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.
Before we get into the article, subscribe for new adventures from Elle.
Also, check out Elle’s debut Jamaican travel guide on Amazon which features this and other local gems.
How to Find Reggae Falls
I recruited a group of 7 friends and 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 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 😅. 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!
Reggae Falls is a powerful waterfall which thunders 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 its might for more than a few seconds as the water’s power 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 that all waste is biodegradable. His story could have been a ploy but since the river was indeed litter-free, we had enjoyed ourselves and many residents of rural communities like these are from lower-income families, we didn’t mind collectively tipping Riva-man. He struck me as genuine anyway. . . 2022 Update: They now charge a fee of $500 per person.
Learning from our mistakes, the return time took under an hour as opposed to the nearly 3 hours it took to get there 😂. Tips: ✔Rely heavier on people’s advice to get there, not Google maps. ✔Do go in a group (preferably with a few males) because no commercialization equals no security. ✔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: ☆☆☆☆☆. ‘Til next time! ✌
* 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.
Read next: Bath Botanical Garden, St. Thomas