Jamaica has several great places to visit in each parish (like a county), however, Port Antonio should be on every international visitors ‘must do’ list. There is more to this beautiful island than Kingston or Montego Bay.
Made famous in Hollywood films like Cocktail and Club Paradise, this part of Jamaica is still off the beaten track for most tourists, but well worth taking a road less traveled. As a tropical island, Jamaica gets its fair share of rain showers and storms, and I would recommend visiting between December and Easter for the best and mildest of weather. Summers nights can be humid and muggy, so ensure your accommodation has plenty of ceiling fans and sea breezes or air conditioning to make it more pleasant.
Port Antonio is approximately two and a half hours drive from Kingston’s airport to the heart of this beautiful parish. You’ll need to consider how to get to this part of the island as it is opposite more trendy cities like Montego Bay and Ocho Rios and closer to Sangster International Airport. There are a few options including shared taxi services (minivans), taxis, self-driving (not recommended), however, the safest is the Knutsford Express, which is both reliable and affordable. The Knutsford Express operate the safest and most convenient way to get around the island even if bus transport is something you wouldn’t do in your home country. The coaches are well maintained, run on time, and offer free wifi. It’s important to work out how to get from the Knutsford depots in your respective parish to your hotel, but most hotels have a driver or can make this happen for you. (Be sure and phone or email ahead of your arrival.)
The drive from Kingston is scenic and the drive will take you straight through the lush interior winding around the Blue Mountains National Park. If you are into hiking, bring your boots and gear, as you could get a great walk in getting to its Peak. This area is where the famous Blue Mountain coffee is grown and there are plenty of locals who are very proud and willing to give you a history lesson and show you this part of Jamaica.
Cheap & Cheerful: San San Tropez
If you are into the low-tech, low budget Jamaican experience with a side of pizza, then spend a night or two at the San San Tropez Guest House. It’s owned and managed by two lovely Italians, Sasha and Fabio, who are both personable and established in the local community having married Jamaican women. The property offers various room types and configurations, an outdoor swimming pool and lush gardens, a small cafe/breakfast room. Beyond its interesting and colourful owner/operators, its winning feature is its proper pizza oven. The rooms are minimally furnished, comfortable and functional provided you are relaxed about cleanliness and have low expectations of amenities like functioning hair dryers or shampoo. As the owners follow the local Ital diet (vegetarian), don’t get your hopes up about fresh seafood or anything on the menu that includes animal protein, you’ll get the twenty minute delayed response of “we’ve just run out.” This was commonly repeated throughout our stay even though we saw very few guests in the hotel at meal times or large dining groups.
Whilst we did observe a few Danish guys travelling together, Fabio informed us that the hotel is most popular with price-sensitive Jamaicans taking breaks from the city, and its best feature is the proximity it has to Blue Lagoon Beach. He and Sasha welcome groups who want to experience local culture and can curate hiking, visits to Rasta villages, or nightlife outings. Fabio explained that whilst not at the forefront of his website marketing spiel, his hotel is differentiated because it is one that welcomes cannabis seeking tourists who enjoy the relaxed vibe of the property. The hotel does offer wifi, but only in the cafe/main pool areas.
Fabio explained that whilst not at the forefront of his website marketing spiel, his hotel is differentiated because it is one that welcomes cannabis seeking tourists who enjoy the relaxed vibe of the property. The hotel does offer wifi, but only in the cafe/main pool areas.
For the Idyllic Observer: Goblin Hill Resort
Not far from the entrance of the Blue Lagoon slightly further on the east coast main coastal road, is the turnoff for Goblin Hill Villas. Make sure your car has sufficient air in the tires, as the roads are a bit rugged and best attempted in a four-wheel drive. There are several hotels that are based within these lush green foothills at the base of the Blue Mountains. If you aren’t an avid hiker, I don’t recommend attempting to walk to the scenic Frenchman’s Cove beach below, it’s about a twelve-minute hike and can be a little daunting if you aren’t half mountain goat. I highly recommend finding time to read and relax around the beautiful outdoor pool or try an early morning set of tennis on the manicured courts. What was most stunning about Goblin Hill was the scenic grounds and the vast roaming areas that begged to be explored. Our sunset lookout over Monkey Island amongst nature was something that was truly blissful.
