When you arrive in the town of Drapers, in Portland Parish, Jamaica, you’ll likely see Savannah Baker within minutes. You’ll hear the dancehall music first, followed by a beat-up car with five too many people piled in the back. Wearing a bikini and net top, her pink curly hair tied back with a rasta scrunchy, Baker barely needs to look through her YSL granny frames to avoid the potholes—she knows these roads like the back of her hand.
Though she grew up between England, the United States, and Portland (her dad owns the Geejam Hotel Recording Studio there), Baker has always called the Parish home. With brightly colored bars, street parties, the best jerk on the island, numerous surf spots, and the blue lagoon, it hasn’t been hard pushing the location for fashion shoots and music videos, in spite of concerns about violence on the island. According to Baker, Jamaica has always had certain problems with violence and poverty, which is why she is keen to give back to the community at any opportunity, using a local crew whenever possible. For example, the latest collaboration for her sock brand, Pum Pum Gyals, is with local artist Ninja Star. And last year she co-directed musician Ray BLK’s video featuring the Gully Queens, a marginalized community of gay and trans youth in Jamaica; Baker set up a GoFundMe page to coincide with the release.
Despite having attracted the likes of Harry Styles, Drake, and Amy Winehouse (all of whom have all recorded at Geejam Studios), Portland remains relatively under-the-radar. When Baker guides friends around town, it’s all about local designers, the best Ital (vegetarian) food around, and the real dancehall parties thrown by aspiring entertainers. With Savannah by your side, it’s head first into the Jamaica you’d struggle to find on your own.
Located on Jamaica's northeastern coast, Port Antonio is known for its lush natural scenery. Photo by @nathaliadangelo
Why is Port Antonio, in Portland Parish, different than the rest of Jamaica?
Port Antonio is my home. I may be biased, but ask most Jamaicans who have traveled around the island where their favorite place is, and it’s usually Portland Parish. It’s the most jungle-like area in Jamaica, with the sea, river, and hills. It’s a two-hour car journey from any international airport, so it doesn’t have the hustle of Kingston. But it’s safe, and also doesn’t have millions of tourists like Negril and Montego Bay.
Artist Ninja Star shows off some of his creations for Pum Pum Roxx, his collaboration with Baker's company Pum Pum Gyals. Photo by @pumpumgyals
Who are some of the people that have shaped Port Antonio?
There are so many characters here, and I love going to bars and just hearing all the stories from different people (while playing dominoes). Ninja Star is one of those characters—a talented self-taught jeweler from Portland. He has a mouth full of gold and he is always draped head to toe in handmade jewelry. He also carves wood and paints on clothes. He is a true artist through and through. We just did a wicked collab called Pum Pum Roxx.
Boston Beach may look serene, but it's a hotspot for surfers on the island. Photo by @felix.wanderlust
What kind of tourist is best suited to take advantage of Portland?
It doesn’t work for people looking for an all-inclusive vibe. There are no huge hotels in the area. You can still get luxury—you can get a helicopter or mini plane in from Kingston and stay somewhere like Geejam or rent a private villa on the Blue Lagoon. If you’re more about adventure and exploration, there are endless things to do—surfing at Boston beach, the river in Moore Town, rafting down the Rio Grande, concerts, and parties..
The turquoise waters of the Blue Lagoon make it a favorite of visitors and locals alike. Photo by @kadi.padur
Where is the first place you take visitors?
Blue Lagoon. It’s my favorite place to swim and is one of the most beautiful places on the planet.
Locals return to Winifred Beach for both the local food stands and beautiful reefs just off shore. Photo by @laeti_yogi
Where are some other great beaches?
Boston Beach is a great place to spend the day. There are surf instructors on the beach, great swimming, and a big rock to jump off. It’s also where jerk was invented so you can go and see how it’s really done. Winifred is more of a locals beach and gets really busy on Sundays.
It isn't a party without dancing. Photo by @pumpumgyals
Where would you go for a night out?
A party called Roadblock is every Thursday and is always a super fun vibe. It starts outside in a car park then moves inside to the dancehall. It kicks off around 12 p.m., and the later it gets the busier it will be. There are always great dancers and the best outfits and it’s not intimidating for tourists.
Float down the Rio Grande on bamboo rafts. Photo by @michele.frances
Where would you go for natural beauty?
Rafting down the Rio Grande. I have always said that it should have been a wonder of the world. It’s so peaceful and you feel like you are in “Avatar”—it's an out-of-this-world jungle and a lovely swim in the spring river. A woman called Belinda cooks by the side of a river. It’s some of the best food you will taste in Jamaica—no doubt about it.
Sacred scenery in Moore Town. Photo by @pjotre
Where is your favorite secret spot?
Moore Town. There is a beautiful river up there and the area is a huge part of Jamaican culture. It’s where Nanny Maroon was from, a national hero of Jamaica who escaped slavery and led the Jamaican Maroons. There is a really spiritual feeling up there and it is really stunning. As it’s quite sacred, as a tourist it would be respectful to have a guide from the area take you to Nanny Falls—a big secret spot and not a tourist location.
Enjoy coastal flavors at every meal. Photo by @jamesnewmanworldwide
Where do you like to eat?
I love it when my friends do a cook-up on the beach or lagoon. Jason a.k.a Ocassa is the top chef for me and he’s soon opening a cookshop in Drapers which will be fire. My other favorites are Soldier Camp for a sit-down meal, Syd’s cookshop in Port Antonio, Belinda on the Rio Grande, and Geejam for a special occasion. For vegetarian, there’s a spot in Fairy Hill by a rasta called Sezi.
Jerk chicken on the beaches where it originated? Yes please. Photo by @rileybarbecue_
Where would you go to find the best jerk chicken?
Boston Bay is a must for jerk as it’s where jerk originated. Ask for Gilly. And get a cold coconut water from Almond. The sauce is a great present to take home. Another spot is Piggy’s Jerk Center in Port Antonio.
Baker's classic Pum Pum Socks are perfect for an evening of dancing. Photo by @pumpumgyals
What’s the nightlife like in Port Antonio and where’s the best place to get an introduction to dancehall?
Nightlife in Jamaica is fire. So much fun, so much dancing, and even better if you drink a whole heap of rum. There is something to do every night. I usually start at a bar and play dominoes. Friday is Roof Club—it’s the first original club in Portland. There are neon lights, wicked music—it’s a late spot and gets good after 1 a.m..
A luxurious spot to recharge. Photo by @geejamcollection
Your favorite hotel in the area?
Geejam. It’s a collection of cool little luxury huts in the hills with a wicked bar and the best view over the ocean. They also have a private beach.
Budget-friendly guesthouse Search Me Heart is just a short walk away from the Blue Lagoon. Photo by @searchmeheart.jamaica
Where to stay if you’re on a budget?
Drapers San or Search Me Heart are both in Drapers. The Palace Hotel is mid range and very trippy and cool. My friend also has a really cute Airbnb called “Likkle Nature Queen”
Fresh produce at the Port Antonio Market. Photo by @katheroux
Where’s the best place to pick up Jamaican garments?
The market in Port Antonio is cool. Also in Fairy Hill near Boston there is an amazing knit shop with crochet tops, dresses, and shorts. Just ask any local for directions and then ask for Karen!
It's no wonder that Baker recommends the river so highly. Photo by @experiencerealja
How would you spend a perfect day in Port Antonio?
Cook up by the river with a speaker and a cooler, and friends and fam.