Indisputably one of the best beaches in Jamaica, Frenchman’s Cove in Port Antonio is an estuary which gives one the opportunity of swimming in fresh and salt water at the same beach. The beach receives its name from a fiery battle between the British and French near the Cove centuries ago after which the defeated French soldiers sought refuge there.
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Fast forward to the early 1900s when Jamaica’s tourism was born in Port Antonio. Lorenzo Dow Baker, the father of banana export in Jamaica, began carrying tourists on his banana steamships who were eager to see this tropical paradise and get a break from the cold climes of the north. Billionaire Garfield Weston was one such visitor who became enamoured with Porty’s idyllic charm, inspiring him to purchase the cove and build what became the Caribbean’s first all-inclusive resort. In its heyday, Frenchman’s Cove hosted many distinguished guests including Queen Elizabeth II, Elizabeth Taylor, The Beatles, Ian Fleming and Errol Flynn. Badly damaged by 1988 Hurricane Gilbert then restored by Grainger Weston, Frenchman’s Cove is no longer a resort for only the ‘very, very rich’ as it was once described by Vanity Fair. It now hosts weddings, yoga retreats and families from all over the globe but the beach itself is open year-round to the general public and non-guests.
How to Find Frenchman’s Cove
Public transport from Kingston involves taking a Port Antonio coaster bus which costs JM$450 per person. You may hear the conductors (men who load the buses) calling out ‘Porty’ instead which is just an affectionate abbreviation of the town’s name. Enjoy a scenic ride through the hills of St. Andrew, St. Mary then finally through the coastal villages of Portland until the last bus stop in the heart of Port Antonio. From there, take a route taxi for JM$150 per person heading to Frenchman’s Cove. Estimate 3 hours for total commute time. Private transport is a similar route, albeit shorter since there are zero stops along the way unless you choose to make one. I forgot to take a picture of the beach’s sign but it’s impossible to miss from the main road. Parking spaces are few but roadside parking just outside the resort is permitted.
Beach passes are sold at the security post by the entrance gates. As of 2023, entry to Frenchman’s Cove costs JM$1,500 with a valid local ID and US$15 without. Children under age 12 pay half-price. Weekdays are best for getting the beach to yourself. If you visit on a weekend like I did, you’ll have lots of company but it doesn’t get quite as crowded as a Negril or north coast beach would. In terms of facilities, bathrooms which double as changing rooms, showers, deckchairs, tables, a lifeguard post, restaurant and locker rentals are available. To me, their bathrooms could use a lot of work– they were tiny, cramped, slippery and a little dated. Also, I didn’t like the absence of signs. We basically had to figure out where the changing rooms and everything else were on our own.
Nonetheless, did that dampen the experience? A resounding no! Also, Frenchman’s Cove now offers glamping. The first glamping trip was held in 2022. Follow their social media to find out about the next one.
I see why this place was once the stomping ground of only the very very rich. The lazy serpentine river was crystal clear and the perfect shade of aquamarine. The foliage was beautiful and statesque, towering high over the water to filter out bright sunlight and cast a cool calming glow over everything. The sand was soft and powdery-white with the ebb and flow of a gentle sea lipping against it to create the perfect picture. I felt at peace and so happy to be here. The crowds of visiting on the last weekend for summer 2018 did not spoil the serenity of the location for me in the least.
As Portland is famous for, the heavens eventually opened and pelted its visitors with a heavy shower but no one looked too disturbed by that. Many chose to stay in the water, depend on tree cover for shelter (like myself) or run to the scanty shelter of nearby buildings. As suddenly as the rain began it subsided and we went back to having a great time out by the sea and in the river. Let me warn you– river water is cold. I much preferred the sea’s warmth but when you swim at the mouth of a river, expect temperature fluctuations. One minute it’s warm, the next you’re shivering. Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit but still, brrr!
Did you really go to Frenchman’s Cove if you didn’t take photos on at least one of its three famed swings? You will have to wait for one to become free but as it does, grab it and create memories (and Instagrammable photographs).
Last year I had this lovely beach on my bucket list of places to visit but no such luck. Thus, I was most happy to ring in my 23rd birthday here with friends and even better, the weekend right after completing some difficult exams. It went down as one of my favourite ever road trips. Also, it was a great way to reconnect with my best friend who had been away for a while and who also beautifully recorded her year of teaching English in Colombia here. I give God thanks for another year of life, for all His blessings and the privileges He allows me to enjoy. Twenty-two was good to me and I think twenty-three will be even better. It will be a year of many transitions but I look forward to what it will bring for my life.
‘Til next time. ✌
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33 thoughts on “Frenchman’s Cove, Portland”
I have this weird feeling that I use to live at Frenchman’s cove. This place have a special place in my heart. I get this beautiful warm homey feeling when I visit and I just don’t want to leave. I’ve been here three time and I get that amazing feeling everytime. 😁😍👍😉. I think I am gonna buy this place when I win the supper latto
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Haha good luck with that! I hope you’ll give me free passes 😉 I love Frenchman’s Cove too. About time I return. Thanks for dropping by and commenting dear. 😘
[…] ever feeling by seawater in my life. The temperature was even too, not fluctuating like at Frenchman’s Cove where one step it’s warm and the next you’re shivering due to the river which ends its […]
Rochelle, You are doing such a wonderful job with your post. I learn so much about my favourite place, Portland. I went to Portland for the first time in 2015 and love it. I loved it because I love looking at the Ocean and I saw crabs running around the house that I stayed. I only wish I had close friends that I could stay with. I am from Kingston and I wish I had known Portland long time ago. Next time I am going to visit Portland, I am going to Winnifred Beach. I read about Border on the border of St Elizabeth & Westmoreland at the area Scott’s Cove where the Fish & Bammy is good. Please visit and take pictures for us. Thanks again for the good work and take care.
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Same here! I’m from Kingston too and have only been to Portland 3 times, first time being in 2017. I wish I knew someone in the parish too so I could spend a night or 2 and explore more of the places I want to see as opposed to just making day trips. After all the commuting to and from Kingston I’m tired lol.. plus the time spent on the road shortens the time I can spend at my destination. I definitely want to see more of this parish too– Reach Falls, Rio Grande for rafting, the mountainous side with Nanny Falls, Fish Done Falls, the Maroon villages of Charles Town and Nanny Town to name a few. Even Winnifred beach too like you mentioned and Boston for that oh so famous jerk. I hope to see more of Portland as the year progresses, and I hope you do too! Thanks for all the kind words Tasia. Do take care! 🙂