Once a means of transporting bananas, rafting down the majestic Rio Grande is now Portland’s most popular attraction, ever since Errol Flynn raced with his friends in the 1950s. It’s a delightfully lazy way to spend half a day, although the sun can get fierce.
From the put-in point at Berridale, ten kilometres southwest of Port Antonio, the thirty-foot bamboo rafts (each with a raised seat) meander down the river for two hours through outstanding scenery, poled downstream by a captain and stopping periodically for swimming, waterfall hunting or to buy snacks. Tickets are sold at Rio Grande Experience in Berridale (daily 9am–4pm; US$78/raft; t993 5778) and by hotels and tour offices in Port Antonio. The trip is one-way, terminating at Rafters’ Rest in St Margaret’s Bay, so if you’re driving, leave your car at Berridale and have an insured driver take it down for US$15, or else use a taxi – to Berridale and then back to Port Antonio from Rafters Rest costs around US$30. If you’re desperate to save cash, the Berridale route taxi from Port Antonio (J$220) runs close by the put-in point, and route taxis to Port Antonio from Kingston and Buff Bay pass the entrance to Rafters’ Rest regularly.
A recent popular addition to the trip downriver is to arrange a lunch en route cooked by master chef Belinda, who descends on foot from the hills with the freshest ingredients and cooks delights like curried fish, jerk pork or crayfish right there on the river bank. Order through your hotel or call Belinda directly on t389 8826.
You’ll also find people touting unofficial rafting trips in Port Antonio and St Margaret’s Bay for a lower price. Don’t hand over the cash until you’ve finished the journey at Rafters’ Rest, and don’t go with anyone who makes you feel uncomfortable.