Thursday, April 12, 2012

Great Huts - Boston Beach Jamaica: Eco-tourism, Paradise on the Edge

After several visits to Northern lands (Ireland, Scotland, Iceland and Newfoundland) my wife and I were ready for something more tropical and Caribbean.  We considered going to Los Gringos in the Dominican Republic - and still may some day - but ultimately decided on Jamaica due to its combination of music, people, culture and attractions.  Once I learned about the area around Port Antonio (Portland Parish) and discovered Great Huts I knew we had found the right place!
Water view from Great Huts
About Great Huts
Great Huts is a rustic, 4+ acre eco-resort built on cliffs overlooking Boston Bay/Beach on the Northeast part of the Jamaican coast.  It is well-suited for the budget-minded cultural tourist, adventure traveler and nature lover. Accommodations consist of unique Afro-Caribbean style huts and bamboo treehouses scattered amongst a jungle environment that utilizes the surrounding limestone, trees and rocks to blend into the rootsy habitat.  

All huts feature hand-crafted furniture and are decorated with tribal art.  In fact, art is everywhere - carved wooden sculptures, paintings, masks, murals and more.  Great Huts is about 12 miles from Port Antonio, a bustling town with about 10,000 residents. Port Antonio has a marina, but no cruise ships, so it's less touristy than some other parts of the island, such as Montego Bay or Ocho Rios.
Sea Grape hut
Rates at Great Huts range from $35 to $250 per night, depending on the size of your tent, hut or treehouse and whether or not you have your own bathroom, hot water, kitchen facilities, water view and so on.  My wife and I chose the Sea Grape hut which offers privacy – being perched at the edge of the property on a cliff with an ocean view.  It also has its own toilet, hot water shower, a veranda and a small outdoor pool.  It was perfect!  The indoor/outdoor design makes it feel like you are sleeping in the open, but with a roof over your head.  The sounds of waves, peepers, birds and distant reggae music floats through the air as you drift off to sleep. There are mosquito nets over the beds but bugs weren't really a problem while we were there.

Tip: Don't rent a car!  Great Huts can send a safe, reliable route taxi driver to pick you up from the airport.  From Kingston's Norman Manley International Airport it's a 2.5 hour thrill ride through hairpin turns in the Blue Mountains with breathtaking views of the lush green landscape and the little communities along the way.  Taxi transport to and from the airport costs about $130 US each way. 
One of the many outdoor spots on the property
Great Huts offers free wifi in its open air lounge (I could kinda get it from our hut) and plenty of secluded places on-site to hang out and relax.  For a relatively small 4+ acre compound, everything is spaced out nicely so even when fully booked you still feel as if you have the place all to yourself.   Be sure to check out the cliff-side saltwater pool fed by waters of the ocean.  It was awesome!  Also look for the Rocks Cafe...when this hut is not being rented it's used as a common area where you can have lunch and enjoy the fantastic views of the waves coming into Boston Beach.  

There's music most Saturday nights at Great Huts, performed by the Manchioneal Cultural Group who puts on a traditional African/Jamaican Drumming and Dance show not to be missed!  Great Huts is also home to several dogs, exotic birds, lizards, turtles, rabbits and more.  
The cliff-side saltwater infinity pool! 
The Staff
The staff at Great Huts is friendly and courteous, yet unobtrusive.  The pace of life is a little slower in Jamaica, so service may not seem as prompt as you are accustomed to, but if you just go with the flow things will be fine.  There is security personnel on watch at all times and as guests we always felt comfortable, safe and well taken care of.   

Great Huts is owned by Dr. Paul Rhodes, an American physician who also manages the operations of the Port Antonio homeless shelter, which he founded.  If you wish to, you may make a donation or take part in community service at the shelter. Volunteers are housed at discounted rates. 

Food and Drinks
Breakfast is included - home-cooked and served every morning from 8 to 10am, consisting of eggs, fruit, toast, fresh squeezed juice and blue mountain coffee.  Lunch and dinner are also served - delicious, exotic creations of curried, coconut and jerk flavors, even pizza and pasta! Vegetarian options are also available.  Dinner prices start at $15 US.  

Great Huts keeps a fridge stocked full of soft drinks, juice, water and beer (Red Stripe, Guinness and Heineken) available to guests 24/7 at a reasonable cost. Just take what you need and mark it down on the sheet on the fridge.  Specially made mixed cocktails are also available - daquiris, pina coladas, rum drinks and more, plus wine.  At the end of your stay the manager can tally up your food and drink total and add it to your bill for which you can pay with credit card.  A great convenience!  

Tip:  You can drink the tap water!  At least I did with no problems.  I also consumed plenty of raw fruit (Jamaican apples, sugar cane, "jelly" coconuts and guava) in the wild while on a hike with no later issues. 
Some of the art on-site - Lion sculpture
Outside Great Huts - Yes You Can Leave the Resort!
From Great Huts there's a path down to a small beach complete with lounge chairs, hammocks, plenty of sun and shade, two naturally fed tidal pools, and a diving platform for those daring enough to jump in the water.  The sea water here is clear and pristine.  From this beach you can walk along a short gravel path to Boston Beach where you can take a surf lesson, go for a snorkel or swim, catch frisbee, listen to some music, or just chill with the friendly and helpful locals who will be happy to show you their hand-made jewelry and other offerings, or take care of any needs you might have.  We really liked the guys who hang out on this beach and kicked it with them most days.  These are good people who will look after you once they get to know you.

