Port Antonio : unspoiled charm and Hollywood glamour

Port Antonio has escaped the more obvious tourist trappings of the bigger resorts and still has the unspoiled charm which brought Hollywood stars and European aristocracy here in the 50s.

Originally settled by the Spaniards, Port Antonio is the capital of the parish of Portland. The town gets its name from an early Spanish governor who named the twin harbours Puerto de Anton and Puerto de Francisco after his sons. Today the harbours are simply East Harbour and West Harbour.  Sugar dominated Portland’s economy as in the rest of the island, with large estates scattered across the parish. When the sugar industry collapsed in the 19th century the fertile soil was ideally suited to bananas, and replaced sugar .The American responsible for the banana trade Lorenzo Dow Baker, also was the first to bring tourists to the area in his banana boats.

By the 1940s and 50s, Jamaica and Port Antonio had been discovered by the rich and famous of Hollywood and become a vacation spot for the stars, most notably, swashbuckling hero Errol Flynn.

During the 1960s Port Antonio was a jet-set Mecca helped by the building of  reputedly then of  the world’s most expensive hotel  overlooking Frenchman’s Cove.

Port Antonio is the place to go if you are looking for a quieter type of holiday away from the more touristy centres and it is a good base for exploring the country side around it.

One of the most scenic spots in Jamaica, the Blue Lagoon is said to be deeper than 200 feet, a claim made by no less a personage than Jacques Cousteau who dived there and never found the bottom. Lying off Port Antonio you need to be ferried out there by boat.

Jamaica is famous for its   spectacular waterfalls and around Port Antonia there are two well worth visiting.

The Reich Falls are tucked away from the usual tourist routes. A series of cascades tumble over limestone tiers from one hollowed, pool to another. There are also underwater caves but these are best explored with a guide as there are strong currents in the pools.

Further upriver a half mile hike leads to Mandingo Cave, and its whirlpool pool.

Somerset Falls are more accessible .They are situated on a former indigo and spice plantation on the main coastal road nine miles to the west of Port Antonio.

A ride on the wild side
Bamboo rafting on the Rio Grande sounds exotic but was originally a way of transporting bananas down river. The actor Errol Flynn made it into a sport by challenging friends to races. Though the casual tourist is denied that particular bit of fun you can hire a guide to punt you down.

Southeast of Port Antonio
The Nonsuch Caves in the Gardens of Athenry are reputed to be about 1.5 million years old and are made up of nine chambered caves rich in fossils stalactites and stalagmites.

The beaches around Port Antonio all have something special about them. Frenchman’s Cove lies 7 km from Port Antonio centre within the famous 45 acre resort of the same name. The beach  is not huge, but that is part of its charm .It’s a small cove surrounded by forest with a stream flowing down into a white sand beach .

It is open to the public daily and there is a charge for entry.

San San Beach on the other hand   is narrow but much longer. An attraction here is swimming to the small Pelew Island.

Long Bay with its dramatic views and surf   makes a great walk but is not so good for swimming as there is a strong undertow

Winnifrid Beach is better for swimming while a   mile beyond Winnifrid is Boston Bay another public beach popular for its jerk stalls. The beach is reputed to be the home of jerk pork as the Maroons used to catch boar and smoke it over fires at the beach.

Port Antonio is also a destination for yachting types. The Errol Flynn Marina at Port Antonio has a mega yacht facility in West Harbour which includes restaurants and gift shops.

Port Antonio is a favourite base for anglers to catch marlin and there is a marlin angling competition held there each October.

Port Antonio has a variety of distinctive accommodation.

The Hotel Mocking Bird Hill is a romantic 10-room, eco-chic hideaway in 6½ acres of tropical gardens and trees on a hillside outside Port Antonio.

It offers boutique accommodation at a moderate price.

Great Huts also prides itself on its eco credentials. This Resort on the seafront has African style huts and tree houses within a jungle landscape perched upon cliffs overlooking Boston Bay

The Goblin Hills Villas resort complex overlooks the San San Beach. Each villa comes with its own cook and housekeeper.

Frenchman’s Cove Resort is a 45-acre private estate with secluded seaside villas scattered among the cliffs, in a park like setting above Frenchman’s Cove Beach

For the more budget conscious there is a choice of hotels and villas such as Ocean Crest Guest House, Ivanhoe’s, and Cache’s Villa.

Mille Fleurs Mockingbird Hotel has a good reputation with a varied menu.

Normas at the Marina also offers higher end cuisine.

And prides itself on having the best of modern and creative Jamaican cuisine.

San San Tropez in the San San bay area is an Italian owned restaurant which does pasta and seafood dishes with a Jamaican Italian fusion.

There is not a great deal of exciting shopping to be had in Port Antonio.

There is the Musgrove market and a shopping centre which sells jewellery cds and various bits and piece .Souvenirs can be bought at some of the hotel gift shops such as the Gallery Carriacou, in the grounds of Hotel Mocking Bird Hill. The Errol Flynn Marina also has a number of boutiques and gift shops though the stock can be limited.

Quick Facts
* Port Antonio is 60 miles (100 km) from Kingston.

* It has a population of around13, 246.

*  It is the island’s third largest port, famous as a shipping point for bananas and coconuts.

* The Wesleyan preacher James Vowles arrived in Port Antonio as a Christian missionary and died from a fever a few months later.

* In the 1880s, Lorenzo Dow Baker started the banana trade in Jamaica .He brought wealthy American travellers to the town in banana boats.

* He did a roaring trade and at one time, weekly sailing from Port Antonio was greater than weekly sailing from Liverpool.

*  Cocktail with Tom Cruise was filmed in Port Antonio

*  Errol Flynn  arrived in 1946 when his yacht, Zaca was washed ashore in bad weather.