Somerset Falls, Portland

Somerset Falls in Hope Bay, Portland is a series of picturesque cascades meandering through the lush green backdrop of a tropical rainforest. The falls run through an old indigo and spice plantation, but the property bears no semblance to its former purpose today.

Getting There

Half-Way-Tree (HWT) is the travel centre and capital of the Saint Andrew parish and the start of our adventure. Good ole faithful ‘Portie’ bus was our means of transport. Buses destined for Port Antonio, or ‘Portie’ as the town is affectionately called, load beside the transport centre directly across from a Burger King outlet. The fare is $450 per person. As to their schedule, I cannot say. The most reliable time to get one is during peak hour (before 10 am and after 4 pm perhaps). We were fortunate to catch one at 9:30am with 2 seats left thus only having a 5 minute wait. They do not leave until they are jam-packed so if you come when one is empty or just left, you have quite a wait. πŸ˜“

The major districts and towns you will pass in order are: (St. Andrew) Constant Spring, Stony Hill, Golden Spring, (St. Mary) Castleton, Broadgate, Annotto Bay, (Portland) Buff Bay then next up, Hope Bay. The drive itself is scenic as you are treated to magnificent views of the tortuous Wag Water River, lush green hills, banana plantations and eventually the coast as the town names aptly herald. The roads are winding as you ascend the steep hillsides, and the Junction main road you have to take from Saint Andrew into Saint Mary snugly hugs the slope.

Somerset Falls sign on the A4 main road

Somerset Falls sign on the A4 main road

This sign is clearly posted along the right of the A4 highway a little after you enter Hope Bay. If you’re afraid you’ll miss it, ask any passenger or the ‘ductor (conductor= person, usually male, who collected your fare) in advance to give you a “stop” when you’re at your destination. The journey lasted 2 hours, inclusive of the stops in each town to let off/pick up passengers and that one stop by the gas (petrol) station. πŸ˜’

The Entrance

Pay at the admissions office, collect your receipt and armband then proceed to their decent, albeit dimly lit changing/restrooms. Prices are higher on weekends when they have more attractions open. We went on a weekday since neither of us cared for an artificial swimming pool and water slide when we can swim in pools like this!

I fathom they’re there for the children and children at heart. Nonetheless, weekends are also their busiest times so factor in all this when choosing the right day to visit.

The Falls

Somerset Falls is a multi-cascade of whitewater gushing down the Daniel River, widening in parts to form foamy pools offering nature’s-own massages. The 5-minute boat ride included in the admission cost takes you to the noisiest part of the falls, thundering in her might and whipping up a mist that left me drenched from sitting placidly at the bow. That portion is referred to as the hidden falls, and clearly she wanted to remain hidden as that mist did not allow me to take photographs.

Nevertheless, here’s the little tropical rainforest in which I spent my afternoon:

On a weekday, you can get your “massage” from nature (corny, I know), swim (the lifeguard will advise you about where is safe for non-swimmers as most parts are deep) and stroll around admiring their birds and plants. I never did find out if food is allowed on weekdays since their restaurant only opens on weekends, thus I refrain from saying picnic. Nonetheless, just like the “no outside food” rule at the movies πŸ‘€. . .

Back to HWT

Getting there by bus was the easier part. Thankfully, our friendly lifeguard/boat captain Mark advised us to take an Annotto Bay bus then a HWT one from there, else we may have waited for who knows how long on a Portie-Half Way Tree bus due to that peak hour thing I mentioned earlier. Mark went above and beyond the call of duty by accompanying us to the A4 main road and spending the 35 minute wait with us to ensure we got a bus. His advice: don’t ever allow anyone to talk you into taking a Buff Bay bus from Hope Bay. You’ll end up paying too much unnecessarily.

It cost us $150 each from Hope Bay-Annotto Bay (St. Mary) then we were fortunate enough to get one that was just departing for HWT at $250 each. Yes, we paid $50 less each on the return trip but I didn’t question it. Just one of those things.

