Hope Botanical Gardens

Hope Botanical Gardens or Hope Gardens, as most Jamaicans call it, is a popular spot especially for those who live in Kingston and surroundings. It’s where they go to relax on Sunday afternoon, or to enjoy nature.

With the nearby Hope Zoo, Hope Gardens is also a favorite destination for school trips – it’s on almost every school’s excursion schedule.

Small fountain at Hope Gardens
Entrance to the lily pond

Hope Gardens sits on 60-acres of the Ligunaea Plains at the foot of the Blue Mountains. The property, originally part of Hope Estates, was acquired around 1881 and experts from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England, assisted in laying out the formal gardens. They introduced several varieties of endemic plants, rare flora and exotic species.

Gazebo at Hope Botanical Gardens
The gazebo

I’ve read that Queen Elizabeth II was so impressed by the Gardens that she gave permission for it to be called the Royal Botanic Gardens, Hope.

Hope Botanical Gardens
Part of the gardens

Through a series of unfortunate incidents, including devastation from hurricane, vandalism, and mismanagement, Hope Gardens fell into disrepair in the 1980s. It is now nearly back to its former splendor.

Hope Botanical Gardens
Blue Mountain forms a beautiful backdrop to the gardens

Hope Gardens has a lily pond, sunken gardens, orchid house, bougainvillea walk, and other attractions. It’s a great location for bird watching. Several species, including doves, egrets, Jamaican mango, yellow- and black-billed parrots, and different varieties of the hummingbird (Jamaica’s national bird) can be seen in the park.

Hope’s expansive space and lush environment make it a popular venue for weddings, reunions, picnics, festivals, yoga classes or a leisurely stroll.

Hope Botanical Gardens Particulars

Hours: Daily from 6:00 a.m. except on Labor Day and Hero’s Day.
Current Entrance Fees: Adults $5, Children (3 – 12 years) $3


Today, I’m linking up with Travel Photo Discovery‘s Travel Photo Monday. Be sure to check out other photos from around the world.


5 Reasons to Visit Portland Jamaica

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.

Boston Beach, Portland
Morning at Boston Beach

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.

Reach Falls, Portland
Reach Falls

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.

The Gumbay Drum

The gumbay drum caught my attention at the Accompong Maroon Festival in January. I’d never seen a drum that was small and square and looked more like a stool than a drum.

As I was leaving the festival, I noticed a small stall with storyboards explaining how gumbay drums are made. There were also several drums on display. The gentleman inside introduced himself as the son of the master drum maker.

Gumbay drum maker's son
Son of the master drum maker
Maker of the gumbay drum
The master drum maker
Sanding the gumbay drum
Storyboard of the master drum maker

Although simple in design, the gumbay drum has several parts. The inner part of is called a baby, the outer part the frame. The top, which is usually made from the skin of the female goat, is the membrane. Maroons use the gumbay drum in their rituals and traditional ceremonies. They are also used to induce a trance state and to communicate with the ancestors.

Storyboard explaining the making of the gumbay drum

He explained how the drums were made — the design looked simple enough for a professional. I doubt that I would have been able to fit the pieces together as easily.  He also demonstrated the special rhythms that drummers play in the different instances when the drum is used. (Sorry, I can’t find my notes and I’ve forgotten the names of the master drum maker and his son.)

Three gumbay drums
Drums on display
Closeup of a gumbay drum


This is my submission to Travel Photo Thursday, which is organized by Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox. Be sure to head over and check out more photos from locations around the world.




Newcastle Jamaica

Newcastle was established by the British as a military center in 1840. It is now used as a training camp for soldiers and recruits of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF).

The location, in the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, was chosen by Major General Sir William Gomm, the lieutenant governor of Jamaica at the time, who noted that yellow fever, a major cause of death among British troops, occurred less frequently in the cool of the mountains. And it does get cool. It’s about 10-15 degrees cooler than in most of the island and there’s sometimes snow and ice in the higher elevations in the winter months.

Newcastle parade square with medals
Parade square at Newcastle
Barracks for soldiers at Newcastle
Red roofed barracks at Newcastle station

Newcastle has a parade ground, named for the major general, barracks, a cemetery, and several buildings. A sentry is usually posted at the entrance and as the main road, from Kingston to points east, goes through the parade ground, you’re likely the company doing their normal activities. One morning, it was recruits being put through their paces, another day, the national netball team was in training.

