Somerset Falls in Hope Bay, Portland is a series of picturesque cascades meandering through the lush green backdrop of a tropical rainforest. The falls run through an old indigo and spice plantation, but the property bears no semblance to its former purpose today.
Half-Way-Tree (HWT) is the travel centre and capital of the Saint Andrew parish and the start of our adventure. Good ole faithful ‘Portie’ bus was our means of transport. Buses destined for Port Antonio, or ‘Portie’ as the town is affectionately called, load beside the transport centre directly across from a Burger King outlet. The fare is $450 per person. As to their schedule, I cannot say. The most reliable time to get one is during peak hour (before 10 am and after 4 pm perhaps). We were fortunate to catch one at 9:30am with 2 seats left thus only having a 5 minute wait. They do not leave until they are jam-packed so if you come when one is empty or just left, you have quite a wait. 😓
The major districts and towns you will pass in order are: (St. Andrew) Constant Spring, Stony Hill, Golden Spring, (St. Mary) Castleton, Broadgate, Annotto Bay, (Portland) Buff Bay then next up, Hope Bay. The drive itself is scenic as you are treated to magnificent views of the tortuous Wag Water River, lush green hills, banana plantations and eventually the coast as the town names aptly herald. The roads are winding as you ascend the steep hillsides, and the Junction main road you have to take from Saint Andrew into Saint Mary snugly hugs the slope.
This sign is clearly posted along the right of the A4 highway a little after you enter Hope Bay. If you’re afraid you’ll miss it, ask any passenger or the ‘ductor (conductor= person, usually male, who collected your fare) in advance to give you a “stop” when you’re at your destination. The journey lasted 2 hours, inclusive of the stops in each town to let off/pick up passengers and that one stop by the gas (petrol) station. 😒
Pay at the admissions office ($600/300JMD and $14/7USD on weekdays, $950/550JMD and $20/10USD on weekends), collect your receipt and armband then proceed to their decent, albeit dimly lit changing/restrooms. Prices are higher on weekends when they have more attractions open. We went on a weekday since neither of us cared for an artificial swimming pool and water slide when we can swim in pools like this!
I fathom they’re there for the children and children at heart. Nonetheless, weekends are also their busiest times so factor in all this when choosing the right day to visit.
Somerset Falls is a multi-cascade of whitewater gushing down the Daniel River, widening in parts to form foamy pools offering nature’s-own massages. The 5-minute boat ride included in the admission cost takes you to the noisiest part of the falls, thundering in her might and whipping up a mist that left me drenched from sitting placidly at the bow. That portion is referred to as the hidden falls, and clearly she wanted to remain hidden as that mist did not allow me to take photographs.
Nevertheless, here’s the little tropical rainforest in which I spent my afternoon:
On a weekday, you can get your “massage” from nature (corny, I know), swim (the lifeguard will advise you about where is safe for non-swimmers as most parts are deep) and stroll around admiring their birds and plants. I never did find out if food is allowed on weekdays since their restaurant only opens on weekends, thus I refrain from saying picnic. Nonetheless, just like the “no outside food” rule at the movies 👀. . .
Back to HWT
Getting there by bus was the easier part. Thankfully, our friendly lifeguard/boat captain Mark advised us to take an Annotto Bay bus then a HWT one from there, else we may have waited for who knows how long on a Portie-Half Way Tree bus due to that peak hour thing I mentioned earlier. Mark went above and beyond the call of duty by accompanying us to the A4 main road and spending the 35 minute wait with us to ensure we got a bus. His advice: don’t ever allow anyone to talk you into taking a Buff Bay bus from Hope Bay. You’ll end up paying too much unnecessarily.
It cost us $150 each from Hope Bay-Annotto Bay (St. Mary) then we were fortunate enough to get one that was just departing for HWT at $250 each. Yes, we paid $50 less each on the return trip but I didn’t question it. Just one of those things.
I’m always amazed at rural hospitality and manners, simply because you are raised to be so guarded and distrustful in the city, even in one as small as Kingston, Jamaica. Try public transport for one of your tourist destination visits and you’ll see what I mean. Many people already do this, local and international tourists alike. In fact, there was an international tourist en route to Portie today in my bus but if you’re not from JA, do familiarize yourself with patwa (Jamaican creole) first. It may be all you hear the whole trip, but we are an English-speaking country so someone will always be able to help you out.
I give Somerset full stars ☆☆☆☆☆ because the hospitality, scenery and tranquility of the entire grounds deserved nothing less.
***The prices mentioned earlier are in Jamaican dollars (JMD). At the time of writing this article, the exchange rate of USD to JMD is US$1=JM$128.96. Also, I featured the Somerset Falls as #9 on January 9th in my 2017 bucket list. So this is 4 down, 13 to go. 😊
‘Til next time. ✌