The South Coast of Jamaica is my favourite part of Jamaica.
The best. Top notch. Ace. Valedictorian.
Now, it nerves me to make this kind of blunt and direct pronouncement (not because I fear insulting anyone, oh no, but because this kind of commitment scares me), but it must be said.
The South Coast is the Best Coast!!!!
Jamaica is a beautiful island, full of glorious jungles, mountains, rivers, waterfalls, and of course beaches. Everyone will have their favourite part of the island for different reasons. Some will say Portland is the best, mainly because of the jerk chicken and wicked surf. Others are avid Montego Bay fans, mainly because of the fancy hotels, private beaches, and the strip club (niche market clearly). Folks born and bred in Kingston may say city life is best, but…well they’re wrong.
The South Coast of Jamaica, generally thought of as the southern parts of the St. Elizabeth and Westmoreland parishes, is the coast of Jamaica to get away from it all. No all-inclusive resorts, few busloads of people, pretty crappy roads, and no strip clubs. Also no cruise ship ports or golf courses, shopping malls, cinemas or bumping night clubs.
Ok, now that I have scared you away, let me bring you back!!
The South Coast, is as the name suggests, on the southern coast. Running from Alligator Pond in the East to Bluefields in the West, the southern stretch of Jamaican seaside is different from the Northern. Beautiful beaches are aplenty, but they are generally more rugged and there is not a raked stretch of sand in sight. The surf crashes in with abandon and the rocks of the coastline have been eroded into fascinating characters. The South Coast is by no means flat, and while weaving up and down the mountain ridges that drop off suddenly into the sea you will go from vivid ocean views to crop land and back again.
Life is a bit more relaxed in the South; maybe because the potholes make everyone drive slowly. Even I walk a bit slower in the South (and I’m like the Usain Bolt of walkers, my Dad refers to my speed as “marching”). The wind off the sea gives refreshing relief of the heat of St. Elizabeth and the lack of rain generally guarantees a good portion of clear skies. Sitting and enjoying the quiet with a cold beer and a book is a legit activity in the South, and I really do recommend it.
Treasure Beach is my jam. It is my favourite place in Jamaica (I know! Another very committed assessment). Treasure Beach is the hippie, relaxed, eco-friendly, vegan eating pot-smoking version of Montego Bay. And by version I mean totally different.
N’er a massive hotel in site, Treasure Beach has the best beaches in the South and is a small-unincorporated type area whose residents are committed to community development and sustainable tourism/life. Many artsy folks have found their way to Treasure Beach, and there is a thriving scene of ex-pats, locals, returned residents (Jamaicans who lived abroad for years and have come back to the rock to retire), and tourists.
In Treasure Beach, everyone says good morning as they pass by, because really, all mornings in Treasure Beach are a good ones! I went for a run on Christmas Day and ran past a group of locals already celebrating and they all cheered me on and said I was awesome. Only in Treasure Beach!
There are various places to stay from self contained vacation rentals to bungalows and tents on the beach at Katamah to rooms at Jake’s Hotel Villa and Spa or the Treasure Beach Hotel. The first time I stayed in Treasure Beach I was with my parents and we AirBnB’ed a tree house. Seriously, it was awesome. My Dad shook his head.
My days in Treasure Beach are generally spent enjoying the sights and sounds of the waves, moving from a shady chair to a sunny lounger to the ocean. Breakfast is always eaten at Smurf’s where the owner Dawn roasts the coffee fresh and the omelets are chock full with goodness and love. Several of my dinners came from Mellow Yellow, a relatively new Italian-Jamaican restaurant owned by an Italian import who serves fusion pasta and pot brownies on her patio.
One night in Katamah’s outdoor shower a fallen leaf was getting rather aggressive with my feet. I was startled to find that the leaf was actually a crab that had climbed up the drain from… somewhere. Again, only in Treasure Beach.
The North Coast has Dunn’s River Falls, the South Coast has YS. YS is a 7-tiered waterfall about an hour inland and is a stunning example of the many waterfalls in Jamaica. Fewer tourists than Dunn’s River (though still plenty, people come from Montego and Negril to YS), there are guides who can safely get you around the different parts of the falls without slipping. My guide also helped me up and off a surprisingly high platform via Tarzan swing. It never looks that high from below…
YS is located in a beautiful jungle area beyond lovely pastureland and is a fantastic example of rural Jamaica beyond the beach.