Life at Newcastle isn’t meant to be easy for recruits and soldiers. I’ve read that back when the British troops used it as a base, they would march the 12 or so miles from Kingston, which is at sea level, 4,000 feet up the winding mountain road – with their gear.

Parade ground at Newcastle
Part of the Sir Wm. Gomm parade square

Vehicles arriving from Kingston enter the square here and pass through the compound to Holywell Park and other points east, like Portland.

Cemetery at Newcastle
Newcastle cemetery with gravestones dating to the 1800s

I plan to return to Newcastle when I can do the climb as I’d love to see more of it and from other angles.

This is my submission to Travel Photo Thursday, which is organized by Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox. Be sure to head over and check out more photos from locations around the world.




Ahhh…Ras Natango Gallery and Garden, an Eco-Tourism Destination

When Ahhh….Ras Natango Gallery and Garden’s Ian Williams, aka Ras Natango, first saw the property that would eventually bear his name, he was looking for a place where he and his wife, Tamika, transplants from Kingston, could put down roots and raise their young son. After a bit of negotiating, he bought it on spot, telling Tamika about it only when he returned home. If he expected high fives, he was wrong. She needed more than a little convincing.

View from Ahhh...Ras Natango
View of Montego Bay

You see, the property he bought is tucked into the side of a hill, about 2,000 feet above sea level, with rocks everywhere, some the size of boulders. And it presented its own problems — like how to build on rock and, equally as important for Tamika, then a teacher and an avid gardener, where to put her garden. But Ian, the artist, had a vision and eventually, he won her over.

Part of the rock garden at Ahhh...Ras Natango Gallery and Garden
View of the rock garden

They began slowly building their home, which clings like tentacles to the hillside, starting from the top and adding space below, as needed and funds allowed. When one of the guests at the hotel Ian worked asked to see where he found his inspiration, he realized he needed a studio, and Ras Natango Gallery was born.

Making the Rock Garden

Ian and Tamika continued working and sculpting the land for their use. To create the garden, they terraced and backfilled the hillside with compost, and planted flowers that would thrive in shallow beds.

Rock painted lion at Ahhh...Ras Natango Gallery and Garden
Rock painted lion Ahhh…Ras Natango

Soon lantana, bougainvillea, gladioli, heliconia, hibiscus, zinnia, nasturtium, convolvulus, torch ginger, ginger lily, beehive ginger, cosmos, sunflower, amaryllis, lantana, bromeliads, and several other varieties bloomed. They added fruit trees (mango, guava, cherry, naseberry), and planted herbs and vegetables as well.

Continue reading “Ahhh…Ras Natango Gallery and Garden, an Eco-Tourism Destination”

A Walking Tour of Falmouth Jamaica, Part I

Falmouth Jamaica is one of the best towns on the island to do a walking tour. It’s compact, well laid out (on a grid), and pedestrian-friendly – no cars are allowed in the center of town. Most importantly, the Georgian buildings for which Falmouth is well-known are almost all storyboarded and within a few minutes of the pier and the center of town.

A Little Intro to Falmouth

Falmouth, the capital of Trelawny, was established after the original capital, which was located near the Martha Brae River, became unsuitable for many reasons, including the fact that at 50 acres, it was just too small. So the town council appointed a commission, chaired by Edward Moulton Barrett, to identify a site for the new capital.

Taken from the Church Tower, Duperly
Falmouth Taken From the Church Tower, Adolphe Duperly, 1840

Moulton Barrett, great grandfather of the English poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, was a wealthy plantation owner whose holdings totaled more than 80,000 acres between what is now St. James (a neighboring parish) and Trelawny. Interestingly, the commission agreed to place the new capital on land that belonged to the Barrett family. Moulton Barrett wanted it to be called Barrett Town, but the residents preferred Falmouth, after the birthplace of Governor Trelawney*, then the governor of the parish. Falmouth, the new capital, was established by Thomas Reid in 1769.

The establishment of the new capital came at a time when Jamaica was the largest producer of sugar and rum, and Trelawny, which had as many as 100 sugar estates, the most in Jamaica, had at least 40 factories. All this made Falmouth a wealthy town, with one of the busiest ports on the island.

