When most people think of Jamaica, the first things that come to mind are beautiful beaches and stunning all-inclusive resorts. Jamaica, however, has more to offer and if you are willing to go a little off the beaten track you will experience an authentic destination full of adventure, biodiversity, history, and culture. The Blue and John Crow Mountain National Park is Jamaica’s only national park and the only UNESCO World Heritage Site of this Caribbean nation. Located on the eastern side, and consisting of over 100,000 acres of natural forest, it covers 4.5% of the entire island. This site spans across the four parishes of Portland, St. Andrew, St. Thomas, and St Mary. It is full of endemic plant and animal species. It is also the heritage home of the Winward Maroons who have lived in the area since the 17th century.
Blue and John Crow Mountain National Park is full of biodiversity and culture
Before taking my first trip to Blue and John Crow Mountain National Park in 2017, I wasn’t sure what to expect. One of the things that made me interested in visiting though was that the park had been designated a World Heritage Site in 2015. When I got there, I realized pretty quickly that this was a very special place. The biodiversity of the Blue and John Crow Mountain Park is one of its highlights. More than half of the flowering plants in the park are found only in Jamaica and about one third is found only in the park. Also, there are several animal species found in the park, including the endangered Giant Swallow Tail Butterfly, Jamaican Blackbird and the Jamaican Coney which were previously thought to be extinct. Over 200 migratory birds make the Blue and John Crow Mountain National Park their home throughout the year. Also, Jamaica’s six endemic snake species reside here and eleven of the twenty-three endemic frog species on the island.
Another reason why I enjoyed visiting the Blue and John Crow Mountain National Park is the rich cultural heritage of the area. The Winward Maroons have lived in these Mountains since the 17th century. This group of people ran away from their Spanish-owned plantations when the British took the island in 1655. The community still exists today and has developed their own culinary traditions, unique ritual language, dances, and music. Their cultural heritage makes them an integral part of the Blue and John Crow Mountain National Park. You can visit the maroon community to learn more about the fascinating history and traditions of this unique set of people.
Things to do when you visit the Blue and John Crow Mountain National Park
Apart from enjoying the amazing natural forest, unique plant and animal species and interacting with the Winward Maroons, many other activities are available to you in the Blue and John Crow Mountain National Park. Some of the things that you can do, including; hiking, camping, and coffee tours.
Hike the Blue Mountain peak
If hiking is your forte, there are many different hiking trails for you to enjoy. I recommend the Blue Mountain Peak Hike. The Hike to the Blue Mountain Peak is an intense 4-hour hike, covers a distance of 5.8 miles over steep and rugged terrain. It is a strenuous hike but the rewards are totally worth it. You will feel extremely accomplished when you complete the hike, are rewarded with a breathtaking view and realize that you are on top of Jamaica!
Camp in the national park
Camping is a great option in the Blue and John Crow Mountain National Park, especially in the summer months, when the temperatures are a lot cooler in this elevated area than in lower areas. There are two campgrounds that you can camp in. Holywell is further away from the Blue Mountain peak but offers a more amenities. You can rent private cabins or you can rent a tent for the outdoor campgrounds. The campsites are well developed, including toilet facilities, showers, water, and barbecue grills. The Portland Gap cabins offer a more rustic experience and are closer to the peak. Here you’ll find bunk beds and floor space with bare minimum amenities.
Take a coffee tour
The world-renowned Blue Mountain Coffee is grown in the Blue and John Crow Mountain region. You will have the opportunity to experience how this famous coffee is produced and will learn about the history of coffee cultivation in the area. You can also sample the world-famous coffee and purchase a bag directly from the source.
How to get to Blue and John Crow Mountain National Park and the cost to enter
You can get to the park from either Kingston or Portland. The drive from Kingston is just over an hour and the drive from Ocho Rios via Portland is approximately 1 hour and 50 minutes. There is an admission fee of $10USD for adults and $5USD for children twelve years and younger.