Named by the Spanish for its large size, the Rio Grande meanders 34 km (21 miles) across Jamaica. Its waters were once an important channel for transporting bananas and other produce from the island’s interior to its coast for export, which locals would do by bamboo raft.
This privately guided tour gives you a chance to follow in their path as you spend a few hours floating along the river by traditional raft, taking in the tropical rainforest scenery as you go. Along the way, your guide will fill you in on the history and culture of the area, point out different plants along the banks and their various uses, and you’ll have the chance to pause for a refreshing swim. Halfway along, you also have the option to stop for an authentic Jamaican meal on the riverbank.
You’ll be picked up from your hotel in Port Antonio or Ocho Rios late morning (though timings can be flexible to ensure your rafting experience takes place at a quieter time). After a scenic 45-minute drive to the Rio Grande’s banks, you’ll meet your personal raft captain. Each narrow but sturdy bamboo raft can carry up to two adults and one small child, and you’ll drift along the river under the guidance and expert poling skills of your captain.
The float trip gives you a chance to sit back and take in some of Jamaica’s finest scenery. You’ll pass rainforest abundant with wildlife and endemic plant species, which your captain will help point out, explaining the different ways local people use the plants in everyday life. You’ll also see the Blue Mountains rising in the distance.
As you travel gently through this wild landscape, your guide will tell you more about the river’s history. Locals would navigate the river by handmade bamboo rafts, using a long pole to propel themselves forward. During the colonial Spanish era in the 15th and 16th centuries, the Rio Grande became an important route for transporting the island’s produce to the coast. It was only when 1950s Australian-born actor Errol Flynn moved to Port Antonio and began rafting along the river for pleasure that the activity became popular with visitors to Jamaica.
As you have the raft to yourself, you can ask your captain to pause if you’d like to take a refreshing dip. You might also like to stop halfway for lunch on the banks, for an additional cost. Local chef Melinda treks to the banks each day to set up a fire on which she cooks traditional Jamaican dishes, including goat curry, chicken stew, rice and beans, plantain, cassava (root vegetable) and bammy (cassava flatbread).
As you eat, your captain can tell you about the local culture and answer any questions you have about the Jamaican way of life. You’ll then return by raft ready for your ride back to your hotel in the late afternoon.