My 8 year old daughter and I stayed at Zion Country the first week of December, 2012, and fell in love with it. If you want to experience Jamaica unspoiled by large-scale commercial tourism, Portland Parish is the place to go, and Zion Country is the perfect place to make your home while you’re there.
Zion Country is nestled on a jungly hillside overlooking the mouth of the Drivers River and Manchioneal Bay. It’s an incredibly picturesque spot – especially at sunrise, when the small fishing boats start making their way out into the bay. Standing on ZC’s pebbly beach, look left and you see the narrow river mouth and the John Crow mountains towering above. Look right, and you see limestone cliffs and dense vegetation, and beyond that, the waves breaking over the volcanic rock where the bay meets the open sea. (The water’s a little chilly here because of the river, but it’s usually very clear and calm near the beach.) Look back at the hillside, and you see two little cabins, and, higher up, the terrace (where you have breakfast & dinner and hang out at night, looking out over the bay, listening to the tree frogs) and the kitchen/ larger guest room. Free-I, the owner, has planted the property with a remarkable variety of trees (almond, ackee, banana, breadfruit, coffee, etc, etc) and flowering bushes. Hurricane Sandy apparently brought down several large trees on the property, so before the storm, the property must have been even more lush.
The two little cabins each have two rooms with two beds and a nice deck, where you can sit (or better yet, set up a hammock) and watch the innumerable birds (there’s a Birds of Jamaica book up in the little library to help you identify them – we spotted hummingbirds, kingfishers, egrets, herons, frigate birds, vultures, and even an owl) and the little lizards that sunbathe there. The cabins come with fans, mosquito netting, and windows that can be shuttered & locked (but it never felt like security was an issue there). The bathrooms are at the top of the hillside – a short climb up, but the steps are quite steep. The showers are at the bottom of the hillside, and use captured rain water – cool, but not really cold. I think the larger room up top has a private bathroom & shower, and maybe hot water(?).
Breakfast (included in cost of room, served at 9:00) is simple, but good – toast with guava jam, a couple of slices of orange, and a sandwich (cheese and cucumber) or hard-boiled egg, and a choice of coffee or tea. Tamar, who is always cheerful and charming, is in charge of breakfast. You will want to plan on having dinner at Zion Country (Mon through Fri at 1800), as Owen, the chef, prepares fantastic meals (fish, chicken, or veg). Everything is fresh. On Sat/Sun, you’ll have to find dinner elsewhere. Just walk down the road and ask around. Finding dinner in Long Road on Sundays can be a bit of a challenge, though, as most of the folks who cook take a break on Sunday.
The community of Long Road is such an important part of the whole Zion Country experience. We found the people of Long Road friendly without exception – quick to give you a smile and a greeting, helpful if you’re having trouble finding something. There are tiny shops/ food vendors/ bars – everybody there knows what each one sells, so there may not be a sign or menu, but just ask! These folks will appreciate your business (Jamaican dollars only). No hustling here. Just nice people.
Everyone seems to know Free-I – not just in Long Road, but up and down the coast – and he can hook you up with great local people (like Renny, undoubtedly one of the kindest people I’ve ever met, who can guide you up the river to Reach Falls). Free-I has lived in Jamaica for something like 18 yrs, and is very knowledgable about all things Jamaican. He’s an interesting guy – there’s nothing phony about him. A couple of reviewers have taken issue with his personality. He is not the type to kiss butt (pardon the expression). But I found him honest and helpful. I do not like to be fawned over, so his personality suited me just fine. That’s one of the many great things about Zion Country: there’s nothing fake about it.
So, here’s my only complaint, and it’s relatively minor. Hurricane Sandy washed a huge amount of leaves, branches, bamboo, coconuts and the like up onto Zion Country’s little beach. In places, it’s quite thick, and is putrefying. I think Free-I is waiting for a good storm to come and wash it away again (a more eco-friendly solution than burning it), but in the meantime the little beach is not nearly as nice as it could be.
Zion Country is a real find, and we plan on returning next year. There are tons of things to do and places to explore nearby. If you have a sense of adventure and want to really get to know Jamaica, Zion Country is a great choice.