Reach Falls: Freshwater Fun in Jamaica

Freshwater cascades of Reach Falls, Jamaica

When we think of Caribbean islands, we usually envision turquoise and deep blue waves—and there are plenty of those in Jamaica. Hidden in its lush mountains, however, is a freshwater idyll that visitors shouldn’t miss.

Reach Falls is a refreshing destination—and a pleasant alternative to hanging out on the beach.

Cascades and Pools

What’s more exotic than a swimming hole in the jungle? That’s the magic of Reach Falls in the Blue Mountains east of the town of Port Antonio. Here, water cascades over the massive boulders in some places and forms quiet pools in others.

What I loved at Reach Falls:

  • Swimming through the blue-green water (the milky color comes from the limestone) into shallow caves and peering out at the rainforest through the rivulets of water.
  • Getting a shoulder and scalp massage by standing beneath the water of a rushing cascade.
  • Riding the flume. This is achieved by swimming vigorously upstream to perch on a rock ledge with swirling whitewater around you. Then launch yourself into the current, and let it carry you downstream.

    Deep, clear pools are perfect for a cool dip on a hot afternoon.

Details: There’s an entrance fee to Reach Falls. Facilities include picnic tables, toilets, changing rooms, and lifeguards for general safety.

You can hike up the river to Reach Falls and explore the lush jungled area.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Originally published: June 18, 2010

Read more about my travels in Jamaica:


Tropical Dining with a Jamaican Twist: Sustainable Mille Fleurs Restaurant

No good hotel is complete without an innovative restaurant, and Hotel Mocking Bird Hill’s Mille Fleurs is just such a place. I savored every mouth-watering bite during my stay there—and each was both sustainable and satisfying.

The romantic Mille Fleurs restaurant in Jamaica focuses on organic, island-grown foods. Photo courtesy Hotel Mocking Bird Hill

Unlike many Caribbean resorts that import the majority of their food, Hotel Mocking Bird Hill cooks with locally grown and harvested ingredients whenever possible, thereby supporting local farmers and putting fresh, tasty, and usually organically-grown foods on guests’ plates. Chef Melvin Laidlaw and the hotel’s owners also seek out foods that originate from within 50 miles, occasionally widening that to 90 miles when necessary.

The Mille Fleurs adventure begins before your first dinner at the hotel when Chef Melvin sits down to tell you what’s on the menu (it changes daily, depending on what’s in season). He also explains the origins of all the foods and describes Jamaican specialties such as callaloo (a green, leafy vegetable—like spinach—that’s simmered with coconut milk, chopped onions and garlic).

Chef Melvin also asks about your dietary restrictions or preferences. If you’re gluten intolerant, you’re in luck. Cassava, a starchy root that grows in the tropics, is a Jamaican staple—and cassava flour is gluten free. It’s the primary ingredient in Jamaican coconut-milk-fried flatbread called “bammy”—which is heaven!

Dreamy Dining

Candlelit by night, Mille Fleurs restaurant creates romantic atmosphere on its terrace overlooking the Caribbean Sea and rainforest—with the Blue Mountains on the horizon. I loved sitting with a rum drink as the sun set, feeling the cool night breeze and watching the fireflies glow.

To give you a sample of the outrageously good food, my first night’s meal include an orange salad with green olives and local feta* accompanied by fresh-baked herb rolls and scones. For the main course, I chose spiny Caribbean lobster, served with herb butter. (Note: I visited Hotel Mocking Bird Hill in late March, the last days before the close of lobster-catching season. April 1 through June 30 is the lobster’s breeding/egg-laying time, and if you eat lobster between those dates, chances are they’re poached—and I don’t mean in the cooking-method sense!)

To top off the meal, I reveled in a sampler platter of Mango Cheesecake and Papaya and Jamaican Apple & Coconut Custard.

Vegetarian Paradise

I also have to mention that Chef Melvin pampers vegetarians and vegans with Jamaican flavor. On any given day, the menu might include Stir-Fried Callaloo with Garlic, Breadfruit and Peanuts; Spicy Okra and Tomato with Yogurt; Herb Pancakes Filled with Ratatouille and Feta; or Homemade Pasta with Spicy Pumpkin Sauce.

Mille Fleurs participates in Meatless Mondays, a global initiative that promotes reducing your carbon footprint. (The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates the meat industry generates one-fifth of the man-made greenhouse-gas emissions that are accelerating climate change worldwide.)

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

* I’m compelled to sing the praises of the artisan cheeses served at Mille Fleurs. They’re crafted at Jamaica’s Tamarind Hill Farm by Joanna Slimforte and they’re spectacular. I’ve never tasted such vibrant feta outside the Mediterranean, and the goat cheeses vie with Europe’s.

Originally posted on on May 21, 2010

Read more about my travels in Jamaica:

Chef Melvin Laidlaw hosts cooking classes at Hotel Mocking Bird Hill. During this one, we learned some classic Jamaican recipes: jerk chicken, fried plantain, grilled breadfruit, and red beans and rice cooked in coconut milk.

Room with a Jamaican View: Hotel Mocking Bird Hill

Yes, this was the paradise I reveled in every time I gazed out my windows at Hotel Mocking Bird Hill, an eco-friendly getaway in Jamaica.

Tucked into the forests and organic gardens above the town of Port Antonio is Hotel Mocking Bird Hill, an eco-boutique hotel that’s the epitome of Jamaica’s natural side.

Though not on the beach, the socially- and environmentally-conscious hotel overlooks the aquamarine water not far away. Though not in the mountains, you can watch the sun set behind the Blue Mountains from the hotel’s restaurant and rooftop observatory.

In short, Hotel Mocking Bird Hill is connected to the land, the sea, the sky and the community in a way that few places do.