Wrap Up

I’m always amazed at rural hospitality and manners, simply because you are raised to be so guarded and distrustful in the city, even in one as small as Kingston, Jamaica. Try public transport for one of your tourist destination visits and you’ll see what I mean. Many people already do this, local and international tourists alike. In fact, there was an international tourist en route to Portie today in my bus but if you’re not from JA, do familiarize yourself with patwa (Jamaican creole) first. It may be all you hear the whole trip, but we are an English-speaking country so someone will always be able to help you out.

I give Somerset full stars β˜†β˜†β˜†β˜†β˜† because the hospitality, scenery and tranquility of the entire grounds deserved nothing less.
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***The prices mentioned earlier are in Jamaican dollars (JMD). At the time of writing this article, the exchange rate of USD to JMD is US$1=JM$128.96. Also, I featured the Somerset Falls as #9 on January 9th in my 2017 bucket list. So this is 4 down, 13 to go. 😊 ‘Til next time. ✌

Read other budget travel chronicles across the globeΒ hereΒ from the Budget Travelers Sandbox.

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Bowden Hill Falls, Saint Andrew

Bowden Hill Waterfall, a.k.a. Falling Edge Falls, is nestled away in the rural community of Stony Hills. This area receives very high rainfall annually, making it a suitable site for catchment facility the Hermitage Dam and Reservoir. If you’ve ever wanted to see one of the two notorious corporate area reservoirs, consider this killing two birds with one stone. Nothing I’d found online mentally prepared me for my adventure on the 30.12.16, but I owe previous blogs many thanks for ensuring I was prepared with sneakers (phew! because I usually approach water bodies in flip-flops). I nearly didn’t see the falls today because I didn’t realize how very far apart the reservoir and falls are. I’ll describe the trails as best I can, for anyone choosing to quench their wanderlust with this treasure.

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Bowden Hill Primary and Junior High School

The Journey

Recruiting a party of nine we began from Half-Way-Tree, travel centre and capital of the Saint Andrew parish. From here, Google Maps serves well until you reach the Bowden Hill Primary and Junior High School (formerly All-Age). The drive took about an hour. By no means is the Hermitage Dam a tourist spot! However, if you must sate curiosity (honestly, how often will I find myself with this opportunity? . .), take the path to the right of the school and be guided by the beckoning roar of water till you find it. There are two paths to it; each offering a different view of the place. If you have time or interest, and weather permits, do find them both.

The waterfall trail, as indicated above, is left of the school. Lost on the Hermitage dam paths, we were forlorn that our waterfall-seeking adventure may have been in vain, when two residents who we drove past earlier found and helped us. After a chat and some rapport establishment, we politely spewed our exasperation for the absence of signage. Hopefully this is addressed, because they seemed to listen earnestly to our concerns. Therefore, maybe your visit will be better (and if so, thank me later haha πŸ˜‚). At this point they began sharing their development plans for the area. It is their community after all, and nosy people like myself come encroaching, so it is good to see them recognize that they have revenue-earning potential.

The 20-minute hike trail looked like this, and at the fork, go left.

Otherwise, the trail is pretty straightforward but wet, and there were occasional trickles of tributaries (I assume) along the way.Β Your zeal will be rewarded with: a WATERFALL.

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Falling Edge Falls, Saint Andrew

The Waterfall

Bowden Hill Falls is a gush of white water leaping over an estimated height of 40 feet to plunge into a crisp cold linn. Brrrr! It felt like what I imagine the ice bucket challenge did. If you have the thermostat of an average person (sadly I don’t), you’ll adjust once part of your body is submerged. I still enjoyed myself immensely, and got to wash off the sweat and struggles from that hike! The hour we spent by the falls made everything worth the trip. The falls and surrounding rocks had at least 12 residents, but they were hospitable. Also, the linn moves gradually from ankle depth to too deep in which to stand as you approach the falls, so tread cautiously.

Lessons Learnt

Be friendly! Keep your guard up of course, and use your instincts. However, don’t let pre-conceived notions cloud your judgement. The manner (or appearance) of the male(s) willing to assist may take you aback at first. If you roll up in multiple cars and windows up, you’re going to put off people (. . .and have them try to financially exploit you), yet even so they probably won’t carry feelings.Β I have never heard of the hikes here attracting charge, but we were each requested $500 and told that that is the “normal price.” Rather negotiable men they were since clearly, none of us had had nor bargained for that. Nonetheless, tip generously since residents are not obligated to show you around their haven, especially if you go there visibly displaying your differences in wealth.

