Mt Zion Jamaica

On-Site Jamaica: Making a Pilgrimage Up Mystical Mt. Zion

Throughout the lyrical annals of reggae music, few places are as revered and celebrated as Mt Zion. In the music, and in Rastafari culture in general, Mt Zion is a mystical, holy place representative of the ultimate paradise – the yin to Babylon’s yang. But, what about the real Mt Zion Jamaica? Did it really exist? If so, how does it live up to the lyrics?

On a recent trip to Jamaica, I set out to answer these questions. What I discovered still warms my soul today…

Mt Zion Jamaica Welcome Sign
Welcome to Mt. Zion | Photo by Steve Bennett

Getting to Mount Zion + First Impressions

The real Mt Zion Jamaica is located in the hills above Montego Bay. Getting there is pretty easy. From my hotel, we headed east along coastal highway A1 until we got to the Cinnamon Hill Golf Course. After a quick right turn and a few minutes up a bumpy road (go right where the road makes a “Y”), you’ll soon see the sign above…and not much else.

Mt Zion Jamaica is the very definition of a humble West Indian village. Just a few simple dwellings fan out from an ancient Church and school nestled side-by-side at the very center of town. Rudderless dogs sleep in the road. Roosters crow as they please.

In a place like this, the sight of strangers is rare. Or, at least so it seemed when we arrived as immediately upon exiting our vehicle, a booming voice rang out from this place…

Willy's Place, Mt Zion Jamaica
Willy’s Place, Mt Zion Jamaica | Photo by Steve Bennett

Welcome! Welcome! Come over! We got anything you need!

A ramshackle place like this, clouded in smoke and set amid a remote location like Mount Zion might give your normal traveler pause. We paused too…to make sure he had cold Red Stripe. Once assured, we went right in.

Inside, we met Willy, the proprietor of the bar and in many ways, the de facto Mayor of Mt Zion Jamaica. During our few minutes in his bar, Willy must’ve re-affirmed that we were welcome in Mt. Zion more than a dozen times.

You can tour de village. It’s a historical village. Make you get some good sightseeing.

Touring Around Mt Zion

The main sightseeing attraction Willy was referring is this old Church…

Mt. Zion United Presbyterian Church | Photo by Steve Bennett

Founded in 1838, the Mt. Zion United Presbyterian Church packs enough history and mysticism to fuel a whole boxed set of reggae songs. (Or hymns, as the case may be.)

When we arrived, two elderly ladies were primping the pews and cleaning the wood floors. Their tools, rag mops and brooms, were employed in a manner that seemed born of a centuries-old tradition. It was a Saturday. Preparations were being made for the next day’s service, no doubt as they’d always been done for the past 170+ years.

Church Steeped in History

The Church oozes with rich history. Some say the White Witch herself, Annie Palmer, used to attend Mass here!

I don’t know about that. The real history of the place, though, is clearly visible in the decor and remembrances of former Church elders.

Another great old school element: a prayer board near the alter where names of sick members of the congregation were scribbled in chalk so that all could make petitions on their behalf. 

Prayer Board, Mt. Zion

It’s a small touch, but one that to me really underscores the strong sense of community here.

Ringing Mt Zion Jamaica Welcome

It’s clear within a few moments of entering the village that everyone in Mt Zion Jamaica knows each other. Not just in a cursory way either, but rather in a traditional West Indian sense of togetherness.

There’s a lot of pride in that togetherness too. Everyone we met seemed genuinely happy to welcome us to their special corner of Jamaica. As a sign of that warm welcome, the folks at Mt Zion United even rang the ancient Church Bell in our honor. We didn’t ask them to do it either. The kind gesture just came naturally.

Ringing the Church Bell, Mt Zion Jamaica | Photo by Steve Bennett

Back outside in front of the Church, a small group of local kids had gathered, anxious to see us strangers. They talked about their school, the history of the Church, the natural surroundings and all that made their village a special place. To the right, off in the distance, a few guys were hanging out at another rum shop. A cool breeze rustled through the trees. Another cock crowed.

Ultimate paradise?

Yeah, I could see that…

Last updated by Steve Bennett on .

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