The island of Jamaica can be divided into three main types of land forms:
the central mountain chain formed by
igneous and metamorphic rocks; the karst limestone
hills in the Cockpit area; the low-lying coastal
plains and interior valleys. Limestone formation occurs all
over the island, but especially in the western areas.
The most striking physical feature of Jamaica is the
mountainous nature of its surface. Nearly half the island is over 300 metres
(1,000 ft) above sea-level). The central chain of mountains runs east to
west, forming a backbone through the middle of the island. From the central
range other ranges run north and south; and from these ridges subordinate
spurs branch off in every direction until nearly the whole surface of the
island is cut up into ridges and valleys.
The mountain system may be divided into three parts:
- The eastern section composed of
the Blue Mountains and the John Crow Mountains.
- The central region, formed chiefly
of limestone, extending from Stony Hill to the Cockpit country.
- The western section with Dolphin
Head as its centre.
THE MAJOR RANGES
The Eastern Section: The
Blue Mountains run for about 75 kilometres (44 miles) through the county
of Surrey and a part of Middlesex. These are the highest mountains in Jamaica,
reaching 2,250 metres (7,402 ft) at Blue Mountain Peak. Subordinate ridges
run north and south from the main ridge.
On the south there are the Port Royal Mountains, a complicated series of
ridges, which run south from Catherine's Peak, 1,537 metres (5,506 ft),
towards the sea near Albion in St. Thomas. The Queensbury Ridge, starting
from Blue Mountain Peak, separates the valley of the Negro River from that
of the Yallahs.
Three great ridges branch off to the north. The first branches off from
Blue Mountain Peak toward the sea near St. Margaret's Bay in Portland,
separating the valley of the Rio Grande from that of the Swift River. The
second starts from Silver Hill near Catherine's Peak and forms the watershed
between the Buff Bay River and the Spanish River. The third is a very high
ridge starting from Fox's Gap at the boundary of St. Mary and Portland
and sending out several spurs which reach the sea between Buff Bay and
The John Crow Mountains are the most easterly mountains of Jamaica. They
run from the north-west to the south-east in the parish of Portland, and
divide the Rio Grande valley from the east coast of the island.
The Central Range: This range begins
west of Stony Hill, 400 metres (1,361 ft), where the main road to the north
crosses the mountains and stretches westwards till it merges into the Cockpit
Country. It divides into two parts. One, chiefly of limestone formation,
extends west through the Mammee Hill and the Red Hills expending itself
at Bog Walk. The other runs in a north-easterly direction forming the boundary
line between St. Mary and St. Catherine. Passing through Guy's Hill, it
continues as a well-defined range to Mount Diablo. It then becomes irregular
and broken, finally merging with the Cockpit country.
The Cockpit country of south Trelawny and parts of St. Elizabeth and
St. James is a region of broken elevations and depressions It is peculiarly
wild in character. Formed of white limestone, jagged and irregular, it
is dissected by deep sink holes and steep-sided circular arenas. These
are formed because of the intense solution of limestone by rain water.
The Western Range: These mountains
extend through Westmoreland and Hanover, reaching a height of 600 metres
(1,809 ft) at Birch's Hill. Dolphin Head, so called because of its appearance,
is a landmark seen from far out at sea to the south.
Other Important Mountains: The Don
Figueroa, the May Day and Carpenter Mountains pass through the parish of
Manchester lying roughly in an arc north-west to south-coast. The mountains
of St. Catherine, to the north of Spanish Town, are a continuation of the
Red Hills system of St. Andrew. through which the Rio Cobre has cut its
gorge. They are called the St. John, the St. Dorothy and the Guy's Hill
Mountains. The Hellshire Hills, to the extreme south of St. Catherine,
are an independent group of limestone hills. The Pedro and Dry Harbour
Mountains are in the parish of St. Ann. The Mocho Range and the Bull Head
Mountains are in the parish of Clarendon. They are both independent mountain
ranges. Bull Head Mountain marks the centre of the island.
SOME HIGH MOUNTAIN PEAKS AND PASSES
||Blue Mountain Peak
||Sugar Loaf Peak
||John Crow Mountains, highest point
||Sir John's Peak
||Silver Hill Gap
||Newcastle Parade Ground
||Stony Hill, where main road crosses
||Juan de Bolas Mountain
||Mount Diablo, Hollymount
||Mount Diablo, where main road crosses
||Coleyville, Mount Denham
Since the principal range of mountains runs from west to east, the
rivers. which start on their slopes, generally flow north or south. Since
the principal range of mountains runs from west to east, the rivers, which
start on their slopes, generally flow north or south.
Most of the rivers in Jamaica are not navigable. The height of the mountains
causes them to run swiftly in deep beds, and their courses are sometimes
broken by waterfalls. One exception is the Black River, the largest river
in Jamaica. It is 73 kilometres (44 miles) long, and for 28 kilometres
(17 miles) from its mouth it is navigable for small vessels.
The rivers of Portland, which have their source in the Blue Mountains,
flow very swiftly, and can be very destructive in time of heavy rainfall.
The Rio Grande, rising on the northern slopes of the Blue Mountains, is
a large river which has its course through some of the wildest and most
beautiful scenery in the island. Rafting on this river has become, in recent
years, a popular sporting pastime. Other main rivers of Portland are the
Swift, Spanish, and Buff Bay.
