Visiting Portland in Jamaica is a truly authentic experience. Many people who visit Jamaica often head for resorts in Montego Bay or Ocho Rios. Some head for Kingston for the nightlife and urban culture. But Portland is a bit different and competes with St. Elizabeth in terms of variety of experiences you can get. It has a host of different types of beaches, lagoons, caves, forests and mountainous areas. There is less emphasis here than in other places to alter the experience for tourists.
Geography & History of Portland, Jamaica
Portland is one of the most eastern parishes in Jamaica and is located about 3 1/2 hours from Montego Bay and about 2 hours from Kingston depending on the route you drive. The drive there takes you through some of the most beautiful landscapes and scenery you can find in Jamaica, completely rural and untouched. The parish is home to tallest mountain range in Jamaica, the Blue Mountains, which has over 500 different species of flowering plants, the Jamaican boa, the largest butterfly in the Americas and world famous coffee.
Portland was named after the Duke of Portland who was the governor of Jamaica between 1722 and 1726. The Maroons were early slaves who escaped from their masters and many settled in the mountains of Portland. The government tried to push them out by offering white protestants land and incentives to move there, however, the environment was too harsh and plays a part as to why much of the parish remains untouched today. Descendants of the Maroons still live there protecting much of their culture and lifestyle.
Despite this, presently Portland accounts for much of the agricultural output in Jamaica and areas like Buff Bay and the capital Port Antonio has played more of a role in the tourism industry recently.
Before you leave home
Be sure to check in with your flight or flights to ensure they are still on time. Do this for your hotel, guesthouse or rental car bookings as well so things go as according to plan as possible. For safety purposes make copies of your itinerary and give your family members one so they know where you are. This is not specific to Portland but pretty much anywhere you visit. Also make a copy of your visas, passport or any other important document in the case that any of them are lost. This way you can still save your vacation. For more tips be sure to check out our useful tips for your trip to Jamaica.
How to get to Portland
For visiting Portland, we suggest flying to Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston as it is closer. However if you are visiting the island to go to as much places as possible then we suggest visiting via Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay. From there you can visit a host of different destinations and parishes as you make your way across the island to Portland.
From Kingston, probably the best way to discover Portland would be to hire a private driver for a day or two. In Jamaica it isn’t so expensive and it is much better than risking public transportation in rural areas which is a bit inconsistent. If you are staying at a resort on the north coast in Montego Bay or Ocho Rios then be sure to ask the front desk or Google tours to Portland. There are a bunch of different tour companies in Jamaica that can take you there for the day and bring you back to your hotel.
Where to stay
There are a bunch different places you can stay and visit Portland. There is no one way of doing it. Here are our suggestions.
Visiting from a resort
As mentioned before, if you are staying at an resort, there are plenty of tour companies that partner with the hotels that can take you all over the island. Please be sure to see our list on the top 3 all inclusive hotels in Jamaica.
While most hotels are located in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, tucked away in Port Antonio, Portland is one of if not the best place to stay in Jamaica. Geejam hotel is the highest rated place to stay in Jamaica and has many awards. Built with a studio, many international musicians often go there to get a relaxing place to produce their music. You can’t go wrong booking here and it is already located in Portland which means it is the perfect place to stay and explore the entire parish over more than a one day span.
Visiting from Kingston
There are hotels in Kingston too but most are hotels from business travelers as it is a corporate area. If staying here we think booking a nice guesthouse on AirBnb would be a great option.
What to do
Here is the fun part. As mentioned before, visiting Portland in Jamaica offers a variety of authentic experiences you won’t find anywhere on the island. Here are our top things to do:
1. Explore the Blue Mountains
The Blue Mountains is the longest mountain range in Jamaica spanning four parishes and has the tallest peak on the island as well. The Blue Mountain peak is 2256m (7402ft) and from there you can see both the north and south cost of the island as well as Cuba on a clear day. Which is amazing!
There are short trails for a lovely stroll and long arduous trails for the more physical fit. If you are heading to the peak then a hike right before dawn so you get there at sunrise is the most beautiful. There are also trails that are perfect for biking.
If you visit the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park you can do a host of different activities from bird watching, to educational tours, camping, and nature walks through the flora and fauna. Expect to see many indigenous plants and animals not found anywhere else in the world.
Visit the Mavis Bank Coffee factory for taste testing some of the best coffee in the world and seeing the process of how it is made from the plants all the way into your cup.
Lastly one of our favorite things to do in the Blue Mountains is to visit the rural towns of the Maroons who have their own food, culture and language independent of the rest of the island. Places include Charles Town, Maroon Town and Scott’s Hall.
2. Swim in the Blue Lagoon
We should mention, only swim in the Blue Lagoon if you are areally good swimmer. This lagoon was said to be bottomless by locals but has been discovered to be 180-200 feet deep. It is excellent if you love diving. It is a mix of cold water from the springs and warm water coming in from the ocean. It feels like a really surreal and mystical place. Which makes sense as locals also used to believe that a dragon resided here.
The shade of the color of the lagoon changes throughout the day based on the position of the sun, from light turquoise to deep sapphire.
When you are there also be sure to take a boat ride over to Monkey Island which costs separately from the initial entry fee of USD$30.
It was once called the Blue Hole like another popular destination here in Jamaica, however, when the movie ‘Blue Lagoon’ was filmed their, they changed the name because of its popularity.
3. Raft Down the Rio Grande
Rafting was first introduced in Jamaica as a means to carry produce from one location to the other. Rafts were made from bamboo and this tradition remains today. Rio Grande is one of the longest rivers in Jamaica and a raft down this river will take you about 2-3 hours but is extremely relaxing. Be sure to take water proof protective gear for your electronics. Also bring a change of clothes so you can take a dive while going down the river.
What to eat
Enjoying delicious cuisine is just as important as having fun when it comes to a good trip or vacation. Here is a list of our 3 favorite spots to eat in Portland:
1. Bush Bar
This restaurant is located at the Geejam Hotel and overlooks the jungle. It is a bit more pricey than the rest on the list but is very worth it. It offer’s Jamaican-Asian fusion cuisines and a relaxing environment. Also be sure to try their delicious cocktails.
2. Woody’s Low Bridge Place
This place has been home to some of the best tasting burgers in Jamaica since 1986. They serve a variety of delicious burgers from cheeseburgers, to veggie burgers and the Jamaican-styled plantain burger. All very low priced and is an amazing option for bag-packers.
If you are rafting on the Rio Grande, then do so hungry. The raft trip is the only way to get to this spot but it is worth the trip. On the bank of the river Belinda cooks with wood, rocks
and dented pots she makes. Her cuisine is as authentic Jamaican as you can get. With chicken, fish, cray fish, dumplings, rice and peas, roast breadfruit and many of the items listed on our 14 Must Have Jamaica Cuisines.
To sum things up, you can’t get much more of an authentic Jamaican experience anywhere else than in Portland. It sure takes the cake. It’s a place where you come for a spiritual awakening and to explore nature. Definitely not your casual vacation full of parties, nightlife, resort food and swimming pools.
Have you ever been to Portland or plan to? Let us know in the comments below.