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Gladstone H. Taylor headshot

Five Hidden, Sustainable Spots to Visit in Kingston, Jamaica

View from the mountains in Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park.

The view from the mountains in Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park in Jamaica. (Image: Gladstone H. Taylor)

Jamaica is a dream destination for many travelers, and most of its best tourist haunts are located on the coast outside of the capital city, Kingston. There might not be an abundance of treehouse resorts and beachfront villas like in the countryside, but deep in the heart of the city, you'll find hidden gems that are good for the environment and the local economy. Supporting locally-owned businesses like these ensures that your dollars stay in the community. Here are five sustainable spots to visit on your next trip to Kingston, Jamaica.

A plate of bean and pea stew, chickpea dumplings, banana, yam, stir-fried vegetables, grated beets and coconut.
A meal from Ibo Spice Portal that includes bean and pea stew, chickpea dumplings, banana, yam, stir-fried vegetables, grated beets and coconut. (Image: Gladstone H. Taylor)

Ibo Spice Portal 

The first stop on the list is a food oasis in the heart of downtown: Ibo Spice Portal. The locally-owned small restaurant and catering business is special because it’s what you least expect to find in the sweltering heat of downtown’s concrete jungle. The menu is completely vegetarian and vegan-friendly. It’s conveniently based a few blocks down from the famous Rockers International Record Shop, one of the only remaining vinyl shops in the country. Ibo is also nestled beneath a canopy of trees that do well enough to make one forget they are still downtown.

I stopped by the other day for lunch and had a great dish with a mix of bean and pea stew, boiled chickpea dumplings, banana, yam, stir-fried vegetables, grated beets and coconut. This all cost roughly $1,000 Jamaican dollars (JMD), which is just about $6.50 U.S. dollars. The restaurant also has a selection of natural juices that are great to pair with a lunch like this. 

The Veggie Campus restaurant in Kingston, Jamaica.
Veggie Campus, a plant-based restaurant in Kingston, Jamaica. (Image: Gladstone H. Taylor) 

Veggie Campus

Another great spot to have a bite to eat is Veggie Campus, which is located roughly five minutes from the most central area in Kingston: the Half Way Tree neighborhood. This is an area you might frequent as it has the largest transport center in both the Kingston and St. Andrew parishes. 

Veggie Campus is nestled beneath a canopy of tall trees that give it an earthy ambiance. It has outdoor seating arrangements that make waiting for the food worth it, and everything here is plant-based.

I’m a repeat customer, and the food is always great. I tried a meal there recently that included fried cauliflower wings, quinoa, stir-fried veggies and amazing barbecue circles. The whole meal cost roughly $1,200 JMD ($8 USD). It’s a great place to stop for some food with a full day of traveling ahead.

A farmer selling crops at the Ujima Natural Farmers Market.
A farmer sells their organic, pesticide-free crops at the Ujima Natural Farmers Market. (Image: Gladstone H. Taylor)

Ujima Natural Farmers Market

If you have the desire to cook rather than order takeout, the Ujima Natural Farmers Market is a good stop for some ingredients. The market was created by a group of local farmers in an attempt to provide access to organic, pesticide-free food in their communities. It’s held at the Hope Botanical Gardens. They set up as early as 9 a.m. and finish around 3 p.m., which gives you time to stop by even if it’s a busy day. 

The market has strict rules for farmers to ensure the food remains organic, and each farm is scheduled for regular inspection by the board to check that the right farming methods are used. It's been a trusted source for good, clean food for years. 

The entrance to the Hope Botanical Gardens in Kingston, Jamaica.
The 200-acre Hope Botanical Gardens in Kingston, Jamaica, is one of the few green spaces left in the city. (Image: Gladstone H. Taylor)

Hope Botanical Gardens

Speaking of the Hope Botanical Gardens, it is one of the few green areas left in Kingston, spanning around 200 acres. This beauty is the home of some of the city's oldest trees and endemic species of birds. It’s a great spot for a picnic, a group outing or a solo walk in nature. 

The garden comes highly recommended because of its status as a habitat for important biodiversity. It’s run by Jamaica’s Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Mining, but it has struggled to stay open in the past because of poor attendance. Visiting this oasis is a way of letting the Ministry know that we need to preserve the green spaces we have left. The entrance fee is only $200 JMD ($1 USD). 

Cabins in Jamaica's Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park.
Cabins are available for those looking to spend the night in Jamaica's Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park. (Image: Gladstone H. Taylor)

Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park

Last but not least is Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park. Technically, this spot is about 45 minutes outside of Kingston, but it makes the list because of its close proximity. The park was declared a conservation site back in 1993 — a declaration that spans the entire Blue Mountain range, which hosts the island's highest peak. The site is so important that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization declared it a world heritage site in 2015. 

The park hosts nature lovers from all over the city, and not just for the day experience. Backpackers, hikers and campers can spend the night out in nature in cabins run by the park staff. It’s a great place to steal away from the city for a few hours or spend a weekend under the stars. The entry fee is only $400 JMD per person ($3 USD). 

This article is part of Travel Month in our 2024 Sustainable Living Challenge, where we unpack accessible ways to see new places and get around your hometown with a lighter impact on the planet. Learn more and take the challenge here.  

Gladstone H. Taylor headshot

Gladstone H Taylor is an author/journalist living and operating out of the creative industries of Kingston, Jamaica. He has been writing professionally for over eight years. He’s reported on the environment, culture, music, film, and tech through platforms such as Mongabay, The Fader, Sole DxB, Bandcamp, The Face Magazine, RollingStone, Afropunk, Syfy Wire, and PopDust, to name a few. He is a member of Covering Climate Now and Uproot Project.

Read more stories by Gladstone H. Taylor