Among older buildings of note in the Down Town area are Gordon House (on Duke Street), which dates from the mid-18th century and houses the Jamaican legislature. Visitors are allowed into the Strangers’ Gallery but must be suitably dressed (jackets for men and dresses for women). There is also the early 18th century parish church south of Parade, where Admiral Benbow is buried.
Parade (Sir William Grant Park) is at the heart of the city centre; it is an open oasis amid the densely-packed surroundings. The name derives from the British soldiers’ parades here during colonial rule. Now it is at the junction of the main east-west route through the Down Town area (Windward Road/East Queen Street-West Queen Street/Spanish Town Road) and King Street/Orange Street which runs north to Cross Roads. At Cross Roads, the main route forks, left to Half Way Tree (recently renamed Nelson Mandela Park), straight on up Old Hope Road to Liguanea. These two roads encompass New Kingston.
The Parish Church at St Andrew at Half Way Tree dates from 1700. Half Way Tree, so called because it was a half-way stage on the road between the harbour and the hills, is a busy traffic junction which takes some negotiating in a car. Hope Road, on the north edge of New Kingston, runs east from Half Way Tree. Just off it are Devon House, a former ‘great house’, built by Jamaica’s first millionaire in the 1880s, at the corner of Trafalgar and Hope Roads, now renovated, complete with antique furniture, with craft shops and refreshment stalls. Small admission fee to look inside the main house, US$3 for a guided tour, but the shops and restaurants in the grounds are open to all and well worth a visit. Tue-Sat, 1000-1700. The African Museum, with exhibits on Jamaica’s African heritage, is part of the Devon House complex. Not far away is King’s House, the official residence of the Governor-General and, nearby, Jamaica House, the Prime Minister’s residence.
About 10 blocks east of Devon House, off Hope Road, is the Bob Marley Museum. The house where Marley used to live traces back to his childhood and family, with paintings, newspaper cuttings, posters and other memorabilia. He died tragically of brain cancer in 1981 at the age of 36, having survived a controversial assassination attempt (the bullet-holes in the walls have been left as a reminder). There is an Ethiopian restaurant in the garden serving some of his favourite vegetarian dishes and a gift shop selling Jamaican and African artifacts. Marijuana plants grow profusely throughout the grounds and ganja is smoked openly in and around the restaurant and bar by staff. Photography is totally banned within the museum and grounds. 0900-1700, Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri, 1230-1730, Wed, Sat. US$10 including obligatory guided tour, which takes 1 hr, including 20-min audio visual presentation. T9782991, 56 Hope Rd.
Further east, along Old Hope Road, are the Hope Botanical Gardens. The land was first acquired by Major Richard Hope in 1671 and 200 years later the Governor of Jamaica, Sir John Peter Grant, bought 200 acres and created a botanical gardens. In 1961 a zoo was opened alongside the gardens (J$10, 1000-1700 daily). After extensive damage in 1988 by Hurricane Gilbert, plans have been made to transform the small, traditional zoo into a showcase for the different natural habitats of Jamaica and its indigenous animals. Free. 0830-1830.
The scenery of the surrounding area is an added attraction. Most spectacular are the beauty spots of Fern Gully, a marvel of unspoilt tropical vegetation, Roaring River Falls, which has been partially exploited for hydroelectric power, and Dunn’s River Falls, tumbling into the Caribbean with invigorating salt and freshwater bathing at its foot. 0900-1700 daily. US$6, locker US$1, bath shoes US$5 (rental) but not necessary if you move with care. Getting there: get there early before the coach parties arrive. Five-minute bus ride, US$0.20, from Ocho Rios, or 1-hr drive from Montego Bay (beware of pseudo guides who hang around and take you somewhere totally different, then try to sell you marijuana). The minibus from Kingston to Ocho Rios costs US$2 and follows a spectacular route, up the gorge of the Rio Cobre, then across Mount Diablo. Faith’s Pen, right on the top, is an enormous collection of huts selling food and drink, great for a stop but you may not get on another bus as they normally pass full. Near Moneague is Café Aubergine, T9730527, an upmarket and tasteful restaurant in an 18th-century house, about US$25 per person. The last section of road whizzes round a series of blind corners as you go through Fern Gully. Driving time is one hour 50 minutes once the bus has started. Alternatively, take a minibus from the Texaco petrol station on Da Costa Drive, Ocho Rios, for US$0.30 to Fern Gully. Lots of minibuses for return journey.
Historical attractions in the area include Sevilla Nueva, some nine miles to the west, which was where the Spanish first settled in 1509. The ruins of the fort still remain. The site is being investigated by the University of California at Los Angeles and the Spanish Government. Offshore, marine archaeologists, from the Institute of Nautical Archaeology at Texas A & M University, are investigating the St Ann’s Bay area for sunken ships. Salvaged timbers are believed to have come from two disabled caravels, the Capitana and the Santiago de Palos, abandoned at Sevilla Nueva probably in 1503 during Columbus’ last visit to Jamaica.
There are numerous plantation tours available to tourists all along the north coast. Details are widely publicized. Probably the most attractive, informative and certainly most accessible, is the Prospect Plantation Tour, a short distance to the east of Ocho Rios nearly opposite the Sans Souci Lido. 1030, 1400, and 1530 daily. US$12. T9742058. Another, just southwest of St Ann’s Bay, is Circle B, owned by former senator, Bob Miller. Very good tour of working plantation, recommended. Welcome drink and sample fruits of Jamaica, lunch can be included, T9722988. Harmony Hall art gallery just east of Ocho Rios is worth a visit. There are frequent exhibitions of paintings and sculpture in a classic gingerbread house, as well as crafts, clothes and other gifts to buy. T9754222, www.harmonyhall.com, open 1000-1800. There is also an Italian restaurant, Toscanini’s, open 1000-2200, closed Mon evenings, T9754785. Wassi Art pottery workshop (Great Pond, T9745044) is delightful; there is a good selection in the salesroom and you can visit each artist. Ask your taxi driver to wait as it is several miles away.
