Portland, Jamaica: From Lagoon to Mountainside

Words by Hal Peat

There is an intriguing human ingredient along with an abundantly natural side that has combined over time to produce a distinct story within the resplendent setting of Jamaica’s eastern coastal parish of Portland.  Arrive into Portland today from across the north shore or come down through the Blue Mountains from Kingston, and you cannot help but soon notice how the energy changes here – in the landscape, in the people, in the spectrum of events, abodes and way of life and leisure.  Now, as in its earliest notable era of tourism on the island, the legacy and spirit of Portland are both cherished by those who live here and the inspiration for its present-day array of entrepreneurs, innovators, artists and community innovators.

Drawing on the region’s natural assets, a new crop of creatives has appeared to re-energize and transform the local landscape, expanding or updating the earlier spectrum of haute and high-end, green-minded and eco-aware accommodation and entertainment.

Among those at the forefront in this renewal has been the Geejam Group, in which music entrepreneurs Jon Baker and Steve Beaver have brought properties such as the Trident Hotel and Trident Castle back into a fresh existence, while also opening the eco-luxuriant Geejam Hotel & Recording Studio in the San San neighborhood. They are also busy with the relaunch of an expanded Blue Lagoon Restaurant, set on the edge of the deep spring-fed lagoon of the same name.

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In addition to its current projects, the Geejam Group is in full drive with the Geejam Villa Collection, a new company dedicated to the restoration of the period villas within the historic San San Estate.  Already open in this grouping are the exuberant “Coco San”, at 200 meters above sea level and with lavish red tile finish teak-surround lap pool and heated plunge pool, and an interior design reinterpretation of local materials to create a tropical contemporary residence. For the ultimate view of the Portland coastline and the Blue Mountains to the south, there will be the appropriately named “Panorama”, a hilltop residence with expansive grounds and a past of hosting guests from the entertainment stratosphere.

The villa revitalization around San San includes those located along the Blue Lagoon’s edge.  For instance, at “Sea Star”, a recently renovated contemporary villa near the top of the Lagoon road, guests can choose to launch off to kayak, boat or swim in the calmer waters, or lounge on a private seafront deck, or drive over to other legendary beaches at Boston Beach or Long Bay.  A seasonal booking at one of these affordably luxuriant lagoon area villas such as “Sea Star” also provides an ideal base for traveling over to the Errol Flynn Marina or the “old marina” for the seasonal yachting or big game fishing events.

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Elsewhere locally, adventurous entrepreneurs continue the innovative vision of the past century with new intention. High above and inland at eco-conscious Kanopi House, for instance, the formula is classic island style, blending colonial and West Indian design in peak roof “tree-houses” amidst a rainforest seclusion. This type of distinctly individual hotel presence can also be found at other elevated properties such as at Mocking Bird Hill, where tiered gardens slant down from wondrous views of the shoreline, or at Goblin Hill Villas, a peaceable retreat with villa style units, lush lawns, and more stellar panoramas of the bays below.

While some visitors are immediately drawn inwards into Portland´s green abundance of freshwater falls, rafting the Rio Grande and hiking nearby, others come for the range of waterfront and offshore activity – be it the waves that draw surfers toward the eastern end of the parish, or events like the annual Port Antonio International Marlin Tournament.  Boston Beach, favored by surfers, was recently upgraded at a cost of some 27 million dollars, and there is talk of a highway that will traverse the eastern side of the island from Kingston to Morant Bay and then into Port Antonio itself.

The ongoing endeavor of both preserving, expanding and bringing a forward into present and future continues apace along this eastern Jamaica coastal parish.  It manifests in various dimensions and levels – evident in the re-emergence of a host of imaginative villas, in its brilliantly conceived hotels and of course with its splendid access for active-minded explorers of every stripe.  For over a century, Portland´s central and outlying coastal areas have seen so much in the way of creativity and enterprise – along the way encountering both human and natural adversity, but always returning to reassert its own inimitable identity.