A short walk from the main entrance/exit to Great Huts is the Boston Jerk Center, which offers no shortage of Jamaica's famous smoked chicken/pork/fish/lobster and plenty of vendors ready for you to sample (i.e. purchase) their selections. A quarter plate of jerk chicken + festival bread should run about $400-500 Jamaican dollars.  Try Little Davie's stand...the first one on the right as you come out of Great Huts.  Don't go overboard with the spiciness though; if you get a little too bold that can come back to haunt you!  Top it off with a cold Red Stripe for $150-200 Jamaican and you've got a tasty little lunch.  

In the evenings there are several lively pubs and rum bars in or around the Jerk Center.  Our favorite was called Sylvia's, although the bartender there was named Angie.  We also liked a bar a short walk up the main road heading toward Long Bay on the left-hand side. We were told it was called "Favorita" (there may not be a sign but look for lights - it's just before a gravel road on the left, if you get to the sports bar on the other side of the road you've gone too far).  Many of the Boston Beach surfers and fishermen we made friends with hung out there. 
Small private pool - Sea Grape hut
Besides Boston Beach, another nice nearby public beach is Winnifred Beach.  (It beats the more well known Frenchman's Cove in my opinion).  Have a local show you the 20 minute jungle path which leads from Boston to Fairy Hill and on down to Winnifred beach.  Then, for his troubles, buy your "guide" a lunch at Cynthia's on the beach - the food there is excellent!  

From Great Huts you are also a short distance away from such attractions as Reach Falls, Rio Grande Rafting, The Blue Lagoon, hiking in the Blue Mountains, Frenchman's Cove, Nonsuch Caves, Long Bay Beach and more.  Any route taxi driver can take you to these places or Great Huts can arrange more formal tours. 

Tip:  Cabs are plentiful in Jamaica!  For a $120 Jamaican dollar route taxi ride (about $1.40 US) you can be in Port Antonio in about 20 minutes.  Port Antonio is a good place to stock up on supplies, visit the market and marina, and people-watch the goings on of everyday life. 
"Hello" bird near common area
What to Bring
Sunscreen - this is the "Island in the Sun" after all!
Bug Spray - just in case.
Water sandals like Tevas, Keens or Chacos - probably the only shoes you'll need.
Flashlight - Great Huts is mostly well lit, but you could use a flashlight when walking up to the bars at night or on the beach or in any other dark places you might find yourself.
Hat - to block the sun.
Immodium - just in case that jerk chicken rubs you the wrong way!
Swim trunks/swimsuit and some semi-casual clothes.  Pack light.  It always seems to be between 75 to 85 degrees and if it rains it's only briefly in the mornings or evenings, so you can leave the long sleeves, rain jackets and long pants at home.  If you should need to, you can always hand wash your clothes in the sink and hang them out to dry. The hot sun and breeze will dry them quickly.
Cash - Most transactions are in cash. You'll probably only use plastic at Great Huts. Carry small bills in both Jamaican and US dollars, just enough on your person to cover what you'll need at that time, and stash the rest away in various places. There are ATMs in Port Antonio should you need it.

Tip:  Jamaicans use Jamaican dollars and American dollars almost interchangeably.  But, a general rule is if it's something a tourist would do expect to pay in American dollars; if it's something a local would do expect to pay in Jamaican dollars.

Unlike other vacations where you are constantly having to go and do something, I was actually able to rest, relax and feel refreshed and rejuvenated by the end of our stay at Great Huts!  I would definitely return and, having now seen some of the other guest houses and villas in the area, I can't think of a better deal or better place to stay in Jamaica than Great Huts!

6 comments:

  1. Good report. The only thing you didn't address was scuba diving. Good job, Lanny

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  2. This looks an awesome place,thanks for sharing it would love to visit there.
    eco-adventure tour

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  3. A very colorful and interesting sounding place - I would put it on my vacation wish-list! great informative article

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  4. Great Article. About currency, there are four denominations of paper bills in Jamaica, JA$50(=US$0.65), JA$100(=US$1.30), JA$500(=US$6.50), & JA$1000(=US$13). ATMs will only give you $500s and $1000s, and you don't get to choose. Having a wallet full of only JA$1000 bills is not the best situation. Often you can't expect change, especially when haggling or tipping, so try to have a variety of small bills and you'll end up spending less. Having some US$1, US$5, & US$10 is very advantageous. Something that can be gotten for JA$1000 can also be gotten for US$10, saving you US$3.

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  5. I really enjoyed your post. My husband and I are looking to go to the Great Huts for our 1 year anniversary. We considered staying there for a few nights and then moving to a different location to mix the trip up a bit. However, after reading your post we are not sure what the best option is. Would you recommend staying there for all of the nights or moving elsewhere for a few nights? If so do you have any recommendations? Thanks in advance!

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    1. Thanks for asking. If you want to try another place in the same general area, about 10 miles up from Great Huts there's a more rustic, inexpensive, eco-friendly place called Zion Country. Some people split their time between Great Huts and Zion Country - it's just a short cab ride away. But, if you're looking for a totally different location I've heard good things about Negril - however Negril is going to be more touristy, built up and populated. What's so great about Portland Parish is the small town, chilled out atmosphere. The locals are friendly, helpful and not too salesy/pushy. Not much nightlife besides a few quirky rural bars, but it depends on what you're looking for.

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