West of Ocho Rios is Mammee beach, which is beautiful and less crowded than Ocho Rios, though there is no shade there.
Beautifully sited, near Ocho Rios, is the Sandals Golf and Country Club (formerly Upton); golf links, tennis, riding and swimming, facilities all included for guests of Sandals Ocho Rios Resort & Golf Club and Sandals Dunn’s River Resort & Golf Club. The Lion’s Den is a friendly club frequented by Rastafarians; rooms available, good food, clean. West of Ocho Rios is Mammee beach, which is beautiful and less crowded than Ocho Rios, though there is no shade there. There is much fashionable nightlife in and around Ocho Rios.
Out of town, to the east, are the great houses of Rose Hall and Greenwood. The latter was built by the forefathers of the poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in 1780-1800. It has a colourful avenue of bougainvillea and mimosa and a panoramic view over the coast from the verandah. 0900-1800 daily, US$10. Rose Hall was started 10 years earlier, in 1770, by John Palmer. A lively legend of witchcraft surrounds the wife of one of his descendants, Anne Palmer. US$15 adults. 0900-1800 daily, Rose Hall Beach Club US$55 includes lunch, drinks, entertainment, watersports, 1000-1730 daily.
Inland, seven miles from Montego Bay off the Maroon Town road (turn off east half a mile before the village of Johns Hall), is the recommended C-F Orange River Lodge, an old Great House overlooking the Orange River Valley, which has guest rooms, hostel accommodation in bunk beds, and camping, bring own tent, beautiful location, excellent food, friendly staff, excursions arranged, also shuttle service to Montego Bay. Good walking in the area, you can swim in the river or go canoeing and birdwatching is good, T9792688 at Lodge or PO Box 822, 34 Fort Street, Montego Bay, T9527208, F9526241. Southeast of Montego Bay is the Arawak rock carving at Kempshot, while to the southwest is the bird sanctuary at Anchovy: Rocklands Feeding Station, don’t miss this, the doctor bird humming birds will even perch on your finger, knowledgeable guides. US$8.50, 1400-1700 daily, but members of birdwatching societies will be admitted any time. Children under five are not admitted. The road to Anchovy is too rough for ordinary cars. Three miles to the west of Anchovy is Lethe, the starting point for rafting down the Great River. Ten miles from Montego Bay on the Savanna-La-Mar road is the Montpelier Great House, on the site of the old Montpelier sugar factory which was destroyed during the 1831 rebellion, call Pat Ottey, T9524299, for bed and breakfast, E-F, children welcome. South of Anchovy, about 25 miles from Montego Bay, is Seaford Town, which was settled by Germans in the 1830s. Only about 200 of their descendants survive. Write to Francis Friesen, Lamb’s River Post Office.
Lucea is a charming spot on the north coast where the Tamarind Lodge serves excellent Jamaican food. Visit the Rusea School, endowed by a refugee Frenchman in the 18th century, in a lovely location but badly damaged by Hurricane Gilbert. Between here and Montego Bay (bus, US$0.88) is Tryall, with one of the best (and certainly the most expensive) golf courses on the island (see above, Sport). LL Tryall Golf Tennis and Beach Club, T9565600/5, F9565673, expensive, deluxe villas, one to two bedrooms. Continuing around the island’s west end, the road passes through Green Island before reaching Negril (29 miles from Lucea). There are several pretty fishing villages between Lucea and Green Island, such as Cousins Cove, with small guest houses and seaside cottages for rent.
Although some way inland, Mandeville is a good place from which to start exploring both the surrounding area and the south coast. In fact, by car you can get to most of Jamaica’s resorts, except those east of Ocho Rios or Kingston, in two hours or less. Birdwatchers and those interested in seeing a beautiful ‘great house’ in a cattle property should contact Robert Sutton at Marshall’s Pen.
Robert is the island’s top ornithologist (23 of Jamaica’s endemic bird species have been observed here). T9622260, US$10 for Great House tour by appointment only. The Astra Hotel can arrange a visit. Also around the town you can visit the High Mountain Coffee. Free. Mon-Fri. Also Pioneer Chocolate Factories, a factory making bammy (a delicacy from cassava root), the Alcan works, and local gardens.
There are interesting excursions north to Christiana (at about 2,800 ft, B Hotel Villa Bella, PO Box 473, Christiana, T9642243, F9642765, 18 rooms and suites, restaurant, in six acres with orchard of ortaniques and bananas, nature walks, riding, special interest groups catered for), southwest to the Santa Cruz mountains, and south to Alligator Pond on the coast. Eat on the beach at Blackie’s Little Ochie , fish restaurant, everything freshly caught, six ways of cooking lobster, US$10. East of Alligator Pond is Gut River, where you can sometimes see alligators and manatees; cottages can be rented near the very picturesque river flowing into the sea (contact through Astra Hotel). Boat and fishing trips can be made to Pigeon Island, with a day on the island for swimming and snorkelling.
From Mandeville it is about 55 miles east to Kingston on the A2, bypassing May Pen, through Old Harbour then on to Spanish Town and Kingston. Before the May Pen bypass, a road branches south to Milk River Bath, the world’s most radioactive spa. The baths are somewhat run down, but the medical properties of the water are among the best anywhere. 0700-2100, daily, US$1.40, 15 mins. About three miles from the baths is a marine conservation area, Alligator Hole, where manatees (sea cows) can sometimes be seen. Local boatmen will do their best to oblige.