Road Trip to Portland, Jamaica: Goblin Hill & Swift River

We normally take a family vacation during August and disappear to a villa somewhere in Treasure Beach or in Trelawny. This summer though, H’s schedule did not allow us to plan this treat. So we decided to make this summer one of weekend road trips. Can I just say it has been wonderful! Two weekends ago, we went to the eastern end of the island, the lush parish of Portland and we spent one night there so we wouldn’t have to rush back once the sun set. Here’s what we did in Portland: absolutely nothing. And it was simply wonderful and even magical. I’m about to write a whole post about doing nothing and how wonderful it was. Sit back, clear your mind and come along…

Why I Love Road Trips

If you’ve been following my road trip posts this summer, you’ll quickly see that I don’t write for the adventure seekers. No apology here. My idea of a good time on vacation or on a fun day on the road doesn’t include adrenaline spikes. I love a long drive. I enjoy great music in the background. I relish easy conversations with lots of laughter and the occasional insightful discussion into any topic of interest. The feeling of my shoulders gradually dropping and my breathing slowing to an easy pace the further away from the city we get never gets old for me.

Jamaica is a beautiful, diverse island.

  • Where else can one escape into the mountains and feel a temperature drop of more than 5 degrees in the day time in less than an hour?
  • Where else can one enjoy a white sand beach with calm waters or just a few miles away, black sand beaches with rougher surf which gives way to desert like vegetation as you move inland from the coast?
  • Where else can one lie on a beach and look up into the jungle which starts right across the road from the beach?
  • Where else can one drive into a mountainous interior over rough, narrow, winding roads and dip into icy cold blue waters in the middle of a rain forest?

We have it all right here on this tiny 4,244 sq mile island in the Caribbean.

Off to Portland We Went!

So two weekends ago we set out at 9:30 Saturday morning. We were going to stay at a villa in Portland overnight. The villa came with kitchen facilities, and being a keto family, this was a good thing. Not that we would have had problems finding appropriate low-carb food in Portland had we chosen not to self-cater. After all, Portland is the home of jerk! The world famous Boston Jerk was born right in Boston, Portland and there’s no better low-carb food than spicy, well seasoned meat slow grilled over aromatic woods for hours and hours. But H loves to grill, so we packed up his portable grill and loads of his special marinated chicken, as well as frozen beef burgers, cheeses, eggs, butter, bacon, nuts and rum with zero carb chasers such as diet ginger ale, sparkling flavoured water and club soda. Too easy. Off we went.

The Journey to Portland

Remember that I live for the journey perhaps even more than the destination. We set off over the winding route through the mountains which runs alongside the Wag Water river. It’s always a beautiful though bumpy drive. It’s even more bumpy these days due to road works being done along a section of the road in order to straighten out the route somewhat and make that section of the road wider. Whew. That drive through Junction terminates on the north coast where we then make a hard right turn and head east. It never ever gets old: that moment when the sea comes into view as we make our way along that stretch of coastal road. We transition from one small town into another as we head towards Portland. Saturday is market day in Jamaica, and there appears to be no shortage of fresh produce as we slow down every time we have to drive through one of the small towns. There is a lot of pedestrian and taxi traffic as is to be expected. We drove through Annotto Bay, into Buff Bay, then on to Hope Bay which was followed by St Margaret’s Bay as we headed towards our final destination in Fairy Hill.

Approaching Annotto Bay, St. Mary. Photo Courtesy Western Union, Jamaica
Approaching Annotto Bay, St. Mary. Photo Courtesy Western Union, Jamaica

What Makes Portland Special?

What is it about Portland though that makes it so special? First of all, Portland is green. Can you say “eye relief” ? It’s an actual thing. The greenery everywhere is a boon to weary souls tired of the harsh almost metallic glare of the city. I wrote some time ago about our love affair this this parish here. That love affair continues.

Portland is a parish where the sea yields almost immediately to lush, verdant tropical rain forests. And the absence of high rise hotels and wide highways means that much of the natural landscape has been preserved. May it never change. Portland is also perhaps one of the cleanest parishes in Jamaica. The political leadership there gets it.

Portland: where the juxtaposition of sea and rain forest is simply magical
Portland: where the juxtaposition of sea and rain forest is simply magical.
View from Goblin Hill.

