There is the Jamaica of all-inclusive resorts and girls-gone-wild type scenarios, and then there’s the “Other Side of Jamaica,” the spot-on tag-line used by Port Antonio, a town in the fast northeast corner of this island nation. This is Errol Flynn’s Jamaica. The Australian film actor (known for his swashbuckling roles in films including “Captain Blood,” “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” and the “Adventures of Don Juan”), arrived here in the 1950s, and is largely credited with bringing tourism to the area. (We have him to thank for the Jamaican version of “rafting”—sitting on a bamboo gondola-type contraption, drinking a Red Stripe, while someone else does the work of steering down the Rio Grande river for a couple hours). The vibe here is relaxed, the pace is slow, and the scenery is lush and green (comparable to parts of the Big Island of Hawaii). It’s Jamaica for nature lovers and delivers on all counts—flora, fauna, land, sea, and even accommodations.
Nestled among 6 1/2 acres of gardens on a hillside overlooking the ocean, Mocking Bird Hill is a true eco-hotel. The 10-room property, run by Barbara Walker and Shireen Aga, was converted from an existing structure. They use solar power to heat water and supply electricity to half the rooms here, plus the office, gallery, and pool pump (eventually they will be off the grid). There is no air-conditioning (ceiling fans do the job perfectly well), gardens survive on rainfall, and they offset their own carbon emissions. Bathroom amenities are made locally by Jamaican Blue Mountains aromatics, complimentary stationery in guest rooms is made from recycled paper by Nature’s Handmade Paper Cooperative, a women’s cooperative in a nearby town. All the hotel’s used paper is given to this group for recycling.
The rooms are decorated in a cheery décor in white, blue, and green colors. Modernists won’t love the interiors, but rooms with ocean views are truly magical, especially at sunset. Make sure to use the mosquito netting around the bed, and to make use of the coffee maker in your room—Jamaican coffee is some of the best in the world and not imported into the United States. The restaurant here is excellent and a destination in itself for visitors staying off-property. Chef Anthony Reid’s Caribbean menu changes daily depending on what is available from local suppliers and the hotel’s own garden. A hearty, delicious breakfast is included in the room rate, as is afternoon tea and a Sundowner (their version of happy hour) cocktail.
The owners describe their property as “very informal, very laid-back Caribbean,” which is accurate. Sometimes the “laid-back” part translated in having to ask for something repeatedly before it materialized, and to have missed a massage appointment because they “didn’t run into me” to confirm it (versus leaving a note on my door or something to that effect). But overall, Mockingbird Hill is a lovely place that I would highly recommend for those seeking a more Zen Jamaican experience away from the crowds. www.hotelmockingbirdhill.com