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Bamboo Rafting and Beyond: An Eco-Tourist’s Guide to Portland, Jamaica. Jamaica, the island nation nestled in the Caribbean Sea, is a cultural superpower steeped in rhythm, reggae and resonant history. It is the land of swaying palms, rolling hills, and a people known for their vibrancy and charm. In the heart of this paradise is the parish of Portland, renowned for its pristine landscapes and slow-paced, nature-centric lifestyle. My trip here was one of eco-tourism, a celebration of nature and local culture that left me spellbound.
Our adventure began on the banks of the Rio Grande, a shimmering expanse of water cutting through the lush greenery of the Jamaican countryside. Perched on a bamboo raft, we embarked on a custom tour that unfolded not just at the pace of the river’s flow but also to the rhythm of our hearts. This was a leisurely journey meant to be savoured, where the destination was as enticing as the voyage itself.
The rafts, previously used to transport bananas from the interior to the coast, were now repurposed for our journey. Skilled and licensed raft captains helmed the rafts, using long poles to navigate the meandering river. Each raft, four feet wide and twenty-five feet long, sported a bamboo seat that invited us to relax and let the current guide us downstream.
Our journey was punctuated by multiple opportunities to stop along the riverbanks at places that seemed too inviting to merely float past. Romantic spots such as Lover’s Lane invited us to disembark for a picnic, while other stretches beckoned us to take a dip in the cool, refreshing waters. Throughout, the scenic backdrop of the Blue Mountains in the distance and the banana and coconut trees lining the riverbanks provided a picturesque panorama that echoed rustic tranquillity and pastoral serenity.
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From Bamboo Rafting to Jerk Chicken: A Cultural Journey in Portland, Jamaica
Our destination was Port Antonio, the capital city of Portland. Nestled on the hillsides, the city’s colourful houses were a delightful sight, their hues mirroring the vibrant pulse of reggae that finds its rhythm here. It was easy to imagine the beats of the music emanating from the heart of the city, flowing in harmony with the serenity of the surroundings.
Portland’s natural charm extends beyond the Rio Grande. Places such as Winnifred Beach and Frenchman’s Cove, with their azure waters, invite visitors to unwind. The vibrant ecosystem of Goblin Hill beckons exploration, while the mystical allure of the Blue Lagoon promises a dip into the fantastical. Reach Falls offers an immersion into the raw power and beauty of nature, and for the adventurous, horseback riding provides an alternative way to experience Portland’s landscape.
No journey to Portland is complete without indulging in the local cuisine. As we journeyed down the Rio Grande, we discovered a hidden gem – Belinda’s Café. Only accessible by bamboo raft, this rustic café is an eco-paradise for food lovers. The curried goat, rich and tender, was a delight.
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At Cynthia’s at Winnifred Beach, we savoured the local favourite, Ackee and Salt Fish, an explosion of flavours that pay homage to Jamaican culinary traditions. Woody’s offered a contemporary twist with their burgers paired with sweet, ripe plantains. And at Gurleys at Boston, we enjoyed authentic Jamaican jerk chicken and curry lobster, each bite a testament to the island’s rich culinary heritage.
Portland, Jamaica is more than a vacation destination; it’s an enchanting world where nature, culture, and history dance in harmony. It’s an eco-paradise where one can experience the joy of floating down a river on a bamboo raft, swim in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea, explore the lush greenery, and lose oneself in the rhythm of reggae. This is the essence of Portland – the beautiful parish on the northeastern coast of Jamaica, where time seems to slow, and where every moment invites you to embrace the beauty of nature and the warmth of its people. ◼
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© This article was first published online in July 2023 – World Travel Magazine.