The wealth that sugar generated transformed the town and its residents. It translated into the construction of fine commercial and public buildings along Market Street, the main thoroughfare, and residences large and small. Falmouth’s population at the time was made up of not only whites, but also free blacks and coloreds many of whom, according to property records, bought land from Moulton Barrett and owned their own homes.

Market Street, Falmouth from A. Duperly, 1840s
Adolphe Duperly’s Market Street

Falmouth’s fortunes rose and fell on sugar and its harbor.  With the emancipation of slavery, production fell and the once busy harbor was found to be too shallow to accommodate steamboats that began arriving in Jamaica around the 1830.

Many of the buildings and homes that were built then remain, some in good condition, others needing repair. It is in recognition of this rich architectural and archeological legacy that a section of the town was declared a National Monument on September 5, 1966 by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust.

How to Recognize Falmouth’s Georgian Buildings

Georgian architecture, named for King Georges (I, II, III and IV who reigned from 1714-1830), was the architectural style that was popular in England between 1720 and 1840. It has three basic distinguishing features: simple form, symmetry and detailing.

The style became fashionable in Jamaica from approximately 1750-1850 with modifications to fit the climatic conditions on the island. Hip roofs (with sloping sides and ends), fretwork, and sash and louvred windows helped air circulation in the harsh tropical climate. Other features include quoins (corner building blocks, usually larger and more prominent than the surrounding blocks), and columns. Commercial and residential buildings designed following the Jamaican Georgian vernacular began appearing in Falmouth around 1780.

This walking tour will show you some of the finest examples of Georgian and historical architecture that Falmouth has to offer. It can be done in two parts, each taking about 2 hours. The first part will look at the commercial buildings that are within a 2 block radius of the pier. The second part, which I’ll post tomorrow, will look at some of the private residences.

Albert George Market

Clock Tower at Albert George Market, Falmouth Jamaica
Clock tower

As you exit the pier, you’ll see this clock tower and a portion of the Albert George Market, a prominent landmark, that was built in 1894.  The market was named for Queen Victoria’s grandsons, Albert (Duke of Clarence), and George (King George V) and was the largest on the island at the time. The quoins, a feature of Georgian architecture can be seen to the sides of the arched entrance.

Falmouth Courthouse

Falmouth Courthouse, Jamaica

You won’t miss this imposing structure, which is directly to your right as you exit the pier. It’s the Falmouth Courthouse. Erected in 1815, it was one of the first official buildings in town. Of Georgian design, it was rebuilt after it was destroyed by fire in 1926.

Cases are tried on the upper level of the two-story structure. If you decide to take a peek upstairs when court is in session, remember to be quiet. You’ll also notice that everyone’s smartly dressed. They have to be, if they’re going to appear in court.

The lower level functions as a town hall and the mayor’s office. Use the courthouse as your landmark as you stroll around the town. The entrance faces north.

Baptist Manse

Falmouth Baptist Manse
Baptist Manse

Continuing west past the courthouse, you’ll arrive at the Baptist Manse on the corner of Market and Trelawny Streets. This striking Georgian building was constructed in 1798 for the Athol Union Masonic Lodge of the Scottish Constitution. It was the first Masonic temple built in Jamaica. Unfortunately, the temple was sold in 1834, to the Baptist Missionary to pay off debts that were incurred during its construction.

It is thought that the manse was home to Baptist Missionary and Abolitionist, William Knibb (1803-45) and his family in the 1830s. The manse housed the William Knibb High School from 1951-75, and was home to the Falmouth Heritage Renewal, an organization that restores historic buildings in Falmouth.

Barrett House (Ruins)

Ruins of Barrett House, Falmouth
Barrett House

Cross Trelawny Street, walk about a block and you’ll see the remains of the Barrett House (located almost across from the Bank of Nova Scotia Building). A merchant house, it’s believed to have been built around 1798 for a member of the family. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by hurricane in 1988 but the ruins leave no doubt about its former grandeur.

The Vermont House aka The Old Post Office

The Old Post Office, Falmouth Jamaica
The Old Post Office

After checking out the Barrett House, double back on Market Street and continue walking south pass the Baptist Manse to the Vermont Building at Cornwall Street. Constructed sometime after 1832, for Thomas Vermont, this two story brick house cum store displays striking detailing, beautiful arches and quoins. The windows on the front and side provided good ventilation for the living quarters upstairs and the store below.