The Luxury of Nature

“What is luxury? The definition has changed. It’s not just opulence; it’s having space and quiet.” –innkeeper Shireen Aga

Hotel Mocking Bird Hill does indeed provide the most beautiful of places to relax and forget the cares of the world. Curl up on a deck chair, a pool chair or a day bed hidden in the verdant gardens for some R&R.

Indoors or out, I feel nature’s pulse from the moment I wake until I fall asleep—which is perhaps when I enjoy the earthiness the most.

After a satisfying, sustainable meal in the candlelit Mille Fleurs Restaurant (see a future post for details about the wonderful cuisine), a hush settles over the hotel and the tree frogs sing their moonlight sonata. Fireflies (bigger than any I’ve seen before!) sparkle like fairies in the forest.

Night in the tropics: always relaxing when there’s mosquito netting and a soft bed.

While getting ready for bed each night, I kept all but one light off so as not to attract insects (there are no screens in the louvered windows so that nothing mars the view or separates you from the gardens and jungle surrounding the hotel.)

Then I would climb beneath the mosquito netting, which is rarely necessary if you turn on the ceiling fan above the bed; mosquitoes avoid the breeze.

Mosquito netting is one of my personal favorite luxuries: a diaphanous tent over my bed that assures that my sleep will be undisturbed by winged insects or the geckos who hunt for them.

To me, it’s a treat to sleep in a room open to nature, and mosquito netting over a comfy bed feels like a magic castle. On my first night at Mocking Bird Hill, I awoke to fireflies in my room. One settled on the canopy above me and winked me back to sleep.

The pool is a blue lagoon during the sun-drenched hours and lantern-lit at night.

There are many other luxuries at this 10-room inn:

  • sipping a Red Stripe and jerk-spiced nuts at sundown
  • meeting charming guests from England, Germany and the United States
  • taking trips to the beach
  • excursions for a raft ride or to Reach Falls
  • strolling through the gardens and watching the humming-birds
  • lounging in the hammock in my room (and drinking in yet again that view!)
  • and last, but certainly not least, enjoying a cool dip in the chlorine-free pool.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Originally posted on May 5, 2010

Read more about my travels in Jamaica:

The colorful lobby of Hotel Mocking Bird Hill is filled with tropical flowers and the sculptures of innkeeper/artist Barbara Walker.

5 Spring-Break Tips for a Rejuvenating Beach Vacation

The beach at Grace Bay in Turks & Caicos is magnificent.  Photo© Laurel Kallenbach

Time for a break! Winter-weary travelers seeking a sunny, healthy recharge on a tropical island need look no farther than The Palms Turks & Caicos on the Caribbean island of Providenciales. Here’s how it stacks up as a relaxing, revivifying destination—whether you’re traveling with your sweetie, BFFs, or kids.

Tip #1: Bliss Out on a Beautiful Beach

Nothing’s more restoring in winter than a sun-kissed beach. The Palms is located on Turks & Caicos’ Grace Bay, consistently rated among the best beaches in the world. It’s got white sand—miles of it to walk or jog on—and a barrier reef a mile or so offshore that creates a naturally sheltered area with calm water. Oh, the color of that water! If you like water that changes from luminescent light-aqua into ultramarine blue the deeper you go, you’ve found paradise.

Tip #2: Chill by the Perfect Pool

Yes, resort waiters will deliver food and drinks to the beach, but sometimes nothing beats hanging by the pool. The Palms’ serpentine infinity pool offers gorgeous ocean views; a hot tub; and Plunge, the pool bar/restaurant that offers in-water tables so you can sip and beat the heat!

Tip #3: Rejuvenate at a Holistic Spa

If you want to shed stress and nurture your skin with all-natural and organic treatments, get thee to a spa! The Palms’ world-class spa offers innovative treatments—including a conch-shell body polish and a bamboo massage—created from Asian and Caribbean healing traditions. Just reclining in the spa’s outdoor lounge and looking at the tranquil reflecting pool shaves 10 points off your blood pressure.

The outdoorsy spa at The Palms is centered around a gorgeous reflecting pool lined by private treatment cabanas (the white buildings that flank the pool). Photo© Laurel Kallenbach

Tip #4: Lounge in a Luxurious Room

Vacations are all about catching up on your shut-eye. Everything about the rooms and suites at The Palms Turks & Caicos says “relax”: from the spacious bathrooms with all the amenities to the fluffy beds to the daybeds on the balconies. Plus the bougainvillea-draped property is beautiful to wander through.

Tip #5: Eat Healthy, Delicious Food

The Palms’ courtyard is colorful with bougainvillea, which brightens the indoor/outdoor restaurant, Parallel 23. Photo ©Laurel Kallenbach

You need to eat right—even on vacation! Parallel 23 restaurant at The Palms serves innovative fine cuisine, and the resort sources about 40 percent of its ingredients organically. The spa has a separate menu that includes light but flavorful fare. And here’s another idea: Sign up for a cooking class and take home some of the chef’s healthy cooking secrets.

Eco-Efforts

Island life always makes people aware of resources. The people at The Palms take care to conserve where they can, including:

  • Kitchen food-scrap composting
  • An organically grown kitchen garden for herbs and tomatoes.
  • Rainwater collection for use in watering the landscaping.
  • The resort recently installed new air-conditioning controls that adjust automatically to minimize A/C use when guests leave their rooms.
  • Switching to energy-saving bulbs as current ones burn out.
  • Bottled water is widespread among guests, and recycling all that plastic is difficult on an island. However, the hotel management is investigating ways to recycle plastic bottles.
  • The staff participates in island-wide clean-up crews that collect trash on land or that washes up on the beach.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

The serpentine pool at The Palms Turks and Caicos.  Photo © Laurel Kallenbach