High On The Mountain Side

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The land of wood and water known as Jamaica is a hilly landscape with peaks rising as high as 7,402 feet above sea level. The highest peak rises from the Blue Mountains, home of world famous Blue Mountain Coffee and sets the backdrop for the city of Kingston, Jamaica’s capital.

Life on the mountainside here is a mixture of farming, tourism, adventure and history. The Jamaica Defence Force operates a training camp in the mountainside in a little community called Newcastle. The parade grounds, the cemetery, the lodgings and artifacts on display here tell much of the history of the regiments which served Jamaica long before the nation gained independence from British ruling.

Further up the mountainside, the Hollywell Recreation Park offers cabins for campers, expansive views of the city below, a river and trails to be hiked and explored. There’s a jungle gym and other kiddie play areas as well as pagodas and fire pits for grilling or just staying warm. Rain and fog are common here so be prepared for cold and possible wetness but you will be treated with fresh Jamaican raspberries that grow wild at this altitude and of course a coffee bean or two.

Further up yet if you’re brave enough to pass a little community called Hall’s Delight, you may come across Cinchona Gardens. You’ll need a four-wheel drive vehicle and be prepared even so to make some of the journey on foot as these botanical gardens are deep in the mountainside and the roads leading to them are now mere rocky mud trails. If you do get to the gardens the views will be spectacular. Here, you can look down into Strawberry Hill, a coffee farm or two and all the way out to the city lights below while enjoying the lush vegetation and beautiful flowers surrounding you.

Speaking of Strawberry Hill, this boutique hotel is but one of a few hotels that dot the mountainside offering a range of cozy to luxurious ecotourism style bed and breakfasts. The Mount Edge Guest House operates its own sustainable farm and curates other organic food from the area providing a farm-to-table experience in their cafe named Europe In The Summer. The Rafjam Bed and Breakfast is nestled in between two rivers in the Red Light District community in the mountains.

The Mavis Bank Coffee Factory will allow you to tour their grounds, picking fresh coffee cherry berries and learning how coffee is grown and processed here in Jamaica. There’s a museum of artifacts to see as this factory dates back to the early 1900s and you’ll be rewarded of course with a fresh cup of our famous Blue Mountain Coffee.

Bike tours, zip-lining and guided hiking tours are all offered by various tour operators in the mountains. Stay overnight at your chosen boutique hotel or cabin and get an early start on your hike to the peak. Sunrise from Jamaica’s highest while breathing in fresh, crisp mountain air is an experience you’ll cherish.

If you’re a bird lover then trek through the Blue and John Crow Mountains National park with hopes of spotting the world’s second largest butterfly, the Giant Swallowtail Butterfly which flies freely about the park along with over 200 other species of resident and migrant birds in what is said to be the largest migratory bird habitat in the Caribbean. Of these birds, 25 are endemic to the island and over 800 species of plants that can be found nowhere else in the world can also be spotted in the park.

Whether you’re a thrill-seeking, adrenaline junkie or just a nature lover wanting to add a uniquely refreshing experience to your time in this tropical paradise, a visit to the hilly interior of the island is a must-do on your activity list. It’s a path less traveled that holds its charm and warmth that Jamaica is well loved for.

 
- by Monique Solomon