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6 Unique Things to do in Portland Jamaica

 

Visiting Portland, Jamaica

When Jamaica invited us to visit, we were ecstatic.

Caribbean sun in the dead of winter? Sign us up!

Then we realized the itinerary would focus not on all inclusive resorts in Montego Bay, but a more unplugged, natural getaway in the parish of Portland, on Jamaica’s northeast coast.

We arrived knowing practically nothing about the area and admittedly were slightly concerned about flying into Kingston. We left refreshed, tanned and reinvigorated. If you’re looking for simple, sandy beaches with crystal clear waters and a more authentic, local experience, you’ll love Portland, Jamaica!

Here’s a travel guide to Portland covering the best things to do, when to go and what to eat!

 

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Why Portland?

Most travelers to Jamaica head to the tourist hub in Montego Bay. Repeat visitors might even venture to Negril or Ocho Rios.

But few venture farther east to the coastal parish of Portland… and they’re missing out!

Portland offers the ultimate relaxing getaway, with stunning natural lagoons, fantastic Jamaican cuisine and the simple life: sandy beaches, ice cold Red Caps and relaxers of the plant variety too (if that’s what you’re looking for!)

 

Kingston

Whereas a visit to Montego Bay will have you comfortably holed up in your 5 star resort, exploring Portland is much more freeing. Portland is home to Jamaica’s capital, Kingston, the once thriving banana town of Port Antonio, and the lush Blue Mountains. 

The beaches here are mostly public, not private, so you can explore as you will. Few places in Jamaica are as beautiful as Portland. With its lush countryside, white sand beaches and gentle lagoons, Portland is one of the most relaxed and beautiful places to visit in Jamaica. 

 



 

 

How to Get There

From New York, we flew directly into Kingston Norman Manley International Airport on Jet Blue. Flights were inexpensive and best of all, direct! Set a flight alert here to be notified of upcoming deals.

We opted to head straight to Port Antonio, the parish capital, but you could also base yourself in Jamaica’s capital for a few days, to explore the city and surrounding Blue Mountains.

We hired a driver for the duration of our week, to make getting around easy! Public transportation is possible, but can be slightly tricky as you’ll need to switch buses and will want to stick to daytime hours. 

 Read more:  Our Essential Jamaica Packing List

 

 

 



 

 

Where to Stay

The island of Jamaica is roughly the size of Connecticut, but it offers almost every kind of accommodation you can imagine. There are the massive luxury resorts and all inclusives in MoBay, family friendly hotels and cruise ships in Ocho Rios and even nudist properties for those who want to free themselves entirely.

 Read more:  Here are the Best Hotels in Jamaica

 

In Portland, the atmosphere is much more rustic. Sleepy and lush, you’ll find lots of great bed and breakfasts here (browse and book on Airbnb here) and for the first part of our trip, this is what we opted for.

But Port Antonio is also home to glitz and glamour. When Hollywood movie star Errol Flynn arrived to Jamaica in the 1940s, he fell in love with Port Antonio, declaring it ‘more beautiful than any woman he had known.’

Two excellent, but very different accommodation options in Portland are:

 

1 | Trident Hotel – Once owned by Flynn, this is the most luxury villa in all of Jamaica. With just 13 villas, each not only faces the ocean but comes with a private pool. The property has a fantastic bar and restaurant, private movie theater, and can even arrange helicopter transfers.

Trident is for the design lovers, with sleek 50’s and 60’s mod style design. We loved it! And so do celebrities like Jay Z, Beyonce, Denzel Washington, Tom Cruise and Peter O’Toole… all of whom have stayed here!

Check rates: Booking.com, Hotels.com | Read reviews: TripAdvisor

 

2 | Mocking Bird Hill – Perched on the edge of a mountain, this lush hotel is surrounded by forest and garden. If you like wildlife, butterflies and birds flitting in and around, this bed and breakfast is for you! Breakfast is made fresh to order every day and our meals here were always excellent.

