Find the “Real” Jamaica in This Laid-Back Neighborhood

Avoid the crowds and head to a serene shoreline and the birthplace of jerk chicken.

Find the “Real” Jamaica in This Laid-Back Neighborhood

Scotch bonnet peppers at a Portland market (left) and the view from Boston Beach.

Photo by Rose Marie Cromwell

I escaped my tiny living quarters in Long Island, New York, for rural Robins Bay in Jamaica in September 2020. On weekends, I explore. My favorite discovery is the parish of Portland on the island’s northeast coast, which—unlike Montego Bay and Ocho Rios with many tourists—offers flourishing rain forests, laid-back beaches, and a vibe of soon come, no hurry, no worries. . . .

I have a particular soft spot for Winnifred Beach, where neighbors and families go to relax. Food vendors and artists sell their wares from small shops, made from zinc and wood, and despite the lull in business during the pandemic, dancehall and reggae still boom. Nothing stops the party. If it’s Saturday, true to tradition, somebody is quite likely cooking (and sharing) chicken foot soup. Another favorite ocean retreat is Frenchman’s Cove, where flowing water from the Blue Mountains creates a dramatic canopy of tropical greenery by a white-sand beach. Further south, Reach Falls is beloved for its underwater cave, natural heart-shaped pool reminiscent of a Jacuzzi, mountain views, and lush vegetation.

There is no sense of urgency in Portland. Visitors can while away an afternoon rafting on the Rio Grande or browsing the Portland Art Gallery in Port Antonio, the parish capital, also home to Folly Lighthouse and Folly Ruins, the remains of an early 1900s mansion.

I always bring my appetite to Portland, because the eating is good and you can find some of the best jerk on the island. At Woody’s Low Bridge Place, the legendary Charles “Woody” Cousins and his wife, Cherry, are known for their restaurant’s burgers and homey environment. Bits of wisdom decorate the place, such as don’t major in minor things. There’s also the restaurant Likkle Portie near the water in Hope Bay, where I order the curried lobster and brown stewed fish and munch it merrily at a picnic table while watching kids play in the sea. For fine dining, the best choice is the Geejam Hotel’s Bushbar. Whether you want jerk lamb chops or lobster, you’ll get tasty, authentic cooking paired with views of the Caribbean Sea below.

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