Room with a Jamaican View: Hotel Mockingbird Hill

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

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

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

In short, Hotel Mockingbird 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 Mockingbird 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 my 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 a soft bed and the protection of mosquito netting. ©Laurel Kallenbach

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 Mockingbird Hill, I awoke to fireflies in my room. One settled on the canopy above me and winked me back to sleep.

The pool at Hotel Mockingbird Hill is a refreshing blue lagoon. At twilight, the staff lights the lanterns to illuminate this picturesque area. ©Laurel Kallenbach

There are many other luxuries at this 10-room, eco-conscious 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 hummingbirds
  • lounging in the hammock in my room (and drinking in yet again that view!)
  •  enjoying a cool dip in the chlorine-free pool.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Originally published on May 5, 2010

Read more about my travels in Jamaica:

What Makes Hotel Mocking Bird Hill So Green?

Jamaica's Hotel Mocking Bird Hill, near Port Antonio, blends into the natural landscape and works hard to be eco-friendly.

Thanks to the forward-focused vision of owners Shireen Aga and Barbara Walker, Jamaica’s Hotel Mocking Bird Hill conserves natural resources and exists lightly on the land. Among its extensive green initiatives:

  • Solar electricity (65 percent of hotel’s electricity). Solar panels dot the roofs and fence-posts throughout the resort, and soon others will be generating even more electricity.
  • Solar hot water (100 percent). It’s a virtuous (and petroleum-independent) feeling to wash your hands in water heated by the sun.
  • Rainwater harvesting. Why bother saving water on a tropical island? Believe it or not, there was a drought in Jamaica while I was visiting. To make matters worse, a municipal water pump in Kingston broke, so some communities had no water until a new pump part could be imported to fix it. So, yes, it’s smart for hotels to conserve water and to have backup.
  • Anaerobic wastewater treatment. Removing impurities from sewage and wash-water allows the hotel to safely reuse the resource for landscaping.
  • No air-conditioning. Except in extreme heat and humidity, A/C bothers me and makes me feel cut off from nature. The hilltop breezes in Jamaica cooled my room quite nicely, plus rooms have ceiling fans.
  • Chlorine-free pool. No toxic chemical smell on your skin. Need I say more?
  • Insecticide- and pesticide-free gardens. Birds, animals and people live more healthfully, and the web of life is maintained. Among other things, chemicals endanger those lovely tree frogs, whose nighttime chirps might be silenced.

    Note the napkin pocket under the fork. Each guest can choose to reuse a napkin before it's washed. This breakfast scramble features callaloo made with all-local foods.

  • Minimized washing of sheets, towels and dining napkins. I love Hotel Mocking Bird Hill’s embroidered cloth “envelopes”; they hold your lightly-used napkin until the next meal, or the next.
  • Organic, seasonal, locally-sourced items. Reducing the amount of miles that food has to be shipped benefits the environment. Plus, if it’s produced close by, chances are it’s fresher and tastier.
  • Locally employed staff. Well-paying local jobs boost the regional economy, give folks a sense of community pride, and inspire others to create their own businesses. All the team members at Hotel Mocking Bird Hill are so pleasant—it’s clear they’re personally invested in their work!
  • Water- and energy-saving showers: Nifty German-designed Ecostat showers provide a nice flow of water without conserving water and heating costs.
  • Carbon offset their operations through Sustainable Travel International’s program. Mocking Bird Hill guests can opt to donate to the program to offset their flights to Jamaica.

    For glorious beaches such as Frenchman's Cove to remain pristine, conservation actions such as those taken by Hotel Mocking Bird Hill are necessary.

Supporting Community Projects

Being a “sustainable” hotel means more than just supporting the environment. It means reaching out to people in the area. Hotel Mocking Bird Hill partners with and promotes a number of local initiatives and projects that benefit people in the community, including:

1. The Jamaica Conservation Development Trust. This reforestation program plants native Jamaican forest trees, including the water mahoe in which the endangered Giant Swallowtail butterfly lays its eggs.

2. Women’s handmade paper-making project in the town of Fairy Hill. Eight women are employed to design and create greeting cards, envelopes, note pads and picture frames out of recycled paper.

3. The Jamaican Hardanga Trust. Trains local women in the traditional hardanga textile craft. This delicate design work entails drawing out threads to create lacelike patterns in clothing, pillowcases and handkerchiefs.

Jamaican chocolate teaballs: The conical "balls" are made of locally grown cocoa. You grate the balls in boiling water; add milk, sugar, a dash of cinnamon and vanilla; and then enjoy!

4. The Long Road Cooperative in the town of St. Mary. Women earn a living making natural chocolate teaballs from local cocoa beans that have been dried and ground with spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor