Mountain River Cave & Falls, Saint Catherine

If at first you don’t succeed, try again, right? I tried visiting this waterfall one lazy afternoon in November 2022, but my travel partner and I were warned by three different residents in Cudjoe Hill that the river “come down” (was swollen) after recent heavy rainfall so that wouldn’t be a good idea. We heeded their warning and went home feeling despondent that we didn’t get to cross this one off the list. One month later we returned mid-morning and achieved success! Thus, now I can tell you all about the Mountain River Cave and Cudjoe Falls in St. Catherine. There’s some interesting Taino (Amerindian) history behind this one.


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Where is Mountain River Cave & Cudjoe Falls Located?

St. John’s Anglican Church in Guanaboa Vale

Mountain River Cave and Cudjoe Waterfall are both located in Cudjoe Hill, a rural district in the south-central Jamaican parish of St. Catherine. The cheapest option to get here involves driving along the A1 highway onto Mandela Road, then taking the first exit at the roundabout next to the Jose Marti High School onto the Spanish Town Bypass. This option involves bypassing the toll road (T1). Taking the toll road is only advantageous on weekday evenings where the Spanish Town traffic is heavy. The Spanish Town Bypass ends at another roundabout. Take the second exit onto St. John’s Road. From here, the road leads through suburban housing schemes then into rural Kitson Town, Guanaboa Vale and finally the Cudjoe Hill district. Guanaboa Vale made my list of interesting Jamaican place names in 2022.

Kitson Town was Jamaica’s second free village after Emancipation, home to several historical sites.

The community of Cudjoe Hill has a rich Taino history. The Tainos were one of the earliest groups of people to inhabit Jamaica. These pre-Colombian Amerindians lived a peaceful life in small communities, strategically built next to a water source such as a river. Pictographs and petroglyphs found in the Mountain River Cave were dated by scientists as between 500 to 1300 years old, and are believed to have been created by the Tainos. The Taino art was first reported in 1897 by J. F. Duerden then pinpointed in 1954 by J. W. Lee aided by Robert Cooper, whose family owned the land. It was later acquired by the Archaeological Society of Jamaica in 1976, then handed over to the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JHNT) in 1982. The JNHT is the government entity responsible for preserving historical gems in Jamaica. As a result, visits to the cave are monitored by the JNHT. It is advised that you contact the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) at 922-1287/8 which will provide a guided tour.

My tour guides

Or.. you can show up unannounced like I did because I prefer my trips spontaneous. Once in the community, any resident will be able to point you to Patrick, the JNHT guide who conducts tours to the Mountain River Cave and keeps the register. In our case, Patrick’s nine-year-old energetic son (we’ll call him Jay) and loyal mongrel served as our guides. Jay quipped that he‘s now the official tour guide as his dad is too out of shape to make it to the cave. Jay was full of jokes. Feel free to contact me for Patrick’s number, however he says walk-ins are always welcome. Please note that tipping is encouraged. We parked for free in the lane next to the start of the well-used and maintained trail. However, this trail starts amongst people’s houses and farms so I wouldn’t advise doing this trek without a guide.


Visiting Mountain River Cave

The mile-long journey from the main road to the Mountain River Cave takes one through cocoa and jackfruit farms, a thick copse with tall shady trees and across the river. However, you can step on the rocks to avoid getting your shoes wet. You may feel tempted to jump in though. The river was crystal clear and had an ethereal quality to it. The trail is uphill in several parts, and the limestone rocks can be loose and treacherous. Jay was wiser than his years and led us away from the loose rocks with his shrill warnings of, “Nuh step deh so! You will drop.” Nonetheless, Jay is still a kid and told the childish tall tales expected of his age group. His fibs and unexpected fear of lizards were amusing additions to the experience.


Mountain River Cave itself is relatively small and measures 100 feet in length, 30 feet in depth and has a ceiling ranging from 10-15 feet. The cave was declared a national monument in April 2003. It is uncertain whether or not Tainos lived inside the cave, but they visited it frequently. On their visits, the Tainos drew many pictographs (paintings) from a mixture of guano and ash. There are at least 148 identifiable pictographs in the cave and they represent aspects of the Tainos’ quotidian life. These pictographs are now in varying stages of decay but some are still quite visible. There are also about 4 or 5 petroglyphs (rock carvings). The exact age of the artwork is unknown, but experts estimate that they may be between 500 to 1300 years old. It was humbling to stand on this halcyon Taino land and it brought me back to my childhood memory of the White Marl Taino Museum. I’m glad my mother took me there as a child. Hopefully one day it can be reopened, but the surrounding community remains unsafe due to crime.


Cudjoe Falls

My next stop in Cudjoe Hill was the Mountain River Cave Falls, also known as Cudjoe Falls, which is actually located about fifteen minutes away from the cave with the pictographs and petroglyphs. The trail leads to just above the waterfall then down to it. It gets deep close to the waterfall itself, and was a cold refreshing dip. It’s not the kind to jump into though. There are some sharp rocks near to the waterfall, but you can go into the small cave behind the waterfall if you like adrenaline rushes and aren’t claustrophobic. We ran into a few community residents there, and eventually got joined by more visitors. Therefore, while the area is still off-the-beaten-path, it is well utilized. I was impressed that the litter was minimal.


Wrap Up

There’s a lot of history hidden in St. Catherine as this parish contains Jamaica’s previous capital: Villa de la Vega, present-day Spanish Town. However, St. Catherine is not considered safe because some communities in the parish are grappling with significant crime. I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Mountain River Cave today. Remember to share, pin and bookmark this article for later. Lastly, subscribe by email for new posts on Adventures from Elle.

‘Til next time.

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Published by

Rochelle | Adventuresfromelle

Adventures from Elle is a travel blog for locals & visitors who want to experience the best of Jamaica, one adventure at a time. The blog is curated by Rochelle Knight, a junior resident (M.D.) in internal medicine and published author. She began the blog in 2016 as a medical student & wants to see the world, starting with her home country. Purchase her book 'SIGHTSEE JAMAICA' on Amazon and join her in Jamaica!

34 thoughts on “Mountain River Cave & Falls, Saint Catherine

  1. This place looks gorgeous! It’s great that you had a (young) guide to take you to the cave, as the trail doesn’t seem very obvious for someone who doesn’t know the way! I loved learning more about ths history of this place too! Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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