The Mocking Bird Hill is an eco friendly hotel, so just keep that in mind. While the rooms and bathrooms were slightly dated, it was an unforgettable experience.

Check rates: Booking.com, Hotels.com | Read reviews: TripAdvisor

 



 

The Best Things to Do in Portland, Jamaica

If you’re looking for an alternative to Montego Bay and prefer a relaxed, unplugged getaway, head to Portland on the northeast coast of Jamaica. This parish offers simplicity, sandy beaches and lots of fun!

We spent 1 week in Portland exploring a bit of downtown Kingston and Port Antonio, but also made plenty of time to explore Jamaica’s wonderful waterfalls and beaches.

Here are all the must do activities and beautiful places in Portland, Jamaica!

 

 

1. Raft Down the Rio Grande

 

Rafting down the Rio Grande river is one of the most fun things to do in Port Antonio.

Slender bamboo rafts were once the only way to transport bananas from plantation to port. River rafting became a tourist attraction in the 1950s, when Hollywood star and Jamaica lover Errol Flynn saw farmers moving fruit down the river on bamboo rafts, and wanted to try it out. 

Today, this is one of the most popular activities on Jamaica and we loved it! The rafts are made out of actual bamboo, which was a unique surprise. Each long raft sits 2 people, while a third raft captain (licensed and experienced) steers the ride.

Grab a friend, make liberal use of the floating raft bar that sells ice cold Red Cap beers and enjoy the afternoon! It’s a leisurely ride (no grand rapids) and a relaxing way to enjoy Jamaica’s lush beauty.

Sher’s Tip: The entire raft ride down the rio grande is about 2 hours long and there’s little shade so make sure to put on sunscreen beforehand! This one is my all time favorite – non tacky, high spf protection and travel size friendly. 
We didn’t realize quite how hot it would be on the water and got pretty burned. But you can also dip your toes in the refreshingly cold water or even stop for a swim!

P.S. If you do want a turbo charged rafting experience, you’ll want to head to Jamaica’s Rio Bueno. Learn more here.

 



 

 

2. Explore the Blue Lagoon

 

Equally beautiful is Jamaica’s Blue Lagoon, where you can hire a local to sail you around the bay.

The Blue Lagoon is owned by local billionaire Michael Lee Chin and is free to the public. Rumor says the Blue Lagoon is bottomless and a dragon lives in its depths! In reality, the azure blue watering hole is fed by underground springs and is about 200 feet (60 meters) deep.

Don’t miss swimming here, as the magical water is a unique mix of fresh and salt water. The temperature fluctuates between warm and cold and the teal shades vary throughout the day. 

In the back of the lagoon, a pond nicknamed the fountain of youth is said to have magical healing powers that will keep you forever young. That was enough for us to want to visit! 

You can tour the lagoon by boat, kayak, raft or just grab a tree vine and jump in! Don’t miss visiting nearby Monkey Island as well by booking a combo Blue Lagoon and Rio Grande Jamaica tour here.

 



 

 

3. Swim in Frenchman’s Cove

 

Another Hollywood hotspot? Frenchman’s Cove.

This is perhaps one of the most beautiful beaches in Jamaica, with lush gardens, warm clear waters and an isolated scenic cove with hanging branches that act as swings. A freshwater river bisects the beach, emptying ice cold water into the sea.

Frenchman’s Cove is one of the most stunning sheltered beaches I’ve ever been to. The mouth of the cove has strong waves so kids will love it and meanwhile, parents can take shelter in the quiet bay.

We alternated between splashing on the swings and sunbathing on the beach. The water is a stunning blue green and refreshingly cold for a dip.

Frenchman’s Cove is located on a 45 acre private estate. The property is popular with celebrities and famous guests (even Queen Elizabeth II has visited!) and there’s a great restaurant right on the beach that serves jerk chicken, burgers, fries, etc.

 

Sher’s Tip: Get here early to avoid the crowds. The water is generally calm in the inner section but certain areas can be deep with a strong current near some of the swings. Grab a Red Stripe, kick back and relax!