Following Vermont’s death, the house passed to a Mrs. Mary Atkinson and her daughter who had acted as caretakers of the house when Vermont was away. The Vermont House was once home to the Falmouth Post Office  and a sauce company.

Water Square

Turn right on Cornwall (or Duke) Street, walk about a block and you will be in Water Square and the market, the commercial center of town. Water Square was critical to the development of the town as its reservoir, which was built in 1798, provided piped water to Falmouth residents from the nearby Martha Brae River and gave the town the distinction of having piped water before New York City.

Phoenix Foundry aka the Dome

The Phoenix Foundry aka The Dome, Falmouth
Phoenix Foundry

Leaving Water Square and the Market, take Harbor Lane to Tharp Street. There you’ll see the Phoenix Foundry, also called the Dome. Constructed in 1810, the Dome is one of the oldest industrial complexes in the island that still exists. It was used to repair ships that were docked in Falmouth Harbor as well as sugar manufacturing equipment. Excavations at the foundry have turned up iron, copper, and lead. Its dome shape as well as ceramic and glass artifacts that were also found there, suggest that the kiln was used to make glass and ceramics.

Tharp House

Tharp House, Falmouth
Tharp House, Falmouth

Go north on Tharp Street to Seaboard Street. As you near the pier, you’ll notice Tharp House which was built in 1790 by John Tharp, one of the wealthiest plantation owners in Trelawny, and the owner of Good Hope Plantation. Tharp House was his shipping office and residence. Rum and sugar were shipped from Tharp House and when Tharp went into slaves trading, slaves were received there. In recent years, Tharp House served as the office of the tax collector of Falmouth.

You can also see Tharp House on your left as you exit the pier. Unfortunately, the building is in disrepair and is not accessible to the public. However, you can see architectural details here that are repeated at Good Hope, Tharp’s main home.


* Trelawney is the correct spelling of the governor’s name. Somehow the second ‘e’ got left out of the parish name and was never corrected.

A Jamaican Georgian Inspired Building

This building has captured my interest for about a year. At first, I thought it was a restored Georgian because it’s near Half Way Tree in Kingston where a few other Georgian buildings, like the St. Andrew Parish Courthouse, the St. Andrew Parish Church and the Oakton House are located.

I consulted friends and family in Kingston, heritage and restoration professionals and architects but months later, I was no further along than when I started. Finally, after posting it on Facebook, I got a nibble. A few people said it was in private ownership but nothing on the backstory. For example, was it a restored Georgian, like I thought. If it is, what was there before, are there photos, etc. I’m still curious about that and will update this post if I find out.

A Kingston office built in the Georgian style
A Jamaican Georgian Inspired Building

In the meantime, I decided that it has either borrowed from or retained certain elements that made me think Georgian. For example, the quoins (those are the white blocks at the corner of the building. Quoins are one of the main features of Georgian architecture. They’re usually larger and more prominent than the surrounding blocks.), brick construction, the columns, and what appears to be a modified hip roof, a roof with sloping sides and ends that’s distinctively Georgian.

Georgian architecture was popular in Jamaica between the 1750-1850. It was named for the architectural style that was all the rage in England during the reigns of King George (I, II, III and IV, 1714-1830) and features simplicity in form, symmetry and balance. The style was adopted by wealthy plantation owners for the homes and commercial buildings they built in Jamaica and the colonies, with modifications, such as louvres, verandahs, etc., to suit the local climate.

This is my submission to Travel Photo Thursday, which is organized by Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox. Be sure to head over and check out more photos from locations around the world.


Last Lobster Meal Before Close Season

Lobster lovers, take note: if you visit Jamaica between today and June 30th, there will not be an ounce of lobster on any menu anywhere on the island.

The close season started officially on April 1st and coincides with the peak breeding period. If you’re lucky enough to arrive before April 21st, you might be able to find some lobster as the government allows businesses to register by March 31st any stocks they might have. That stock can be used until April 21st.

Jamaican spiny lobster
Jamaican lobster

During the close season, it is illegal to catch, buy or sell lobsters. And any lobsters caught unintentionally in fishing traps must be returned to the sea. It is also illegal to be in possession of lobster parts or products, whether they are fresh or frozen. The penalties include 6 months in jail or a fine of J$100,000 (about US$1,000).

