Ocho Rios, on Jamaica’s north coast, is a busy cruise ship port and a base for northern Jamaica’s outdoor fun. Day trippers pour from the cruise terminal each day, hustling to swim with dolphins, retrace the footsteps of Bob Marley in Nine Mile or climb iconic Dunn’s River Falls. Because of this, Ocho Rios tends to feel touristy and unauthentic, filled with souvenir shops and tour operators. Avoid the disembarkation area and explore the lush landscape that surrounds the town.
Legendary explorer Christopher Columbus first trod upon Jamaican soil at Discovery Bay, when he landed there in 1494 and claimed Jamaica for Spain (although there is dispute about this – it’s possible he landed in St Ann’s Bay, to the east). Columbus Park, in Discovery Bay, commemorates that momentous day in history.
The Columbus Museum explores the history and impact of that landing, along with the pre-colonial history of Jamaica’s indigenous people. From Arawak canoes and sugarcane milling to nautical relics and cannons, the open-air museum overlooking the harbor at Discovery Bay is littered with fascinating artifacts from Jamaica’s past. To get to Discovery Bay, travel west from Ocho Rios on the A1 Highway; the drive along the coast is enough to make the trip.
Coyaba River Garden & Museum
Tropical Jamaican trees and flowers surround a colonial-style home at the Coyaba River Garden and Museum, backed by stupendous views of the Ocho Rios harbor. Water is one of the main features of the gardens, with tumbling streams and the Mahoe Falls.
With plenty to do, you can choose to sip locally grown coffee in the cool courtyard cafe, take a guided tour of the gardens, have a swim in the falls and even shop for local crafts in the courtyard boutique. The site also has a small museum exploring the history of Jamaica’s original inhabitants, the Arawaks and Tainos.
Brimmer Hall Plantation
Established in 1817, Brimmer Hall Plantation is a historic estate that today is still a working enterprise, producing coffee, sugar cane and tropical fruit. The grand estate home provides insights into colonial Jamaican life, furnished with antiques from the era. You can tour the home and see a demonstration on how crops are harvested.
To enjoy the scenery, tour the plantation by tropical tractor and take a drive past coconut palms, citrus groves, coffee trees, and fields of pineapples and bananas. Set in the hilly interior behind Port Maria, Brimmer Hall is about 21 miles (34 kilometers) east of Ocho Rios. When you need a break from the beach, it makes for a nice excursion.
Nine Mile – Home of Bob Marley
The Jamaican village of Nine Mile is synonymous with one of Jamaica’s most famous sons, the late great master of reggae who died in 1981, Bob Marley. Thanks to tours led by Rastafarian guides, you can visit the former home of Bob Marley, as well as the musician’s beloved Mt Zion Rock, where he meditated, and his mausoleum. Many of the guides are Bob’s fellow musicians, relatives and friends. Admire Bob’s gold and platinum records on display, along with musical instruments, his favorite chair and other personal effects.
Nine Mile is in St Ann Parish, south of Brown’s Town. Hire a driver for the day or take an organized tour from Ocho Rios. From the coast it’s a bumpy two or so hours. If you hire a guide at Nine Mile, be prepared to tip and don’t feel obliged to sample the (reputedly strong) goods on offer – a firm no should suffice.
Have a White River Valley Adventure
The White River Valley prides itself on its eco credentials, offering all manner of outdoor adventures. The white limestone rocks give the White River its name and cause the water to tumble over rapids and form tranquil lagoon pools for rafting. You can go tubing or kayaking in the White River – floating or paddling down the river is an excellent way to admire the lush scenery. Or saddle up a horse for a ride along trails leading through tropical rainforest.
Visit the landscaped Village of Flowers, and seek out the old Spanish Bridge dating back to the 1600s. The White River Valley is seven miles (11 kilometers) inland from Ocho Rios, between the parishes of St Mary and St Ann. The river mouth is in Ocho Rios.
Go on an ATV Safari
See the Jamaican countryside and get your adrenaline pumping on an ATV, better known as a four-wheeler to some. Jamaica has fantastic terrain for such an adventure – its hills, rivers and greenery provide the perfect Caribbean scenery to admire while you ride. Power through tropical forests and river beds, beneath jungle canopies and along the coast. When it’s time for a break, cool off with a plunge into a secluded cove, carved out of rock to form the perfect swimming pool.
