Located on the eastern side of the Caribbean
island of Jamaica, the Blue and John Crow National Park, or BJCMNP, covers 190,000 acres, which is 4.5 percent of Jamaica's total land mass. It boasts some of the greatest species diversity of all the Caribbean islands. Due to its biodiversity, indigenous peoples and large tract of continuous forest, the Jamaican government has launched a campaign to have UNESCO declare the park a World Heritage Site.
Beginning in the 17th century, the area encompassing Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park was inhabited by the Windward Maroons, a community of runaway slaves. The Maroons fought a resistance against the colonial British military until a peace treaty was signed in 1739. The Maroon community continues to live in and around the park and has retained a strong "Afro-Jamaican" culture.
There are three mountain ranges within the BJCMNP, the Blue Mountains, the John Crow Mountains and the Port Royal Mountains. Blue Mountain Peak is the highest point in Jamaica at 7,401 feet. The park contains Jamaica's largest contiguous tract of closed broad-leaf forest as well as rain forest.
The park is a vital resource for water, providing over 40 percent of Jamaica's population with water for domestic use as well as water for agriculture and industry.
The park boasts a great number of endemic plants and animals. Approximately 40 percent of plants found in the park are not found anywhere else in the world.
The park is home to the only remaining habitat of the giant swallowtail butterfly, the largest butterfly in the Western Hemisphere. It is also home to an estimated 150 species of birds, including several endemic species such as the endangered Jamaican blackbird and ring-tailed pigeon.
The easiest way to see the park is by car. You can take the B1 from the western outskirts of Kingston to Blue Mountains.
The best way to see the park, however, is by hiking it. There are two recreation areas within the park, Holywell and Portland Gap, where you may go on guided walks through the forest. It is also possible to camp overnight at Holywell. There is a small entrance fee to the park and an additional fee if you choose guided trail tours. Many hikers consider the Blue Mountain Peak hike the best in the Caribbean.
Deforestation is the greatest threat to the park, as farmers attempt to convert forest into land suitable for farming. The illegal harvesting of timber is also a major threat, as it degrades the biological vitality and species composition of the forest.
The park is also threatened by a number of invasive species, including Pittosporum undulatum, a tree native to Australia, and Hydicum spicatum, a plant native to South Asia.
Saira Ahmed is a freelance writer. After living in several different countries, she chose to settle down in vibrant New York City. Her interests include reading, writing, cooking, alternative health, bargain hunting, and film. She remains an avid traveler and enjoys sharing her travel tips with readers.