If you come to Jamaica, you usually have pictures of Caribbean sandy beaches, cool drinks and chilled reggae music in your head. So far right – but did you know that there are real mountains in Jamaica and that the Blue Mountains in the east of the island are an absolute hiking paradise? The Blue Mountains stretch from the state of Portland down to the capital, Kingston. At the highest point, Blue Mountain Peak, you can experience one of the most breathtaking sunrises in the Caribbean.
In May 2017 I finally managed to make this long-cherished wish come true – experience the sunrise in the Blue Mountains. One would think that as a local resident you would certainly be able to enjoy such experiences all the time, but even as a quasi-local you need two things for a hike to the Blue Mountain Peak: time and good planning. No sooner said than done: Together with two friends we wanted to climb the highest point in Jamaica. The hike to Blue Mountain Peak was meticulously planned and prepared in advance – at least by me, because I was the only German in the group. I gathered all the information I could get to make the trip as nice and cheap as possible.
The Blue Mountains in Jamaica
The Blue Mountain Peak is the highest peak in Jamaica with a height of 2256m and the sixth highest point in the Caribbean. The summit is located in the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2015. One of the world’s most famous and most expensive types of coffee, Blue Mountain Coffee, comes from precisely this region. Despite the tropical climate, temperatures in the Blue Mountains can drop sharply overnight from around 1500 meters above sea level. As is well known, the temperature at the summit is more often around 0 ° C at night. The ascent to the Blue Mountain Peak is usually organized so that you arrive at the summit at sunrise. Why? Because that’s a pretty cool experience. The last place to stay overnight before climbing the peak is called the Portland Gap and lies at an altitude of about 2030m. If you think of camping in the mountains – close! That is forbidden here.
Hiking in the Blue Mountains
Now that the facts were clarified, the hike, for which we had planned a whole weekend, could actually begin. Since we all agreed that it would be a good idea to organize the excursion cheaply, we decided to use public transport to get to the last point accessible by car. Since 75% of the group consisted of local Jamaicans, the route was quickly clarified: we chose the capital Kingston as the meeting point , as there are the most transport options and the best-developed roads to the Blue Mountains.
Via the Peak Trail from Portland Gap to Blue Mountain Peak
We initially wanted to go from Kingston Halfway Tree to Papine. From the Square in Papine it should go on to Mavis Bank and from there the last mobile stage to Whitfields Hall / Abbey Green . The last stage was (and is certainly still) only accessible by off-road vehicle, without all-wheel drive you don’t get very far in this area. From Abbey Green you should then walk towards Portland Gap begin (approx. 3.7km). We planned to arrive there in the evening to get a few more hours of sleep before the ascent to the summit – which, as already mentioned, is most beautiful when you arrive shortly before sunrise, which is why we planned to leave Portland Gap around 2:00 a.m. to the Blue Mountain Peak .
So much for the planning. Once in the capital, Kingston, the first challenge was to find an ATM that would accept my Visa card. Basically this is not a problem. That day, however, it was one, and we had to go to a total of five different banks until a machine took pity on it and threw out some money. Experience has shown that in many countries it makes sense to always have some cash with you. Jamaica is one of those countries. And if I may allow myself the comment at this point: Do something good for the Jamaican economy and pay with the local currency, the Jamaican dollar. Although it is possible to pay in US dollars in many places, the prices are stated in JMD everywhere (except at tourist hotspots).
Machetes, flip flops and the need for food
The next surprise was when we met our friends at the Halfway Tree (Kingston transportation center). One of the two actually appeared in flip flops, despite multiple warnings (0 ° C at the summit … you remember) and the other had two machetes in his luggage. I would like to advise against both at this point if you are not native Jamaicans or have roamed through tropical jungle forests from childhood. I, or rather my husband in particular, were packed with groceries, hammocks, sleeping bags and extra blankets . Since we had already lost some valuable time looking for a functioning ATM, we had to hurry and get to Papine as quickly as possible get. If you don’t know your way around the Halfway Tree, ask the nice taxi drivers here. These will lead you to a side street where at least 3-5 taxis are always waiting for passengers to drive towards Papine.
