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 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 Annotto Bay.

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.


Parish Peaks Metres Feet
St. Thomas Blue Mountain Peak 2,250 7,402
Mossman's Peak 2,036 6,700
Portland Sugar Loaf Peak 2,128 7,000
John Crow Mountains, highest point 1,140 3,750
St. Andrew Sir John's Peak 1,925 6,332
Catherine's Peak 1,537 5,056
Silver Hill Gap 1,067 3,513
Hardwar Gap 1,216 4,000
Newcastle Parade Ground 1,125 3,702
Stony Hill, where main road crosses 400 1,361
St. Catherine Juan de Bolas Mountain 833 2,473
Guy's Hill 638 2.100
Mount Diablo, Hollymount 837 2,754
Mount Diablo, where main road crosses 547 1,800
St. Ann Albion 839 2,759
Clarendon Bull Head 845 2,782
Manchester Coleyville, Mount Denham 984 3,236
Mandeville Court House 626 2,060
St. Elizabeth Munro College 778 2,560
Hanover Dolphin Head 544 1,789

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 Ferry Rivers

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 Minho.

St. Elizabeth - The Black River.

Trelawny - The Martha Brae River.

St. James - 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.

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 container vessels.

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 Freeport.

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 harbour.

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.