Where to Visit: Alligator Pond, Jamaica

Jamaica’s rustic South Coast with its beauty unblemished, and natural wonders of flora and fauna virtually untouched extends a warm eco-friendly invitation to the adventurous visitor. Complete with charming fishing villages, miles of untamed beaches, excellent food, magnificent panoramic views over deep blue sea, wooded valleys and old plantations, this is just about as far away from packaged tourism as you can get. It is here that you will find Alligator Pond.

Located at the foot of the Don Figueroa Mountains, some 35 km from Mandeville. The name is said by locals to derive from the shape of the mountain range, which viewed from the beach has bumps which suggest an alligator’s back. Alligator Pond is the proud home of one of the longest fishing beaches on the island. Known to be the best place in Jamaica to procure all sorts of seafood – cooked or uncooked Alligator Pond is a virtual haven for seafood lovers. Usually the best selections are bought at the morning fish market, where patrons can buy the first catch of the day out of the boats of fishermen coming in from the sea. A trip to this region offers an experience of the authentic, off the beaten path Jamaica. Rustic, intimate and slow-paced, Alligator Pond is a delightful find.

Unlike the tourist-oriented coasts in the northern part of the country, Alligator Pond’s shoreline is as much about work as play; here fishermen launch their boats to catch some of the island’s best-regarded fish while women conduct the wholesale business of the catch. Weather-worn cookshops and bars line the sand’s edge, supplying food staples such as curried goat and Red Stripe beer. The catch is always plentiful, smiles are always bright and there are countless places to have a delicious meal prepared. Every afternoon, droves of anxious consumers stand on the beach, waiting for the fishermen to come in with the day’s catch.

The Little Ochie seafood restaurant, is one of the best places to sample this. Possibly the oldest and most famous restaurant in the area, patrons enjoy fried fish and bammy, lobster and other delicacies while sitting in canoes raised on stilts, under the cover of thatched roofs. It has expanded to seat several hundred and attracts a clientèle from far and wide.

While visiting the area, a trip to Alligator Hole would also be worth your while. A misnomer for a small river with fascinating inhabitants, Alligator Hole is found within the Canoe Valley National Nature Preserve, east of Alligator Pond, along a winding coastal road with changing flora. The name Canoe Valley is said to have some relation to indigenous Jamaicans, the Taino. About 600 years ago, the valley was heavily endowed with cotton trees, used by the Amerindians to carve canoes and other small craft. The Canoe Valley Park spans 3000 acres, and is made up of mangrove swamps, limestone forests and herbaceous forests. The whole valley occupies approximately 5000 acres, and at last count there were 4 amphibian species, 7 bat species, 23 reptile species and 93 avian species in the area.

Some years ago three manatees were found in the area and rescued from local fishermen. They have now been nursed back to health and are now cared for by the government but remain in the area and at about 5pm in each evening, the three resident manatees at Alligator Hole swim upstream to be fed by local conservationists. Hang out by the walled lookout above the river (swimming, boating and touching the manatees is strictly prohibited) and get comfortable.

Scuba diving, snorkeling, boating and sunbathing are also popular pastimes in the Alligator Pond region. Alligator Reef is about a 20 minute boat ride away from the shore and features large sea fans, elk horn corals, nurse sharks, turtles, jew fish and a 30-foot dive. The Sandy Cays (about 32km offshore) are lined with white-sand beaches for some private sunbathing. The choice is yours, spend the day sailing, diving, snorkeling sunbathing or simply eating seafood to your hearts content.

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