From my balcony just on the eastern border of New Kingston city district in Kingston, Jamaica, I have had a perfect view of a bluish-green mountain range in the distance for a week.
Every morning I could see the magic misty atmosphere, transparent clouds dancing around its highest peaks, and it looks so tranquil from my lower venture point.
Down here, I am surrounded by the city noises (Kingston is noisy!), where rush traffic and the occasional road rage transgress my walls.
I also know that up there grows the beans for one of the best coffees in the world!
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The Blue Mountains In Jamaica
Being the coffeeholic that I am, and a natural mountain hiker from Norway, the Blue Mountains is of course a natural destination to explore.
It is the longest mountain range in Jamaica and includes the island’s highest point, Blue Mountain Peak, at 2256 meters above sea level (7402 ft).
On a clear day, you can even glimpse the outline of the Cuban shores across the sea to the north!
I am in love with mountains in general and endless views in particular, so I dive into the Internet to do my research on the best way to explore as a solo traveler.
You can choose a whole day of hiking to the peak of the Blue Mountains, and from there you have an exceptional view of both the northern and southern coast of the island. Jamaica is actually super small!
I found out that when you head for the Blue Mountains in Jamaica, a really good way to do that is to get yourself on a Blue Mountains Private Tour, with a bit of driving, sightseeing, and a bit of hiking!
Blue Mountains Private Tour Day Trip
The great thing about doing a private tour is that you have excellent communication with your guide for the day, and the program is not as rigid as it may be with bigger groups. It feels more like a road trip!
There are several tour operators arranging Blue Mountains day trips from Kingston, you can arrange to get picked up at your hotel or other accommodation for a tour.
I ended up booking my tour with Viator, which had an available outing on a top-rated tour on a Sunday I wanted to go, and that turned out to be an excellent decision!
Local Knowledgeable Guide!
My driver and guide Marlon picked me up on the dot as planned, and I was the only person at the tour party for this Sunday tour!
Lucky for me, Marlon knows everything, everyone, including all the shortcuts and off-the-beaten-track gems that any traveler would like to discover.
It turned out Marlon was not only born and raised in the mountains but also is still living there. He has a little house with his own pristine mountain water pump, and the best view in the world, according to him.
Already on the drive up to higher grounds, I start getting a feel of the perks of exploring with the guidance of a local.
We drop by the large dam that is the water deposit of Kingston (for future reference when we see it all from above) before starting the ascent, and he keeps telling me about all the places and things that we pass on the way.
The Blue Mountains Roads Challenge
Although the drive up to the Blue Mountains from Kingston is really not a very long journey, we are covering quite a bit of altitude.
Not to mention the excitingly narrow road, that clings to the hillsides in a series of sharp turns starting as soon as the car starts to climb.
Obviously, it is no way of telling if there are cars coming in the opposite direction here (the road does not always have room for two cars either).
The mountainers have solved that problem by simply honking the horn just before every turn, to warn any opposing vehicles!
One of the first things I learn while we wind our way up is that mountain folks are not Kingston’ers.
The people of the mountains consider themselves a different breed than the city folks, and most of them would never consider moving down from the green hills and infinite views in the highlands.
When Marlon was a kid, there were no schools in the mountains, he tells me. All the students had to walk down the mountain every morning, and then back up after school.
The children of today have it easy, apparently, as most parents take their children to school these days.
Also read: 14 Best Ocho Rios Tours In Jamaica 2022!
The Blue Mountain Houses Clinging To The Hills
Looking down the steep mountainsides every time we honk our way through a narrow turn, I feel a bit relieved that was not my school route.
Up in the hillsides, the view to the lowlands starts to emerge and the city lies seemingly quietly between the mountain and the sea (which is not at all the case).
We started passing houses that are built in the middle of all the green, clinging to the steep hillsides!
The entrances of these houses are on the upside facing the road, while the outer edge of the houses is supported by long sturdy logs disappearing into the green vegetation below the house.
Looks a bit frisky to me, but I guess they know what they are doing after generations up here.
We are also passing a few villages on our way to the entrance of the National Park, and lots of bars, churches, and even restaurants.
It is a Sunday, and while stopping at a viewpoint along the road I thought there was already a party nearby, which actually turned out to be a service in one of the mountain churches!
Coffee Kingdom Of The Blue Mountains
Some of the Blue Mountains are part of the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park established in 1992, which is maintained by the Jamaican government.
Back in the day when Jamaica’s economy was dominated by sugar plantation slavery, slaves who fled ran to the mountains where they hid and started a free life.
They were known as the Jamaican Maroons, building their own communities and even waging several wars against the government from their sanctuary of the lush mountains!
Today, the famous Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee, which is super popular among coffee lovers across the world, is cultivated here between 600 and 1500 meters above sea level.
You can buy Blue Mountain Coffee in almost any shop, but just make sure it says 100 %, and not “blended”. You don’t want it to be diluted by just any other coffee bean out there!
