A Charming Jamaican Destination
When your idol Sharmadean Reid names this as one of her favourite places on the island, then you know that it needs to go on the list. Basically Port Antonio is where the creatives like to head to. You won’t find a strip with lots of chain resorts but charming Georgian buildings, lush tropical foliage and a bustling town centre. I remember being mesmerised by the journey from Kingston. We travelled along cliffside roads that defied logic, spotted the occasional rain shower and it was fascinating to see the landscape transform completely.
So here’s a quick history lesson. The dense forests, rainfall and maroons (escaped and freed slaves) discouraged the British from settling here for a while and even today there’s waterfalls and areas that haven’t been completely commercialised. Its mysterious nature helped it become a winter getaway for America’s rich and famous and there’s lots of independent hotels that still claim to help you get away from it all.
As soon as I mentioned to my Nan that I was coming here, she mentioned all the rain, so be prepared for the weather thwarting your plans at the last minute. Most of the time it’ll rain early in the morning and clear a few hours later, but we did have one day that was a complete washout. Take the iPhone predictions with a pinch of salt and embrace a bit of spontaneity. We received so many recommendations that we couldn’t do but did end up wandering around the charming village of Drapers instead (and seeking shelter by a rum bar at 2pm).
It was great to see all the shacks and independent businesses close-up and once we’d finally made it to town, loads of people mentioned that they’d spotted us earlier. We felt safe, chatted to some Brits who’d decided to move to the area and witnessed the community spirit when residents attempted to fill potholes in the road.
Even though we didn’t manage to tick off rafting along the Rio Grande, we still spent a great three days here. Here’s a few things I’d recommend doing, seeing and eating.
Meet our eco-friendly boutique hotel in Port Antonio.
Eat Authentic Food
I still can’t get over the lunch we had at Claudia’s for £1.70. Even though our hotel had some of the best food in the area, you can’t beat a meal that seems like something your Nan would make for a big family gathering. Just remember to disregard the menu you see, as there may only be a couple of options.
We had a medium-sized container of stewed pork, rice n’ peas and vegetables, which set us up nicely for the day. The restaurant is located in the small village of Drapers (you can’t miss the handpainted signs outside) and Woody’s nearby is also meant to do a mean burger.
Most weekend meals for me include some sort of jerk chicken, so I was itching to visit Boston Bay Jerk Centre. The history of this style of cooking is fascinating in itself, used by the Tainos (the original inhabitants of Jamaica), the Quechua Indians of Peru and West African hunters. A blend of herbs and spices is rubbed deep into the flesh to preserve the meat and grilled over pimento wood fires.
Boston Bay has a collection of jerk huts, which will all be vying for your attention when you arrive. As we visited at the end of the day, we probably didn’t have the best selection (our pork was a little dry) and I always set myself up for disappointment when things are hyped up so much. It may be better to visit earlier for the freshest food and remember to bear in mind that a taxi from Port Antonio may be around $45 return. Stop by if you’re in the area by all means, but I’d stick to roadside places if the fare is out of your budget.
Pork is served by the pound (£8), chicken by the quarter (£2.87) and fish is priced depending on the size (ours was £8.62). I’d always recommend sharing a combination with a friend, along with sides like steamed sweet potato and festival. Also make sure you try a shot of Wray & Nephew for 86p at the hilltop bar nearby.
We also chatted to Derek who runs a fruit shack opposite the Geejam hotel and will whip you up a veggie omelette (complete with tales of his ex-wives). Once you get into town you’re spoiled for choice and we decided on dinner at Wilkes overlooking the sea. I had my first escovitch snapper of the trip (still not a patch on Hellshire Beach) and a moreish sweet potato salad.
Chill At Frenchman’s Cove
OK so we may have spent more time posing on swings than actually sunbathing, but I definitely realised why Frenchman’s Cove is meant to be one of the area’s best beaches. The walk towards the sand is postcard-worthy in itself (picture a river surrounded by wild mango trees) and everything is well-maintained.
Since we were staying at the Hotel Mockingbird Hill, it meant that transport and entry was included (worth $10 USD). It’s a private beach, so you won’t get hassled and can let your guard down slightly. I can’t vouch for the restaurant (I only ordered a hotdog) but prices for food and drinks were pretty reasonable. Just be prepared to queue for your swing photo.
Admire The Eclectic Trident Hotel
Now for a complete contrast. You may spot the fairytale-like Trident Castle on the drive away from Port Antonio, which seems at odds with all the shacks and Victorian houses in various states. Always expect the unexpected in Jamaica.
The Trident Hotel has been around since the mid-1950s and is definitely a place to consider if you’re a design buff. Instead of your typical rooms, there’s thirteen individual villas each with their own private pools. Even though the decor is minimal, there’s still a bit of personality thanks to the vibrant artwork and eclectic furniture dotted around.
If you’re not able to stay here, then it’s worth stopping by for a drink and to admire the unique features of the piano-inspired bar. The nearby castle was actually built in the 1980s and is now only used for weddings, special events and as a playground for the super-rich (plus you can even land your helicopter there if you fancy).
We were guests of Trident Hotel for lunch
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