Because it’s a private beach, you do have to pay admission and they have chairs and things for rent. 

 



 

 

4. Grab Drinks at the Trident Hotel

 

The Trident Hotel is a luxurious, 5 star property in Portland, Jamaica with modern suites, ocean front views and its own private movie theater.

But this isn’t any old modern hotel. There’s even a quirky 8 bedroom castle on site, with its own pool, helipad and private chapel! 

We got drinks at the hotel, explored the property and then had an amazing dinner at Trident Castle. You might have seen on my Instagram that I was seriously swooning over the decor in this place!

Check rates: Booking.com 

Read reviews: TripAdvisor

 



 

 

5. Eat Dinner at the Mocking Bird

 

The Mockingbird Hotel is picturesque, and there’s nothing better than watching the sunset from the rooftop terrace. We had dinner here one night and everything was outstanding!

The Mocking Bird Hill prides itself on fresh ingredients, with a daily changing dinner menu.

From coconut bread to saltfish, bammy, avocado, calaloo and plantains… all the dishes have great flavor, authentic Jamaican ingredients and colorful presentation! Don’t say no if they’re offering slow cooked pork or home made ice cream and mousse on your visit!

If you are looking for a true eco-resort experience, the Mocking Bird Hill has a unique ambiance all it’s own.

Check rates: Booking.com, Hotels.com 

Read reviews: TripAdvisor

 



 

 

6. Head to the Blue Mountains

 

If you’re a fellow coffee addict (you can find all my favorite NYC coffee shops here) then you absolutely have to visit the Blue Mountains

The Blue Mountains are the longest mountain range in Jamaica, with cool temperatures, great hiking and beautiful scenery. It’s also where some of the world’s most expensive coffee is grown!

From Kingston, we drove up the winding mountain paths and while the drive took forever (just an hour but it felt longer), once we stepped out of the car and breathed in the refreshing mountain air, it was all worth it.

We were fortunate to be invited into the home of a couple who produces coffee beans for Blue Mountain and got to learn all about the roasting and growing process. 

Blue Mountain Estate produces some of the most famous beans in the world, and coffee lovers should absolutely book a day trip tour here!

Sher’s Tip: We spent 2 nights in downtown Kingston after our visit to Portland. A great downtown Kingston property is the Spanish Court hotel. Comfy beds, spacious rooms and beautiful decor make it a relaxing stay. Plus, there’s a great on site restaurant, fabulous drinks and even an outdoor pool!

Check rates: Booking.com

Read reviews: TripAdvisor

 



 

 

7. Hike to Reach Falls

Reach Falls is one of of Portland’s local secrets.

The majestic waterfalls has streams of water cascading over smooth limestone and the scenery is stunning. This is one of those places that has 2 prices for entry: the local rate and the tourist rate.

If you’re adventurous, hire a local guide to show you some of Reach Falls’ secrets. There are lots of natural holes in the limestock rocks that have been carved out over time by the force of the water streams. One secret cave, Mandingo Cave, is about a half mile upstream and has a beautiful natural waterfall inside. 

There are other underwater caves too, that just the locals know about!

 



 

 

8. Relax at Winnifred Beach

Looking for a beautiful public beach in Jamaica? 

Head to Winnifred Beach for a relaxing beach bum day. This secluded beach in Fairy Hill is great for swimming, sun bathing and just all around relaxation. Locals often blast the latest reggae tunes while food shops serve up great authentic Jamaica fare: fresh fish, jerk, lobster and more. 

For activities, Winnifred Beach has a pretty coral reef offshore, that’s the perfect spot for snorkeling. Occasionally you can even take a boat ride to Monkey Island or horseback ride on the sand!

 



 

 

9. Kayak to Monkey Island

If you have more time in Portland, take a day trip to Monkey Island!

The island itself is tiny, but a visit here is all about getting off the beaten path. You can kayak or raft over, and then hike through the tree canopy. There are swings dangling from the branches and a small sandy beach to relax. It’s a great picture spots and the water is both warm and shallow.

