CAMPING HIKING AND BACKPACKING IN JAMAICA

Photo courtesy of the Blue and Johncrow Mountain 

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iking in Jamaica offers the very best in scenery, view, wildlife and climate. It is also fun and safe to visit these magnificent hiking trails. Jamaica is one of the largest islands in the Caribbean and famous for Reggae Music such as Bob Marley, runners such as Usain Bolt, its delicious Jerk food, and its fabulous shoreline, to name a few. Jamaica continues to grow an international reputation for its unique and vibrant culture, the vast array of wildlife and birds that draw tourists on vacation throughout the year, thanks to its perfect year-round climate.

We all know Jamaica has a superb coastline, but there’s so much to explore inland too. The Island is home to great birds and wildlife, lush jungle, mountain forest and even limestone karst. So, why not grab a pair of hiking boots, pack a picnic and try out one of these rugged trails. 

 

1. Blue and Johncrow Mountain National Park

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iking and camping in Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park Jamaica’s highest point are strenuous and not for the faint of heart. A collection of steep mountains and tangled jungles covers 159 square miles in the heart of the Island. The peak of the range rises to an altitude of 7,402 feet, and the higher you climb, the craggier the terrain and the cooler and more humid the weather. But unlike in most tropical rainforests, hazards common to the biome malaria and venomous snakes don’t exist here. That means worry-free trekking in both rain and cloud forests and an opportunity to camp among rare species like streamertail hummingbirds and the Jamaican giant swallowtail, the largest butterfly in the Western Hemisphere with its 6-inch wingspan.

The most popular way to hike to the peak is to spend the night near Penlyne Castle at either Jah B’s or Whitfield Hall and start early, hoping to reach the peak by sunrise. The hike from Whitfield Hall to the peak is approximately 10km (six miles) and involves a 1000m (3000ft) gain in elevation. Done at a brisk pace, the summit can be reached in about two and half hours, although a leisurely stroll with frequent stops for photos and food can take twice that.  Waterproof and warm jackets are essential, as is water and food.

 

On the hike, the trail passes through Portland Gap. Portland Gap is another camp spot in the Blue Mountain that offers a rustic experience of a place to sleep, eat, shower and relax. It is where most people, especially local camp, make the trek much closer to the peak. However, if you wish to camp here, it is best to hike here overnight and leave out early in the morning for the mount. This is the last place on the trail to top up water bottles if you start your trek at Whitfield Hall. As the trail ascends high into the mountains, it is fascinating to observe the changing vegetation – the Elfin Wood near the peak is a magical place.  Many people opt to use a guide, especially if doing it in the dark and for the first time; however, it is perfectly possible to hike to the peak without a guide. 

2. The Catherine peak trail

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his is another Blue Mountains hike, but not as strenuous as climbing Blue Mountain Peak itself. Catherine’s peak is famous in Jamaica as a mountain spring that supplies much of Jamaica’s bottled natural water. The trail starts at the Jamaica Defence Force Military Camp in Newcastle, just a 45-minute drive from Kingston.  

You may need to get a permit from the lovely soldier at the guard post. Just indicate to him that you wish to walk to Catherine’s Peak. The hike takes about 40 minutes on an old concrete path up to the peak at 1,350m. The trail can be slippery because of the moss, and you may need a jacket – as it’s colder and wetter than on the coast.

You’ll know you’re at the peak when you start to recognize several communications antennae nearby. If the weather is clear, then the views are spectacular. Descent is back down the same track. After the hike, it is worth driving the extra 15 minutes to Holywell or stopping at one of the cafes (Eits or Cafe Blue) on the road back down to Kingston.

3. Holywell Park

Image credit/ Blue Brews Bistro

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olywell is a beautiful and peaceful place to spend the day. There is a solar-powered visitor centre, picnic sites with fire pits and shelters, toilets, camping sites, and well-marked trails. The campsite is just an hour outside of Kingston at Hardware Gap on the Blue Mountain ridge and about 1.5 minutes drive beyond Newcastle. 

