Two Weeks in Eastern Jamaica

Spending two weeks in eastern Jamaica? Start in Port Antonio, head to Boston Bay and Long Bay, and end in the majestic Blue Mountains. Eastern Jamaica offers wide-ranging natural beauty in which to play: Two weeks is plenty of time to swim in secluded coves and walk deserted beaches, hike to jade pools and waterfalls, surf the waves of Boston Bay, explore ruins and forts, raft across the Rio Grande, bike at 7,000 feet, and, of course, sample both original Jamaica jerk and reggae.

Manchioneal, Jamaica
Reach Falls is an off-the-beaten-path delight. Located up in the John Crow Mountains on Jamaica’s east coast, this 30-foot jade-colored cascade tumbles into several pools in the surrounding rain forest. You’ll need a bathing suit and a waterproof camera to capture the natural splendor. Local guides are available to help you make your way across the swimming holes and levels, and show you the best spots. Or you can explore it solo. Because of its distance from tourism spots, there are no crowds, no harassment, just an entrance fee to your very own Garden of Eden. On-site changing rooms are available as you exit by the parking lot. Small fun fact: The falls play a minor role in the 1988 Tom Cruise movie Cocktail.

Off the coast of Port Antonio is a small, uninhabited plot called “Pellew Island,” otherwise known as “Monkey Island"--there used to be a colony of imported monkeys here. To get here, you could first head to San San Beach, a beautiful and private stretch open daily (10 a.m.4 p.m daily, US$5). Rent a kayak and snorkel gear and make your way over to the small plot, within clear view ahead. The island is completely covered in vegetation, there’s a small white sand beach, and the waters are shallow. Rest your kayak on shore and snorkel around the island for as long as you please. Visibility is incredible and this is one of the best snorkeling spots in the area. Just watch your step if you’re barefoot, as there can be sea urchins on the seabed.
Port Antonio, Jamaica
This tiny hideaway overlooking the sea near Port Antonio originally served as a live-in recording studio for performers such as No Doubt, Alicia Keys, and Amy Winehouse. Although recording sessions still go on, Geejam is now a seven-room hotel, its guests often honeymooning couples acting out fantasies having nothing to do with rock and roll. Geejam’s cabins, especially, are very private, and guests sometimes spend days taking meals on their veranda and splashing in their outdoor Jacuzzi without being seen by anyone but the staff, who appear only when called. Of course, who wants to stay hidden forever when the Bushbar restaurant promises convivial chitchat, an occasional game of pool, and even live music? Not to mention that the hotel beach, in a cove across a road at the bottom of the property, promises four-poster sunbeds and, yes, Wi-Fi.
Few venture this far east in Jamaica, but those who do will find one of the most authentic sides of the island, and the most secluded of getaways. A charming fishing village about thirty minutes past Port Antonio, Long Bay is as peaceful and scenic as it gets, with just a handful of affordable, casual guesthouses perched atop dramatic cliffs and overlooking a long stretch of deserted beach. No frills here, just nature and culture. The fresh ocean air, the roadside fresh seafood shacks and friendly locals will have you staying longer than you planned. Be sure to drive along the coastal highway and head as far as Manchioneal, another stunning fishing village that feels thousands of miles away from the touristy side of Jamaica.
Blue Mountains, Jamaica
Lush source of the mellow, world-famous Blue Mountain coffee, Jamaica’s longest mountain range is nature at its best, seemingly a world away from nearby bustling, noisy Kingston. In these mountains 7,400 feet above sea level, the air is cool, the views—of villages and falls across the mountains—are magnificent, and, yes, the peaks look blue. The winding narrow roads, though occasionally nerve-racking, add to the overall mystical atmosphere. A handful of hotels and cabins, including the prestigious Strawberry Hill, provide lodging. Staying in the mountains overnight is highly recommended so you can take the famous sunrise summit hike.
Frenchman's Cove beach, Jamaica
Frenchman’s Cove is more than a beach. It’s an idyllic escape. After paying a small entrance fee—used to preserve the grounds—you’ll hike about five minutes through verdant gardens flanked by an emerald river stream, before the views open onto a glorious beach and the Caribbean Sea. This cove was once a favorite romantic escape for Elizabeth Taylor and Burt Reynolds, and it’s not hard to see why. When you tire of the beach and waves, hop over to the river and swing from the vines into the fresh water. It’s an ideal spot to spend the day, for couples or for families.
Port Antonio, Jamaica
This stunning white-sand stretch, just a five-minute drive east of Port Antonio, is the only beach in Jamaica with waves high enough to surf. Boston Bay is also one of the few remaining public strands on the island. It continues to attract more locals than tourists and as such is nearly vendor-free. You can watch kids splashing about on their boards, or you can rent your own for a Surfing 101 lesson. Be forewarned: As at many beaches, sometimes the waves are flat, but you can console yourself with a short stroll down the beach to the famous Boston Bay jerk chicken stands.
Somerset Falls, P.O.,, Hope Bay, Jamaica
There’s no shortage of refreshing waterfalls in eastern Jamaica. But after Reach Falls, I’d say Somerset—also located on the east coast—is a close second in natural beauty. Somerset Falls’ cascades can be reached by hiking or by canoe ride along the river. Either way, it’s a stunning, still relatively verdant area teeming with bird life—resident parrots—and caves to explore. It’s easy to find too, ideal for a day trip from either Port Antonio or Ocho Rios. Look out for a billboard right off the paved northern highway, about an hour and a half north of Ocho Rios.
Morgans Pass, Jamaica
This 12-cottage luxury hotel, 3,100 feet up in the Blue Mountains, is Jamaica without the beaches. It is the Jamaica of misty mornings, cool, cuddle-worthy evenings, and a musical heritage recognized worldwide. First as a private estate belonging to music producer Chris Blackwell and then as part of his Island Outpost collection of hotels, Strawberry Hill has been a creative refuge for performers including Bob Marley, the Rolling Stones, and Willy Nelson. After Hurricane Gilbert destroyed the estate’s great house in 1988, Blackwell commissioned Jamaican architect Ann Hodges, who specializes in historic reconstructions, to build the cottages, a restaurant, and a pool, which were opened in 1994. Yet despite the rock and roll history, and the hanging with like-minded souls up in the mountain mists, what guests seem to remember most is the far-below views of Kingston, especially at night, when the lights glow and sparkle from what must certainly be another world.
A4, Bull Bay, Jamaica
If you’re staying on the east coast or close to Kingston, Wickie Wackie Live! is the place to be for some live reggae on the beach. For just a small entry fee, you’ll get to enjoy excellent local performances seaside—often held on Saturday evenings, 8 p.m. until midnight. There are onsite food and trinket vendors, as always, and the atmosphere is one fit for a wide audience, including families. Wickie Wackie is one of only a few live venues in Jamaica where up and coming artists get to show off their skills. Many made their debut here before rising to stardom.
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