It may not immediately come to mind, but natural rivers and springs are abundant in Jamaica. With over 120 rivers flowing through the country from the central mountain region to the coasts, and several mineral springs recognized for their therapeutic value, Jamaica is an easy ecotourism getaway for families. The fast flowing rivers, namely the Black River, Rio Cobre, Milk River, Rio Grande and Martha Brae, are not only used for transport and irrigation, but for the production of electricity too.
The terrain of the country also provides refuge to more than 720 endemic plants including over 500 species of ferns, one of the highest concentrations in the world. Some ferns are as large as trees while others can barely be seen with the naked eye. In addition, there are 27 species of birds found nowhere else in the world including the streamer-tailed hummingbird and the bee hummingbird. Lastly, the largest butterfly in the western hemisphere (and second largest in the world) the Giant Swallowtail butterfly exclusively exists in Jamaica.
Community-based tourism, rather than ecotourism has been more of the norm in Jamaica since the mid-1990s. With sustainable tour operators running bamboo rafting trips on the Rio Grande River and hiking trips to the Blue Mountains, the goal is to provide local employment and cultural preservation to areas that have been overlooked by the mass all-inclusive resort travelers.
Some top sights include:
- Cranbrook Flower Forest & River Head Adventure Trail – a unique family ecotourism attraction situated on 130 acres of tropical forest including 40 acres of landscape gardens. Hike the trail along the Little River that leads to the cathedral-like source with the water rising from a 14 foot deep pool
- Bluefields Mountains – offer adventurous hikers the opportunity to pass deep wooded valleys and old plantations as the ascent the 2,300 feet to the top for a spectacular view of Jamaica
- Royal Palm Reserve – in Negril is a 300-acre site boasting 114 plant species including the endemic Royal Palm; there are over 300 animal species including birds, butterflies and reptiles to watch the kids marvel at during this relaxed day
How ecotourism benefits environmental aims:
Unfortunately, due to its reliance on mass tourism, Jamaica is facing some serious environmental issues including deforestation, water and air pollution, and coral reef damage. Yet, with USAID support, Jamaica has created wildlife parks to encourage nature tourism operations to flourish. In addition since 1991, when the country passed the Natural Resources Conservation Authority Act, steps have been taken to address the management, conservation and protection of natural resources and enforce mandatory environmental impact assessments for all types of developments. Lastly, hotels throughout Jamaica are actively working to obtain Green Globe certification.
Why a good family eco destination:
Jamaica is slowly building up a base of sustainable resort and villa choices, such as our the Green Globe certified Rockhouse Hotel (pictured above). Families can choose from horseback riding, boat and fishing trips, nature and birding tours, hidden jungle waterfalls, empty beaches, colonial ruins, river gorge hiking, biking or just a relaxing time sunbathing and picnicking. Whatever your choice, Jamaica’s natural surroundings and culture combined with its close proximity to the Eastern seaboard will be a hit!