Old Steamer Beach (free and open to the public) is located 100 yards past the Shell gas station heading west out of Hopewell, Hanover. An embankment leads down to the skeleton of the U.S.S. Caribou, a steamer dating from 1887 that washed off its mooring from Mobay. You can hang your towel on the skeleton ship and take a swim at one of the nicest beaches around, which only gets busy on weekends when locals come down in droves to stir the crystal clear waters.
Negril and the West
Hanover and Westmoreland are Jamaica's westernmost parishes. Hanover wraps around from Montego Bay on its northeastern border to where Negril's large hotel strip overflows from Westmoreland at its western reaches. It's a picturesque parish with small mountains tapering down to the coast with rivers, lush valleys, and deep, navigable coves. Caves dot the landscape of some of Jamaica's most biologically diverse ecosystems, in the shadow of the Dolphin Head mountain range.
Negril, which straddles the Hanover\Westmoreland border, has become a mass-market destination popular among Jamaicans and foreign visitors alike. The Kingstonian phenomenon of a weekend escape to "country" often implies a trip west to kick back and adopt the beach life, which necessarily involves taking in spectacular sunsets and the enviable slow pace evoked in Tyrone Taylor's 1983 hit, "Cottage in Negril." A constant stream of new visitors also gives hustlers a chance to do their thing, and Negril has gained a reputation as a mecca for sinful indulgence as a result.
While Negril is the region's most well-known draw, there are several low-key communities farther east that are just as easily accessible from Montego Bay's international airport and worthy coastal destinations in themselves, namely Little Bay, Bluefields, Belmont, and Whitehouse. The Westmoreland interior consists of vast alluvial plains on either side of Cabarita River, still some of Jamaica's most productive sugarcane territory. The plains extend from the base of the Orange Hill, just east of Negril, to where the Roaring River rises out of the earth from its underground source in the hills above Blue Hole Garden.
Hanover exists as a parish since it was portioned off from Westmoreland in 1723 and given the name of English monarch George I of the House of Hanover. The Spanish first settled the area when New Seville was abandoned in 1534 and the capital moved to Spanish Town. Lucea became prosperous, with a busier port than Montego Bay in its heyday, which served 16 large sugar estates in the area. Remnants of many estate great houses dot the landscape to the east and west of Lucea, their abandoned ruins showing evidence of having been torched and destroyed during slave riots. Kennilworth, Barbican, and Tryall are a few of the old estates that have visible ruins; although they have been declared national heritage sites, they are not maintained.
The Peter Tosh Memorial Garden, where the remains of this original Wailer lie, is worth a quick stop, if only to pause amid the ganja seedlings to remember one of the world's greatest reggae artists. An entrance fee is assessed (US$5) when there's someone around to collect it. Otherwise the gate is unlocked and a quick visit usually goes unnoticed. In mango season the yard is full of locals fighting over the heavily laden branches.
Bluefields Beach is a popular local hangout and sees very few tourists. It has fine white sand and is lined with vendors. Music is often blasted on weekends when the beach fills up.
Bluefields Great House, located about 0.4 kilometer inland from the police station, on the road to Brighton, was the home of many of the area's most distinguished temporary inhabitants, including Philip Henry Goss, an English ornithologist who resided in Jamaica 1844-1846, subsequently completing the work Birds of Jamaica, a Naturalist's Sojourn in Jamaica.
Dolphin Head Mountain and the Dolphin Head Forest Reserve contain some of Jamaica's few remaining pockets of biodiversity and high endemism. A Nature Trail and Living Botanical Museum were developed over the past several years and are currently maintained by Jamaica's Forestry Department
Fort Charlotte houses the Hanover Museum (admission US$5), located on the western point of Lucea Harbor. It's the most intact fort in western Jamaica, with three cannons in good condition sitting on the battlements. It was built by the British in 1756, with 23 cannon openings to defend their colony from any challenge from the sea. Originally named Fort Lucea, it was renamed during the reign of King George III after his Queen Charlotte.
Ten minutes from Savanna-la-Mar off of the B8, Roaring River make for a good day trip from Negril or Bluefields. The Roaring River cave guided tour costs US$5 per person. Expect to be aggressively approached as soon as you near the main building for the site. Tipping the guide is also expected. The discomfort the guides and managers of this attraction create is sadly an overbearing deterrent to all but the most unwaveringly defensive of visitors. The uninhibited will find caves and underground rivers and barely useful guides.
Kenilworth is one of Jamaica's most impressive great houses, located on the former Maggoty Estate. Currently the property is home to the HEART Academy, a training skills institute. To get there, pass Tryall and then Sandy Bay, then Chukka Blue; turn right after crossing a bridge over the Maggoty River in the community of Barbican and look for the sign for HEART Trust NTA Kenilworth on the left. Turn in and look for the ruins behind the institute, which is painted blue and white.
Half Moon Beach located between Orange Bay and Green Island is a great little stretch of sand to enjoy as a more low-key alternative to Negril's oft-crowded Seven-Mile Beach. The property is owned by Andrew Bauwen, who, along with his wife Tania, rents cabins and runs a bar and restaurant serving fish, chicken and lobster dishes (US$8-20). The five cabins offer accommodation on a budget (US$40-100) and camping is also permitted on a large lawn facing the sea.
Paradise Park (US$5 admission to park, US$40 horseback riding) is one of the best places in Jamaica for down-to-earth small-group (up to 10 at a time) rides on an expansive seaside ranch a few kilometers east of Savanna-la-Mar in Ferris Cross. Riders are led through beautiful countryside to a river park and private beach for a 1.5-hour loop. The river park area has bbq pits and tables, perfect for picnics and a refreshing dip.
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