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. Entry to Frenchman’s Cove costs JM$1,000 with a valid local ID and US$12 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. ✌