The best view of the South Coast is definitely Lovers Leap. Located on the cliff of the Malvern Mountain range before the earth cuts down to the sea, Lovers Leap is a sprawling viewpoint where on a clear day you can see Panama. No, that’s not true at all, but you can see really far.
The legend of Lovers Leap is sad, as the name suggests. Two slaves who fell in love were about to be separated by her jealous owner. Instead of living lives apart, they escaped in the night and were chased to the edge of this very high cliff, ready to make the ultimate sacrifice. Today, the world’s highest lighthouse (allegedly) sits on Lovers Leap as a beacon of love. Or nautical navigation, one of the two.
If anything, Holland Bamboo is evidence that sometimes the destination is the journey. Known by several names, Holland Bamboo, or Bamboo Alley/Lane/Road whatever, is a bit of the main highway going through St. Elizabeth. This stretch of about 2km is completely covered by arching bamboo coming from both sides of the road to shadow the way and demand the question: How?
This beautiful feature for the road traveler has an unclear history. Some say back in the day farmers cleared bamboo off the surrounding fields and pushed it up to the roadside where it started to grow again. Others say it was planted purposefully. What came first, the road or the bamboo? Who knows, but it is super pretty!
Little Ochie in Alligator Pond
We all know I love great food, the ocean, and beer. At Little Ochie you can find all three. Renowned as a rustic seaside seafood restaurant, Little Ochie is the most impressive place in which you can eat as a tourist. You will get serious kudos from the Jamaican people if you tell them you’ve been to Little Ochie.
You pick whichever fresh fish catches your fancy, from red snapper to trout to conch to lobster and they will cook it up to order. While waiting for my food (it’s not the quickest meal in the world), I always drink a beer or two while sitting at the outdoors tables watching the fisher folk in their boats head out to stock up the freezers with more sea produce. I actually wrote an entire blog about Little Ochie, that is how much I love it.
Black River Safari
Black River is about 30 minutes west of Treasure Beach and is a hub town. The main attraction in Black River is the river safari, a boat trip up the Black River looking for crocodiles. I enjoy the idea of crocodiles, but as my experience in a dugout canoe in Chitwan, Nepal suggests, I am terrified of losing a limb to one of them. When Morgan and I did our jaunt up the Black River we were in a long boat steered by Captain Ted, a rasta man with a penchant for rhyming his name to everything. Made me jealous wishing my name rhymed with real words. We spotted on crocodile, many varieties of birds, a couple of dudes spearfishing with snorkels, and dolphins on the way to the river. Excellent day.
Appleton Rum Tour
While not really on the South Coast, Appleton is most accessible from the South Coast. Tucked away in the high ground of St. Elizabeth, you smell the Appleton Rum distillery before you see it. I have seriously said, “I smell rum”, and I wasn’t intoxicated in the least!
My parents and I did an Appleton Rum Tour and really enjoyed it, we may have been converted into rum drinkers! We had a dynamic guide named Norman who spouted information aplenty and then tested us several minutes later. Which was fair, until we started drinking, don’t quiz me post-rum.
After a tour through the process of rum making and to several important buildings and facilities, Norman showed us to the tasting saloon, where 9 bottles were waiting for us. Challenge accepted!
Note: Appleton Rum Tours at the distillery are cancelled from January to November 2017 for renovations and whatnot.
How to Get to the South Coast
The closest airport to the South Coast is Montego Bay, about 3 hours away. The best way to get to the South is with your own wheels, though getting to and around the South Coast towns and beaches is very possible and very affordably done on public transit.
We had a car and I drove (aka avoided potholes while my Dad nagged me), which was good for the epic day we drove from Treasure Beach to Appleton to YS to Little Ochie and back to Treasure Beach.
Where to Stay on the South Coast
Treasure Beach is the main tourist area, though I use the word ‘main’ loosely. There are guesthouses in Black River and near Lovers Leap, plus hotels in Bluefields as well. My recommendation is Treasure Beach, that way you can eat breakfast at Smurf’s and mosey down the beaches at your leisure. You can still get to all of the activities around Treasure Beach that I have mentioned here and then you can say you really got off the beaten path in Jamaica!
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