Towering behind Kingston and enticingly visible from anywhere in the island’s eastern third, the Blue Mountains conform with few people’s mental image of Jamaica, land of sand, sea and reggae. Forming one of the longest continuous ranges in the Caribbean, their cool, fragrant woodlands are shrouded in mist and offer some of the best hiking on the island, including Blue Mountain Peak, the remarkable botanical gardens at Cinchona and estates producing some of the most expensive coffee on earth.
South of the range, St Thomas is one of the country’s poorest and least developed regions, despite a rich history. Tourist development remains negligible and there are only a handful of hotels, but these are good bases nonetheless to visit the delightful mineral springs at Bath, or the deserted beaches around Morant Point Lighthouse.
Contrasting in scenery and atmosphere, on the northern side of the mountains is the northeastern parish of Portland, justifiably touted as one of the most beautiful parts of Jamaica, with jungle-smothered hillsides cascading down to postcard-perfect Caribbean shoreline. Though increasing, particularly at the luxury end, tourism is less conspicuous here than in other resort areas, but that’s all the more reason to come – the wetter climate supports some stupendous natural scenery, including beautiful waterfalls and the magical Blue Lagoon. The parish capital, Port Antonio, has plenty of historical charm, while inland you can hike in pristine rainforest or take a gentler rafting trip on the Rio Grande. Some of the island’s best beaches are also found here, and they’re far less crowded than those further west, with lovely places to stay to boot: from surf-pounded stretches at Long Bay and Boston Bay to calm and idyllic Frenchman’s Cove and Winnifred Beach, visitors come to Portland to chill out and experience a lower-key Jamaica than found elsewhere.