Lodging Review: Goblin Hill Villas, Portland Parish, Jamaica

You awake to the drumming of Jamaican Woodpeckers, performing in the snag outside your window. Gray Kingbirds and White-chinned Thrushes call from the woodland edges just a few meters away. You saunter to your deck and pause for several minutes with your arms on the railing, bathing in the tropical breeze, as you stare across turquoise San San Bay. Two Jamaican

Goblin Hill Viranda, Portland, Jamaica.

Evening on the Goblin Hill Viranda, Portland Parish, Jamaica. Photo by Steve Shunk

Lizard-Cuckoos steal your attention, as they chase each other the through the lush canopy across the lawn. A Jamaican Tody is preening outside the neighboring villa—too close for your telephoto lens—but you are distracted when your personal housekeeper brings you a freshly brewed cup of Jamaica’s luscious Blue Mountain coffee. She then retreats to the kitchen to prepare your custom-ordered breakfast. Welcome to Goblin Hill.

Most Jamaican tourists spend most of their trips in the vicinity of Montego Bay, and most of them never even leave their resorts. Nature lovers typically expect something more—and Jamaica delivers. Any nature-based trip to the island should include several days based in the Portland parish, and the Goblin Hill Villas offer the perfect east-end base camp. Located about 200 km from the tourism port of Montego Bay and 100 km from industrial Kingston, Goblin Hill is a bit off the beaten path. But if you want to immerse yourself in the nature of the island, you need to get away from crowds.

Jamaican Woodpecker, Goblin Hill Villas; Portland, Jamaica. Photo by Steve Shunk

The endemic Jamaican Woodpecker, excavating a cavity behind the Goblin Hill Villas; Portland Parish, Jamaica. Photo by Steve Shunk

Goblin Hill looks down on the white-sand beaches of San San Bay, a specially protected marine reserve at the northeastern corner of Jamaica. A turn of the head looks up into Blue Mountains National Park and the eastern entrance to the Blue and John Crown Mountains UNESCO World Heritage Site. You spend your mornings birding along Jamaica’s famed Ecclesdown Road, where you can see every single one of Jamaica’s 30 endemic bird species, and your afternoon takes you for a swim in the crystal-clear Caribbean.

The Goblin Hill Villas offer a perfect escape from the typical Jamaican tourist experience. The villas themselves are more like small apartment than rooms or suites. Your bedroom offers the choice of big windows that open to the outside to invite the tropical breeze; keep them closed if you want to cool down your sleeping quarters with the quality air conditioning unit.

San San Bay from Goblin Hill Villas; Jamaica. Photo by Steve Shunk

The view of San San Bay from Goblin Hill Villas; Portland, Jamaica. Photo by Steve Shunk

The generously sized room allows you ample space to spread out for your stay. A hallway leads to the large living room, big enough to have friends over for an afternoon drink—with another air conditioner when you are ready to escape the tropical heat. Your deck has its own small table and chairs, with several options for your viewshed.

And the small full kitchen includes a tall refrigerator, plus a full complement of dishes and cookware, in case you decide to craft your own saute from the fresh fish you picked up at the market. Don’t want to cook? For a small price, your personal housekeeper will gladly prepare breakfast (ordered the prior day, so she can shop for the freshest ingredients), along with a callaloo quiche that will get you through several delicious lunches.

The lodge grounds are inviting, with expansive manicured lawns and gardens on the interior surrounded by dense tropical forest—the views are different from every corner of the hill. The famed

Blue Lagoon,, Goblin Hill Villas; Portland, Jamaica. Photo by Steve Shunk

Christine Elder poses at the entrance to the Blue Lagoon, just below Goblin Hill Villas; Portland, Jamaica. Photo by Steve Shunk

“Blue Lagoon” is a 15-minute walk down the hill, and a small trail o the opposite side of the property leads to the beaches and reefs of San San Bay. The birding is excellent on Goblin Hill—search for any of 14 Jamaican island endemics and at least another 10 regionally endemic species found on or adjacent to the property.

The “tree bar” wraps around a giant fig tree; ask for the bartender’s daily special, typically a fresh fruit smoothie, spiked with Jamaica’s signature Wray and Nephew overprove rum. Be forewarned that you may easily get sucked into the large veranda, where the endemic Jamaican Mango fights

Black-throated Blue Warbler, Goblin Hill, Portland, Jamaica. Photo by Steve Shunk

A wintering Black-throated Blue Warbler on the lampshade of the Goblin Hill viranda; Portland, Jamaica. Photo by Steve Shunk

for rights at the hummingbird feeders with the handsome little Black-billed Streamertail—one of the most range-restricted hummingbirds in the world. In the winter, Black-throated Blue Warblers hop around the railing, lampshades, and the back of your chair searching for small arthropods to tide it through the season.

Getting to Goblin Hill requires one of two very different options: rent a car or hire a driver. If you are prepared to drive on the left side of the road in a vehicle with a right-side steering wheel, you have 2 routes from which to choose, each of which offers its own attractions. Consider the Blue Mountain crossing that takes you past the Starlight Chalet—plan a few extra days to relax here and bird the Blue Mountains cloud forest before or after your stay at Goblin Hill. Or you

Goblin Hill Villas, San San Bay; Jamaica. Steve Shunk

The Goblin Hill Villas, as seen from San San Bay; Portland, Jamaica. Photo by Steve Shunk

may wish to drive the less mountainous route through Morant Bay, stopping to snorkel at Winnifred Bay, one of the most recommended spots around the island. For those who are not prepared to make the drive, Goblin Hill will hire you a personal driver for about $130 US each way, well worth the price to have someone else navigate the roads, and for the colorful interpretation of the local sights and culture. Ask for the young Dahniel (pron. dah-NEEL), whose speaks outside the difficult-to-translate Jamaican patois. Pick up some Jamaican money before you arrive, and try to get small bills. Port Antonio and Morant Bay both have ATM machines and grocery stores where you can stock up on food, snacks and beverages, including beer and rum for the evenings on your deck.

Enjoy your stay, and tell them Steve sent you!

Steve Shunk

Steve Shunk is a contributing editor for Nature Travel Network. Steve started traveling early, with family Amtrak rides, summer beach houses, and extended car-camping. After a suburban childhood in four different states, Steve forged his independence Read More

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