High up, skin up, Brew up: Trekking Jamaica’s Blue Mountains

On his second voyage to the New World in 1494, this tip of Jamaica was the first land sighted by Christopher Columbus. The mountains looked blue from a distance, so he called them, with characteristic Spanish flair, 'The Blue Mountains.'

Trek Essentials

Season: December – April
Best Sights: Elfin forest, misty peaks and an array of flora and fauna
Remember to bring: Hiking gear, insect repellants and a pack of king skins
Watch out for: Mists, its easy to get lost

 

The Blue Mountains stand in Eastern Jamaica and date back 140 million years. Their misty peaks and lush green slopes are watered by the heaviest rainfall in Jamaica, and their forests are home to hummingbirds, butterflies, over 500 flowering plants, numerous species of orchid and a curious tree named Chusquea Abietifolia which flowers only once every 33 years.

On his second voyage to the New World in 1494, this tip of Jamaica was the first land sighted by Christopher Columbus. The mountains looked blue from a distance, so he called them, with characteristic Spanish flair, ‘The Blue Mountains.’

High up, skin up, Brew up

At 7000 feet, Blue Mountain is higher than any American peak east of the Mississippi River and one of the highest peaks in the Caribbean.

The Blue Mountains still hide many mysteries of its own, some historical and others of a more contemporary nature. These Mountains once hid the Maroons and their free African villages from the prying eyes of British Soldiers. Today, Rastafarians, other grass roots ‘country’ farmers and business entrepreneurs use these same steep hillsides to hide their fertile and potent marijuana fields. Beneath the mist induced bluish colourisation that envelopes them, these hills also hide a multitude of cool, clear springs, water falls, lagoons, rivers, hot water mineral baths, every single variation of mango to be seen, and a Noah’s ark collection of fruit, vegetation, animals and birds.

The Blue Mountains are also world famous for the rich flavoured coffee grown there. Introduced to the island in 1728 by the English Governor, who brought seedlings from Martinique, these hills still supply the Queen of England with her preferred brew through mail order. Even the Japanese can’t get enough of the most expensive coffee in the world. Over 90 percent of the crop is exported to them, and some of the plantations are Japanese-owned. Between 2000 & 3000 feet up, you will start entering the area where Blue Mountain coffee is grown, also dozens of coffee farms can be found among the tall pine trees that blanket the mountainsides.

Go Hiking

Besides being the promised-land of dope smokers and a coffee-lovers heaven, the hills of Jamaica are also a hikers paradise. The fresh air and general climate are enough to warrant treks along the maze of narrow trails that criss-cross and wind their way through the Jamaican jungle highlands. The traditional Blue Mountain trek is a 7 mile hike to the peak with an increase in altitude of 3000ft. the trail passes through an elfin forest of stunted soapwood and redwood trees, their low canopy resulting from extreme climatic conditions. Gradually, the cloud forest takes over with its dense, shaded undergrowth of mosses, lichens, ferns, linas and lesser tress.

You can take a trip to the John Crow Mountain National Park which was established in 1992 to preserve some of the remaining forests and to protect the island’s largest watershed. These diverse mountain forests have more than 800 species of endemic plants, the world’s second largest butterflies and 200 species of migrant & resident birds.

There are also many other trails you can take as there are hundreds of paths that connect villages with planting grounds and other villages. However, these are not recreational trails but utilitarian tracks used by people who live and work in the mountains. First time visitors will probably feel more comfortable hiring a local guide because the trails are wandering donkey paths that are neither marked nor adequately mapped.

Best Times to Go:
It is safer to hike in the Blue Mountains during the dry period from December to April because its’ numerous, rapidly flowing rivers create floods and landslides during heavy rains. It is also the time when the rest of the island is most comfortable.

What to Bring:
Comfortable clothing and walking shoes, a warm jacket and pants, a hat with brim, suntan lotion, insect repellent, flashlight, and a water bottle.

To arrange a Blue Mountain trek, hikers should plan to spend the night close to the trailhead. Hikes get underway between 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. so as to reach the top before the mist obscures the view.

Two places for overnight stays are Whitfield Hall (Tel-Kingston: 876-927-0986) and Pine Grove (Tel-Kingston: 876-977-8009, Fax: 876-977-8001).

 

MORE INFORMATION

A solitary Cloud
Zen Buddhist intrepretation of the Blue Mountains

Blue montains, Jamaica
One man takes off to the Blue Mountains, and takes some stunning photos

Blue mountain Coffee
Travel intelligence article by James Henderson on how the famous beans are harvested on the mountains

 

By Noreen Mustapha

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