Wrap Up

Quite a memorable and authentic Jamaican experience this was! It gets 4/5 stars β˜†β˜†β˜†β˜† from my book, because despite finding the trails on a well-kempt day, the water temperature and initial difficulty in choosing the right trail detracted from the experience. I do love to hike so I never minded the time nor effort much, but that feeling wasn’t mutual for everyone in my group.
Tips: βœ” As with all deep water bodies, APPROACH WITH CAUTION!!!!!! Please.
βœ” No mosquito problem by the falls that day (maybe because of smoke from the fire at which the residents were cooking πŸ€” ), but come prepared with DEET repellant.
βœ” Roll your windows down if you drive. HAIL THE PEOPLE YOU PASS; a wave or “hi, wahpm” counts. You actually can public-transport it though, as shown here.
βœ”Sneakers are a MUST. Carry warm clothing.
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P.S. If you find a Rasta guide called Seco, you’re in good hands ☺. ‘Til next time. ✌

Reggae Falls, Saint Thomas

Reggae Falls, a.k.a. Dam Head, is a jewel tucked away in the hilly rural community of Hillside, Saint Thomas (what an aptly named district!). This waterfall is not entirely natural as many years ago, the Johnson River which supplies it was being developed to power a hydroelectricity station. The project suffered some damage from a hurricane early in development, leading to its abandonment. However, its aesthetic appeal has not gone unnoticed by residents of the community nor dry land tourists* like myself, who are its main patrons. My only visit thus far was in January 2016. Its waters are touted to have healing properties due to its sulphur content. It is currently not commercialized and I hope it develops, once its ownership remains in local hands.

The Journey

I recruited a group of 7 friends. We pitched in for gasoline costs to fill the tank of a friend’s van. We met in Half-Way-Tree, capital of the Saint Andrew parish, to begin our journey at 9AM. We each had a vague idea of its location and a possible route from Google Maps, but we got lost twice in Saint Thomas before finding the way. That’s because we thought it a good idea to follow GPS, using a poor data connection πŸ˜…. It added to the fun, but I doubt my driver-friend agreed then. The towns you drive through using the simplest route (and in the correct order!) are Half-Way-Tree, Mountain View, Harbour View, Bull Bay, Nine Mile, Eleven Mile, and keep going till you are almost near Morant Bay then take the left turn to Seaforth. Next up after Seaforth: HILLSIDE!

At this point, it would be handy to spot a resident to guide you as to where to drive and park, since parking is in a dry part of the river bed. If you end up not following their directions correctly at first, don’t feel bad because country people are notorious for their directions. . . There were no signs either, so we were grateful to a father and son pair who directed us. They showed us it was possible to climb the steep hillsides too, as they fearlessly did, but this is NOT a time where the When in Rome proverb applies!

The Waterfall

Reggae Falls is a powerful waterfall, thundering over an estimated height of 70 feet to mist the air, and continue downstream as the Johnson River. We were actually awestruck for a while before making our way closer. I could not stand under it for more than a few seconds as the power of the water seemed to push me away, plus I could not handle the feeling of being back-slapped by nature. The river is rather shallow so we weren’t able to swim. Picnicking, fall-bathing, photo-taking and hiking was how we spent our time. No one was adventurous enough in my group to try, but I assume you could dive into a pool that is hidden behind some rocks to the left of the falls. The deep blue colour of that pool discouraged most of us from taking a swim (I assumed it was too deep for my poor swimming abilities). We were only joined once by another group of friends, so we mostly had the place to ourselves.

A little before our departure we met this gentleman called “Riva-man” (River man), who earns his namesake and keep by cleaning up after nasty tourists and community residents alike who seem to think their waste is biodegradable. Sure this could have been a ploy but since the river was indeed litter-free, we had enjoyed ourselves, and rural communities like these are poor, we didn’t mind collectively tipping Riva-man. He had struck my beggar hard-hearted heart as genuine anyway. . .