The park is maintained by friendly rangers who are happy to chat about the park and are full of valuable and interesting information.

The hikes are all easy, and depending on how many photo stops are made; it should only take 30-45 minutes each. The trails are punctuated with information boards detailing local flora and fauna. View-points are marked with wooden platforms ideal for taking that perfect photo – there are outstanding sunrises and sunsets to be seen if you are there at the right time of day. 

The gradients can be steep at times, but there are magical moments to be had ducking beneath tropical canopies that hang low over paths or pausing to photograph hummingbirds. 

The breathtaking views, the sweet smell of Blue Mountain coffee wafting in the crisp country air, lush greenery overlooking sunny or sometimes foggy skies, and a host of delectable dishes from the Blue Brews Bistro are worth the drive.  It’s also an excellent option for kids.

Images courtesy of Blue Brews Bistro

4. Hike to Cinchona Bontanica Gardens

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he splendor and glory of Cinchona Gardens are nestled in the cool, high, and moist hills of the Blue Mountains sits at an altitude between 4,500 and 5,500 ft.   Established in 1868, this unusual attraction, Cinchona Botanical Gardens, sits between the parishes of Portland and St. Andrew.  This grand haven of tranquillity, “Cinchona”, is the only garden of its type in the Caribbean.

In its early years, Allen Eyre commented that only the slopes of the Volcan Chiriqui of Panama offer anything comparable for majestic loveliness. This historic charm begins with the trail from St Peter’s district just a mile below Clydesdale.  From that starting point, almost five miles of arduous uphill trekking is punctuated by a breathtaking view of the Blue Mountain Ridge, Liguanea plains, and Kingston, assuaged by refreshing rivulets of ivy cold water running at intervals across the path. 

In Clydesdale are the ruins of an old coffee pulping mill built in the 1820s. Once a majestic ode to the lifeblood of Jamaica’s plantation economy, the mill is now shrouded in overgrown grasses and offers an ironic representation of society’s complete abandonment of a system built on the backbones of slaves.

Further along the trail, expansive hillsides, verdantly awash with clusters of pine trees reminiscent of cotton candy, provide the backdrop to an authentic slice of rural Jamaican life. Grinning farmers on wooden benches in dirt yards and wooden huts, greet exhausted passers-by. 

From there, nature provides a lively, green feast for the eyes and a lesson in Jamaican botany. If you are vacationing in Kingston, Ocho Rios, Port Antonio or anywhere in the Blue Mountains, you can take a hiking trip to this enchanting attraction.  If you enjoy  Bird Watching, you will have your desire filled with some of Jamaica’s rare endemic species of birds.  Grab your cameras, hiking boots, then get ready for your high mountain hiking or bird watching adventure at Cinchona Gardens.

5. Cunha Cunha Pass Trail

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he Cunha Cunha Pass is a Maroon trail which is a 10-mile long hike. It extends from Hayfield to Bowden Pen in St Thomas near the upper Rio Grande Valley in Portland. It is a national monument and heritage trail designated by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust due to its historical value as a trade route and the many battles fought by our national heroine, The Right Excellent Nanny of the Maroons.  

 On the trail, visitors are exposed to the fauna and flora of the Blue Mountains and the history of the indigenous Maroons from the maroon tribe still living in the area. As you hike this trail, look out for the Giant Swallowtail butterfly and the Black Billed Streamer-tail hummingbird (Doctor bird); both are endemic to Jamaica and confined to the eastern sector of the Island.

In addition to the hike, you can grab lunch at Ambassabeth Eco-Lodge, a popular stopover site, or relax by the thrilling Rio Grande that flows along with the property. 

6.  Cockpit Country Trail 

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he Cockpit Country is without a doubt the most bizarre landscape in Jamaica, an uncanny series of improbable lumps and bumps covering roughly 80 square kilometres of Trelawny and St James parishes just south of Montego Bay. It is one of the most intriguing parts of the Island, and a hike here is worthwhile, not only for its fantastic scenery but also its fascinating history.  

