Incentive Destinations: Port Maria, Jamaica

View of Port Maria and Cabarita IslandLike most of the world's population, I trace my roots to a small town. Port Maria, the St. Mary parish capital on Jamaica's north coast, is where I spent the first 2 years of my life before moving to Canada. On November 10th, 2012, after 20 minutes of heavy rainfall, the Outram and Pagee Rivers overflowed their banks (already saturated by  Hurricane Sandy), causing extensive flooding and severe damage in Port Maria.

The American Red Cross, banks across Canada and the Canadian Red Cross are accepting donations for Hurricane Sandy and flood relief, but, like many destinations hit by bad weather this year, Port Maria will need tourism dollars to fully recover. Thankfully, to that end, area hotels and tourist attractions are on the outskirts of the flood area, so they are intact and open for business.

Port Maria was originally a prosperous seaport and the second Jamaican town established by the Spanish. The center of town, with its Colonial-era buildings, is set on a beautiful bay between the Outram and Pagee Rivers. 

Of special interest to event planners is the area's cluster of secluded boutique hotels and villas that were the  playground of the rich and famous in Jamaica. The Cvent Event Blog has previously profiled  Goldeneye, Ian Fleming's hideaway in nearby Oracabessa, and  Bolt House, the 5-bedroom villa on 50 immaculately landscaped acres that was built by Blanche Blackwell, mother of Island Records mogul Chris Blackwell. Others include:

  • Blue Harbour. British playwright Noel Coward, built this 7-acre estate. His original furnishings can still be viewed at this small resort with accommodation for 14. Noel Coward eventually built Firefly, a national treasure that is sometimes used for events, on a hill above Blue Harbour.
  • Casa Maria Hotel. Photos of celebrities including Vivian Leigh, Errol Flynn, and Sean Connery who used to frequent Casa Maria can still be seen on the walls of this 20 room hotel. Set on 25 acres, it delivers spectacular views of Port Maria. Some rooms have recently been renovated.
  • Galina Breeze. Just west of Port Maria, this 14-room boutique hotel with a conference room frequently hosts weddings and small meetings.

Other Port Maria attractions include such historical as Claude Stuart Park and Fort Haldane, both dating back to 1759. A tour of Brimmer Hall, a 2,000-acre estate with heritage buildings in Bailey's Vale (where my father's family has lived for generations), gives visitors a glimpse of an 18th-century working plantation. The Georgian-style courthouse building, dating back to 1820, and St. Mary Parish Church, built in 1861, have been featured in Jamaican movies like Country Man. At the old courthouse, a monument immortalizes Tacky, the Maroon freedom fighter of Coromantee (Ashanti) descent. In 1760, he organized one of Jamaica's most pivotal slave uprisings at nearby Frontier estate before seizing control of the Port Maria munitions store and holding off British troops for a month.

Brimmer Hall

Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jamaican National Hero, worked for the National Fruit Company and did his printing apprenticeship with his uncle in Port Maria before migrating to New York and becoming a world-renowned Pan African leader.

Photo Credits: Bo Brinkman

For more information about Jamaica, consult the Cvent  Jamaica Meeting Planning Guide.

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