The Wag Water (formerly Agua Alta) rises in the mountains of St. Andrew
and flows through the parish of St. Mary, entering the sea west of Annotto
Bay. The Hope River rises in the hills near Newcastle and enters the sea
about 10 kilometres (6 miles) east of Kingston. Both the Wag Water and
the Hope river supply Kingston with water.
The Milk River, which is navigable for some 3 kilometres (2 miles),
supplies a system of canals for the irrigation of the plains of Vere in
Clarendon. Rising at Windsor in the interior of Trelawny, the Martha Brae
discharges to the east of Falmouth. The chief river of Westmoreland, the
Cabaritta, waters the alluvial district of the area.
With its tributaries rising in the Above Rocks district in St. Andrew,
the Rio Cobre runs through St. Catherine, and is used for providing irrigation
and drinking water. The Plantain Garden River in St. Thomas is the only
important river which does not follow the general rule of flowing north
or south. Flowing south in its upper course, it turns east upon meeting
the coastal range of hills. It then flows through the fertile Plantain
Garden River Valley and enters the sea at Holland Bay.
Special mention must be made of the underground rivers in the limestone
region. The Cave and Hectors Rivers are notable examples. The porous nature
of the limestone accounts for the scarcity of water in the central districts.
The parish of St. Ann, because it is chiefly of limestone formation, has
no rivers in its interior. When swollen by exceptional rainfall the underground
reservoirs sometimes rise to the surface as lakes. The Moneague Lake near
Moneague last rose in 1970 and disappeared in 1971.
St. Thomas - The Plantain Garden
River. Yallahs and Morant Rivers
Portland - The Rio Grande, Swift.
Buff Bay and Spanish Rivers
St. Andrew - The Hope and Cane Rivers
St. Catherine - The Rio Cobre and
St. Mary - The Wag Water, Dry River.
Rio Nuevo and the White River
(The White River forms the boundary between St. Mary and St. Ann )
St. Ann - Roaring River, Llandovery
River and the Rio Bueno between Trelawny and St. Ann.
Between St. Ann and Clarendon -
The Cave River.
Clarendon - The Milk River and Rio
St. Elizabeth - The Black River.
The Martha Brae River.
- The Great River which divides St. James from Hanover and Westmoreland
Westmoreland - The Cabaritta River.
The plains of Jamaica lie chiefly on the southern side of
the island, and are all of alluvial formation. The principal plains are
the Liguanea Plain in Kingston and St. Andrew, the Rio Cobre and St. Dorothy
Plains in St. Catherine, the Plain of Vere in Clarendon, the Pedro Plain
in St. Elizabeth, and the George's Plain in Westmoreland. The valleys of
the Morant and Yallahs Rivers, and the Plantain Garden River Valley in
St. Thomas, are fertile, low-lying areas formed chiefly of alluvium deposited
by the rivers.
HARBOURS AND BAYS
Kingston Harbour, the seventh largest natural harbour
in the world, contains about 13 kilometres (8 miles) of navigable water.
It is almost completely landlocked by the Palisadoes, the narrow strip
of land which ends at Port Royal, leaving a deep channel through which
even the largest ships can sail. During the wars of the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries, all the British naval vessels stationed in the West
Indies could anchor inside the harbour. Modern developments have made Kingston
Harbour an excellent port for shipping of all kinds, including the largest
In 1962 a gigantic dredging operation was commenced on the West Kingston
shoreline, as a result of. which some 750 hectares (300 acres) of land
were reclaimed from the sea. On this land, called Newport West, a berthing
and cargo-storing complex was established. A similar dredging operation
to create Newport East was also completed, some 283 hectares (120 acres)
of land having be reclaimed. All shipping is now concentrated at these
locations which together are known as Port Bustamante. This modern complex
replaced the fourteen finger wharves which once ran out into the harbour
from the Kingston waterfront.
Port Antonio on the north coast, with its twin harbours, was once Jamaica's
second port, Montego Bay's open harbour being too exposed to 'northers',
but an extensive deepwater harbour has been built in the vicinity of the
Bogue islands, and is in use with three berths available. The area is named
Ocho Rios and Port Rhoades on the north and Port Kaiser and Port Esquivel
on the south are important ports from which bauxite and alumina are exported.
Other important harbours are Lucea, St. Ann's Bay, Oracabessa and Port
Maria on the north, and Morant Bay, Salt River and Black River on the south
coast. Runaway Bay and Columbus Cays are mainly of historical interest.
Several small islands, called cays, lie at various points
off the coast of Jamaica. The most important of these are the Morant Cays
and the Pedro Cays. The Morant Cays, four in number, lie on a crescent-shaped
shoal 55 kilometres (33 miles) south-east of Morant Point. The Pedro Cays,
also four in number, are situated on the Pedro Bank about 66 kilometres
(40 miles) south of Portland Point. The Port Royal Cays lie outside Kingston
Mineral springs are to be found in Jamaica, some of them
of high therapeutic value. The most important are the warm, saline and
radioactive spring at Milk River in Clarendon, the hot, sulphurous spring
at Bath in St. Thomas, the Black River Spa in St. Elizabeth, the Moffat
Spring on the White River. There are also mineral baths fed by cold springs
at Rockfort, near Kingston, and at Port Henderson in St. Catherine.