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by Sheree-Anita Shearer | Associate Writer
Port Antonio, the capital city of Portland, Jamaica is well known for many things but its history and beauty stand out above all others.
What is Port Antonio known for?
Port Antonio is the third-largest port in Jamaica which is mainly used for the exportation of exotic fruits such as bananas, coconuts and cocoa. The town is also known for the International Marlin Fish Tournament held annually. It is also a pretty popular tourist destination, especially for those who prefer the undisturbed, uncommercialised, laid-back town that is Port Antonio.
Its Georgian architecture on buildings that have survived since the days of colonial Jamaica also makes the small town quite popular. The town feels as though you have been transported to another time long past and many people enjoy seeing the old buildings; a representation of life back then.
The name sounds like it has some Spanish influence, doesn’t it? That is because it does. The Spanish had chosen Port Anton, as it was known back then, as one of its primary settlements and that remained until the English captured Jamaica in 1655. The British kept the town and renamed it, Port Antonio.
In all the chaos of the war for control of the island, the African slaves escaped into the hills and became known as the Maroons. They met up with the few remaining Taino's and together they fought against the British.
Over the years to come, the British and the Maroons would be at odds for obvious, and, well justifiable reasons.
The Maroons made it so difficult for the planters that when Portland became a new parish in 1723, it took a lot of convincing to get persons to relocate there. For those who already lived there, Fort Charles was built to protect them from attacks from the Maroons and, also, the Spanish who tried and failed to recapture Jamaica.
It took a treaty between the Maroons and the British as well as the then Governor, Duke of Portland’s promise of free land, slaves and exoneration from crimes to finally convince people to relocate there.
Before the 1880’s Portland like most other parishes, focused on the planting of sugar cane and tobacco. But when Lorenzo Dow Baker stopped and tasted a ripe banana for the first time, he decided to bring the exotic fruit to the Nothern countries. The captain had only stopped to collect a box of bamboo on his journey back to America from Venezuela, but he also brought back ripe bananas which he’d hoped to sell to New York and Boston.
Unfortunately for him, the bananas were spoiled by the time he got to the USA.
He didn’t give up on his banana exportation dreams and the next year, he took green ones instead, which worked out perfectly. The bananas were perfectly ripe when he got to the US and this birthed the Boston Fruit Company. He started out with an office in Port Antonio and five trips a year to Jamaica, but even this was inadequate.
Eventually, even his family moved to Port Antonio and would spend most of the year here, especially the fall and winter months. He purchased smaller competing companies and his business became the United Fruit Company.
As Port Antonio grew from the Banana business, it became second only to one town in Jamaica. The persons from “Portie” saw great financial gains from the banana exportation business. The exportation of other fruits, coconut and cocoa began as well.
But off the back of the exportation business, came another financial opportunity, Tourism.
Baker began bringing more than fruits on his banana boats. Wealthy foreigners began pouring into Port Antonio and houses that were made to house the workers on the farms now doubled as guest accommodations.
Baker built the Titchfield Hotel on Titchfield Hill (yes place names in Jamaica are quite literal), 34 luxurious rooms for his wealthy guests.
This only adds to Port Antonio’s significance and contribution to Jamaica’s history, this is the birthplace of tourism in Jamaica. Quite ironic if you think about the fact that most people, bypass this town for resort towns like Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and other spots that became more popular over the years.
Anyway, it wasn’t long after that Hollywood's elite “discovered” Port Antonio and were so captivated by the uncommercialised beauty, wealth and exclusivity that the town naturally had, that they visited quite frequently and even bought homes here as well.
One of the most popular actors from the Golden Age of cinema, who fell in love with Port Antonio was, Errol Flynn. His boat washed up on the shores of the town during a storm and he saw the town he described as being more beautiful than any woman he had ever known. Quite the compliment from someone who was known as a swashbuckler throughout Hollywood.
The actor bought the Navy Island just off the coast of Port Antonio and began hosting many parties for himself and his famous friends. The impact he had on the town was so great that Errol Flynn Marina was so named in his honour.
Of course, undisputed beauty must be captured on the big screen and Port Antonio is often featured in movies and videos. Even today it is one of the most popular sites for movies, videos and photoshoots. Some of that you may know of are:
Finding accommodation in Port Antonio and the surrounding areas won't be difficult, unless you are hoping to find all-inclusive accommodations. However, there are many, villas, guest houses and retreat-like, eco-friendly hotels that are designed for you to relax and enjoy all that nature has to offer.
Fun fact, after the 1980 release of Blue Lagoon, the area became an attraction for people all across the island as well as the rest of the world. The name was even changed to Blue Lagoon, although most locals, especially from Portland, still say Blue Hole.
Is Port Antonio Worth Visiting?
With a town that is so small yet so rich in beauty, and history and has so many of Jamaica’s firsts under its belt, I would say it is a definite yes. As you may have guessed, most of the places chosen for the movies and hotels are actually attractions you can and must visit if you get the chance. There are also other attractions, beaches and historical sites in Portland to explore as well.
Another first, Portland is the first place to have Jerk Chicken and to this day, they have the most authentic and delicious Jerked meats on the island. For this method of preparing food, we have to thank the Portland Maroons and the Tainos for their ingenuity and combination of flavours.
How do you get to Port Antonio?
Well, there are no commercial airports in the area so you would have to fly to one of our two major airports and then travel by land to Portland. Or you may fly into the airport and then on a chartered plane, fly to the Ken Jones Aerodrome in St. Margaret’s Bay, some 10km away from Port Antonio. You can also travel via ship on a cruise into Port Antonio if you wish.
Where do you fly into for Port Antonio?
The Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston is the closest and most obvious choice. For those with small private aircraft, Ian Fleming International may also be an option. But if you are up for a little road trip, you can fly into Sangster's International and travel by land from Montego Bay to Portland.
When all attention went to the west and north coast for tourism, Portland fell back on its first claim to fame, the exportation of fruits. However, this may have worked out in the town's favour as it is now one of those places on the island where you can go to enjoy nature in all its glory.
Although there is development in Portland, the first priority is to retain the natural beauty and appeal of the town.
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