Lethe is a rural district tucked away in the hills of Hanover, Jamaica’s second smallest parish. This small community sits on the banks of the Great River, one of Jamaica’s major rivers, which forms the boundary between the St. James and Hanover parishes. Lethe is easily the third most popular place to raft in Jamaica after the Rio Grande and Martha Brae rivers in Portland and Trelawny respectively. Rafting on 30-feet long bamboo rafts along the Great River in Lethe under a historic bridge and the cool viridescent canopy of towering trees and bamboo is an unforgettable experience.
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Finding Lethe wasn’t too difficult at all. It’s located about thirty minutes from Montego Bay, and the turn off to Lethe was just before reaching Anchovy on B8. The Google Maps marker for this attraction was correct, and is called “Chukka Reggae Rafting at Lethe.” Sounds touristy, right? Someone has got to tell these marketers that they can’t just attach the word “reggae” to everything to make it sound Jamaican and “exotic” or “fun.” Anyway, I’m not fully sure what the connection is between Chukka and Lethe. Chukka is an international brand across the Caribbean with several adventure parks and ziplines in Jamaica, but they seem to have adopted this location as one of their attractions while peacefully coexisting with the community. The Chukka website lists “reggae rafting” at US$99 for two persons, and gives complimentary coconuts, beers or drinks to its patrons, and a lot of the guides at Lethe wear Chukka branded shirts. However, they had very decent rates for locals, and we negotiated a raft for JM$3500. That worked out to JM$1,750 per person, or US$12! I guarantee you’ll never find a cheaper rate to raft anywhere in the island.
The road to get here wasn’t too bad. When you arrive in the village square, your car will be approached by a tour guide or two–or three, who also double as raft captains. Parking is available both curbside and in a small parking lot near to a wholesale, bar and restaurant. On the Saturday I went there was quite a crowd, but you still got the semblance of social distancing since by time you leave the river bank, it’s just you, your partner and the captain interacting for the 30-minute recreational voyage up and down the Great River. The river is mostly shallow so you can take a dip at suitable parts, but I’d encourage you to do so with water-shoes. The stones were very difficult to walk on barefoot.
My Rafting Experience at Lethe
My raft captain Andrew and the delightful company I was with made Lethe an awesome experience for me. He started by telling us the history of the area. Not all of the history I’m about to provide was related by Andrew though. Some of it I found with my own research.
Lethe was one of the five rivers surrounding Hades in Greek mythology, and crossing it would cause one to lose memories of his or her previous life. Thus, this community is named Lethe because they say the beauty of this rural district could cause the same to happen to you if you spend long enough time there. Legend also has it that drinking the water may cause forgetfulness. This lush valley was once home to banana and sugarcane plantations, and remnants of the crumbled walls of some sugar factories are still visible. The bridge at Lethe which overlies the Great River was built in 1820 by slave labour, so it’s over 200 years old and still going strong!
Jamaican ingenuity never ceases to amaze me. Would you believe that there are raft-shops along the river? You can purchase jerk chicken, snacks, rum, Red Stripe beer and soft drinks in the middle of the water for reasonable prices. These shops were also playing music, converting the Great River into a full-on fete. I’m sure you could access more than just that if you wanted because many of the patrons on the other rafts were smoking. It was amusing and almost as interesting to watch these high and drunk tourists dancing on their rafts, as it was to admire the natural beauty of the rainforest. Lethe was quite an immersion into Jamaican culture.
A lovely feature of this river is the limestone found along its banks. The raft captains use it to deliver a delightful foot and leg scrub + massage to their customers, and Andrew didn’t disappoint. My legs and feet felt silky smooth after rinsing off the limestone in the cool river water. Another interesting thing he showed us was the carnivorous plants which grow along the river banks. I didn’t even know Jamaica had carnivorous plants until that day. Andrew incorrectly identified the plant as Venus flytrap, but it’s actually duck flower (Aristolochia grandiflor) as I later found out online. Turns out we do have Venus flytraps in Jamaica though, but those are only found in the Mason River reserve of north Clarendon, Jamaica’s only inland peat bog.
The Jamaican innovative spirit is alive and strong at Lethe. The resourcefulness of our people represents the black on our tricolor flag of black, green and gold. Crafting these sturdy bamboo rafts takes a lot of effort, and the pride these men take in sprucing up their rafts with young bamboo stalks, woven palm leaves and bright tropical flowers is admirable. It takes even more skill and brawn to steer these dreamy bamboo rafts through the swift flowing river, especially in parts where they are moving against the river’s current. Lethe was my first true rafting experience in Jamaica, and I look forward to checking out the other spots so I can compare them to this experience. I’d love to revisit Lethe again too someday.
Andrew was an amazing guide– friendly, polite, patient when we stopped to take pictures and knowledgeable of the area. He also had one of the better looking rafts, and was quite reasonable in the price he charged us so I’d recommend him as raft captain for your Lethe adventures. Give him a call at (876) 223-5609. I must say, I tend to get really lucky with finding great tour guides.
Thanks for stopping by! ‘Til next time.
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Written by Rochelle Knight
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