Jamaica is smack dab in the middle of what I refer to with a great deal of sadness and angst, a Garbage Crisis. Informal squatter settlements, a poorly resourced and managed National Solid Waste Management Authority, a culture of nastiness where littering and garbage disposal are concerned which has flourished over the years and which is now in full bloom and a seeming blindness and deafness to this crisis from those with the power to actually do something about it have this beautiful island literally drowning in filth. But Portland is different. It is clean. There is evidence of a system of collection in place, there are bins all over and the result is the very welcome eye relief that one gets in the absence of garbage against a green backdrop.

We eventually reached Port Antonio and carried on until we reached the community of Fairy Hill. Our final destination was Goblin Hill Villas. Goblin Hill is literally across the road from one of the many beautiful beaches that people come to this parish for: San San Beach. It is nestled in the hills on several acres of well manicured lawns, surrounded by trees and flowering plants of all kind characteristic of the area. The views are outstanding. Our villa overlooked the beautiful San San beach and simply sitting and looking out was all that my soul needed. Gosh.

Goblin Hill Villas, Portland

The villas I think were built in the 1970’s, so the style is somewhat dated: think popcorn ceilings and terrazzo tiles. They are excellently maintained though, and the larger footprint characteristic of this by-gone era makes them spacious and relaxing. The bathrooms have been updated very nicely indeed.

We stayed in a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom villa. The villas open out onto a sloping, absolutely beautifully green lawn overlooking the beach. There are easy chairs a plenty making it easy to indulge with that feeling to simply sit and be, that overtakes you in Portland.

Villa At Goblin Hill
Villa At Goblin Hill
Villa At Goblin Hill
Villa At Goblin Hill
One of 2 bedrooms in the villa at Goblin Hill
One of 2 bedrooms in the villa at Goblin Hill
One of 2 bedrooms in the villa at Goblin Hill
One of 2 bedrooms in the villa at Goblin Hill

Things To Do In Portland

Google “Things to Do in Portland” and you’ll quickly see that this may not be the ideal destination for the adrenaline junkie at all. I had once constructed a Come (Home) to Jamaica itinerary that included a stop in Portland to catch your breath. With none of noisy, cheesy (to me!) all-inclusives typical of Ocho Rios and Montego Bay, those with small children needing to be entertained and occupied may be at a disadvantage. Adults unable to self-entertain may also find themselves at odd with the parish of Portland.

So what’s there to do in Portland ?

  • Beach hopping: San-San, Frenchman’s Cove, Winnifred and Long Bay are each unique and beautiful in their own way.
  • You can visit the stunning Reach Falls and dip in her icy waters in the river under the impressive water-fall. I haven’t been there in 20 years and have to remedy that sooner rather than later.
  • The mysterious Blue Lagoon with it’s calm, deep and perfectly blue waters sadly is officially closed to the public. But there a locals who will take you in their small canoes from various points along the coast on a tour inside and you can experience the magic of the Blue Lagoon.
  • Portland also makes for great road trips as you drive up into the mountainous interior.
  • Visit Maroon towns and overnight at the eco-friendly Ambasabeth cottages. There are guided hikes along historic trails and beautiful river courses with wading pools and waterfalls.

Night life in Portland is not the most exciting. There’s a night-club in Port Antonio, you can do small-bar hopping, and there are occasional live music sessions if you know where to go. Hopefully after a day on any or all of Portland’s beautiful beaches or a road trip inland you’ll be happy to simply sit and relax.

Our Goblin Hill Experience

So we checked in to our villa at Goblin Hill and I immediately fixed myself a cocktail. Naturally! I made some burgers for us, laid out the fixings, and the kids logged on (of course…thank God for wi-fi, even in Paradise) and H & I took up positions to drink in the view.

It was humid and warm. This is typical of Portland and not at all unexpected, given the natural rain-forest vegetation of the parish. But we couldn’t be bothered to walk the short distance down the trail from the property across to San San beach, nor did we have to. Goblin Hill has a beautiful swimming pool and we went and had a dip. Lounging in the pool and simply looking up gifted me with the sight of the many birds who make Goblin Hill their home (it’s a bird sanctuary) in the trees overlooking the pool. Unlike the all-inclusives, there is no play-maker screeching over a microphone cajoling you to join pool aerobics or beach volleyball or a dance competition. There is no music to interrupt the silence. There was no preponderance of people jostling for the best spots around the pool. There was silence save for the birds and the other guests appeared to relish the quiet elegance of the property. Paradise. Beautiful paradise.

