If you ask a Jamaican what makes Christmas Christmas, someone is bound to mention that welcome dip in temperature. Geographers call it the north east trade winds; we call it Christmas ( or Crismus) breeze. Jamaica has a tropical maritime climate which means that our climate is hot all year round due to our close proximity to the Equator, and the weather is also influenced by the sea. As a result, we don’t experience distinct changes in seasons and certainly there’s no winter or snow during Christmas. Christmas breeze is therefore the closest thing to winter we can look forward to, but these days with global warming, Christmas breeze isn’t as constant as it used to be say ten years ago.
However, the beauty of Jamaica is its temperate mountainous interior. Two-thirds of the island is 300m above sea level and higher, however most people inhabit the narrow plains. One thing relocating from the Liguanea plains to a plateau has taught me though is that there are LOTS of temperate pockets across this tropical country where not only is Christmas breeze 100% guaranteed, but year-round temperatures are usually colder and less than 30°C. Thus, if you’re bereft of Chrismus breeze in Jamaica this Christmas, here’s where you should go to find it.
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This is one of my favourite places in the entire island. Holywell is a park within a park, as in it’s located inside the larger Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park and the ecosystem here at 900m above sea level doesn’t look like it should be located in a tropical island. It’s guaranteed to be cool and damp and perhaps even covered in thick fog during your visit. The trails are lush and green and replete with tall tree ferns, conifers, mosses and lichens. The air is cool, crisp and lightly pine-scented, and there’s even a spring and a small waterfall in the 330-acre park. You’re definitely guaranteed to catch Christmas breeze here. In fact, the Jamaica Conservative and Development Trust (JCDT), the agency which manages the Holywell park, knows this too. They have an annual Christmas event here aptly titled “Christmas Breeze!”
Another place where you’re guaranteed to get Christmas Breeze in Jamaica is Irish Town in rural St. Andrew. Irish Town is hardly a town due to how sparsely populated it is, but who’s complaining? There are lots of lovely places to check out in this posh side of the Blue Mountain range including Café Blue pictured above, EITS Café and the Strawberry Hill Resort. Café Blue in Irish Town is my favourite quick escape from Kingston’s heat as it’s only 30 minutes away from Papine and has spectacular views, good customer service, great Blue Mountain coffee and affordable prices to match. Parking is curbside. If you’d like to delve deeper into understanding coffee and seeing its journey from bean to cup, you can check out the Craighton Estate and Greathouse too, located along the hillsides of Irish Town. Irish Town is coffee country! The cold temperature and peaceful nature of Irish Town makes it a favourite for returning residents and expats, and one of Jamaica’s best neighbourhoods.
Mandeville & North Manchester
Remember what I told you about temperate sub-climates in Jamaica? Look at the photo above and tell me if that’s what you would expect from a tropical island. No, I wouldn’t either. Mandeville is one of Jamaica’s best neighbourhoods, located on a plateau roughly 2,000 feet above sea level. This makes it at least 5°C cooler than whatever temperature Kingston is having. It even hails sometimes with actual pieces of ice falling out the sky in surrounding communities of Manchester like Knockpatrick and Christiana. Thus, Christmas breeze in this side of Jamaica is a given. However, these mountains are not as commercialized as the Blue Mountains, so without family and friends in this side of Jamaica, it may be difficult to catch your Christmas breeze here.
P.S. I’ll take this opportunity to encourage the farmers in this side of the country to get into eco- and agrotourism to expand Jamaica’s tourism product. This side of Jamaica grows strawberries, blackberries and coffee branded as Jamaica High Mountain coffee, so I don’t understand how come I’ve never heard of any available tours to see their farms and coffee estates the way the Blue Mountains has. Central Jamaica is the next hidden beauty that’s waiting to be discovered.
Cinchona Botanical Garden
This gem still remains on my bucket list and I hope 2021 is the year I finally accomplish it. Cinchona Botanical Garden is reputed to be the highest botanical garden in the western hemisphere standing at an altitude of between 4,500 and 5,500 feet above sea level, and got its name from the cinchona trees that were planted there in the 1800s from which quinine is extracted to fight malaria. Not only are the views of Kingston, the Liguanea plains and the surrounding hills spectacular, but the cold refreshing Crismus breeze is guaranteed! Dress warmly and if you plan to camp, expect cold wet conditions. The gardens also aren’t as well-kept as they once were but I’m told they’re still quite a sight a behold.
Blue Mountain Peak and Trail
It is the fairest island eyes have beheld; mountainous and the land seems to touch the sky.Christopher Columbus in reference to Blue Mountain Peak, 1494
The Blue Mountain Peak in Portland stands at 7,402 feet (2,256m) above sea level and is the tallest mountain peak in Jamaica. Getting there is physically challenging as most of the trail is on foot and the closest point accessible to vehicles is by Whitfield Hall, from which the walk can take an average of 3 to 4 hours. This is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen by far. The views of the Milky Way and the twinkling lights of Kingston over yonder when hiking up in the wee hours of the morning are breathtaking. The sunrise over the Peak is absolutely glorious and the trail on the way back down in the soft waking light is absolutely stunning. I’m using so many superlatives here but I can’t help myself! The trail’s ethereal beauty is brought about by the ferns, conifers, bromeliads and flowers, the lush canopy of the cloud forest and the elfin woodland consisting of gnarled trees and bushes stunted by the high elevation. I must mention though, this is by far the coldest place in Jamaica with temperatures often hitting single digits Celsius. Please dress warmly; multiple layers are required. The breeze here may be a bit more Chrismussy than you bargained for.
The coldest temperature ever recorded in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica was at the freezing point of 0°C. This explains why short bouts of snow flurries have been reported at the Peak.
There you have it! Can’t say you didn’t get any Chrismus breeze this Christmas. 🙂 Please sign up for weekly exclusive Jamaican travel content.