Jamaica Defence Force In The Blue Mountains
In order to access the gate to the National Park in the Blue Mountains, we have to pass through a military base situated up here, called Newcastle JDF Camp.
As a former military officer, I have to say that the view from this place beats most barracks I have ever served at.
Absolutely stunning views and this military camp have a long and interesting history. It was constructed in 1841 in order to isolate Her Majesty’s British troops from the locals as the death toll due to yellow fever was extremely high!
From its founding until 1959, Newcastle was used by British forces (and during World War II also Canadians) as a change-of-air camp for foreign soldiers.
When Jamaica got its Independence in 1962, Newcastle finally became a national Jamaica Defence Force Training Depot.
Blue Mountains Irish Town Where The Rich Have Mansions
The rich and famous of Jamaica also like the mountains, which is why there is an area much like a village on a tiny mountain ridge, with uninterrupted views, full of incredibly luxurious mansions up in the Blue Mountains.
This road into Irish Tow is called Greenwich drive, and it can in many ways be said to be the “Hamptons of Kingston”!
Its residents only come up for the weekend to chillax above the noise of the city, of course often taking their helicopters to get here. Much faster, no doubt.
Hiking In The Blue Mountains
When finally arriving at the parking lot where the Natural Park starts, we arrive at the same time as the afternoon rain, just when I am about to embark on hiking in the Blue Mountains.
Obviously, there were holes in my research, because due to the topography of the area there are quite strong afternoon showers up here every day, and I did not equip my daypack for that.
No such little mishap shall, however, ruin my hike, although I must admit it did shorten it quite significantly. Despite the heat in the city, up here, the rainy afternoon can actually get a bit chilly!
If you also are a camping person, you can bring your tent with you and set it up on designated camping sites arount the entrance point to the National Park, or even rent a simple cabin.
(I strongly suggest you get a tent that is reinforced with a double roof to help protect you from the rain. There are also little gazebos close by where you can hide from the rain).
My Blue Mountains private tour from Kingston was super well organized, and my guide Marlon was extremely knowledgeable and accommodating.
I had a great day, although my hike, due to my shortcomings (weatherwise), was considerably shorter than I had planned.
I am definitely coming back up here with my Viking backpack in better order.
You can also go with your rental car and GPS, and hike by yourself following the well-marked paths from the entrance of the national park.
Authentic Blue Mountain Coffee
Heading for the narrow roads once again down the mountain this time, lunch is included in my Blue Mountain day tour. They also sell the real deal, the authentic Blue Mountain coffee – and not a cheap blended version.
But first I get an extra out-of-the-program stop at a very old property, a coffee plantation that has been up here since the 17th Century! So much history!
The house and garden are absolutely gorgeous, the colors are so strong and the vegetation is bursting with life, things are growing everywhere.
There are also traces of old coffee production around the plot, such as the old storage sheds for the coffee beans during the drying process, and old grinding tools made of stone.
Jamaicans Pray Hard And Play Hard!
Heading for the narrow roads once again down the mountain this time, lunch is included in my Blue Mountain day tour.
On our way to the lunch restaurant, Marlon asks me to count the churches and the bars in this area.
Now, both establishments are far from scarce here in the mountains (or in Kingston), but apparently, the bar-to-church ratio in these parts is significantly in favor of the bars. Jamaicans pray hard &play hard, you could say!
There are a surprising number of not just bars, but also restaurants along the narrow mountain roads and among the little clusters of houses in the hills.
Most surprising though is that they are often fully booked, so it is actually smart to do some research here and book in advance!
Although there is not a dramatic number of tourists stopping to eat up here, the locals make up for that so “better book beforehand than sorry”.
Not least did the food hold a high standard, the menu of the day was presented by a waiter properly dressed, wearing a face mask, and my scampi meal was exquisite!
Along the mountain roads, you are also passing a Red Light District (not the same kind as in Amsterdam), holistic natural spas, some B&Bs, a Rastafari village, and a lot of prayer houses, dogs, and people.
The mountains are simply buzzing with life, and not just the green vegetation, so it is definitely worth the ride up on the almost scary narrow roads for the day!
Wrap-Up Blue Mountains Private Tour!
Being the only one in the group for a scenic tour of the Blue Mountains certainly has its perks!
Any change of plans, shortcuts, or sudden ideas is always welcome. Getting lucky having a native guide was simply not my merit, but nevertheless!
Traveling like this is worth the price, I think, the experience gets so much more authentic and personal. But even if you go with a group, or by yourself, the Blue Mountains will show you its magic, I am sure!
In the Blue Mountains National Park, there are a variety of tours and tour agencies ready to take you into the green nature.
You can do a longer Blue Mountain hike to the summit, or a bicycle tour, and organizers have pick-ups in Kingston as well as Ocho Rios and Montego Bay.
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