Despite widespread disbelief, hiking trails do exist in Cockpit Country, with well-organized guided tours on offer, always ready to point out rare plants and birds. Windsor, Albert Town and Flagstaff are the most accessible starting points where you should hire a local guide – essential to prevent you from getting lost and in case of an accident.

The main sixteen-kilometre trail starts at Windsor and runs straight through the middle to Troy on the southern fringes of Cockpit Country, though it gets very overgrown towards the centre. The first few kilometres are relatively easy, but in the heat of the day, it’s an arduous eight-to-ten hour trek; you’re amid foliage most of the time with few open vistas, and you’ll undoubtedly feel a sense of achievement at the end. Alternatively, the first couple of hours from Windsor give you a pretty good idea. If you set out from Troy, the trail is mostly downhill and a lot easier – the best plan is to base yourself at Windsor, hire a guide, and get yourself to Troy early enough to make the hike back before nightfall.

Most walks are relatively easy-going, but for longer treks, you’ll need a stout pair of shoes or boots, something warm for the evening. Take along also a torch and water bottle – and don’t forget the mosquito repellent and something waterproof for your camera and phone for the usually wet weather. Allow twice your usual walking time for chopping foliage.

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nother great option while touring the Cockpit Country is a visit to the gorgeous village of Bunker’s Hill, Trelawny, where you can also challenge your fitness and bravely climb the steep cliffs of  Dromilly Cave which sustained the maroon chief, Cudjoe, and his men in their effort to evade the British. You can see the writings and carvings of the Taino people who once inhabited it from the cave entrance. Beyond the caves lies the ruins of the Dromilly Great House and the site where Cudjoe and his men ambushed the British troops around 1795.  After caving and touring into quiet of darkness, and marvel with stories how the Maroon warriors used these caves.   Return to the riverside restaurant and feast your appetite with authentic Jamaican food cooked on a woodfire and end the trip with a massage from the natural jacuzzi in the cool river.

7.  Hiking At Kwame Falls

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wame waterfalls are situated near Robin’s Bay in St Mary’s. If you stay at Green Castle Nature lodge, the hike is one of the most beautiful nature walks you can witness. The trek starts from Green Castle Estate gardens, where you can see many endemic species of birds enjoying the blooming flowers and natural habitat. It is an hour-and-half hike and the same back to Robin’s Bay. The trek takes you through an incredible array of flora, fauna and nature. Green Castle offers two types of guided tours if you wish to visit Kwame Falls. A guide can accompany you on the 3-hours round trip hike, or you can take a 2 hour round trip by boat ride. Both offer an incredible view. You can start as early as 6 am and get back for a hearty breakfast on the dining terrace at Greencastle, or later, you can book for lunch. Hikers will enjoy the long walk, seeing Green Castle and the estate before taking in the wide range of scenic views that present themselves at every opportunity. 

 

Kwame Falls is rumoured to be named after Kwame, one of the warriors who fought with maroon chief Tacky in 1760. It was one of the most successful rebellions against enslavement in Jamaica. Legend believes that Kwame Falls is smaller and less potent than the nearby Tacky Falls because Tacky was a more courageous and decisive leader than Kwame.

Along the coastal hike, you’ll discover Robin’s Bay Black Sand beach. It is not a tourist hotspot, so you’ll be able to enjoy peacefulness and truly savour the moment. Take your time, take some photos, see how life was meant to be enjoyed. It is worthwhile taking the option of a guided tour. As you start to venture into the jungle, tracks and trails are leading in every direction. It’s okay if you don’t mind getting lost, but a guided tour supports the local economy, and you get to discover all about the rich multitude of flora and fauna, history and culture of the area. The hike takes you across a few rivers, only ankle-deep, and you’ll dry off in no time under the Jamaican sun. As you ascend further into the rainforest, the climate becomes much more warm and sticky, but you will soon adjust. There aren’t any crocodiles in the river. Just be careful, as some of the rocks can be slippery.

