Bluefields & Belmont
These twin fishing villages are approached via the A1 highway, 19km (12 miles) to the southeast of Savanna-la-Mar. Bluefields Beach (actually a series of small beaches) is one of the finest in the area, drawing visitors every weekend from as far away as Kingston.
From Bluefields, the A2 road winds south to Whitehouse for 8km (5 miles) along the coast. You'll find a fishing village of small shops and vegetable stalls (busiest on Wed and Sat mornings).
The A2 continues to the southeast until you come to the waterfront settlement at Black River, the main town of St. Elizabeth Parish. There are more attractions to be visited from here than anywhere else along the South Coast. Allow 2 days for exploring the entire region if you have the time, including, if you so care, a day trip to Mandeville.
Visitor Information -- There is no office to visit but you can call the Montego Bay tourist office at tel. 876/952-4425, 9am to 5:30pm Mon-Fri, located at 18 Queen Drive, St. James. You can also visit the web address at www.visitjamaica.com/walking-tours/black-river-heritage.aspx.
Black River & The Great Morass
The second longest river in Jamaica and a vast marshland called the Great Morass are the Jamaican equivalent of the Florida Everglades. This sprawling mass of animals, bird life, and lush vegetation is the most evocative section in Jamaica -- a Tarzan-like jungle setting.
Five Jamaican rivers meet in the 32,374-hectare (80,000-acre) Morass, a soggy mass of crocodile-filled swamps, mangroves, and marshland with plenty of bird life, such as egrets, herons, ducks (both the whistling and ringed-neck species), and the blue-winged teal, among others.
The savanna is also filled with rare plant life such as butterfly ginger, bull thatch, saw grass, water hyacinths, pancake lilies, guaco bushes, potato slips, and wild cane, to name just a few. The red mangrove seen here is especially stunning: It sends its roots as deep as 12m (40 ft.) into the murky swamplands. You can also see royal palms and the remains of the logwood trees that once brought prosperity to Black River.
For a look at the Black River, its mangrove swamps, and crocodiles, the best tours are offered by South Coast Safaris. Tours are led by the town's most popular local character, extrovert Charles Swabey. The 1 1/2-hour tour covers 19km (12 miles) upstream and back and costs US$17 for adults, US$8.25 for children; tours leave daily at 9 and 11am and 12:30, 2, and 3:30pm. Children 2 and under go free but probably shouldn't be taken at all, unless they are held onto firmly. South Coast Safaris is at 1 Crane Rd., Black River (tel. 876/965-2513).
Eleven kilometers (6 3/4 miles) east of Treasure Beach is Lovers' Leap, Southfield, Yardley Chase (tel. 876/542-9058), the most dramatic and widely publicized attraction along Jamaica's South Coast. It commemorates the Romeo-and-Juliet story of two runaway slaves who leapt to their deaths hand in hand rather than be separated and returned to captivity. During the 1990s the Jamaican government erected an observation deck, meeting space, restaurant, bar, and gift shop at the site of the famous double suicide -- the top of a 533m (1,750-ft.) cliff, one of the steepest on the South Coast. If you're adventurous, you can follow a rocky and meandering footpath down to the sea, though most visitors opt just to enjoy the view that sweeps out over the coastline from the open-air platform. It's open daily 10am to 6pm, charging US$2 adults, US$1 children for a view of the site, lighthouse, and amazing panoramas.
The road continues from Alligator Hole east for 3 more kilometers (1 3/4 miles) to the end of our coastal journey at Milk River, the site of a hot mineral spring.
Milk River Mineral Bath, Milk River, Clarendon (tel. 876/601-7746; fax 876/986-4974), boasts some of the world's most radioactive mineral waters, recommended by some doctors for the treatment of arthritis, rheumatism, lumbago, neuralgia, sciatica, and liver disorders. The cost of a bath is US$5 for adults and US$3 for children 12 and under. Baths usually last about 15 minutes (it isn't good to remain too long in the waters). Use of the baths is free if you're staying at the Milk River Mineral Spa & Hotel -- 20 rooms (most with bathrooms, many with air-conditioning, TV, and phone) from US$68-US$150 double -- and the waters are changed after use by each bather. A restaurant offers fine Jamaican cuisine and health drinks in a relaxed old-world atmosphere.