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Hiking Jamaica’s Blue Mountain

Jamaica’s Blue Mountain range, which spreads northeast across the island from the parish of St. Andrew to St. Thomas, Portland and St. Mary, is better known for the world-class coffee it produces than its hiking trails. However, there are 12 trails of varying lengths and levels of difficulty though not all of them go to the top.

I’m not a hiker and prior to a few days ago, the only way I’d been up a mountain was by car. But the memory of a spectacular Blue Mountain sunrise that I’d seen a few years ago on an episode of Globe Trekker, and the thought of viewing the island from its highest point (7,402 feet), had me seek out a guide to help me make the climb.

The trail we decided on would take us a distance of 6 miles, rising from approximately 4,000 feet (the area around Penlyne Castle/Whitfield Hall) to 7,402 feet, and is estimated to take 4 hours up, 3 down. We planned a 2:00 a.m. departure so that we would get to the peak by sunrise.

Blue Mountain trail

Hiking the Blue Mountain

Except for lights in the direction of Kingston, the trail is pitch black at that time so we equipped ourselves with flashlights; and to provide fuel for the hike, energy bars and water. Since the temperature on the mountain can be up to 40 degrees Fahrenheit lower than in Kingston, from where I left, I dressed warmly in sweat pants, a long sleeved running shirt made of material that wicks away moisture, two t-shirts, woolen socks and hiking shoes.

I began to feel the effects of the mountain air as soon as we set out. My breathing felt shallow and for a second, I wondered if that would derail me before I even began. It did slow me at first, but thankfully, I adjusted.

Hiking Jamaica's Blue Mountain

Canopy over the trail

For the first 20 minutes or so, the trail seemed pretty easy. Then we reached Jacob’s Ladder, a series of switchbacks that take you up the one of the series of mountains that make up the range. I’m not sure how long it took as I stopped often to catch my breath or take a sip of water. This was the most challenging part of the hike.

After clearing Jacob’s Ladder, we arrived at Portland Gap, a part of the trail which lies between Mossman’s Peak (6,653 ft/2,028 m) and the Blue Mountain Peak (7,402 ft/2,246 m). Looking at it from the ground the day after, it appears almost flat.  A ranger’s station, considered the halfway point of the climb, is also located in a lush clearing in the Gap.

Facilities for camping are also located there, however, my guide said they aren’t well maintained. Here is also where hikers are supposed to check in and pay a user fee (about US$1) but there was no one there to collect it at that hour. We refilled our water bottles and got back on the trail. For anyone considering this particular trail, this is the only place to get water.

As we were leaving, I noticed that the skies were no longer dark. When I asked, Ipal said we had another 3 1/2 miles to the peak! At the rate we were going, I knew we wouldn’t make it before the sun rose even if we hurried but I decided to keep going.

Sunrise caught us just as we arrived at the second lookout point, about two hour’s walk from the peak. I was very disappointed. I hate to give up but my goal was to see the sun rise on the Blue Mountain. That I had done. I promised myself to return another time, stronger and fitter, so I could reach the top in time to greet the sun.

Hiking Jamaica's Blue Mountain

Blue Mountain sunrise

View of Jamaica's Blue Mountain in the morning sunrise

Sunrise on the mountain

As the sun illuminated the trail before us on the return, I was surprised by what I had missed in the dark. Ferns of all varieties were everywhere. Trees towered above us, sometimes forming a canopy that almost blocked out the light. Moss covered rocks along the trail and hung from branches and trees, giving them an ethereal feel. Everywhere was lush and green, a wall of mountains on one side.

The Blue Mountain range is home to about 200 species of birds and the swallowtail butterfly, the second largest in the world. I didn’t get to see him but I heard and saw the hummingbird and some of the 500 species of flowering plants, half of which are endemic to Jamaica.

Hiking Jamaica's Blue Mountain

Slowly rising sun

What to Wear

Comfortable clothes – sweatshirts, pants, woolen socks, waterproof shoes. A good part of the trail is wet — the Blue Mountain range gets between 2-300 inches or rain annually — parts are rocky, and in some places, it is wide enough for just one person.

Carry a small backpack with water and snacks – energy bars and potassium-rich foods like bananas, chocolate, dried fruits and water.

A flashlight is a must, whether you’re going for a sunrise or sunset hike.

If you need one, take a walking stick. I found one useful especially on the return.

Where to Stay: There are several guest houses and hostels in the Penlyne Castle/Whitfield Hall area. I stayed at Jah B’s place (876) 377-5206. There’s also Whitfield Hall and Wildflower Lodge within walking distance.

Best time to go: Between December and April, the dry season.

This is my submission to this week’s Budget Travelers Sandbox Travel Photo Thursday series. Be sure to check out other photo and story entries on their website.