Wrap Up

Learning from our mistakes, the return time took under an hour as opposed to the nearly 3 hours it took to get there πŸ˜‚. Tips: βœ”Rely heavier on people’s advice to get there, not Google maps. βœ”Do go in a group (preferably with a few males) because no commercialization equals no security. βœ”Lastly, do pack food and water. There are no nearby shops, although perhaps if we had asked a resident, they could’ve directed us to somewhere in the community.

I rate Reggae Falls full stars, 5/5: β˜†β˜†β˜†β˜†β˜†. Till next time! ✌

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* Dry Land Tourist: A Jamaican term which refers to locals who visit the scenic “tourist-y” destinations in his/her own country often restricted to overseas tourists, mainly due to cost.

Cane River Falls, Saint Andrew

I first heard about this beauty in an article I read last year on little-known Jamaican waterfalls. I never thought it would be so easy to find until travel blogger Zoe featured it on her website, which I found by chance. The way she outlined her journey made it pretty easy to replicate. Thus, I inveigled my boyfriend and travel buddy to accompany me on Friday December 16th to find it.

Transport

My journey began in Half-Way-Tree, travel hub and capital of the Saint Andrew parish, where we met up about 8:45AM. We caught a JUTC (government-owned public transport) bus route 32 to DownTown, Kingston and came off at its final stop (South Parade). We walked around the perimetre of the Sir William Grant Park to reach where the route 97 buses load in North Parade, which would take us to Bull Bay. Luckily, he had an idea where to press the buzzer (which was immediately after passing the Bull Bay Police Station to your right) and where the blue Cane River sign was found on the left of the main road.

We got off at the bus stop near the sign, and were greeted with several taxi men eager to collect a ‘bills’ ($100 JM) fare to take us up to the ‘scheme’ (smaller districts off the main road). I told the most polite & decent-looking driver that we were going up to the river (& falls). He offered to carry us instantly if we made up the fare to $500 to account for empty passenger seats. We agreed and after a 15minute or so drive, there we were at the entrance! Thus, the total commute time from start to destination was about 90 minutes.

Entrance

This friendly enough Rasta caretaker greeted us at the entrance, requested and collected the admission fee of $200JM per person, waved us to the changing rooms, told us where we could leave our things (which was really just a rock in the middle of the water πŸ˜‚) etc.

The Waterfall

The path to the falls is left of the property. We began a brief 5minute hike through a cave, down some concrete steps hewn into rocks, and voila! Before then, we could catch (and hear!) glimpses of it upstream. It certainly is not as sheer a drop nor as thunderous as other falls, but it is a beauty in its own right.

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Cane River Falls, Bull Bay, Saint Andrew

Roaring white water cascaded from two points over rock into an azure lagoon, which spilt over a manmade barrier of rocks and sandbags to continue downstream as the Cane River. The little blue lagoon/pool was deep enough to swim in, but shallow enough for me to comfortably stand in [and I’m 5’5″ (1.66m) tall]. The river itself never got to any deeper than mid-thigh depth. We swam, paddled, got pounded by the falls (or a massage, as we put it 😎), picnicked on stones, took selfies and basically just had an awesome day. We even dived into the lagoon twice from the largest rock next to it (. . . Or jumped, but “dive” sounds more adventurous, haha).

A few people came and left at different points throughout the day, but we practically had the place to ourselves.

Wrap Up

I could’ve spent another hour or two playing in the pool, beneath the falls, or following the river’s course downstream, but we decided it was wisest to make it home in daylight plus with the irregularities of Jamaican public transport? . . . So we spent a total of about 4 hours there.

P.S. βœ”Take the name and number of your taximan if you go public like we did, so you have no hassle leaving afterwards. He came about 10 minutes after calling. βœ”Oh and bring food! If I go again, I’d bring more drinking water. Sort of painful to be surrounded by water but thirsty!

All in all, I give here full stars: 5/5 β˜†β˜†β˜†β˜†β˜†, and I got to cross something off my bucket list! ✌