Lethe set the bar high for my rafting expectations last year and Martha Brae matched it. Martha Brae is a 32km long river which originates deep in the hills of Trelawny, a parish on Jamaica’s north coast. Bamboo rafting on the Martha Brae is rated as one of Jamaica’s top attractions. During colonial era, the river was used to connect the sugar plantations in Trelawny to the port of Falmouth. Bamboo rafts were used to float sugar and other crops to the coast where they would be shipped to Europe. Today, those identical 30-foot bamboo rafts are used to peacefully float visitors down a three-mile stretch of river through a lush rainforest and under the canopy of bamboo, coconut, fruit and flowering trees. The tour lasts approximately one hour and fifteen minutes, but can be more if you stop to purchase crafts and drinks during the trip.
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Getting to Martha Brae
The Martha Brae River is located in a small rural community by the same name. It is located 10 minutes drive from Falmouth, 40 minutes drive (35km) from Montego Bay and an hour from Ocho Rios (67km). Coming from Kingston, I had a much longer drive. It would’ve been 2 hours long but I made a stop first at Dunn’s River Falls then had lunch at Plantation Smokehouse.
The road was mostly good but got narrow, winding and riddled with potholes near the end of the journey. Nonetheless, it was a scenic drive and I enjoyed it thoroughly. There’s a carpark, changing rooms, bathrooms, picnic area and a garden in the Rafter’s Village. Tickets costed JM$8,800 per raft for locals in January 2022, but the cost for foreigners was US$35 per person. After paying, we went to board our raft at a concrete pier.
Boarding Our Raft at Rafter’s Village
Our captain was Lincoln, number 121. The captains all have a unique number which they also wear on their T-shirts to make them easily identifiable. What I loved about the Martha Brae rafting experience was that there’s zero competition– no one was trying to out-hustle the next captain. There are 85 licensed captains in all and they take tourists out on the river in sequence. Therefore, they may not get tourists for days at a time in slow season which can make meeting ends difficult. Anyway, Lincoln was great. He was knowledgeable, amicable and proud of his job as a raft captain. He taught us about the history of the area and gave us insight into life as a bamboo raft captain. Did you know that the lifespan of a bamboo raft is 6 months? Before the raft reaches the end of its lifespan, captains have to source 10-12 sturdy bamboo poles in order to construct a new raft. It’s important that the bamboo poles are fell at special points of the lunar cycle to ensure longevity– but I forgot if Lincoln said that that was during moonlight or on a new moon.
Rafting Down the Martha Brae
The entire journey down the Martha Brae river is calming and scenic. Relax on the padded seats, listen to the sounds of nature and just be. Or, take an invigorating dip in the river. Some parts of the river are deep, but other parts are shallow (about 4 feet). However, those shallow bits may become deep after heavy rainfall and the water may turn brown from all the silt which gets deposited in it. Thankfully it was clear when I visited. I’d say avoid it for 2-3 days after heavy rainfall.
There are shops on the river bank selling beer, rum, sodas, coconuts and souvenirs such as polished conch shells, Jamaican beach towels and carvings. Drinking coconut water straight from the coconut is one of those island life privileges I adore. Other things you’ll pass on the way are a slave memorial and ruins from our colonial past.
Many of the raft captains are also talented craftsmen so be ready to get offered some of their crafts for sale. Most make calabash gourd carvings which can be used as cups, bowls and even bags. My boyfriend bought one to support. It was reasonably priced and makes for a great display piece.
Lastly, how did Martha Brae get its name? Legend has it that Martha Brae was an indigenous Taino woman who was tortured by Spanish invaders until she confessed where gold was hidden along the river. After telling them, it is said that she changed the course of the river, killed the settlers and blocked up the cave where gold is still hidden to this day. There is no shortage of legends in my beautiful isle.
Bookmark or pin this post for future bamboo rafting adventures in Jamaica. Rafting is a must-do activity. This was my second time rafting and I intend to go rafting on all four rivers where rafting is done in Jamaica one day. I rate this experience highly and it was quite different from Lethe. Martha Brae was relaxing and romantic while Lethe appeals more to a younger, partying crowd. Have you ever been bamboo rafting? Share your experiences below and subscribe for new adventures. Also, remember to check out my Amazon store.
‘Til next time.