A visit to Falmouth, Jamaica
Of the three stops my Western Caribbean cruise made, Jamaica ended up being my favorite. Cozumel I loved for reasons devoted to its being a Spanish speaking locale and Mexican food (for more on the awesome food tour I went on, click here). Grand Cayman I was most disappointed by even though there were fun interactions with some sea creatures. It just didn’t seem to have much character or unique charm (I think I probably would have liked it more if I were there to stay, not just a five hour stop via a cruise ship). But Jamaica looked different from the first moment I saw it.
Our cruise docked in Falmouth which is located on Jamaica’s northern coast, less than 20 miles from the more well-known and popular Montego Bay. Although Falmouth’s origins date back to the 18th century, its cruise terminal is much newer, only opening in 2011. Unlike in Cozumel and Grand Cayman, standing up on deck looking out onto the island, you see mountains and lush landscapes. You see verdant greenery. Off in the distance you didn’t just see sterile commercial buildings (well, they would be within the confines of the terminal), you see perhaps the same views colonists first saw when they came here centuries ago.
While there was a score of potential port excursions to do, I ended up booking one that suited my personality the most, a tour of an 18th century plantation that also featured lunch with local dishes. Visiting the Good Hope estate meant that we needed to drive to get there, around 30 minutes through the lush Jamaican countryside. And with bumps and all when going over the rough dirt roads, I loved it. Traveling here reminded me of rural areas of Costa Rica.
As we got closer to the estate, the area was more and more rural. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would have been like back in 1774 when it was first founded as a sugar estate. Nothing around for miles, the chirping of birds and other animal sounds permeating the air.
And just like everywhere in the Americas, the institution of slavery played a major role at Good Hope. The plantation was owned by the largest land and slave owner in Jamaica. In addition to Good Hope he had other sugar plantations throughout the island, owning as many 3,000 slaves. Our guide told us that the Good Hope name came from the slaves, many of whom were from what is today South Africa, the Cape of Good Hope.
The plantation house was not what I was expecting; it was smaller than I thought it would be considering one of the country’s wealthiest men once lived here. But its views were spectacular. I can see how they would have immediately charmed anyone who stepped foot here. And even though it was still beastly hot when we visited (a late morning in October), I know being up in the mountains meant it was not as hot below.
We saw how fleeting life could be in the 18th century with the tombstone of the wife of one of its earliest owners, a woman who came from England to begin her married life here thousands of miles from home, sitting on the verandah and watching time go by.
The estate would pass through multiple owners in its history including becoming a boutique hotel at one point in the early 20th century. Walking through its grounds and taking in the idyllic swimming pool, I can see why people would have come here to stay, a perfect spot to get away from it all.
Lunch was a bit too abbreviated but did feature the world famous Jamaican jerk chicken.
History and food aside, I liked Jamaica as much as I did because it felt authentic. Even though I didn’t go off on my own and was surrounded by fellow tourists, I saw beyond the cruise terminal shops selling Tortuga rum cakes and Bob Marley hats with attached dreadlocks. Yes, I was only a cruise ship passenger in port for a small amount of time, but I still feel I didn’t just see the image projected for tourists of a pristine and orderly place. With cruises you never have as much time as you’d like in a particular port but that’s why it’s so important to keep it authentic and get a glimpse into the real world of the place you’re visiting.
The Red Headed Traveler’s information on visiting:
-Chukka Tours is THE tour operator in Jamaica (they also have operations in other Caribbean islands). While perhaps it’s a bit of a monopoly being such a large operation, it’s efficiently managed and run to a T which is what you want when putting your time as a tourist in other people’s hands.
-If a history tour isn’t your thing, there are 20 other tours that Chukka operates in the Falmouth area, many adventure and water based.
-The city of Falmouth outside the confines of the terminal area (which is gated and requires identification to enter) is entirely “local.” It’s not at all built up like other Caribbean ports (i.e. Grand Cayman and Cozumel) where you just wander. Keep that in mind if you decide to explore and just be prudent and cautious if you set out on your own.