Port Antonio, the capital of Portland located on the north-eastern coast of Jamaica just about 60 miles from Kingston and is well known for its charm and natural beauty. A quiet rural town, lush vegetation and botanical gardens, and not to mention the home to one of the most beautiful twin harbours in the world. Being one of the most peaceful and safest parishes on the island, it is the perfect place to truly escape from the stress of life – the perfect utopia. Port Antonio is more suited towards eco-tourism than towards commercial tourism due to its lush natural landscape and the fact that the town was inaccessible due to bad roads. These roads were recently resurfaced so the town once again is expected to attract much more visitors and commerce.
Port Antonio was a sleepy coastal town up until the 1880s, when Lorenzo Dow Baker started the banana trade in Jamaica, and started promoting Port Antonio as one of the most amazing destinations for wealthy American travelers. The Titchfield Hotel an amazing 5 story Georgian building and one of the first hotels in Jamaica was built. However, it was destroyed by fire as the subsequent hotels built thereafter. Finding romantic spots in Jamaica is easy. Finding a secret hideaway that offers a combination of tranquility, history, natural beauty and seclusion requires a bit more ingenuity.
Considered to be the cradle of Jamaica’s tourism, it was and still is the primary Jamaican destination for vacationing movie stars, famous musicians and artistes, politicians and tycoons. It wasn’t till the airport at Montego Bay was built that Port Antonio became known as “the other side of the Island.” Clara Bow, Rudyard Kipling and Ginger Rogers, were early devotees, drawn by the exotic lure of the island’s banana trade.
Author of “The French Connection,” and “The Green Berets”, Robin Moore chose to build his house at the Blue Lagoon to hide away while he wrote his famous stories.
Port Antonio’s difficult accessibility, requiring travel over mountain roads, had preserved its sleepy charm, yet attracted movie producers to its unspoiled locations where high-budget features such as “Cocktail” and “Club Paradise” were shot.
“Day and Knight” starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz was shot in February 2011. Early in the century the town’s reputation among Hollywood insiders soon attracted the likes of Errol Flynn, (who bought a nearby island Navy Island), J. P. Morgan and William Randolph Hearst, who sailed up in their yachts to enjoy Port Antonio’s simple, yet exotic tropical pleasures.
Errol Flynn was so in love with the area he claimed he never met a woman as beautiful as Port Antonio. He acquired a 2000 acre property in Boston Bay area 10 miles from Port Antonio but spent much of his later life on his Navy Island a 60 acre island a few chain from the mainland . The Errol Flynn Marina a newly built marina attracts visitors worldwide and is practically a museum of his possessions including artifacts from his film acting career. Patrice Wymore Flynn his wife owns a boutique in the Jamaica Palace Hotel and still operates a working cattle farm on the estate.
More recently, stars who arrived to enjoy the beauty of the area include Tom Cruise & Cameron Diaz (Knight and Day – Film), Kate Moss, Robin Williams, Glen Close, Kevin Kline and John Cleese, Amy Winehouse, Drake & Rihanna.
Even though the emphasis is on tranquility, there are still plenty of exciting local attractions. Deep-sea fishing, particularly for marlin, is renowned, and there is a Blue Marlin Tournament in October. Tuna, kingfish and Wahoo are also plentiful and fresh- cooked catch can be washed down with the local Jamaican Red Stripe beer.
Those seeking land-based ecotourism destinations will feel right at home in Port Antonio. An organization known as Valley Hikes is dedicated to conducting tours while preserving the area’s natural beauty. It offers expeditions to hidden waterfalls and the many caves of the region. A special attraction open to tourists, is the Blue Lagoon, where you can enjoy a glass-bottom boat ride and sample local “finger-food” known as jerk-chicken and jerk-pork. This delicacy was originated by the Arawak Indians, Jamaica’s earliest inhabitants. Jerk pork was later perfected by runaway slaves know as the Maroons who hid out in the mountains and depended on it as their primary source of food during years of Guerrilla warfare against the English.
Those looking for a lively change of pace will find a river-rafting excursion on Jamaica’s own Rio Grande, where bananas were once rafted to the sea, an exciting change. It’s a gentle eight mile descent beginning at Berrydale and culminating at the appropriately named Rafter’s Rest. This is a swift green waterway that is navigated by a craftsman poling a 30 foot, two-person, bamboo raft down the twisting river. Stopping to picnic anywhere along the route will attract sellers of the ubiquitous “Red Stripe” beer to add to your enjoyment of the trip.
The town’s most famous historical landmark is the Tiffany Mansion ruins known as “Folly.” It was a Roman- style villa constructed on the eastern edge of East Harbor almost entirely of concrete by the Connecticut millionaire. Due to a thoughtless mistake, the concrete was mixed with seawater and the edifice began to crumble as soon as the concrete had dried. The locals will tell you that as soon as the bride for whom the castle was built saw the disaster she fled the area, never to return. Today little remains but the expensive marble floor.
Port Antonio is about two hour’s drive from Kingston or 5 hours from Montego Bay. It can be reached by air on small chartered flights or helicopter
The restored downtown area of Port Antonio, once frequented by the most romantic stars of the silver screen, allows the visitor to almost feel their presence today. If romance, tranquility and natural beauty are in your plans, Port Antonio, the little place on “the other side of the island,” could be your ultimate destination.