Climbing Jamaica's Blue Mountain Peak
Jamaica's tallest peak in its early-morning glory (Jack Jr. Hoehn/Index Stock)
Eschew the sand and beachside jams for an excursion to the cool side of Jamaica"cool" in both attitude and altitude. Blue Mountain Peak, in the heart of coffee country north of Kingston, is to dedicated hikers what Jamaica's Reggae Sunsplash is to some island music aficionados: a mecca. The peak, at 7,402 feet the highest point on the island, is shrouded in sunrise's chilly mist, as are the peaks of the nearby John Crow Mountains. As the mottled morning light pokes through the mist and the vast panorama opens, the moment is yours alone; here, you're surrounded by a Jamaica few tourists venture to see. In the distance the haze of Kingston is visible, and on a clear day you can make out Cuba, some 90 miles to the north. Small villages dot the hillsides below, surrounded by pitched plots of the island's famous, and uncommonly tasty, Blue Mountain Coffee. The area is also sanctuary for the island's true and original Rastafarians, a reclusive, spiritual folk who have nothing to do with the dreadlocked party boys of the beach circuit.
Along the marked trail you'll pass heavily forested mountainsides, with towering mahoganies and blue mahoe trees reaching for the sun. At about 5,000 feet, the trail passes through the Elfin Woodland, a forest of smaller trees stunted by lack of sun and soil nutrients, and covered with green lichen and moss. Look for dwarf orchids among the ferns. You might even get a glimpse of the rarely seen "Doctor Bird," the long-tailed, shimmering green hummingbird that is a national symbol.
Assailing the peak is not an actual climb involving equipment, but the going can be strenuous. Give yourself three to five hours to make the hike from one of the lodgings in villages below, and be prepared to take a guidewhile the trail is marked, there are some tricky turnoffs and you do not want to be lost in the Blue Mountains. Most hikers start out around 2 or 3 a.m., the better to arrive at the peak for sunrise.
Several small lodges are found at villages below. The rustic accommodations range from dormitories with shared baths to small private rooms and camping facilities. Expect to spend $20-$30 a night. You can also stay in Kingston or the north coast town of Port Antonio for considerably more, as much as $150, with the added disadvantage of traveling at least an hour to get to the trail head.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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