Most people who visit Jamaica, never make it to the south coast. Those who do, experience a side of the island that’s unhurried, unspoiled and ruggedly beautiful.
Located on the southwest coast is the parish of St. Elizabeth, the second largest parish on the island. It shares part of the area known as the Great Morass, a wetland area that stretches from the neighboring parish of Westmoreland, and has one of the longest rivers, the Black River.
Over the years, the parish has been settled by various groups – from the Native Tainos and Miskito Indians of Central America to Scott, Spanish, Irish, Germans, Chinese and South Asian Indians – making for a racial mixture that is unique to St. Elizabeth.
Despite getting not a lot of rain, St. Elizabeth produces most of the vegetables sold on the island and has earned the reputation as the nation’s ‘bread basket.’ In its diverse landscape can be found swamps, waterfalls, rivers, mountains and caves.
Electricity was installed in Black River, the capital as early as 1893.
Here are 5 reasons why you should visit St. Elizabeth.
Bamboo Avenue– Also known as Holland Bamboo, this 2-mile stretch of road between Middle Quarters and Lacovia is
bracketed by towering bamboo trees that form a natural canopy that makes the area lush and green.
Black River Safari – The hour-long ride down the Black River takes you into the lush vegetation of the Great Morass, a crocodile-filled swamp, with ducks, egrets, and other species of birds, rare plant life, logwood, royal palms and red mangroves with roots that go as deep as 40 feet. South Coast Safari, 876-965-2513
Spot a Manatee – Manatees can only be seen on Jamaica’s south coast. If you’d like to see one, head over to Alligator Park Nature Park, an eco-attraction that has three manatees, or to Treasure Beach, where they can be seen in the wild at certain specific times. Manatees weigh up to 3,000 pounds and can reach up to 14 feet. Because of their dwindling numbers – they usually get caught in fishermen’s nets or are caught and killed for their meat — manatees are now protected by the National Environment and Planning Agency.
Lovers’ Leap – According to local lore, rather than give herself to her master, Mizzy, a slave woman and Tunkey, her lover, plunged off the 1700-foot cliff to their deaths rather than allow him to be sold off. Despite the tragedy in its past, Lovers’ Leap offers some of the most breathtaking views of Jamaica’s south coast, especially from its restaurant. There’s also a lighthouse and wooden sculpture honoring the lovers.
YS Falls – YS Falls is the place to be whether you want to sit and read, spot birds, do a canopy tour of the falls or swing off a rope into the cool water below. Seven waterfalls, natural pools fed by underground springs, kids’ pool and activities for children make this an ideal spot for singles and families.
History & Culture
Accompong – The Maroons were runaway slaves who defeated the British many times over and eventually signed their own treaty with them in 1739. They were given lands in eastern and western Jamaica, one group settling in St Elizabeth in the foothills of the Cockpit Country. They named their community after Accompong, one of their leaders. Every year on January 6th, the Maroons celebrate their independence from Britain with a day-long celebration at Accompong.
Black River Heritage Tour – This hour-long tour takes you back in time to the Black River of the 19th century when wealthy landowners made this one of Jamaica’s richest towns. This former shipping port was one of the most modern towns in Jamaica. It was the first to have electricity and motor cars, and one of the first to have telephones. The tour stops at the Georgian style Invercauld Great House, the Court House, another Georgian structure, and the St. Elizabeth Parish Church among other historic buildings.
Lacovia – Also known as the longest village in Jamaica, Lacovia is the site where a duel was fought between a Spanish and British soldier. The Spanish soldier won and won the girl. A tombstone marks the place where the British soldier, Thomas Jordan Spencer, age 15, was buried. He has been traced to the family of Princess Diana and Winston Churchill.
Appleton Estate & Rum Distillery – Covering more than 11,000 acres, Appleton Estate & Rum Distillery is one of the oldest in the country. It has been making rums since 1749, which makes it the second oldest distillery in the Caribbean. The tour of the distillery starts with a complimentary glass of rum punch, lasts about an hour, and ends with a tasting of 13 rums!
Font Hill Beach – Part of a nature reserve, this golden sand beach is located near the Westmoreland /St. Elizabeth border. Open 9-5 daily.
Treasure Beach – The community of Treasure Beach comprises scenic bays, offering plenty of places to go for a swim, and watch the sun set.
Offbeat Places to Eat
Pelican Bar– Located on a sandbank about a mile from Black River, Pelican Bar is the dream of owner, Floyd, who says he got a dream to build it. Pelican Bar is reachable only by boat. Food’s cooked to order.
Little Ochie – I debated whether to include Little Ochie in this list because, geographically, it is located in the neighboring parish of Manchester but most people think this cool little place, on the banks of Alligator Pond, is in St. Elizabeth. While there might be some confusion about its location there’s none about the food. Go here for some of the best seafood, done to order. Takes about 30 minutes.
Does St. Elizabeth sound like the kind of place you’d like to visit?
If you’re already in Jamaica or planning to visit, add St. Elizabeth to your itinerary. Check with your hotel to arrange a tour.