What’s so special about South Coast destinations in Jamaica? Well, it’s the fact that you might have not visited most of them!
Despite being the largest economic driver in Jamaica, the tourism industry for years has flocked to the north coast and stayed there for the most part. Whether you are a tourist or you live in Jamaica, Montego Bay and Ocho Rios are probably all you see when you jump on Google to find your next adventure.
Jamaica’s south coast is drastically different. In more ways than one. The difference is evident in culture, food and geography. Continue reading and you’ll see what we mean. Here is a list of some of our top South Coast Destinations in Jamaica. Stay posted as we will be adding more in the future.
The first stop on our journey is located in the parish of St. Elizabeth. This parish is highly undiscovered by visitors to the island and home to more than one destination on this list. It’s marshlands, mountains, and secluded beaches provide a diversity unique in the entire world and setting for a number of fantastic spots you can visit.
YS Falls first opened in 1992. It’s located on a cattle ranch and racehorse farm called YS Estate and is said to be named after the original landowners John Yates and Richard Scott. Back then, however, it was the 1800’s and the estate was first used for sugar cane and logwood production for export markets. These surreal falls, which are amongst the best in Jamaica, is a part of the YS river system which is the main tributary for Black River, which is the second longest river in Jamaica behind Rio Minho.
What You’ll See
The falls are surrounded by a heavenly garden and consist of 7 waterfalls in total that drops about 36 meters from top to bottom each separated by cool pools which are great for swimming. Some of these pools are a bit rocky and so river shoes aren’t a must but highly advised. Friendly lifeguards and guides are on location to not only show you the best spots to swim but also often lend a helping hand in taking photos. To go into the mainstream itself, being able to swim is a mandatory requirement but the natural pool at the base of the river which is about 4ft deep and is fed by springs. This along with the garden pool are great for children and non-swimmers.
You can walk on the stairway which runs parallel to the stream all the way to the top so you don’t have to climb the falls to get there. Each level of the stairway gives access to the pools on each tier where you will see different features such as rope swings and a canopy ride.
Be aware though, these waters are freezing cold. This is because the underground and above ground springs feed into the stream at many different locations from the breadnut hills above all the way down to the natural pool at the base of the river.
Swimming may be suspended during heavy rainfall due to fast water rushing down from upstream.
- Canopy Ride which glides from the top of the falls to the base
- Canopy Tour
- Stud Farm
- Tractor and jitney ride
- Gift Shop
- Changing rooms and bathrooms
- Eatery- snacks, burgers, hot dogs, fries, fish, Jerk and beverages.
- Rope Swing
As mentioned before we are staying in the Breadbasket parish, St. Elizabeth. Black River in Jamaica is more than just a river. When you hear the name, it could be referring to the river itself or the town which is built around the river.
What’s so special about this river you might ask? Well, it is unlike any other river in Jamaica. Competing with the Goat Island and the Blue Mountains, Black River is one of Jamaica’s most pristine natural habitats and the country’s longest navigable river. It runs 33 miles from its source in the cockpit country to the sea. Its size has allowed it to form areas such as the lower morass that is 125 square miles of mangrove. The vicinity is home to about 300 endangered American crocodiles and 100 species of birds including egrets, ospreys and herons. Flamingos travel here as well to make their nest.
Fish in the river include snapper, jack, snook and African perch which locals call “Jesus Fish”. Locals use this along with crabs and shrimp from the river to compete with sea fishermen. The river got its name because of this swampy environment in which giant red mangrove trees thrive. Years of these plants decomposing and settling on the bed gives the river a black look.
Charles Swaby Black River Safari
For a hands-on experience to explore this beautiful habitat, your best bet is the J. Charles Swaby Black River Safari Tour. If you’re going for professional purposes, as a nature enthusiast or just want to experience something different, this could be the excursion for you. The tour will take you on a boat ride three miles up the river and back and will last about an hour and a half. Knowledgeable guides will tell you lots about the river and its species as you come across them. On a bad day, you will see at least three endangered American crocodiles in the wild. However, you will see lots of turtles and baby crocodiles at the safari nursery. The boats are generally not crowded so you can have a relaxed experience, however, private tours are offered.
The Town and its History
With the rise of exports in Jamaica of sugar cane and logwood in the 17th century, Black River was used as a port. From this, a town started to establish. Black River became the capital of St. Elizabeth by 1773 and remains that today. The town still has Victorian and Georgian era buildings that have been well maintained and continue to be in use. Black River, in fact, is the first town in Jamaica to have electricity, a motor car and a horse racing track.
Our last stop on this trip, for now, is Port Royal. Here at Hummingbird, we love history and culture more than artificial experiences. If you do too then this location will really speak to you. It’s a bit of a journey from St. Elizabeth but totally worth it.
Port Royal is located on a 16km spit ‘The Palisaedoes’ in Kingston, Jamaica. It is the same spit where the Norman Manley International Airport is located so if you are visiting Jamaica and come to this airport, Port Royal is a must see.
Once called the “richest and wickedest city in the world”, Port Royal started off as a fishing camp for Tainos. Tainos were the first known natives in Jamaica. By the 17th century, under British rule, it was basically the capital of Jamaica and headquarters for pirates such as the famous Henry Morgan who brought his treasures here. Other infamous pirates included Blackbeard Teach and Calico Jack.
On June 7, 1692, a massive earthquake struck Jamaica. Being a sand spit, it destroyed most of the town, sinking it into the sea along with 40% of the population and their treasures. Some of which still remain today for archaeological exploration.
The earthquake was followed up by numerous other disasters. A fire in 1703 destroyed much of the rebuilding efforts and this was followed up by three hurricanes of the next 20-year period. It was almost as if Port Royal was being punished for its years of piracy and wickedness. After this, most persons left Port Royal, off the sand spit and into mainland Kingston. A British naval station was built in the latter part of the 18th century, but as less was were fought in this Napoleonic manner, the British moved the station to Canada and today Port Royal is now a quiet fishing village.
Key places to see in Port Royal:
-St. Peter’s Church- The original structure was destroyed by the earthquake in 1692 and again in 1703 after rebuilding efforts. The current building still stands from its last rebuilding between 1725 and 1726. It has been well maintained and renovated since.
-Fort Charles – One of the six forts built prior to 1692, it was the only one that survived the earthquake. When it was just built it was almost completely surrounded by the sea but silting now means it is very much inland.
-Naval Hospital- This building demonstrates the early use of cast iron for construction. It was built by enslaved Africans.
After touring the historic buildings, stop by Gloria’s for affordable but delicious seafood cuisine which is popular amongst the locals. If you are looking to grab a drink and enjoy the nightlife there are a few bars in the community and every Friday night a sound system party is held in the town square.
Staying overnight after your day in Port Royal is easy. Kingston is littered with hotels. A few include the Pegasus Hotel, Knutsford Court Hotel and the Spanish Court Hotel.
Thanks for reading! If you have any south coast adventures, please be sure to mention them in the comments below.
Related: Useful Tips for your Next Trip