It always amazes me how close the ‘country’ is to our beloved city of Kingston. As a city girl, I often quip that I must’ve been from the country in a past life because I look forward to escaping the hustle and bustle every chance I get. The verdant mist-covered hills, breathtaking valleys and meandering rivers and waterfalls of rural Jamaica are more my scene. Papine is a small bustling town which marks the gateway of the Blue Mountains, Jamaica’s largest and most important mountain range. This mountain range is world renowned for Blue Mountain coffee, a brand of coffee which is as unique to the Blue Mountains of Jamaica as champagne is to Champagne, France, and is grown on steep inhospitable slopes between 3,500 and 5,500 ft. above sea level. Its tallest peak is the Blue Mountain Peak in Portland which towers at 7,402ft (2,256m) above sea level. Hiking to Blue Mountain Peak is still my most favourite adventure to date, but requires at least two days’ commitment. When pressed for time, I make do with exploring the more accessible parts of this mountain range instead and one such community worth exploring is Maryland, a rural district four miles north of Papine.
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The community of Maryland is divided into two, namely Bottom Maryland and Top Maryland. As expected, you’ll encounter Bottom Maryland first when driving up the hill because Jamaicans are quite straightforward in naming communities, ha! From Papine, drive along Gordon Town Road until you reach some signs marking the left turn to continue along the B1 main road. In fact, it is necessary to detour here in trying to access any Blue Mountain community by car as further along the Gordon Town Road broke away in the last heavy rainfall and landslides of Jamaica in November 2020, and still hasn’t been repaired.
From here, continue along B1 until you get to a bus stop and some signs for Cafe Blue, Holywell and other popular Blue Mountain stops. Instead of going straight to reach these stops, take a left turn. The road quality is excellent up to this point but starts to decline once you make this left turn. There’s another left turn at this junction too, a sort of “bottom road” if you will, which takes you to Mammee River.
Follow the road until you get to Bottom Maryland Square which is well marked on the map. You’ll know you’ve reached it once you encounter the brightly painted green-and-yellow Millennium Bar and a few other stops with residents milling about. Park here and ask someone for directions if you’d like. The path to the river and swimming spot slopes downward on the left and passes a few scattered houses, a tiny footbridge and a wide dusty football field which was empty on the Sunday I visited.
Overall drive time from Papine to Bottom Maryland square took fifteen minutes, and the gentle walk from the river to the square took about five minutes or less. The road is narrow and treacherous at times, so please sound your horn loudly to warn other possible motorists.
Much to my surprise, I only encountered two small boys by the river on a Sunday afternoon! Perhaps the Maryland residents have grown used to the river being there and seldom go for a swim. However, there wasn’t much water to swim in when I visited because the area has not had rainfall in a while. When the rains are heavy, I hear the water is strong and powerful and extends to near the football field. Sometimes the residents use sandbags to create a swimming pool of sorts during dry season.
I wasn’t disappointed though. Here’s what I found during dry season. 🙂
An interesting tidbit I found out about Maryland is that some residents of this community still hold on to Jamaica’s traditional syncretic religion of Revivalism. Revivalism was born between 1860 and 1861 and combines an Afrocentric folk religion called Myalism with Christianity. If you visit early Sunday afternoon, you may encounter their brightly coloured worshippers or overhear their church services.
There you have it: another swimming spot on the outskirts of the city. If you visit, please try and buy a few beers and snacks in the square to support the community! I didn’t venture along the road to Top Maryland that afternoon, but feel free to visit and let me know how’s the river up there too!
‘Til next time.
Read about other destinations worth seeing in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica:
Also, check out my Blue Mountain travel guide.