Comments

  1. The view is still fantastic even without the sunrise. Your adventure and trek is quite admirable. I don’t know if I can do that hike or do the 2AM departure. Wishing you a beautiful sunrise on your next hike =)
    Mary recently posted..Spring at the Los Angeles ArboretumMy Profile

  2. Easy Hiker
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    Sounds like a great hike, but I would prefer doing it during the day to enjoy the scenery. I’ll have the sunrise some other time.
    Easy Hiker recently posted..Hiking A Man Made MountainMy Profile

  3. Thank you for this post, which is now carefully tucked away for future reference when I finally make it to Jamaica. :-)
    Bob R recently posted..30 Minutes in Istanbul’s Spice MarketMy Profile

  4. Interesting how the mountains actually do look blue. Love the top photo, such soft, beautiful colours.
    Sophie recently posted..Travel Photo – Isle of Skye, 1990My Profile

  5. Jackie Smith
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    This is so informative and the photos are great.
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  6. I love hiking but unfortunately don’t have enough time to practice it as I’d love! This summer I’m plannig to go hiki8ng somewhere and you’ve just given me a great idea!! thanks!!
    Francy R recently posted..Great Hotel Deals in Europe for this MonthMy Profile

  7. Beautiful sunrise – even if it’s not from the top :) I’m not a big fan of hiking even though I think it’s a beautiful way of seeing something while being active. Doing that before sunrise? Kudos to you!
    Sabrina recently posted..Things to do in Rouen France on a Sunday MorningMy Profile

  8. Needless to say this is one outing on Jamaica that would be right up my alley. I hadn’t appreciated that there was that much vertical relief on the island. Sign me up. Those views even from the second lookout are marvelous.
    Leigh recently posted..A Winter Weekend at Lake O’Hara Lodge in Yoho National ParkMy Profile

  9. Nice sunrise shots.
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  10. Cathy Sweeney
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    It’s the 2am departure that I’d have trouble with, but looks like it would be worth it. Even though you didn’t make it quite in time, it looks beautiful. Wasn’t it a little scary hiking up the mountain in complete darkness — with a stranger?
    Cathy Sweeney recently posted..From the Inside Looking OutMy Profile

    • I wasn’t looking forward to the 2 am departure but it was really worth it. The guide was from the place I stayed — a small, family-run operation so I felt safe. Unfortunately both sunrise and sunset hikes involve at least one leg of hiking in the dark.

  11. What a great description! I wouldn’t like that 2 am departure though. . .
    thetravelgal recently posted..Photo Thursday: A Northern Minnesota Summer Day – In MarchMy Profile

  12. That 2am start time would have been sooo tempting to sleep through (for me) but your gorgeous sunrise photo looks absolutely worth it! Great tips…I hope to one day hike in Jamaica :-)
    Andi recently posted..An Inadvertent Holiday in Victoria B.C., CanadaMy Profile

    • It was very hard — I slept with my phone next to my head. I was determined not to miss it.
      Yes, it was worth it. Hope you get to hike here one day soon.

  13. Wow – gorgeous! Thanks for sharing, I doubt I will be getting up that early to hike!!

    I also host a Friday Photo Meme called Friday Daydreamin’ – I would love to have you link up with us too!

    ~Becca
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  14. Andrew Graeme Gould
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    says:

    Great post, Marcia! I was immediately intrigued by it as soon as I saw the title. I already knew of Jamaica’s Blue Mountains, and was able to obtain the coffee (which was very nice) at one time back in Australia, but it’s Australia’s Blue Mountains that I’m more familiar with. They are about and hour and a half inland from Sydney, and get their name from the haze from the oil of eucalyptus trees in the valley. This rises up and really does give the distant hills a blue tinge.

    I can see in your photos here that there’s a blue colour in the air, too. Wikipedia doesn’t mention anything on this — except to list many other blue mountain named ranges in the world, but Wikitravel does note the mist and resulting blue appearance. When I search on the Internet with the words “Jamaica” and “eucalyptus” together, some results come up. I’m wondering, then, if Jamaica’s Blue Moutains are named as such for exactly the same reason as Australia’s.
    Andrew Graeme Gould recently posted..Sydney, Australia: Traffic and strawberriesMy Profile

    • Hi Andrew, Jamaica’s Blue Mountains range does get its name from the blue tinge that the mountain appears to be covered in. It also does have eucalyptus trees, some impressively tall ones at that, but I’d never heard or knew that they could be the cause of the blue tinge. Very interesting.

      I’ve been doing some more reading and research on the mountain as I plan to go back. There’s so much we learned when I went to school, not just about the Blue Mountains, but about our history and geography that needs review. I know so much more now.

      Thanks for sharing information on your Blue Mountains, Andrew.

  15. Looks a wonderful trek. The surroundings are ethereal indeed and the sun rise on the mountains is one of the best things to catch.
    Awesome pics.
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  16. Wow! A 2am departure is KEEN. I think I’d hire a helicopter.

    There’s no way I’d walk in the Aussie bush through the night. You must have had a good guide.
    Narelle recently posted..some reflections on belonging & connectionMy Profile

    • A helicopter, now that’s an idea! My guide was born in the mountains, said he’s been hiking them since he was eleven. He looks about mid-twenties now. It’s normally a 4 hour hike, he said he’s done it in 2 1/2 hours.

  17. WoW! I would say it was worth the hike… Plus you got some good exercise out of it girl… I must come visit sometime. :-)
    ElizOF recently posted..Inspiration: When Love Beckons…My Profile

  18. Wow what a places to hike,I really love to hike on high mountains,Can I find some group or company who can arrange hike?
    bruno recently posted..Sydney HotelsMy Profile

  19. Really beautiful photos. I’ve done a little exploring in the Blue Mountains but I must go back as there is most certainly a whole lot more to discover!

  20. YES! The Blue Mountains are spectacular! If you\’re looking for a great place to stay check out PRINCE VALLEY GUEST HOUSE in the Blue Mountains of St. Andrew. Located on the edge of a coffee farm surrounded by the amazing Blue Mountains. Close to all hiking and they can set you up with a guide. Check them out on Facebook or on the web.

    • Thanks for this information on Price Valley Guest House. I’ll definitely keep it in mind for my next hike up the mountain.
      Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment. Any topic you’d like to see covered here?