Portland: The Start of Jamaican Tourism

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Portland Parish in Parish Map of JamaicaPortland is the parish in the northeast corner of Jamaica.  It borders St.Mary to the West, and St. Thomas to the south.  It is probably the most rural parish in Jamaica, which is more challenging for the locals.  However this means it is closer to the Jamaica that was, which was the start of Jamaica's reputation as a tourist destination.  Portland has some of the most beautiful beaches, if not the largest, and is also the home of the Blue Mountains which peak at 7.402 feet, and have been known to be frost covered at times.  Even Jamaicans acknowledge that Portland is the most beautiful parish.  It is not only for its many geographic gems, but also for its lush flora. This is a byproduct of it receiving the most consistent rain in Jamaica.  Errol Flynn expressed the profoundness of Portland's beauty powerfully when he stated, that she was, "the most beautiful woman I have ever laid eyes upon."

The capital of Portland, is Port Antonio, a bustling town really, but the commercial heart of Portland.  There is the main market, Musgrave Market, Royal Mall, several local eateries, and a few internet cafes in town. Just outside of town is The Village, Port Antonio. It is a collection of shops catering primrily to visitors wanting hand made fine arts and crafts, and/or tourist memorobilia. In addition, there are a couple of restaurants and a bar there as well.  The Village includes works of  two nationally recognized artists, and is a great place to find unique mementos, or gifts, of your visit to Jamaica. Other major towns in the parish are Saint Margarets's Bay, pictured on the home page, Buff Bay, Hope Bay, and Manchioneal.  

Tourism in Jamaica, started in earnest in 1905 with the Titchfield Hotel.  It was huge, with 400 rooms. The money for this venture came from Lorenzo Dow Baker, a cargo ship captain.  While enroute to Venezuela he had to make an unplanned stop in Jamaica due to heavy squalls.  During this stop he "discovered" bananas.  He made a fortune by buying bananas in Jamaica for 25 cents a bunch, and selling them in New York for $2.50 a banana.  He would go on to found the Boston Fruit Company and then cofound the United Fruit Company.  A company which would make millions and be responsible for the banana republics of Latin America.  Earlier guesthouses on the island were prior visions of Mr Baker, who had started building  in Portland as early as 1895.

At the turn of the 20th century only the rich could afford to globe trot, as the method of transportation was ship or yacht. It was primarily rich Americans who were guests of the Titchfiled at that time. That list included: Bette Davis, Ginger Rodgers, Clara Bow, Rudyard Kipling, William Randolph Hearst, and J.P. Morgan, to name a few.   These notable figures came to Jamaica, and the Titchfield, because it was lauded as the most elegant hotel on "this side of the Atlantic" at the time.

The hotel would go into serious disrepair after the Great Depression killed tourism, and then it was burned down in 1936.  After it's repair, it became the residence for a certain set of English society who brought all the accoutrement and ritual of English society with them. They found life in the tropics more to their tastes, but wanted all the comforts of home.  Later, Errol Flynn too, would discover Portland after unexpectdedly needing to repair his yacht in Jamaica.  He would bring celebrity back to the Titchfield by buying it 1951, and using it as the homebase for partying with his celebrity friends.

Portland would stay a major tourist destination as long as it was the place where the cruise ships docked.  Travellers could get off and spend time visiting one of the many destination spots.  It would also continue to be appreciated by those with money as a beautiful place to have a second home or a villa. Thus began the San San estates, and the many villas along the coast.  When the docks for the larger cruise ships were moved from Portland to Ocho Rios tourism declined, and therefore so did a lot of the local economy.  Although this has been hard on the locals, it also means that Portland is one of best destinations for those travellers interested in finding the slower, more agrarian, culture that was a part of Jamaica's charm and reptuation through the seventies.  

For travellers who like to visit great rest and relaxation and/or adventure destinations, we have provided a short list of many of Portland's gems.  The links provided are primarily to search pages to assist you in finding out how to make these gems a part of your experience on your next visit to Jamaica. The Maroon Cultural Center, in Charles Town, actually has its own website.

A couple are actually to websites

Visitor Gems of Portland Parish, Jamaica

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