When you arrive in Papine am Square , you have the last chance to buy groceries at reasonable prices or to have a bite to eat again somewhere. So if you haven’t packed supplies for the hike, you should look around in a supermarket here again, because Mavis Bankis pretty small. Small buses and taxis run regularly in the square towards Mavis Bank, so it is actually no problem to travel from there by public transport for a low price. Actually. However, it seems that from an unspecified time onwards every afternoon (almost at rush hour) the buses are so overcrowded that it is quite difficult to get a seat without a relationship with the driver. Let alone four places. So we couldn’t help but take a taxi to Mavis Bank – which stopped halfway. But that wasn’t really a problem, because after only about an hour (not worth mentioning by Jamaican standards) the journey continued again.
In Mavis Bank arrived, it began slowly to dawn. And then at the latest it dawned on me that my beautifully laid out plan would definitely not work. By now we should have finished the first 4km of our hike and have dinner at the Portland Gap ranger station . Fortunately we met a nice fellow traveler from Switzerland, who told us about a camping possibility. So the plan was quickly reorganized by the group and we decided to go to Whitfield Hallto drive, spend the night there and only start hiking to Portland Gap the next day. So we chartered an off-road vehicle and the driver brought us safely to the destination of the Swiss fellow traveler in the darkness of the jungle. The place we arrived at is close to the Abbey Green coffee farm and the last passable point on the trail to Blue Mountain Peak. At this point I would advise you to write down the driver’s phone number, as you will be driving back to Mavis Bank in the foreseeable future.
Portland Gap: Spend the night in the Blue Mountains
After a brief, very uncomfortable conversation with the owner of the property, in whose garden we had planned to hang our hammocks until the next morning, we changed our plans again. Get out of here, this person was spooky and we wanted to go straight to Ranger Station Portland Gap. Why not walk a 4km long, unknown trail in the darkest darkness? That shouldn’t be a problem for three Bush-approved Rasta men in sandals and a well-prepared, stubborn German woman. Ha! It wasn’t. To be honest – I really underestimated the first 500 vertical meters of the ascent, which were hidden in the small 4km. Quite overtired but also gleefully we stumbled through the gates of the Portland Gap Ranger Station . Even if it was shortly before 10 p.m., it shouldn’t be a problem to find someone in charge. Actually. There was light and some noise in the ranger station, but no ranger. Nevertheless, a construction worker received us, who kindly gave us the key to one of the not quite finished wooden houses and explained that the ranger was at a party. At this point I should perhaps mention again that you can finally buy food in Papine – but there are still bars in Jamaica even behind the last mountain.
Tired and satisfied, we stretched our hammocks in the rustic room. Now the time for the triumph of my German diligence had come: there was enough food for a midnight dinner and with the two extra blankets, the flip-flops also got a little warm again. Almost two hours later we (not) continued fresh and lively to the last stage of the hike to Blue Mountain Peak. It was already 2:30 in the morning and it felt like you had to hurry so as not to miss the magical moment of sunrise. So three out of four members of our group set off without stopping at the single tap (the rest of the way). Or to notice that the flip-flop Rasta was the only one with presence of mind to fill his bottle with water,
Since we were on our way to Portland Gap overnight had already used our flashlights, the juice in the batteries was of course limited for the last 6km of the again nightly ascent. You are slowly realizing it: planning is everything. But no matter, you just have to walk a little slower through the dense darkness of the jungle – which is not a problem if you are in a hurry and have hardly slept anyway. Fortunately, the flashlights only gave up shortly before dawn when we were already close to our destination. The particularly exciting thing about this excursion was really not knowing exactly where the journey was going the entire way there. If you neither know nor see an environment and just walk towards it without any visual clues, an extraordinary feeling arises (of helplessness …?). It requires a special level of concentration and willpower, which we find difficult to generate in times of extensive signage. Fortunately, someone at the summit told me that I had now reached the summit – without a sign I would hardly have recognized it at first (just kidding).
