Portland Jamaica is probably the island’s best tourist destination you’ve never heard of. It’s got beautiful beaches, soaring mountains, a network of caves, romantic coves, shimmering waterfalls and dramatic coastline. Because of its location, Portland also records the most rainfall of any parish on the island. It is lush and infused with rugged beauty.
Portland, a combination of the old parishes of St. George and part of the current St. Thomas, got its name from the Duke of Portland who was a Governor of Jamaica between 1722 and 1726. It is the seventh largest parish on the island.
The parish was slow to develop because of the difficulty of farming the mountainous terrain and the fear of attack by the Eastern Maroons who could be found in the nearby Blue and John Crow Mountains. Despite a generous offer from the governor of land, beef, flour, freedom from taxes and arrest for three years very few settlers were interested.
But Portland’s soil and heavy rainfall were the perfect match for bananas, the crop that finally put it on the map in the late 1900s. Lorenzo Dow Baker is credited with developing the banana industry in Jamaica. The bananas he bought were shipped to the US, where they were sold at a handsome profit, making local farmers rich.
The Birthplace of Tourism in Jamaica
Eventually, Baker’s United Fruit Company, for which Portland was a major hub, controlled the banana trade and was the major supplier of the produce on the east coast of the United States and even the UK. The company shipped bananas from Jamaica and brought goods back.
Some time after the 1900s, Baker began taking tourists to the island – boats were the only means of travel between Jamaica and other countries at that time. So began the tourism industry on the island.
The United Fruit Company built the Titchfield Hotel to accommodate the visitors who began pouring into Port Antonio, the capital. The hotel had 400 rooms was the center of activity in the parish.
Unfortunately, in 1903, hurricane devastated Portland and disease virtually destroyed the banana plantations and caused the decline in the parish’s economy.
From those early days, Portland has been known as the playground of the rich and famous. Errol Flynn once owned the Titchfield Hotel, which was destroyed by fire. His wife still lives in the parish.
What to do in Portland
Portland offers a variety of activities – birdwatching, snorkeling, hiking, rafting, swimming, camping or just taking it easy. Here are five activities you should check out:
Boston Bay – Home of the best jerk in Jamaica. If you love the flavors of real jerk, make sure to take home a bottle of sauce from the jerk center at Boston Bay.
Waterfalls – Because of the mountainous terrain, Portland has several refreshing waterfalls of different sizes. Check out Reach, which is situated in Manchioneal, or Somerset Falls, which is near Hope Bay.
Rafting on the Rio Grande – The oldest rafting center on the island is in Portland. Banana rafts were used originally to transport the produce from the plantations inland to Port Antonio. Today, the 4 km tour starts at Berrydale.
Beaches – Portland has several to choose from – San San, Frenchman’s Cove, Winnifred, Boston Beach.
Blue Mountain Hike – There are several hiking trails in the Blue Mountains of varying lengths and levels of difficulty.