Excursions in Jamaica: Explore the Beauty of Cockpit Country
Cockpit Country, Jamaica
Sinkholes, caves and underground rivers are the hallmarks of Jamaica's Cockpit Country. Dangerous, yet filled with excitement, this jungle terrain makes for an extraordinary island adventure.
If you’re too restless to sit on a sandy Negril beach sipping pina coladas and need more adventure than a jet ski can offer, leave your resort behind and head to Jamaica’s cave-strewn interior. Caves, waterfalls, underground rivers, and sinkholes await those who enter into this intimidating jungle terrain. The karst topography and subterranean aquifers make this an extraordinary wilderness filled with lush scenery and rugged treks.
A holiday in the “Cockpits,” as the area is known, is not for the faint of heart. It is an adventurer’s landscape filled with cliffs and many uncharted caves. Located in the western interior of the island, Cockpit Country covers an area of five hundred square kilometers. Dense with jungle vegetation, the region is home to more than five hundred types of ferns. In fact, according to scientists, Cockpit Country contains at least a hundred plant species that exist nowhere else on the planet.
This area of the island also features a wide array of animals. The endangered Jamaican boa and yellow and black billed parrot make their home in Cockpit territory. Various birds, amphibians, reptiles, and insects also tenant this jungle wilderness.
Cockpit Country is nearly impenetrable. No roads cut through the hilly terrain. Instead of a swim suit, insect repellent, sunscreen, and rain gear are the order of the day. Trails tend to be overgrown and there are perpetual hazards like the notorious sinkholes; hiring a guide is a must. Tour guides typically provide safety gear like lights and helmets.
Most hiking expeditions into this terrain begin at either Bunkers Hill or Albert Town. Hikes out of Bunkers Hill lead to Dromily Cave.
It’s necessary to climb a slope to get to the cave entrance, but the cave itself is easily explored. The Albert Town hike leads to the spectacular Quashie River Sink Cave. Descending into the cave’s depths is an extraordinary experience that leads to a waterfall and underground river.
Cockpit Country is remote and certainly not one of Jamaica’s more typical tourist attractions. Yet, it is geologically fascinating and is an ideal setting for adventurous spirits. The steep descents and rugged landscape can be physically demanding, but also exhilarating. Few people head into this jungle area; during the 1700s slaves escaped the British and fled into this wilderness and managed to successfully hide within the difficult terrain. Cockpit Country, with its limestone landforms, still looks roughly as it did back then. It appears untouched and barely explored. While most guided hikes occur in the morning for about four hours, longer hikes can be arranged.
Please follow these guide lines before visiting Cockpit Country, Jamaica
Do not attempt to hike the Cockpit Country on your own. It is a harsh landscape with endless hills that all look alike which make it easy to become hopelessly lost.
Use a local guide. He/she will know the safe paths and will help you to avoid any trouble spots.
Bring sufficient water. Small surface streams are almost non-existent in the Cockpits. In case of an emergency, look for bromeliads that collect water.
Wear comfortable clothing and comfortable walking shoes, a light jacket, pants, rain gear, a hat with brim, suntan lotion, bug repellent, first aid kit and a compass. If you plan to camp out, you will need to carry an extra tent for your tour guide.
Be safe, relax and have a great time!