Here we go: At sunrise on the Blue Mountain Peak
Arrived at the highest point of the beautiful island of Jamaica, the sun was not long in coming. It almost looked as if the fiery red ball would rise in front of you at eye level. Pleading as if to salute the sun, one saw all the quivering summiteers stretch their numb fingers (and toes) for the first rays of sunshine. Slowly the warm light pushed over the mountain peaks and the whole beauty of the Blue Mountains finally revealed itself. The whole cursing about the exhausting night hike, the disorganization and the mishaps was suddenly forgotten.
We spent a couple of hours on the summit because it is a really unique place. The climate is different from the rest of the island and the views are indescribable. There is a tall metal frame that was built as an additional lookout. From there you overlook four federal states of the island and can also look down to the sea. It is breathtaking to watch how the sunbeams suck in the morning dew and it condenses into clouds around you. Speaking of clouds – the weather on Blue Mountain Peak is just as changeable as anywhere in the mountains. As beautiful as the morning was, around noon thick rain clouds came in and we decided to start the descent quickly before we got wet.
A second highlight was definitely the way back to the ranger station. Only now in daylight could the mountains be seen in their full size and splendor. Just like the changing vegetation, which grew steadily from the barren, low bushes at the summit the further you descended. A little deeper, outside the border of the national park, coffee fields of the famous Blue Mountain Coffee line the path as well as majestic eucalyptus trees. By the way, on the way down you can easily buy coffee beans from the local coffee farmers. Just ask when you meet someone … they will definitely help you.
Tips for hiking in the Blue Mountains
I have already given you a few tips on the way, but you are sure to have many more questions about planning your hike to Blue Mountain Peak. Here we go:
Does it cost anything to stay at Portland Gap? And how can I imagine the Ranger Station?
Yes, staying in the cabins costs something. The Ranger Station was still under construction in the summer of 2017, but already has outside toilets, washing areas, etc. More detailed information on prices and availability can be found here: Portland Gap Cabins (you have to call or write an email to book)
Is there an entrance fee for the national park?
Yes there is a fee. However, this is fluctuating, the current fees can be found on the website of the national park. The people there are friendly and accommodating. Since we didn’t meet the ranger until after the descent, we didn’t pay until afterwards.
Where else can you stay in the Blue Mountains?
While tempting to some, wild camping is not permitted. At an altitude of approx. 1500m there are some guest houses, e.g. Whitfield Hall .
Can I do the Blue Mountain Peak Trail without a guide or Jamaican company without getting lost?
The Blue Mountain Peak Trail is a well-developed hiking trail that cannot be missed once you are on it. However, the same applies here: Hiking is always safer in a group. The trail should not be left under any circumstances, for the purpose of shortening or the like. and remember that the ascent is in the night.
Are there any other hiking routes to the summit?
There are countless ways up into the Blue Mountains, but only one really developed hiking trail. The Blue Mountain Trail can be extended as desired, ie you can start the hike before Abbey Green, for example. If you want to roam freely and on untrodden paths, then a local guide is essential.
Are there guided tours of the Blue Mountain Peak?
Yes there is. As always from large and small providers. If you have little time available, it can be worthwhile to have the trip organized. However, if you have planned some time in the Blue Mountains region, it is worth considering booking a guide who can also show you hidden corners off the main route.
You should definitely bring this with you on a hike to the summit of the Blue Mountains:
- A refillable water bottle. I like to use this here , because you can hug them together unfilled so beautiful and well stowed
- Torch and spare batteries, preferably a good headlamp . And a second flashlight, trust me
- Cash, preferably JMD, not US dollars
- Enough groceries and snacks
- Warm clothes, before sunrise it is very cold at this altitude
Not necessary, but useful:
- A light rain jacket * (the weather in the mountains is unpredictable)
- Headgear, the sun is sizzling
- Because the sun sizzles at this altitude: sun protection for the skin
- Mosquito spray (my recommendation: buy Nobite * in advance in Germany or ‘Off’ on site. Autan will not impress the Caribbean mosquitoes)
- Selfie stick (last joke on the side) or a real camera. Worth it! Katrin, the main author of this blog, uses the Sony Alpha 6600 * . More about Katrin’s camera equipment while traveling.