Once a banana port, Port Antonio, Jamaica, became a tourist destination in the 1940s after actor Errol Flynn chose it as a vacation spot and began hosting parties that were attended by Hollywood celebrities. The easternmost of the north coast resort areas, the small town of Port Antonio has a sleepier feel than Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, but it still has all the prerequisites for a vacation spot: beaches, deep-sea fishing and a lovely mountain setting.
Thanks to its lush vegetation fed by copious rainfall, it is more of an ecotourism destination than other areas of Jamaica. Secluded in the far northeastern corner of the island, Port Antonio lacks large-scale resorts. Its laid-back atmosphere will probably please nature enthusiasts and those who are put off by the commercialization of some of the north coast's other hot spots.
Port Antonio is compact and wraps around the twin-pocketed bays of West Harbour and East Harbour, divided by the Titchfield Peninsula (where the original settlement stood). Navy Island is located off the tip of the peninsula, and is reached by water taxi. The town center lies at the foot of the peninsula.
Port Antonio is cusped by thickly forested hills, and many of the town's streets snake steeply uphill. The marina and mercantile Boundbrook Wharf line West Harbour, and polluted Fisherman's Beach lines the larger East Harbour. The main road is the A4. On the west side of Port Antonio, the A4 is known as West Palm Avenue, which becomes West Street in town; in the east it is called Allan Avenue.
The Spanish founded Port Antonio in the 16th century, naming it Puerto Anton after the current governor's son. The British gained control of the island in 1660. Attacks by the Maroons, slaves freed by the Spanish who lived in the dense forests and mountains, limited development in the area. Eventually, a 1739 treaty between the Maroons and the British made way for sugarcane plantations and settlements.
Port Antonio's fortunes arrived with the development of the banana-export business in the 1870s, when large swaths of banana trees were planted locally. Port Antonio became Jamaica's leading port for the fruit, and it became known as "the banana capital of the world."
Another boost to the local economy occurred when actor Errol Flynn's yacht washed ashore in bad weather. He fell in love with the area and bought property on Navy Island, just off the coast, where he entertained his Hollywood friends with lavish parties.
In the 1950s, the first deluxe hotel opened in the town and was quickly followed by others, and socialites vacationed in Port Antonio away from prying eyes. Port Antonio continues to be popular with Hollywood jet-setters, who are attracted by its natural beauty and tranquil, secluded surroundings. The Errol Flynn Marina lures yachters, and ecotourism promotions have increased interest in the area.
Port Antonio is surrounded by undeveloped mountain wilderness and lush rain forest—even the developed natural attractions somehow seem untouched. Along Boundbrook Wharf, the raw energy of the banana trade still lingers, even though the process is now very mechanized.
For fine examples of Victorian gingerbread architecture, walk north on Gideon Avenue to the historic Titchfield neighborhood. The houses along Musgrave Street are particularly scenic.
The main plaza at the junction of Harbour Street and West Street is home to the old clock tower and the redbrick Parish Courthouse with its white stonework and columns. Overlooking the plaza to the west is the Village of St. George, a modern shopping and entertainment complex built in eclectic fashion, with buildings in various European historical styles. Off Allan Avenue, you'll see Folly Point Lighthouse. It has guided mariners to safety for more than 100 years.
Beyond town, hire a rental car or guide (ask the Jamaica Tourist Board for recommendations) to explore the coastline, with its scenic coves and hidden beaches, and to follow the Rio Grande Valley into the John Crow Mountains.
Port Antonio is not known for its nightlife, and the clubs that exist are rather low-key. Nevertheless, you can find great reggae on weekends. Live reggae concerts are occasionally hosted on Winnifred Beach at Fairy Hill, about 8 mi/13 km east of Port Antonio.
Most hotels and restaurants have bars. Some of the resort hotels offer dinner-and-a-show deals.
The are a number of good restaurants in Port Antonio that serve excellent Jamaican food at moderate prices.
In Boston Bay, 8 m/11 km east of town, you'll find barbecue shacks along the roadside that serve fish and spicy, slow-cooked jerk chicken and pork. They are accompanied by roasted yams, breadfruit and festival bread (fried bread, somewhat similar to hush puppies). You will be able to eat inexpensively and well.
Expect to pay within these guidelines for a meal for one, not including drinks, tax or tip: $ = less than US$10; $$ = US$10-$20; $$$ = US$21-$45; $$$$ = more than US$45.
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