 

If you want to turn the hike into an epic adventure, enquire about the possibility of seeing Tacky falls as well. Hiking is a little more difficult along a 15-minute steep trail near Tacky Waterfalls. Once you’ve carefully navigated that trail, you’ll be blessed as a 60-metre waterfall appears out of nowhere in the jungle, offering awe-inspiring beauty, without a crowd of tourists jostling you to take a photo.  

After a day hiking to these two natural wonders, you can look forward to a delicious meal cooked by the extraordinary team at Green Castle. Then you can relax, sip on a cocktail, cool off in the pool and watch the sun go down at Jamaica’s best-kept secret – The Green Castle Hotel.

8. Mount Zion Trail

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his trail takes you to Mount Zion Village, a tiny, rural community just outside of Montego Bay. Before reaching Mount Zion Village, the path begins near the Cinnamon Hill golf course and winds up through hills crowded with rich vegetation. 

It is not paved, so good hiking shoes are a must. As you hike through the hills and rainforest, you almost stumble on the local community. You will know you have arrived when you see the church and the rum shop, and judging by the lack of other buildings, there is no question about where you are. Spend some time in this beautiful community, chat with the locals, have a game of dominos or simply enjoy life at a sedate pace. Once you’ve enjoyed the Jamaican Rum or a cold Red Stripe, it is time to descend back into the city. After Mount Zion, Montego Bay will feel like a different world.  

Overall, the trail is about 5 miles ( 8 kilometres) and is a relaxing way to spend a morning or afternoon hiking in Jamaica. This hike is usually best done at the beginning or end of your tour, especially if flying in from Montego Bay. It offers an easy route and is an excellent way to spend a few hours before heading further into the riches Jamaica has to offer.

Photo courtesy of Green Castle Estate

9. Hiking The Mayfield Falls River

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ayfield Falls, as the name suggests, is famous for its waterfalls. However, it offers a hiking trail that is a little different from most. There are parts of the hike where you have to get into the river, so expect to get wet. After all, this is the best part of the fun! You’ll enjoy swimming, wading through the waterfalls, scrambling up the various cascades, and you’ll enjoy all of the peace and serenity without being surrounded by hundreds of tourists and other natives.

Hiking the Mayfield Falls River is a fun thing to do here in Jamaica. It is worth noting that the waterfalls here cascade in several places along the river, unlike Niagara Falls’ solid flow. The most famous of the cascades found here is called the ‘Washing Machine’. It is about 2-3 meters tall and climbed. There are even a few spots in the waterfalls where you can go behind the curtain of water, creating a surreal and magical experience. Depending on where you stay in Jamaica, you can arrange a guide in advance. The Green Castle Nature Lodge offers such guide services. Go and enjoy the wide variety of excursions and the natural beauty that exists. Take fantastic photos and leave the memories you make.

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mpressive huh? Jamaica is blessed with a superb geographical location and resources that make it a great vacation spot. So, if you plan on travelling to the Island, you better think of bringing your hiking boots. The Island is riddled with excellent hiking trails to help you release some of the pressure from the hustle and bustle of your everyday life while enhancing your mental and physical wellbeing. Come, not just for its natural wonders but also for its friendly people and culture. This is what draws many people to the Island. 

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11 Comments

  1. This is Beautiful

  2. I absolutely love this 💖💖

    • This is a beautiful breath taking place with a beautiful scenery and I would love to experience hiking on beautiful place such as this

  3. This was so nice to read! Very informative and beautiful photos. Would love to visit one day! Keep up the good work 😊

  4. Thanks for providing credit for photos taken from my website even though for some reason the resolution here is much lower than the original content. A link back would be great! Anyway, a few of these places remain on my list but so little time. Hopefully I can make time for another hiking adventure soon. Great list!

  5. Need to try out these trails..looks amazing


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