The villas here are well equipped with full-size refrigerators, cooktop, and utensils, so it does promote self-catering. Your appointed housekeeper is there to cook for you, but that does require forward planning and for you to bring your own ingredients or arrive early enough for her to have time to go shopping for you. You’ll also need to have Jamaican cash dollars at the ready, as you will need to pay her for your ingredients and taxi fare for her to get to the shops. I found this process frustrating and something that the hotel should better communicate pre-arrival, like offer a shopping list and take a shopping credit on your guaranteeing credit card to mitigate a late night crisis and no food truck in sight.
You will need a car or to organize a driver to dine out of the hotel at night as the hotel does not have a restaurant on the premises. The rooms were comfortable, clean and got all the basics right. The staff was very friendly and attentive, and the grounds were meticulously maintained. Goblin Hill Villas offers great value for money and perfect for small groups, romantic or family getaways. The cocktail bar, General Manager’s weekly reception, complimentary rum punch and the library were all really lovely touches that made this hotel memorable.
If money is no object and you seek the ultimate luxury escape in Port Antonio, there is only one place to find it — The Trident Hotel. This thirteen villa oceanfront property is nestled behind a nondescript white-washed gate bearing a “T” on a cliff-front and complete with a signature spa, private beach/lagoon, gourmet restaurant, state of the art fitness center, a cinephile-grade screening room for movie nights, children’s playground and function center. It also boasts the only Ferrari-red lacquer 1917 Steinway piano on the island and part of the permanent fixtures in Mike’s Supper Club – the live music venue on property open on the weekends. Once you’ve arrived here, you needn’t worry about transportation except when you are dragged away kicking and screaming because if you are at all like me, you will never want to leave.
Seduced by the invite from gracious Shantiqua at the front desk to have a tour, I was immediately besotted with this hotel. The hotel opens onto a rolling infinity deck that is curiously minded by statues of sheep. (Probably the only sheep to be seen in Jamaica.)
The Explorer’s Lounge is more than just a common space cum gallery cum library. It feels like you are in someone’s home. Someone who has better taste than you do, and knew just what coffee table book or curious artwork would pique your interest. This grand area contains a billiard table that begs to be played and an impressive collection of unique works of art from the 50s and 60s. It also has an ambiance that doesn’t feel like your mean auntie’s sitting room. The chairs were made for languishing in, and the staff who float around in spa uniforms subtly insist on you relaxing into the resort instead of around it. The Veranda is the hotel’s primary dining facility but open to the public and highly recommended. The outdoor setting next to the infinity pool and the art installation of curious sheep grazing makes the perfect place for sea breezes and some of the best fine dining in Port Antonio.
The Time Bar, located just off the Veranda, is a great place to start an evening. The wooden feature wall gives the place an elegant moodiness as the natural light dances between the slates of timber. The bar boasts top-shelf tonics and a cocktail list mixed by acclaimed mixologist Shige (Apple Share Bar – NYC) and offers one of the best rum lists on the island. This traveler was pleased to find Zacapa 23 amongst the top drops.
Each villa at The Trident is elegantly and tastefully furnished in white modern minimalistic decor and top of the range brands you’d know, such as Saarinen, JBL, Ginosa, Eames, and AppleTV. Furthermore, great care has been given to the spacious bathroom fixtures you’d find in any luxury condo — the outdoor bath by Tyrell and Laing, Hans Grohe, the Kohler taps and the plush Egyptian cotton bath sheets reminded me of home. Each villa has its own private outdoor sundecks and relaxation areas with spectacular views and a well-stocked mini-bar.
The Trident Hotel villas include tasteful amenities including a pampering array of Rosemary and Mint toiletries that are locally formulated, sourced and bespoke to the property (they smelled simply divine!).
Port Antonio on Jamaica’s eastern side is one of the prettiest areas of the island and its beaches are like pretty little gems, where the island natural rivers meet the sea. Got a hotel to add to the list? Leave it in the comments, please!