Tweet-tweet For more than 40 years Lisa Salmon has been coaxing wild birds to her hillside cottage at Anchovy, five miles south of Montego Bay. Here, on the tiny stone patio of her Rocklands Bird Feeding Station, you can hand-feed saffron finches, orangequits, and scores of other birds that fly in each afternoon. The stars of the show are the “doctorbirds,” Jamaica’s own streamertail hummingbirds, which streak in and alight on your finger.
Call it Impenetrable The wild Cockpit Country proved a perfect redoubt for Maroons – escaped slaves – who were on the run from the British in the late 17th century. The limestone of this rugged 500-square-mile region has been eroded into a surreal landscape of precipitous ravines (“cockpits”) and hummocks smothered by a dense blanket of bush. Today a handful of trails halfheartedly crisscross this sparsely populated region. That’s fine for hardy hikers; others can take to the air on Jetranger whirlybirds (from Helitours in Ocho Rios) that zip down to hover like bees over the misty valleys.
Falling For It At Dunn’s River Falls, two miles west of Ocho Rios, the 600-foot cascades tumble from one jade-colored pool to another, spilling down to a sparkling beach. Hire a guide and start your hike at the bottom, climbing the wedding-cake tiers to the top. The rocks are slippery, so linking arms for support is a good idea. And steel yourself for the hustlers in the well-stocked crafts market at the top. The falls are one of the island’s best-known attractions, but don’t let that stop you. Just pick a day when the cruise ships aren’t in town.
Stylish Sands Time ‘n’ Place, three miles east of Falmouth, is a ramshackle beach hangout whose funky charm attracts fashion photographers. Sit on a swing or laze in a hammock and sip a chilled Red Stripe beer at the weathered bamboo-and-driftwood bar. The owners/chefs cook up veggie pizzas, home-style burgers and fries, lobster (steamed or grilled), and divine key lime pie, as well as that Jamaican staple – jerk chicken. A slender white ribbon of sand unspools along a lonesome peninsula, and at night the nearby lagoon glows with eerie phosphorescence.
The Natural Jamaica’s wet windward corner is home to a lush Shangri-la – the Rio Grande Valley – that scores the northern flanks of the Blue Mountains. When the showers stop, don your sneakers and head to Berrydale, eight miles south of Port Antonio. A raftsman will pole you across the river to a trailhead, where guides lead the way to exquisite fern-curtained Scatter Falls. Along the route you’ll hear about medicinal herbs like “fever few,” while giant swallowtail butterflies flit through the mists. From there it’s a short but steep hike to Foxes Caves, which are full of harmless fruit bats and suggestive dripstone formations.
Raw and Raunchy It’s dark and dingy, cramped and crowded, you can’t hear yourself think – but no visit to Port Antonio is complete without checking out the Roof Club. The dance style here is ultrasalacious, the air heady with illicit aromas, the decor a whirl of Day-glo walls shining under black lights. The bar offers cocktails you’ve never heard of. Arrive prepared: Dress down, leave your jewelry behind, bring a partner, come on a weekend – when the locals pack in – and get ready to work up a sweat.
Wild Things Tired of soaking up the rays on Negril’s seven-mile-long beach? Then slather on insect repellent and discover a world far removed from rum punch. The wetlands of the Royal Palm Reserve are part of the Great Morass, a two-mile-wide swath of swamp that edges right up to the seashore. Boardwalks loop through groves of native swamp cabbage palm, buffalo thatch, and tangled mangroves that form a refuge for crocodiles, waterfowl, and ospreys. And if you want to add to your life list of threatened animals, look for the Jamaican black-billed parrot; and maybe even the elusive endangered manatee.
Great House Expectations In its 18th-century heyday, Good Hope Plantation, in the lush Queen of Spains Valley eight miles due south of Falmouth, was one of Jamaica’s largest slave-holding estates. The exquisite setting is a more benign place these days – a perfect landscape to be explored on horseback. Ride through papaya groves and cane fields and along the flanks of the Martha Brae River; then treat yourself to a meal on the veranda of the beautifully maintained “great house,” with breathtaking views over the valley.
Green, Green Fern Gully, a steep and zigzagging three-mile-long canyon festooned with ferns, is a delightful drive out of Ocho Rios. Trees canopy the road, bending to each other like kissing lovers. After the drive, call at Cafe Aubergine, housed in a 200-year-old hillside tavern above the town of Moneague. Specialties change often and may include crayfish Provençal, chicken in coconut curry sauce, and chocolate cake. Mellow jazz and New Age music add romantic notes to this hip place, which draws Jamaicans from all over the isle.
Blithe Spirit Noel Coward, English playwright, songwriter, and West End wit, made Jamaica his home-away-from-home for 17 years. Firefly, his cottage located 18 miles east of Ocho Rios, offers jaw-dropping panoramas of both the scalloped coast and the Blue Mountains. The house is furnished as it was when Coward died, and such personal items as Hawaiian shirts and silk pj’s are displayed in situ. Coward himself still resides on the grounds – beneath a marble slab on the breeze-swept lawns, where parties are held monthly during the full moon.