The pool at Goblin Hill villas
The pool at Goblin Hill villas
16 yo boy in swimming pool
Who doesn’t love a dip in the pool!
Woman in swimming pool at Goblin Hill villas
Yes, I think I’ll have a dip in the pool too!
The trail down to the beach from the villas at Goblin Hill
The trail down to the beach from the villas at Goblin Hill

Later than evening, H set up the grill as we enjoyed the small mento band that Goblin Hill Villas had hired to provide a small concert for guests who were all invited to cocktails on the lawn. I was loathe to leave where I was lounging to walk the few steps across the lawn to the festivities. I merely waved and smiled and enjoyed my own cocktails and the music provided by the mento band from a distance.

Mento band setting up on the lawns of Goblin Hill Villas
Mento band setting up on the lawns of Goblin Hill Villas
Grilling chicken under the mango tree at Goblin Hill
Grilling chicken under the mango tree at Goblin Hill

The sun went in and the moon and stars came out. We ate grilled chicken and sipped merlot under the stars. I can’t image it getting any better than that.

Night coming down at Goblin Hill Villas
Night coming down at Goblin Hill Villas
Under the moon and stars at Goblin Hill. Photo courtesy Rachael McIntosh
Under the moon and stars at Goblin Hill. Photo courtesy Rachael McIntosh

The following morning we took a walk around the property. It is beautiful. The eye-relief that you get as you drink in the expanses of lawn, the trees and the views of the water is priceless and is literally a balm for ragged nerves and a sore soul. What I especially love are the lounge chairs and benches that dot the property at strategic spots providing great reading spots, picture taking spots, cocktail sipping spots and simply healing spots. There’s also a play-ground with swings and see-saws for the young and young at heart.

The lawns at Goblin Hill villas
The lawns at Goblin Hill Villas
The lawns at Goblin Hill villas
The lawns at Goblin Hill villas
Cul-de-sac viewing area at Goblin Hill Villas
Cul-de-sac viewing area at Goblin Hill Villas
Looking down at Monkey Island, correct name really Pelew Island from Goblin Hill
Looking down at Monkey Island, correct name really Pelew Island from Goblin Hill

I made breakfast (bacon, eggs and my low-carb “brun” from the Kelly’s Keto Cooking range, with cheese) and we ate slowly and leisurely. A few hours (and a cocktail or two) later, we packed up and reluctanty checked out of Goblin Hill villas.

Enjoying the mento, the view, the peace at Goblin Hill, Portland
Exhale. Enjoying the mento, the view, the peace at Goblin Hill, Portland

There had been a slight hiccup at check-in the day before. I was disappointed that when H called Saturday morning to reconfirm our reservation and discovered that his name was incorrectly logged that they hadn’t immediately corrected the error. This resulted in a protracted and irritating check-in which would have been absolutely avoidable had the error been corrected once it had been discovered. Staff were all friendly, helpful and pleasant though. We had left our cork screw, but one was provided with a smile by the bar-tender setting up cocktails on the lawn. A housekeeper came by on the Sunday morning and checked on us to ensure we had all we needed. I appreciate these personal, pleasant touches. You can, for an extra fee, get a housekeeper assigned to you to do the meal prep. And there is a restaurant on property where you can get meals if you prefer this option to self-catering.

Lobby at Goblin Hill. Photo Courtesy Rachael McIntosh
Lobby at Goblin Hill. Photo Courtesy Rachael McIntosh

Road Trip within a Road Trip: Detour to Swift River, Portland

On our way back to Kingston, we detoured into the hills to go to Swift River. We knew that there was a community party scheduled and we knew the organisers. Retro music, much to my delight was in full swing when we got there. We enjoyed busso soup (busso is a small river snail) and drinks and hung out for a short time before we set off once again for home.

We arrived back in Kingston just before nightfall our bodies relaxed and our souls renewed.

Busting a move or two at the block party in Swift River, Portland
Busting a move or two at the block party in Swift River, Portland
Busso Soup in Swift River, Portland
Busso Soup in Swift River, Portland
Cooking at a river picnic in Swift River
What’s a river lyme without pots bubbling?
H  and Rachael making their way down to the Swift River
H and Rachael making their way down to the Swift River
Well organised garbage disposal system in Swift River, Portland
Well organised garbage disposal system in Swift River, Portland

More of our Road Trips Summer 2019

Check out more of our adventures on the road here:

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Cheers from Goblin Hill Villas. Here's to road trips and here's to Portland!
Cheers from under the mango tree at Goblin Hill Villas. Here’s to road trips and here’s to Portland!

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