An hour and a half's drive east of Ocho Rios lies the rugged coastline of Port Antonio, where mist-shrouded mountains come right down into the sea providing hidden coves and beaches. Orchids and palms grow in profusion and waterfalls drop into fern-edged pools. The town itself, which is nestled between twin harbours, is relatively unspoilt, with no high-rises, although there are some luxury resorts like Jamaica Palace Hotel. Beaches in the area are among the prettiest in Jamaica, especially Fairy Hill, San San, Dragon Bay and Boston Beach.
Port Antonio was described in the past as 'the most exquisite port on earth', 'heaven on earth', and 'the most beautiful woman I have ever seen'. The seaside town has been a favoured destination for the rich and famous for decades, from Hollywood stars to billionaires and royalty, and the seclusion of its beautiful beaches, the azure sea, verdant hillsides and lush flora continue to enchant all comers.
Port Antonio's banana industry boom during the late 1800s and early 1900s brought unprecedented prosperity to the area, but the Golden Age came to an end with the arrival of the Panama disease that almost completely wiped out the banana industry. The town still boasts a number of grand buildings from the days of the banana boom, such as the Musgrave Market and the Georgian Court House. The remains of lavish hotels, like the ruins at Frenchman's Cove, are a reminder of the extravagance and extraordinary wealth of days past.
Today the main allure of Port Antonio is the undeveloped nature of its tourism trade, its unspoilt character, and the protection afforded to the environment and culture which has been fiercely undertaken by the local community to ensure that future generations will still be able to enjoy the natural wonders of this vacation paradise.
Blue Lagoon was renamed in honour of the movie which made it famous, and is one of the most scenic spots in Jamaica. It is fed by underground mineral springs, and is believed by many to be bottomless, although divers have discovered that it is about 185 feet (56m) deep. Surrounded by steep, green hillsides, the Blue Lagoon is a wonderful place to swim if one chooses to ignore the tales of sea monsters deep below the surface that are circulated by locals.
The colour of the water, which is the lagoon's most alluring feature, changes throughout the day depending on light and weather and makes for some stunning photographs. It is also interesting to feel the mixture of the warm water from the Caribbean and the icy cold water from the underground springs.
The lagoon is only a 20-minute drive from Port Antonio, and some choose to hike the distance. Once there, visitors can hire a local boatman to take them to the best swimming spots.
Reach Falls, on the Driver's River, is a strong contender for the title of 'most beautiful place in Jamaica'. A series of cascades tumble into pool after pool of clear, green water, and the main falls thunder into a pool deep enough to dive into. The vegetation on the banks is lush and beautiful and the area remains pristine despite its popularity.
Tour guides are a must, but most guides allow visitors plenty of privacy and time to enjoy the various pools and sights. For adventurous souls, there are some amazing caves to clamber through at the top of the series of falls. For the less adventurous, just walking around and enjoying the astonishing natural scenery will be a fantastic experience. Weekdays are the best time to visit for tourists who want to explore without the crowds.
The Rio Grande has been used since 1911 as a means of transporting goods by bamboo rafts from the Rio Grande Valley to St Margeret's Bay. Today, bamboo rafting trips are a major tourist attraction, offering an experience that showcases the natural beauty that the Portland area has to offer.
Trips last between two and three hours, and the 30-foot (9m) rafts can carry two passengers and are steered by skilled raftsmen who also act as guides. Rafts can be boarded at Berrydale or Grant's Level and end at the mouth of the Rio Grande at St Margaret's Bay.
The guides are extremely knowledgeable and encourage questions and conversation - they may even give lessons in managing the raft. Swimwear is a must for some great swimming opportunities. A very popular addition to this rafting experience is a meal cooked on the riverbank over open fires at Belinda's Restaurant.
Port Antonio has some of Jamaica's most beautiful beaches. One of the region's prettiest beaches is Frenchman's Cove, with its clear waters and white sand. San San Beach is a private strip of sand that has warm and shallow waters, and some offshore reefs that are ideal for snorkelling. In winter the waves make this the perfect spot to windsurf.
The secluded cove at Boston Bay is perhaps more famous for its jerk stands than its public beach, with food stalls lining the road that serve jerk in all its forms. The waves, however, have raised its status as one of the best beaches in Jamaica for windsurfing.
Winnifred Beach is beautiful and still relatively off the beaten track by Jamaican standards. There is excellent snorkelling at Winnifred but it is best to wear some water shoes to avoid the spiky urchins.
The main attractions of Port Antonio are the beautiful beaches formed in the coves and inlets of the region's mountainous and lush terrain. Parts of the coast are picture-perfect, with jungle right down to the water's edge, and waterfalls flowing off cliffs into the ocean. Favourites include San San Beach, Frenchman's Cove, Boston Bay and Winnifred Beach. Some are secluded and unspoilt, while others offer watersports, food stalls and all sorts of facilities. Visitors should be aware that many beaches in Port Antonio charge entrance fees.
Port Antonio's natural assets extend far beyond the lovely coastline: the Blue Lagoon, made famous by the movie of the same name, is a special place to go boating and swimming; excursions to the Reach Falls, arguably one of the most beautiful scenic spots in Jamaica, are very popular; the Somerset Falls, best reached by gondola, have water a remarkable milky turquoise colour; and the Rio Grande River, flowing through the lovely Portland area, is the best place to take a journey on a traditional bamboo raft. The Folly Great House, rumoured to be haunted and slowly being reclaimed by the Jamaican landscape, is a spooky and atmospheric ruin which visitors to Port Antonio enjoy exploring.
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