During certain parts of the day, the tide is low enough that you can just wade over in waist high water!  Don’t linger too long or the tide will rise and you’ll have to swim back :)

 

10. Bust Your Moves at a Dancehall

Ever since I learned about Dancehall in my freshman year World Cultures class, I’ve been wanting to see a proper Jamaican party for myself. 

Kingston is home to lots of great dancehalls and promoters will often have dancehall kings and queens in town to promote a particular venue. We heard from locals that Atlantic is one of the most popular spots. Show up late, around 1am, if you want to see the real party start! 

 

11. Explore Folly Ruins

This 2 story mansion is set on a 90 acre estate, but it’s much more than just a historical home.

American millionaire visited Port Antonio in the early 1900s and built this beautiful mansion after falling in love with Port Antonio. Unfortunately, it started to crumble just years after it was built.

No one quite knows why but lots of local legends have different explanations! Some say he built the house for his wife and she broke his heart, so the ‘love mansion’ symbolically fell to pieces.

 



 

 

Best Food in Portland

Portland has 2 famous foods you should try: jerk chicken and seafood!

  • Cynthia’s Restaurant on Winnifred Beach is a local favorite. Stuff your face with seafood and don’t skip their famous lobster special.
  • Jerk chicken was brought over from African Maroons who lived in Portland and is now one of Jamaica’s most famous dishes. There are all types of jerk chicken stalls throughout the parish and most open all day, every day until late in the evening. 
  • For the most famous spot, Boston Jerk Center is the place to go. It’s a picturesque spot, since Boston Bay beach has great waves, powder soft sand and an overall scenic vibe. Grab some smokey jerk chicken or jerk pork and chow down. After your meal, you can try surfing, snorkeling and wind surfing! It’s also a very family friendly beach. 

 



 

And that’s it! How we spent a blissful week in Jamaica.

 

Visiting Jamaica – Travel Checklist

We flew Jet Blue from New York City’s JFK airport. Jamaica often has great flight deals to both Montego Bay and Kingston. You can set an alert to be notified of flight deals here.

For our trip to Portland, we stayed in a couple different areas to explore the parish in full. We tried both rustic bed & breakfasts and stunningly modern luxury hotels. You can find almost whatever you wish in Portland, Jamaica! Check here for great deals on accommodation or try Airbnb.

Lastly, be sure to visit Jamaica with travel insurance. Whether you get injured and need to be hospitalized, or your phone gets stolen, or flight delay forces you to cancel all or part of your vacation, travel insurance will help when you need it most. Get a quote for your trip here.

 

 You Might Also Enjoy: 

 

Jamaica Travel Tips

What to Pack for Jamaica

The Best Resorts in Jamaica for Your Next Getaway

Visiting Portland, Jamaica’s Scenic Parish

 

 

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This post is written in partnership with the Jamaica Tourism Board. All opinions from the trip are my own. 

AubrieJanuary 7, 2017 - 1:41 pm

This place looks so beautiful!

SherJanuary 7, 2017 - 3:40 pm

Thanks for stopping by Aubrie!

[…] I just returned from Jamaica last month and it was hot, hot, hot! I visited Kingston and Port Antonio in 5 days, 4 nights on a relaxing getaway focused on beautiful natural sights like Frenchman’s Cove, the Blue Lagoon and the coffee-heavy Blue Mountains. You can read more about my trip itinerary and the top sights I recommend in this post, Rafting on the Rio Grande and Other Must Do Things in Portland, Jamaica. […]

HeatherJanuary 17, 2017 - 12:31 pm

I have spent a lot of time in Jamaica! I’m from Miami originally and my mom used to work for the airlines, so my friends and I would go on buddy passes then pool our money together in college to get nice suites! Back then Jamaica was really cheap, too LOL. A great list you have here. Thanks for bringing me back to some good memories.