The Jamaican lobster is really a large crayfish. (A few weeks ago, I left a comment at A Taste of Travel.  They have the same crayfish in Australia that we call lobster here.)  It doesn’t have big claws like lobsters from Maine and the meat is a bit firmer. However it is prepared in the same way you would a regular lobster: grilled, steamed, curried, jerked, or used in soups and salads.

Until my neighbor reminded me, I’d totally forgotten about the few pounds I’ve had frozen since last December. Since I didn’t want to run afoul of the law, I decided to fix the lobster for dinner on Sunday, the last day we’re allowed legally to have it in our possession. Here’s how I prepared it.

Coconut Lobster
Coconut Lobster

Coconut Lobster

3 lbs. lobster
4 stalks escallion (spring onions), chopped finely
3 sprigs of thyme
1 small onion, chopped
1 or 2 small tomatoes, diced
1 small Scotch Bonnet pepper (leave whole. Remove seeds and cut into small pieces, if you want more fire)
1 can coconut milk
Salt, pepper to taste


Hold the lobster body firmly with one hand, the tail with the other. Turn the tail until it separates from the body. Take a pair kitchen shears or a sharp knife and cut down the center of the tail. Use your fingers or the knife to pry the meat from the shell.
Remove the vein from the tail. Wash, cut into 1” pieces and set aside.
Sauté chopped onions, shallots, tomatoes and pepper
Add lobster, and salt and pepper to taste
Sauté until the pieces become white
Add coconut milk, whole Scotch Bonnet pepper and thyme
Let cook for 3 minutes or until done

Serve over your favorite vegetables

What foods do you look forward to eating when you travel?

It’s Mango Season in Jamaica

Jamaicans have a passion for mango and during mango season, everyone gets to indulge, sometimes eating enough of the fruit to replace a meal.

Mangoes are so loved here, there’s even a folk song, called appropriately, Mango Time, that celebrates the delicious fruit, and up to a few years ago, there was a mango festival in the parish of Westmoreland.

Mango season starts around April or May and ends about July, though there is at least one variety, the Tommy Atkins, which comes in around September or October.

Blossoming Mango tree, Jamaica
Blossoming Mango tree

If you’re a mango lover and are planning to visit Jamaica in the next few months, you’ll be in mango heaven. Trees are laden with mangoes; they’ll be on sale at almost every roadside stall, and included in the breakfast buffet at your hotel. In the height of the season, the aroma of the ripened fruit will hang in the air.

Mangoes on a tree
Mango tree

Mangoes are native to South Asia, where they have been grown for more than 6,000 years. They were introduced to Jamaica in the 1700s after several varieties were discovered on a French ship that was destined for Hispaniola. The ship was captured at sea by Lord Rodney and the mangoes brought to the island.

Ripe Julie and Graham mangoes
Julie and Graham mangoes

Continue reading “It’s Mango Season in Jamaica”

Good Hope Great House and Plantation, Jamaica

Good Hope Great House is as stately and unique as any of Jamaica’s great houses. It sits atop a slight elevation which offers it sweeping views of the surrounding Queen of Spain Valley clear out to where the imposing Cockpit Mountains rise majestically in the distance.

Good Hope Great House
Current owner, Blaise Hart leading a tour of Good Hope

This view is unparalleled as the 2,000-acre estate, which is located about 8 miles from Falmouth, the capital of the parish of Trelawny, has remained unmarred by encroaching development. Good Hope is almost the same as it would have been when Col. Thomas Williams built it in 1755 for his wife, Elizabeth.

View from Good Hope
View from Good Hope

Unfortunately, Elizabeth would not live long in the house. She died seven years later at 24 years old and was buried beneath the ground floor. A simple stone marker indicates the spot where she was laid to rest.

In 1767, Good Hope Great House was sold to John Tharp. Tharp, who was only 23 at the time of the purchase, bought several of the neighboring estates, which increased the size of his holdings to 9,000 acres, and approximately 2,500 slaves. He seems to have been a benevolent plantation owner who treated his slaves well. Good Hope had its own church, a 300-bed hospital, and a Free School that taught those who showed promise how to read and write. The plantation prospered even after the abolition of slavery.

Counting House, Good Hope Jamaica
Good Hope Counting House

Continue reading “Good Hope Great House and Plantation, Jamaica”