Where to Visit: Holywell Recreational Park, Jamaica

The world famous Blue Mountains in Jamaica get their distinctive, almost hypnotic shade of blue from being so far above sea level that they are almost perpetually cushioned in mist sometimes so heavy one feels as though stepping out into a dream. The Blue Mountain range sprawls across the eastern portion of the island for a length of 28 miles and an average width of about 12 miles. They rise steeply in an area so compact that it is possible to drive from the coastal plains to its elevation of over 7,000 feet in less than an hour.

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A majestic and beautiful environment, home to many indigenous flora and fauna, The Blue Mountains are one of the most popular regions for campers and outdoor enthusiasts and is home to Holywell Recreational Park, Jamaica’s only terrestrial national park protecting 1/3 of the island’s natural forests. Located 3,500 ft above sea-level The Blue Mountain and John Crow Mountains National Park spans 3 parishes in Jamaica and Holywell is just a 90 minute drive from the island’s Capital, Kingston. Spanning Hardwar Gap, Holywell protects 120 hectares of remnant woodland, lush with dozens of fern species, epiphytes, impatiens, violets, nasturtiums, wild strawberries and raspberries. The mist-shrouded uppermost slopes are densely forested with rare primary montane forest. Pine trees dominate. It is also one of the best bird-watching spots in the island.

One of the hidden natural gems of Jamaica, this area is home to many animals including the Giant Swallowtail Butterfly, the largest in the Western hemisphere and the Jamaican Boa the largest snakes in Jamaica. The wide variety of birds in the park include all 30 of Jamaica’s endemic species. It is the perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of life, especially for those interested in eco-friendly attractions. With lush vegetation everywhere the park is often bathed in tropical mist. It is always cool with the fresh fragrance of mountain air. When it is clear you can get a spectacular view of Kingston, Portmore and Port Royal which lie below the mountain. Holywell is also home to 10 major rivers and to the world-famous Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee.

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The main reason to visit Hollywell is to follow one of the five nature trails. The Oatley Mountain Trail is approximately five kilometers long and winds through a jungle-like forested area. The trail features educational signposts along the way, dense vegetation and viewpoints with panoramic views of the misty mountains. The waterfall shelter trail is highly recommended, on this two kilometer trail you will find an untouched waterfall, be warned that the water is cold. It is recommended that you check in with a park ranger at the Ranger Station if you are going to hike especially if it is during rainy season. Be sure to pack the proper hiking gear including hiking boots. There are also covered gazeboes and picnic tables perfect for group outings, relaxation, cook-outs and/or just observing nature. There are several signs explaining the flora in the park. There is also a special area in the park for children to play called the Kids Discovery Zone.

For those looking to make a night of their trip, on site accommodations are available and include 3 self-contained cabins and camping tents connected by easy nature trails to the ranger station and picnic area. On weekends the cabins are normally full. Book in advance through the Jamaican Conservation and Development Trust (JCDT). The rustic cabins sleep 4-6 people and have kitchenettes and hot and cold water. The view of Kingston from the balcony will make up for the rustic interior. You also need to bring your own food, unless you plan to eat at the Gap Café.

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Situated just outside the entrance to Holywell Recreation Park, the Gap Café is the perfect place to stop for fine food and coffee before (or after) hiking around the park. The rustic café serves mainly traditional Jamaican fare such as curried goat and escoveitched fish. The café also serves home made pastries. However, no trip to the Gap Café would be complete without enjoying a cup of Blue Mountain Coffee. The Gap Café is said to serve the best cup of coffee in the world, with fresh beans taken from the surrounding plantations and brewed to order. The Gap Café is also famous for its stunning views and wildlife. The area is home to many hummingbirds. The birds fly around the many feeding stations hanging outside the café’s windows so diners can view these wonderful creatures through the large open windows. The café also has panoramic views of the misty Blue Mountains, on a rare clear day it is also possible to see as far as Kingston and Port Royal.

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