River Boating and Rafting in Jamaica

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River Boating and Rafting

Jamaica's many rivers mean a multitude of freshwater experiences, from mild to wild. Jamaica's first tourist activity off the beaches was relaxing rafting trips aboard bamboo rafts poled by local boatmen. Soft-adventure enthusiasts can also opt for white-water action with guided tours through several operators.

Bamboo rafting in Jamaica originated on the Río Grande, a river in the Port Antonio area. Jamaicans had long used the bamboo rafts to transport bananas downriver; decades ago actor and Port Antonio resident Errol Flynn saw the rafts and thought they'd make a good tourist attraction, and local entrepreneurs quickly rose to the occasion. Today the slow rides are a favorite with romantic travelers and anyone looking to get off the beach for a few hours. The popularity of the Río Grande's trips spawned similar trips down the Martha Brae River, about 25 miles (40 km) from Mo'Bay. Near Ocho Rios, the Great River has lazy river rafting as well as energetic kayaking.

Montego Bay

Jamaica Tours Limited. This big tour company conducts raft trips down at Martha Brae, approximately 12 mi (19 km) east of Mo'Bay; the excursion can include lunch if requested. Bookings can be made through hotel tour desks. Price depends on the number of people on the trip and your pickup location. They also offer several other tours as well as airport transfers. Providence Dr., Montego Bay. 876/953–3700. www.jamaicatoursltd.com.

Rio Grande Tours. Guided raft trips down the Rio Grande cost US$72 per raft. (On top of the fee, raftsmen expect a tip of about $5 to $10.) The raft trips depart from around 9 in the morning until the afternoon, a good time to observe locals fishing and washing clothes along the riverbanks. St. Margaret's Bay. 876/993–5778.

River Raft Ltd.. This company leads trips down the Martha Brae River, about 25 mi (40 km) from most hotels in Mo'Bay. The cost is $60 per person for the 1½-hour river run. Martha Brae. 876/940–6398. www.jamaicarafting.com.

Ocho Rios

Chukka Caribbean Adventures. The big activity outfitter offers the Chukka River Tubing Safari on the White River, an easy trip that doesn't require any previous tubing experience. This tour allows you to travel in your very own tube through gentle rapids. This tour lasts for three hours and costs $64 for adults and $45 for children. Ocho Rios. 876/619–1441 Digicel in Jamaica; 876/656–8026 Lime in Jamaica; 877/424–8552 USA. www.chukkacaribbean.com.

South Coast

The Black River, Jamaica's longest waterway, is named for the peat deposits that color its waters. This river is also known as the best place on the island to see crocodiles. Guided boat tours also spot local birds and point out native foliage.

South Coast Safaris Ltd.. This company takes visitors on slow boat cruises (US$20) up the river. Keep an eye peeled for crocodiles basking on the banks and swimming in the water—the boat captain has pet names for some of them. The cruise also passes through a thick mangrove area where you can see egrets and other birds. Back at the landing stage there is a crocodile nursery where visitors are shown the young crocs being raised for release into the wild. 1 Crane St., Black River. 876/965–2513. www.jamaica-southcoast.com.

Port Antonio

A relaxing trip aboard a bamboo raft poled along by a local boatman is a familiar symbol of Jamaica and represents the island's first tourist activity other than its beaches. Bamboo rafting in Jamaica originated on the Rio Grande, a river in the Port Antonio area. Jamaicans had long used the bamboo rafts to transport bananas downriver; decades ago actor and Port Antonio resident Errol Flynn saw the rafts and thought they'd make a good tourist attraction. Today the slow rides (taking about 2½ hours on a typical day, less time when the river's up) are a favorite with romantic travelers and anyone looking to get off the beach for a few hours.

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