windows by hand and fitted them in the frames and decorated the walls of the church with verses of scripture. The church was damaged in the Christmas slave rebellion of 1831-1832 but was rebuilt with funds collected by two noted abolitionists. It was badly damaged again by a storm in 1880 but was rebuilt in 1894. It was again repaired in 1964 and was listed as an historic monument by the Jamaica National Trust Commission.
- Brimmer Hall: Tours of Brimmer Hall Plantation show visitors how life was, circa 1817, on a Jamaican plantation. Brimmer Hall is a 4,000 acre estate near Bailey's Vale, six miles southeast of Port Maria, and was once one of four adjoining estates - Tryall. Trinity, Roslyn and Brimmer Hall. Those estates were all owned by Zachary Bayly. The Great House was built in the 18th Century during the days of slavery. It is made of wood and furnished with antiques and oriental rugs and even an original suit of armor. This working plantation produces bananas, coconuts, sugarcane made into sugar elsewhere, pineapple, ackee, coffee and citrus for export. Take a guided tour of the plantation on tractor-pulled jitneys, visit the shops in the former stables and sample local food. Mon-Fri 9AM-4PM. For a panoramic video of Brimmer Hall, click here.
- Castleton Botanical Gardens: Located on both sides of the road connecting Kingston to Annotto Bay, the Gardens are nestled in the hills of Saint Mary and span 12 acres of land. They were established here in 1862 by an English botanist. Castleton Gardens became one of the great gardens of the hemisphere with its rich variety of plants. There were 4,000 species of plants from the great Kew Gardens in London. In 1897 there were 180 species of palms alone. Even today, the Gardens are heavily populated with birds and exotic plants with many ferns and plants from Madagascar, India and the East Indies. This is a great spot for nature lovers to relax, have a picnic or swim in the Wag Water River.
- Claude Stuart Park. In 1977, Victoria Park in Port Maria was renamed in honor of Claude Stuart, a former Member of Parliament for Saint Mary. There is a monument here in honor of Tacky, the rebel slave who led the Slave Rebellion of 1760, and another commemorating victims of World Wars I & II.
- Firefly: Between 1956 and 1973 this was the home of Sir Noel Coward, the British playwright. The English style cottage is set amidst wide lawns on top of a hill with a breathtaking view of the coastline about three miles from Port Maria. It was originally called Lookout by the infamous pirate, Captain Henry Morgan, who used it for that purpose and dug a secret escape tunnel to Port Maria. Because of Noel Coward's experience with fireflies (peeny-wallies or blinkies in Jamaica) one evening, he bought the land, built his house and named it Firefly Hill. He wrote several of his plays here. On his death he left the property to a friend who gave it to the country. It fell into disrepair and the property was leased by The Jamaica Heritage Trust to Island Outposts. It was meticulously restored and in 1993 was reopened to the public as a museum. Tour the grounds and visit Sir Noel Coward’s final resting place.
- Fort Haldane. This fort is situated at Port Maria and was erected in 1759. It was named after General George Haldane, then Governor of Jamaica. The guns of the fort are strategically positioned on a hill facing seaward, which gives a wide and magnificent view of the old shipping port of Port Maria. The port was surrounded by sugar estates such as Llanrumney, Trinity, Quebec, Heywood Hall and Frontier.
- Fort Oracabessa. This fort, situated in Oracabessa, was built during the War of Trade. Erected by John Allen in 1752, it was called Fort Littleton after William Henry Littleton of Jamaica, 1762-66. It originally stood on five acres of land. The land on which it stood was later subdivided and a road constructed.
- Galina Lighthouse - Near Port Maria, on the North Coast, is the Galina Lighthouse. The tower is built of concrete and painted white and is over 40 feet high. The light is approximately 60 feet above sea level. Energy for the Lighthouse is solar generated.
- Goldeneye - Goldeneye is a private 15-acre resort in Oracabessa, about 20 minutes from Ocho Rios. The resort has five luxury villas including the former home of James Bond author, Ian Fleming. He spent most of his winters following World War II at Goldeneye where he wrote the majority of the James Bond novels, and retired here in the 1950s.
- Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Retreat, Saint Mary, is a very beautiful historic Georgian building erected on the site of an old sugar estate donated by Henry Rigg in 1828. Henry Rigg was a rich sugar planter born in Bowness, Westmoreland, England in 1791. He resided in Retreat, St. Mary for a period of 35 years where he died in 1869.
- James Bond Beach and Stingray City – Formerly Oracabessa Beach, this public beach (which charges a small admission fee – about US$5) has a restaurant, bar and great bathrooms and changing facilities. This is really a spectacular sandy beach. The water is calm, clean and warm and the facilities are well-maintained. Take a trip out to sea on glass bottom boats, kayaks, and wave runners. Snorkeling facilities can also be found here. There is a huge grass lawn in the center which sometimes hosts concerts. This is also the home of Stingray City where you can watch the expert staff as they interact and feed exotic stingrays. If you are bold enough, you can feed them, touch them and even snorkel with them. You can pay separately for admission to Stingray City if you wish to check it out when you're visiting the beach. For a panoramic video of James Bond Beach, click here.
- Prospect Plantation – On the Prospect Estate is an early 18th Century Great House. The ground floor was fortified with 28 loopholes designed to protect it from pirates and buccaneers. Since 1936, Prospect has been a working plantation producing pimentos, allspice, and limes, owned by Sir Harold Mitchell from Scotland. A mahogany tree in front of the house commemorates the three week stay of Sir Winston Churchill and his family in 1952. Since Mitchell’s death in 1983, the estate’s 1,000 acres have been maintained as an eco-tourism destination for tour groups interested in Jamaica’s agriculture, who climb into tractor-drawn jitneys (or ride horseback) for tours of this working farm which today produces bananas, cassava, sugar cane, coffee, pimento and more.
- Quebec Great House – This structure has basic Georgian features but the interior has undergone some alterations over the years. The original sash windows were replaced by casement windows. The exterior still possesses much of its original features, keeping its architectural integrity. The outer estate buildings have deteriorated but are structurally sound and occupy their original sites. Quebec Great House is a private property.
- Rio Nuevo Battle Site: A plaque here reads: "On this ground on June 17 1658, was fought the battle of Rio Nuevo to decide whether Jamaica would be Spanish or English. On one side were the Jamaicans of both black and white races, whose ancestors had come to Jamaica from both Africa and Spain 150 years before. The Spanish forces lost the battle and the island. The Spanish whites fled to Cuba but the black people took to the mountains and fought a long and bloody guerrilla war against the English. This site is dedicated to them all." This was the site of the final battle between the Spanish and British, and Spain formally conceded Jamaica to Britain by the treaty of Madrid in 1670.
- Skydive Jamaica - Operating out of Boscobel Aerodrome in Saint Mary, this brand new exciting attraction can also be easily reached from the Ocho Rios area. Be one of the first to jump over the beautiful island of Jamaica!! Tandem skydives while tethered to your licensed instructor are the most popular and safest dives. However, licensed skydivers must present their license and logbook. They utilize state-of-the-art square parachutes that enable the canopy pilot to enjoy soft standup landings. And every one of their instructors is licensed by the United States Parachute Association and averages over 4,000 skydives each. Phone: 876.467.6626.
For hotels, inns, guesthouses and B&Bs in Port Maria, Oracabessa, White River Estates and Robin's Bay, click here.
To find out more about the history of Saint Mary Parish and the surrounding area, click here.