Portland Parish, with its capital city Port Antonio, is located on Jamaica’s northeast coast. It is located in Surrey County, north of St Thomas and east of St Mary. It is one of Jamaica’s rural districts, encompassing a portion of the Blue Mountains and the Jamaican Maroon villages of Moore Town and Charles Town.
A trip to Portland will feel like a trip to the Garden of Eden for nature enthusiasts. This location, affectionately known as “Portie” by locals, receives more rainfall than anywhere else in Jamaica, resulting in extraordinarily lush tropical and colourful flora.
As you approach Portland, you are greeted by the majesty of the Blue Mountains, Jamaica’s most extended mountain range and the island’s highest point, which soars to a whopping 7,402 feet above sea level; the ideal height and climate for growing our famous Blue Mountain coffee, which is said to be one of the world’s finest.
The vast, tumultuous waters of the Rio Grande meander through the lovely parish of Portland. When the Spanish occupied Jamaica in the 15th and 16th centuries, they named it the river. With a length of 3,034 kilometres, it is one of Jamaica’s longest rivers and was termed “Big River” (Rio Grande) by the Spanish. Today, it is one of Port Antonio’s many tourist attractions, primarily for rafting. This activity completes your bucket list as an unforgettable experience!
Rafting at the Rio Grande
Rio Grande River Rafting developed out of need when bamboo rafts were used to move products, particularly bananas, from the parish’s interior to the shore for export. Errol Flynn, a prominent 1950s actor, popularised bamboo rafting for recreation, and it quickly became one of Port Antonio’s primary attractions. Rio Grande River Rafting has become one of Jamaica’s most popular activities for visitors and locals.
Your Rio Grande rafting adventure begins when you check in and are assigned a raft captain who will provide you with a safety jacket. As your raft begins to drift down the river, your senses become more sensitive to the ebb and flow of the rapids, the singing of birds, the gentle rustling of the leaves, the calming breeze caressing your cheeks, and the soft rays of the sun on your skin. Now that you’re entirely immersed in Mother Nature, a fantastic tranquilly permeates your mind, body, and soul, eradicating all of your worries and waking your spirit to Portland’s natural charm and beauty.
Each raft can accommodate two adults and one small child and is accessible seven days a week. You may customise your tour by adding a lunch stop or swimming break by asking your raft captain. The time begins with a 45-minute picturesque drive from your Port Antonio area hotel, during which your driver, as a tour guide, will point out local places of interest along the way. Your driver will take you to your highly competent and certified Raft Captain, who will then wait for you to arrive at “Rafters Rest” at the end of your 2 – 3 hour trip.
While you rest and take in the beauty and charm of this lifeline to Port Antonio, your Captain will pole you down the river. You float across a verdant valley on the raft, with wildlife on either side peering out to say hello. As the grandeur and appeal of the magnificent Rio Grande unfolded, the view was intoxicating and tremendously soothing.
Rafting on the Rio Grande is the ideal ‘all right’ experience, delivering an immersed look at Jamaica’s natural splendour and an ultra-relaxing day.
Belinda’s Riverside Restaurant is on the Rio Grande’s banks, ready to provide the tastiest meals in Portland.
After about an hour, you’ll arrive at Belinda’s Riverside Restaurant, a one-of-a-kind country-style cafe on the Rio Grande.
This rustic riverbank cafe, run by Belinda Grey, commonly known as Ms Belinda, has a unique history spanning more than four decades. Miss Belinda claims that it was her mother, Ms Betty, who initially chose to bring deliciously prepared meals closer to the people enjoying a raft ride down the river in the late 1970s.
Ms Belinda used to join her mother at Ms Betty’s Riverside Canteen when she was a child. Though she had yet to become a professional chef, Belinda was eager to assist by transporting wooden logs and food items to the spot.
Ms Belinda chose to take over the firm once her mother got ill and built a reputation for herself.
Lunch at Belinda’s Riverside Restaurant is an adventure in and of itself. Ms Belinda meticulously dishes curried goat, freshly caught crayfish cooked in coconut milk, fried fish, fricasseed, and fried chicken from her classic dutch pots as eager visitors await their dinners. Foodies will be in for a delectable treat at the Port Antonio-based riverside restaurant, which offers a broad range of sides to choose from.
Ms Belinda’s ‘superpower’ is using fresh, organic ingredients in her cooking. Local fishermen catch the seafood, and the hens are raised in her garden. She gets her mutton for her curried goat dish from a local butcher. She says that she manually gathers crayfish in the neighbouring Rio Grande.
Though visitors are always eager to try whatever is cooking in Ms Belinda’s dutch pots, she mentions two recipes that have had foodies clamouring for more.
“Many people love the crayfish, while some love the curried goat. “Those are the main courses,” she explains.
Belinda has been serving guests who come to enjoy a great plate of Jamaican-style curry goat, fish (fried, steamed, or escovitch), chicken, hog, or “Busso” soup cooked on a coal stove for many years. “Busso” is a tiny mollusc found primarily in the rivers of eastern Portland, similar to oyster and clam.
Its soft meat and soup are thought to have aphrodisiac properties. Meals for the main dish are served with rice and peas, festival or bammy. Past diners have included Daniel Craig, Jonny Depp, Sylvester Stallone, and American music icon Beyoncé as most notable guests and even “The Fastest Man Alive,” Usain Bolt, who had a raft party on the Rio Grande. Belinda’s Riverside Restaurant is not open daily, so make a reservation ahead of time.
After a fantastic meal at Belinda’s, your rafting adventure continues for another hour, giving you time to digest and appreciate more of Mother Nature in all her glory. Consider a late afternoon session, suitable for you and your significant other, to raft into the magnificent Jamaican sunset for an added flare and an even more romantic experience.