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5 Reasons to Leave the Beach and Explore St. James Jamaica

Most visitors to Jamaica arrive in Montego Bay, but I doubt many know that it’s the capital of St. James, the island’s fourth largest parish. Located on Jamaica’s northwest coast, St. James shares borders with the parishes of Trelawny (east), St. Elizabeth (south), Westmoreland (southwest), and Hanover (west). It got its name, in 1655, from James II, who was formerly the Duke of York.

Like the rest of Jamaica, the original residents of St. James were Taino Indians. Sadly, they didn’t survive Christopher Columbus’ landing on the island in 1494. Some succumbed to European diseases, others committed suicide instead of accepting subjugation to Spanish authority, while some died fighting against the Spanish. Remnants of their presence have been discovered in settlements along the coast of the parish.

Mobay Beach, St. James

Mobay Beach

Montego Bay is derived from Bahia de Manteca (Lard Bay), the name the Spanish called it because of the large population of wild hogs that they found there and which slaughtered for lard that was exported to Spain.

During sugar’s heyday, several plantations dotted the parish making sugar and rum the main exports.  Many of these plantations and great houses were burnt to the ground in the 1831 Christmas Rebellion, one of the largest slave uprisings in the island’s history. The revolt was lead by Sam Sharpe, who was born on Croydon Plantation. Sharpe was hanged and now one of Jamaica’s National Heroes.

Monument to Sam Sharpe at Croydon Plantation, St. James

Monument to Sam Sharpe at Croydon Plantation

St. James has developed much in the last several years, due in part to its location and its legendary white sand beaches, which began attracting visitors to Montego Bay and the north coast since the 1940s. Commonly referred to as the Second City, and the tourist capital of the island, Montego Bay welcomes nearly half of the approximately 3 million visitors the island sees each year, making tourism the parish’s main industry and largest employer.

Most visitors who travel to Montego Bay never leave their all-inclusive hotels. If you’re one of them, here are five reasons to get out and discover the diversity of activities that St. James has to offer.

Ahhh...Ras Natango Garden & Gallery, St. James

Ahhh…Ras Natango Garden & Gallery

Ahhh….Ras Natango Gallery & Gardens – A rock garden, art gallery and the best ecotourism spot in St. James. Ahhh…Ras Natango is located about 20 minutes from Mobay, in the small community of Camrose. Entrance $30, includes shuttle pickup. Lunch is available on order for an additional fee.

Greenwood Great House Pub, St. James

Converted Pub, Greenwood

Greenwood Great HouseNear the border of Trelawny in a community named Greenwood is Greenwood Great House, which was once owned by the family of the English poet, Elizabeth Barrett-Browning. Greenwood has the Caribbean’s finest collection of musical instruments, antique furniture, china and rare books, which all belonged to the Barrett family. Guided tours are available 7 days a week from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. US$20. 876-953-1077

Rocklands Bird Sanctuary – With more than two-dozen endemic birds, Jamaica is a bird lover’s paradise. If you love birds and are in the Montego Bay area, head over to Rocklands Bird Sanctuary where you can spot up to 17 species, including the humming bird, Jamaica’s national bird, and feed them too!

Rows of pineapples at Croydon Plantation, St. James

Fields of pineapple

Croydon Plantation – Croydon Plantation owes its reputation to pineapples and coffee, as well as its connection to national hero, Samuel Sharpe. Sharpe was born a slave at Croydon. He became a Baptist preacher who organized a peaceful protest in December 1831 that turned into the largest rebellion on the island. Plantation tours with pineapple tastings are conducted on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Cost $70 includes round trip transportation and lunch.

Drummers at the Rastafari Indigenous Village, St. James

Rastafari Drummers

Rastafari Indigenous Village – If you’re interested in learning about the Rastafarians, how they live, what they eat, their philosophy, head to the Rastafari Indigenous Village, a small community of Rasta bretheren, and some sistren too, who’ll give you the 411 on Rastafari beliefs, show you some drum moves and give you a tour of their village. An ital (purely vegetarian) lunch is also offered.

Bonus Option:

Rafting on the Great River – Nothing relaxes more than river rafting. This one-hour excursion down the Great River includes buffet lunch and drinks.

I’m sharing this post with Wanderlust Wednesday, which Dana at Time Travel Plans organizes.