A haven for foreign visitors during the 1950s and 1960s, the quiet town of Port Antonio can feel more like an isolated backwater at times. But with ongoing redevelopment of the harbour, things here are changing. Though Port Antonio has no dedicated attractions save the new waterside promenade, it's a friendly and beguiling place with a bustling central market and a couple of lively clubs.
Overview of Port Antonio, Jamaica
Situated on the coast just north of the Blue Mountains, the town is surrounded by some of the most rugged and beautiful scenery in Jamaica. Many visitors prefer to visit the mountains and highlands from a base here, rather than starting in Kingston, to avoid the capital's urban sprawl.
This is the parish of Portland. It's the rainiest, greenest parish in Jamaica, known for its many rivers and waterfalls. Once the cradle of Jamaican tourism, the region has since been eclipsed by Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, and Negril. It remains a preferred hideaway, however, for a chic and elegant crowd that comes for a handful of posh hotels.
Port Antonio itself is a verdant and sleepy seaport 97km (60 miles) northeast of Kingston. You may have seen it in the Hollywood film Cocktail (still talked about here as if it were shot yesterday). Here you can still catch a glimpse of the Jamaica of old. This small, bustling town is like many in Jamaica: clean though ramshackle, its sidewalks surrounding a market filled with vendors, tin-roofed shacks compete with old Georgian and modern brick and concrete buildings. Locals busily shop, talk, and laugh, while others sit and play dominoes (loudly banging the pieces on the table, which is very much part of the game).
Go to the colorful markets to browse for local craftworks, spices, and fruits -- or just to listen to conversations, negotiations, and the news of the day.
Unlike Montego Bay, Negril, and Ocho Rios, less visited and much more remote Port Antonio is an elite retreat -- long a favorite of visiting celebrities such as Bette Davis, Ginger Rogers, Harrison Ford, and Denzel Washington.
Although much of Jamaica is overbuilt, Port Antonio lies in a relatively undeveloped area. As one local vendor put it, "Ocho Rios attracts the tourist; we attract the traveler."
Most mainstream beach-going, sun-loving Americans tend to gravitate to Mo Bay, Ocho Rios, and Negril (in that order). In Port Antonio, by contrast, you're much more likely to encounter eco-sensitive and "adventurous" European visitors, especially from Germany and Holland, and a handful of Americans interested in botany, bird watching, environmental issues, nature hikes, and eco-exploring.