Port Antonio was just another small town on Jamaica’s North-East Coast, until Lorenzo Dow Baker, an American pioneer in the tropical fruit trade and founder of the United Fruit Company, arrived in 1870 to set-up trade in bananas. Suddenly, "Porty" became the destination for well-to-do American travellers, who came in on banana boats in droves from Boston. At one point, Port Antonio had more activity than Liverpool in England.
With the arrival of British celebrities like Errol Flynn and Rudyard Kipling, more and more famous visitors followed, attracted by the wild, unruly forests,
the verdant offshore islands, and cove after secluded cove. Errol Flynn said the town was "more beautiful than any woman he’s ever seen", while American poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox called it "the most exquisite spot on earth." Though the banana boats have stopped coming, Port Antonio still represents old Jamaica, retaining its quaint romantic charm, and is now being restored by the well-to-do to its position as the Jamaican Riviera.
Don’t leave Port Antonio without…
1. Being blue. Fabled as bottomless, a muse for movie directors, and haven for the chilling crowd who just want to enjoy a view and feel some breeze, the Blue Lagoon is one of Port Antonio’s most famous natural wonders. Though closed to the public, you can hire a river rafting guide to give you the seaside tour.
2. Climbing the falls. Cascade after cascade flowing over tiered limestone makes Reach Falls, in the foothills of the John Crow Mountains, one of Jamaica’s most gorgeous waterfalls. www.reachfalls.com
3. Going down under. Just a few hundred yards offshore lies eight miles of interconnected coral reefs and walls, full of sponge and black corals. The water is the ideal temperature at 75°F, and the visibility is up to 60 feet so don’t be afraid to get wet and explore the deep blue wonders. www.ladygdiver.com
4. Going caving. Nine separate chambers create the weaving maze that is the Nonsuch Caves. Dating back millions of years, to the time of Jamaica’s formation, the caves are filled with stalactites and stalagmites, speleothems, Arawak drawings and fossils of fish and various sea creatures, remnants of the caves’ underwater history. 876-993-3740
5. Experiencing local life. If you want to catch a true glimpse of everyday life in Port Antonio, visit the Musgrave Market, where you can stock up on fresh fruit, veggies, fish, meat, souvenirs, even clothes. Smack in the centre of town, Saturday is when the market is a hive of activity.
6. Going down the river. Perhaps nothing is as iconic in Port Antonio as rafting on the Rio Grande. Started as a way to transport bananas downriver to the ports, and perfected by playboy Errol Flynn as the seal-the-deal date manoeuvre, the smooth trip down this long and twisting river provides a great close-up to Port Antonio’s lush forest. www.explorejamaica.com.jm
7. Passing by the marina. While a marina may be the last place you may want to be after getting off a boat, the newly redesigned and renamed Errol Flynn Marina isn’t like most. Gazebos dot the wooden promenade, while souvenir shops and boutiques belie its quaint rusticity. There’s even a swimming pool for those who want a freshwater dip. www.errolflynnmarina.com
8. Catching a wave. The Beach Boys may not have sung about surfing in Jamaica, but the sport has been "hanging ten" on the island since the 1960s. Enthusiasts can head to Port Antonio’s Boston Beach to catch some waves, or venture further around the coast to the Makka Surf Beach, stomping ground of the Jamaica Surfing Association and home of the Makka Pro, one of the largest surfing events in the English-speaking Caribbean.