Some of the most devoted naturalists in Port Antonio are associated with the Hotel Mocking Bird Hill, which has carved a niche for itself among like-minded clients since the day it was established. The entity here that has laboriously researched every possible eco-sensitive excursion in eastern Jamaica is Jamaica Explorations, in the Hotel Mocking Bird Hill, North Coast Highway, Port Antonio (tel. 876/993-7267). They're experts in everything to do with bird-watching, butterfly chasing, Maroon history and culture, waterfall climbing, river-rafting, beach appreciation, spa treatments, art lessons, papermaking classes, homestays, Jamaican culture, and all kinds of air, land, and watersports. Even if you're not a client of Mocking Bird Hill, don't overlook these ladies and their encyclopedic knowledge of their district.
Valley Hikes, from a base on Harbour Street, in Port Antonio (tel. 876/993-3881), arranges well-choreographed hikes through the Rio Grande Valley. The hikes are conducted in a lush area between the Blue Mountains and the John Crow Mountains, with experienced local guides. Many different variations on the tours, ranging from 2 hours to 2 days, are available, one of the most popular and best being a 2-hour waterfall tour priced at US$35 per person. A 6.5km (4-mile) hike into the Blue Mountains, seeking its flora and fauna, can also be arranged.
Attractions Link, 229 Harbour St., Unit #10, in Port Antonio (tel. 876/993-2102 or 876/873-4808) also offers well-conceived exposures to the Jamaican wild. It offers one of the best bus tours into the Blue Mountains, with a visit to a coffee plantation and a picnic in Hollywell National Park at 1,518m (5,060 ft.) above sea level. Including lunch, the cost is US$80 per person.
Another excursion, this one scheduled from 9am to 3:30pm, takes you to Reach Falls and Long Bay Beach, east of Port Antonio and along the coast, where you can go for a dip. (Beware of the undercurrents on this beach!) Go with someone else who loves and enjoys a cooling dip: The cost is US$35 per person.
Attractions Link also offers a Tour of a Maroon Village, which, if enough participants have signed up, includes a visit to Nanny Waterfall and insights into the mysterious Maroon subculture, or at least what's left of it. When available, it's scheduled for a departure from your hotel at 8:30am, a return to your hotel around 5pm, and an exposure to some of the most isolated villages in the region. The cost, per person, is US$65.
One of our personal favorites is the company's Butterfly and Birdwatching Tour, which, because of the feeding habits of Jamaican fauna, requires an early morning departure at 5am, with a return to your hotel before noon on the same day, following excursions deep into Sherwood Forest, and the Reach Falls area of the Blue Mountains. Tours are accompanied with a trained and licensed ornithologist, and cost US$85 per person. Sightings will usually include the Jamaican crow, the scavenging John Crow, the Jamaican streamer tail hummingbird (the country's national bird), the (nocturnal) Jamaican owl, and a host of rare orchids and other plants.