Palette Places: Port Antonio, Jamaica
After a three night stay at Goldeneye in Oracabessa, Andrew and I were ready to have a Jamaican vacation where we were not in the confines of a resort. While Goldeneye was bliss (my review here), my favorite holidays are the ones where you can really get out there and lose yourself in the natural beauty of a country. So we took a car ride with a driver named Cool Cat over to the east, far from the tourist-heavy towns, past endless palm and banana groves to our destination of Port Antonio in Portland parish. This magical, lush hidden beach town is small but has so much to see and do.
Frenchman’s Cove, where a clear spring fed freshwater river joins the ocean, giving the salty sea a sweet taste. This was our favorite beach in Port Antonio - while it is a small cove, the swimming is great either in the turquoise ocean or the shallow stream dotted with a tree swing. Palm trees give shade for relaxing and beach chairs to rent are at hand. There is a small entrance fee (though free if you stay next door at Wilks Bay), which is a bit of a good thing as it keeps away hustlers who would otherwise bother you on the public beaches. The path into Frenchman's cove is also quite pretty, a short road full of vegetation and hidden horses. Rounding this little paradise out is free wifi(!) and a small restaurant off to the side for an ice cold drink.
San San Beach, another private and picturesque stretch of a white sand beach which you can walk and hangout in seclusion. We preferred Frenchman's Cove for beaching and swimming, but we used San San as our point of departure to take a boat ride over to Monkey Island and the Blue Lagoon next door.
Blue Lagoon, which changes from either bright turquoise to light sapphire depending on the time of the day. It is so blue that I had trouble adjusting my camera to get a good shot and after awhile just gave up to fully enjoy this special place. This jungle ringed inlet of flat ocean water is fed by mountain spring water making for a nice sensation of cool and warm currents. At a deep 65 meters and no dangerous fish, it's a fun spot to take a dip. There are rope swings and low-hanging branches over the water to jump off of. Look for the hidden stone lined shallow pools at the corner.
Monkey (Pellew) Island, ask for Mr. Fox to take you there on his red and blue boat. There is a little spot on the tiny deserted island with a small strip of sand for landing and hanging your stuff up on a branch to spend time just laying and playing around in the shallow ocean waters.
Winnifred Beach, the perfect spot for lunch on the way back from Reach Falls, or any lunch for that matter. Only accessible by a long and bumpy road, this is the community’s beloved public beach, shaded by vine clad sea grape trees. It is also known for Cynthia’s beach side restaurant. Being on Jamaican time, it's the ideal combination of a lunch spot - as you pass the long wait you have the beautiful beach to enjoy.
Floating down the Rio Grande, on an original banana boat skiff. The Blue Mountains that frame the whole landscape of Jamaica (which all of the locals at any given time can tell you the exact towering height) feed and surround the Rio Grande River, making for some beautiful views as you spend two hours just floating downstream on a raft poled by a captain. Ask for Walford and he will find some bullseye seeds along the way as a little souvenir. Stop for lunch riverside at Belinda's, which is as authentic as it gets.
Reach Falls, for the most amazing swim through a series of cool crystalline pools in the middle of thick, live rainforest. This was one of the highlights of our trip and worth the long drive - yet another Portland place that I couldn’t believe we had all to ourselves and felt unreal. Instead of just swimming the base of the waterfall ask for Curtis to take you for the hike at the top of the waterfall. A little dicey at times, trust yourself and get rewarded with what seems like an endless amount of personal clear blue pools to swim through, there’s even one shaped like a heart.
Cythnia’s, mentioned above, at Winnifred beach. The selection changes everyday, Cynthia or her partner Painter (and their cat named Spike) will pretty much cook you anything to your specification as you take a dip in the ocean.
Belinda’s, accessible only by raft on the Rio Grande, the coconut curry and the overall experience of eating in this open air spot is not to missed.
Woody’s Low Bridge Place, a little roadside stand that has homemade juices and are known for their vegetable burgers made either of Jamaica’s national green calalloo or plantain.
Soldier Camp, truly one of those places you are happy to have gone to. James and Mary took us there on a Friday night, and gratefully so as it takes a local to find this hidden spot. We had a very Anthony Bourdain-esque experience of tasting real Jamaican classics and seeing the community of Port Antonio come alive. Celebrating the weekend, there was a small parade of cars with giant speakers blasting reggae as we drove there. Set up with bamboo tables and fairy lights in a former soldier’s backyard, you sense the small town friendliness as everyone knows each other by name.
Fruit, all of the tropical fruit in Jamaica tasted so real and unlike the kinds we get in America. I especially loved the mangoes and bananas, both on the smaller size but so sweet. Papaya and grapefruit also tasted better. For fruits special to Jamaica, try roasted breadfruit, nessberry and custard apple.
Boston Jerk, a trip to Portland parish wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the birthplace of jerk. Look for Little David’s stand all the way at the end.
Devonhouse i-scream, Blue Mountain coffee icecream and boats on a marina named after Errol Flynn.
Jamaica Palace, for a late afternoon drink on the massive black and white checkerboard terrace. The posh Trident hotel is another spot to grab a drink before dinner.
Geejam Bush Bar, for a nightcap and live music from artists visiting their recording studio.