Fantasy Beach, also called Priory Beach, is a large strip of coastline for the tiny Saint Ann town of Priory. This sleepy public beach just outside of Ocho Rios wakes up on weekends to mostly local families who stop by to swim, play football, have dinner and unwind.
Starting from Main Street in the heart of parish capital Saint Ann’s Bay, you can walk if the sun isn’t out full force and if you don’t mind a half hour stroll. Otherwise, catch a route taxi from the Saint Ann’s Bay bus park (it doubles as a taxi stand) for JM$100 per person, a ride which lasts about 5 minutes. If you’re from or staying in Priory, even better. Google Maps can work out the exact amount of walking time you’ll need from where you are. Priory Beach is free so no admission costs. Phew!
As with nearly all our free beaches, don’t expect top of the line amenities. They have no restrooms. Their showers cost JM$50 per person to use and I heard changing rooms are available. Nonetheless, you can get by if you wear swimsuits underneath your clothing but don’t come with a full bladder unless you’re willing to get..err… creative or unsanitary (please don’t!). There’s no lifeguard on duty either but with that said, it’s beach time!
The first thing which struck me were the number of vehicles! There were lots of cars and 3 chartered buses too which made me wonder if visiting on a Sunday evening and holiday weekend too at that was wise. The beach was pulsating to the latest music, a treat I hear happens every Sunday. However, after passing the parking lot I realized that the beach was large enough to hold us all and in fact didn’t look even half as crowded as I’d feared.
Priory Beach is a beautiful strip of coastline where the waves ebb and flow over brown sand of varying textures. In some places the sand was velvety smooth into which your feet would sink while in others it was practically just stone and gravel. The interesting bit is that people chose to stay on the gravelly parts which aren’t as friendly to feet as the sand texture pictured above. Here’s why:
Beach pollution. Aside from sections of the Palisadoes strip where I did beach cleanups in high school, I’ve never seen anything like this and the strips we used to clean weren’t bathing beaches anyway. Fantasy Beach needs a good cleanup team properly armed with very thick gloves and 2 bags each to scour the coastline and remove all the plastic bottles, empty cans and other debris which has no business being strewn around on a public bathing beach. The St. Ann parish council, National Environment Planning Agency (NEPA), Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) or some other government institution needs to look into this matter! It seems as if the beach has cleaning personnel who choose to keep about 50% of it clean and ignore what’s found on the rightmost extreme of the beach. However, this is unacceptable. More cleaners are needed if it is that they’re currently understaffed but it would be nice in the interim for community groups or school service clubs to coordinate a volunteer cleaning activity. It’s a beach in the hands of the community residents and while the government is tasked with maintaining public spaces, sometimes people gotta take initiative and start helping themselves!
If you’re able to overlook that unsightly side in relation to the larger beach, you’ll get enthralling views like this:
These views and the cleanliness of the water on the leftmost portion made it worth spending an hour or two. Carry a beach ball and start a new football or beach volleyball game. More than one were in progress while I was there. Play the national board game of dominoes or carry your dinner and a beer to enjoy while watching the waves. They have decent seating facilities available. There’s a restaurant there too but I never got around to looking at their prices since I’d already eaten and intended to spend nothing.
Priory Beach could have been my kind of beach– spacious, not too crowded (surprisingly) nor pricey. A lot of Jamaica’s prime coastline is in the hands of hotels and other private owners making our beaches expensive or inaccessible to common folk. Thus, the occasional public beach allows one to experience what true Jamaican beach vibe and camaraderie is since it lies in the hands of ordinary residents. It’s about time we find a way to hold on to these remaining jewels, keep them clean and make them appealing to locals & foreigners alike. Therefore, it saddens me that the chief complaint on Google Maps had to be about litter then I ended up proving it for myself.
I hope it doesn’t sound contradictory but I still had a great time for 100% free. Honestly, unless you make the stroll over to the deserted section of beach on your right, you won’t really see any debris. Out of sight, out of mind perhaps but that should not be the case. That side of the beach actually had the softest sand and was the prettiest until you turned your back to the ocean. The beach pollution coupled with all the lacking amenities will sink my rating of Priory Beach to ☆☆ stars. It’s a stunning beach with great potential once you overlook the bad part which my inner environmentalist won’t permit me to do. That’s less than I’ve given two other public beaches in the past: Carib Beach and Lyssons Beach (although in retrospect, this post made me realize that Lyssons deserved more than three stars so I’ve happily bumped up its rating to four).
P.S. If you want an emptier, smaller and hopefully cleaner piece of coastline with the same views and restrooms, feel free to check out South Beach. It’s one minutes’ drive (under five minutes’ walk) away from Fantasy Beach and costs JM$150 per person. You’ll reach Fantasy Beach before it if you’re coming from the St. Ann’s Bay to Priory direction.
‘Til next time! ✌