Located on Jamaica's northeast coast, low-key Port Antonio is a world away from the party atmospheres of the country's main tourist destinations, Ocho Rios, Montego Bay and Negril. Lacking the urban sprawl of Jamaica's capital, Kingston, and the busy high-rise and all-inclusive resorts of the north coast, Port Antonio offers the authentic Jamaica enveloped in a setting of pristine natural beauty.
Once the banana capital of the world, some say tourism was born in Port Antonio at the turn of the last century when boats shipping the "green gold" brought visitors. Although tourism slowed with a banana blight in the 1920s, the scenic port was rediscovered and in the 40s and 50s became a chic retreat for the world's rich and famous, attracting such Hollywood stars as Bette Davis, Ginger Rogers and the flamboyant Errol Flynn, who became a much-loved local resident. Author Ian Fleming also took up residence here, where he penned his famous James Bond novels. Today the rich and famous still frequent Port Antonio to get away from it all, but the area also attracts another, more eco- and culturally sensitive traveller.
Set amidst the lush backdrop of the famed Blue Mountains, the area teems with rivers and waterfalls, hidden coves and some of the country's best and least crowded beaches. Today many travellers come to Port Antonio to experience the real essence of Jamaican community and explore the rugged beauty of nature untouched by modern development.
Eco-cultural tourism is the buzz word around here. And a trip to Port Antonio would not be complete without a hike or two in the lush Rio Grand Valley and a leisurely meander down the Rio Grand River on a bamboo raft. Refresh in the cool, clear waters of Scatters Waterfalls before exploring Foxes Caves with their impressive stalagmites and stalactites. For one of the most scenic hikes in Jamaica take the Guava Trail through the heartland of the Blue Mountains, where waterfalls abound. Knowledgeable local guides can also take you birdwatching and teach you about local flora and fauna, including the traditional uses of indigenous plants.
Intrepid explorers can hike to remote Nanny Town, the original hideout of the Winward Maroons. Named after an 18th-century freedom fighter who escaped from slavery and became leader of the Maroons (runaway slaves), Nanny Town was one of several rebel towns hidden in the Blue Mountains from which raids were carried out on the plantations below. A military genius, Nanny organized more than 800 free Africans for half a century and helped them to remain free of their British oppressors until they were granted independence in 1739.
Another trail starts at Mooretown, the current home of the Winward Maroons. Recognized as an independent state, the Maroons maintain their own political and social structure. Here visitors can visit Nanny's grave and meet the Colonel, the current leader of the Maroons, before walking along the Bird River to Nanny Falls.
Port Antonio itself is a charming town with graceful old buildings reminiscent of its colonial past, including the Georgian-style Parish Council Building and Courthouse. Built in 1895 the building features ornate metal verandas and a pyramidal roof atop an octagonal cupola. Titchfield Peninsula, where the town's wealthiest residents once lived, is scattered with old wooden houses from its bygone glory days, including the restored Victorian-styled DeMontevin Lodge. Built in the early 1900s it now operates as a National Heritage Site guest house and restaurant. Fort George, built in 1729, now houses the Titchfield High School. Two cannons still sit atop the fort's walls and its barracks house the school's administrative buildings.
More modern, the unique Port Mall, built between 1995 and 97 with a combination of Elizabethan, Renaissance Tudor, art deco and postmodern architectural styles, hosts a number of shops, a cafe and nightclub amid Palladian columns, gothic arches and domed ceilings. From the new marina, home to the cruise ship pier, shops, a restaurant and a bar, you can catch a boat to pretty Navy Island, once owned by Errol Flynn.
The town offers a variety of accommodation from elegant to budget, including hotels, guest houses, villas and cottages. You won't find exciting nightlife or a vast range of restaurants, however, you will find some cafes and a few fine dining establishments.
With its quaint atmosphere, friendly local residents, beautiful natural surroundings, some of the best beaches in Jamaica, and some of the finest deep-sea fishing in the Caribbean, Port Antonio offers a quiet but rewarding vacation experience.