HeatherJanuary 17, 2017 - 12:44 pm

Lots of beautiful sites to see. I have never been to Jamaica. People say it’s dangerous so I never put it on my list.. Rarely have I heard about this side of the story. My first stop would be to enjoy the delicious fare.

kristiJanuary 17, 2017 - 2:29 pm

My teenage son was just saying how he wanted to see Jamaica one day soon! I can’t wait to show him your travel guide. This may be the start of our summer vacation planning. Loving the Swim & Swing…looks like a piece of heaven right there! Thanks for sharing.

Kathy MyersJanuary 17, 2017 - 3:59 pm

You are so lucky, this place looks amazing. I can’t imagine ever wanted to leave. Those pics are to die for! It looks like somewhere I would want to travel.

Stephanie JeannotJanuary 17, 2017 - 7:19 pm

Your photos make Portland, Jamaica seem like such a luxurious place. I have been to a few places in the Caribbean but have yet to explore Jamaica and would really like to. Especially the Lagoon. Your photo of it looks so nice and comforting. I can tell that you had a great time.

KristyJanuary 18, 2017 - 10:29 am

I have always wanted to take a trip to Jamaica, the views and beaches are amazing. How neat to be able to float down the river on a bamboo raft. I’ll defintely keep your travel guide in mind when we plan our trip!

EchoJanuary 18, 2017 - 2:30 pm

Can I do all 6 of these please?! Wow, what a gorgeous and amazing place. I definitely would mind spending some time in the blue lagoon or swinging in the cove or anywhere in Portland, Jamaica really! Wow!

AdrienneJanuary 21, 2017 - 6:08 pm

That place looks beautiful and your photos are great! I’m always looking for new places to travel to in the Caribbean. Jamaica is definitely on my travel list. Thanks for sharing!

[…] 6 Amazing Things to Do in Port Antonio | What to Pack for Jamaica […]

[…] I’ve spent virtually all of December down south in the Caribbean (first on a work trip to Jamaica, then for some relaxation in Tulum, followed by my cousin’s wedding in Cancun) so my skin is […]

Danielle WilsonFebruary 12, 2017 - 10:25 pm

I wish I could be teleported right there, right now especially after all of this snow. My husband’s family is from Jamaica but we’ve never gone as a family. I love Blue Mountain coffee and would relish in enjoying a cup while taking in those stunning views.

MechealMarch 4, 2017 - 4:07 pm

My country is not a dangerous place, just like anywhere else we have our problems. But we are a friendly people, we entertain and welcome our visitors. Come you will fall in love, but best of all you will see for yourself a wonderful place and loving people.

DelaineMarch 25, 2017 - 8:11 pm

I am from Jamaica and I haven’t done half of these as yet. It is however, beautiful to see my country being enjoyed all over.

JhunelleNovember 2, 2017 - 10:16 am

All great suggestions for 1 of our most beautiful parishes! The renowned Boston Jerk Centre, Reach Falls, Somerset Falls are other few popular Portland spots.

[…] worthwhile coffee shops if you need a break! Try Alto Grande, a premium bean ranking up there with Jamaica’s Blue Mountain Coffee and Hawaii’s Kona beans. If you don’t want to carry it home, no worries you can buy it here on […]

TasiaMarch 11, 2019 - 7:16 pm

I am from Kingston Jamaica and I visited Port Antonio which is in Portland. I was surprised to know that a lagoon could be so beautifully blue and pretty. I fell in love with Portland and my only regret is that when I lived in Kingston I knew nothing about Portland. I am going back to visit this May 2019. For all tourists visiting Portland, please keep in mind that you must bring something to protect yourself from mosquitoes. I purchased a full sleeping footed pijamas with long sleep to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes- on Amazon. There are lots of rain and lots of swamp which makes this area beautiful because you can see the crabs running around from out of the water holes. You can also visit Winnifred Beach. I am so excited and will be there in May 2019. It is true that Jamaica is experiencing a crime wave but you can still go and enjoy just dont show your money in public and do not bring your jewelery with you. If you need information from a stranger, please trust the older residents. Portland is still a safe place and they are use to getting a lot of tourists. Take care and enjoy

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