The excursion is an exciting way to see some of what lies outside of Ocho Rios without the usual tour bus – it’s a guided tour that’s un-touristy. There’s also some history thrown in for good measure – you’ll pass a historic sugar factory on one of the oldest estates in Jamaica and stop at a school in a local village.
Zipline Through the Rainforest
Lately, it seems a zipline course is an obligatory activity when even the smallest patch of rainforest is present, and the forest outside Ocho Rios is no different. A wonderful activity if you need a break from the beach – all those shady trees will help your sunburn cool off – the zipline canopy tour is a thrilling outdoor adventure that will give you a new perspective on Jamaica’s landscape, allowing you to see native flora and fauna.
You’ll travel through the treetops, moving from platform to platform on zipline cables, to which you are harnessed. While you may be too focused on getting to the next platform to look around as you zoom, the views of the forest are great – you can even catch glimpses of the Caribbean Sea in some places.
Climb Dunn’s River Falls
Tumbling 1,000 feet (300 meters), the Dunn’s River Falls are one of the mightiest and most famous waterfalls in the Caribbean – you may recognize them from the films Cocktail and Dr No. The terraced falls roll over rounded boulders past tropical rainforest, tumbling into tranquil lagoons before splashing off to enter the Caribbean Sea (it’s actually one of the only waterfalls in the world that empties directly into the sea).
The falls are not only beautiful, they’re also unusual, as they continually regenerate from the calcium carbonate and sodium deposits in the river water. Hike up the falls on the stairstep-like rocks, breaking the trip with a swim and a soothing spa in water that bubbles like a Jacuzzi. The falls are surrounded by landscaped rainforest and tropical gardens, and the cafeteria serves meals and snacks for well-deserved rests.
Swim with Dolphins
If swimming with dolphins is on your must-do list (and why on earth wouldn’t it be?), head to Dolphin Cove, just west of Ocho Rios on the coast, across the highway from Dunn’s River Falls. This is the spot in Jamaica for a one-on-one encounter with everyone’s favorite creature of the sea. You can touch, hold, feed and of course swim with the dolphins.
For the most in-depth dolphin encounter, be a sea keeper for the day and help feed and train the lovable mammals. For a more heart-racing experience, interact with stingrays and sharks. The first marine park of its kind in Jamaica, Dolphin Cove has every facility for a great day out, offering a Jamaican-style buffet lunch, a gift shop and tropical drinks from the bar.
Jamaica’s Heavenly Beaches
Negril’s 7-Mile Stretch
Jamaica’s resort central is Negril and its gorgeous, seven-mile (11-kilometer) stretch of soft, ultra-white sand, lapped by the azure Caribbean waters of Jamaica’s west coast. Offshore reefs provide diving and snorkeling playgrounds, and the sunsets here are legendary.
Spending a day on the beach in Negril is paradise at its finest – take a catamaran cruise, play beach volleyball, snack on raw sugar cane or do nothing but sunbathe.
Part of Negril’s charm is its funky mix of high-end resorts and family-run restaurants and small hotels. After a day on the beach, dine on top of the craggy 40-foot (12-meter) cliffs at famous Rick’s Cafe and catch one of those picture-perfect sunsets.
Negril is about 100 miles (160 kilometers) west of Ocho Rios, on the western edge of the island. The town is divided into Long Bay’s beach resorts and West End’s boutique hotels.
The main beach in Ocho Rios, Turtle Beach is a crescent of white sand just off Main Street. It’s not the most idyllic or picturesque beach in Jamaica because of its location in the middle of Ocho Rios, but it’s got turquoise water and soft sand. If you’re in Ocho Rios and don’t want to venture far, it’s a nice spot to relax and soak up the sun.
The beach stretches along the bay’s east side, overlooked by palm trees and high-rise hotels. Take to the water in a kayak or jet ski, or swim in the safe shallow waters lapping the shore. You can hire sun beds and umbrellas for the day from nearby vendors, and order food and drinks. The beach also has changing facilities and showers.
Puerto Seco Beach
Puerto Seco is a long white sand beach on the eastern side of Discovery Bay, a 30-minute drive west of Ocho Rios along the A1 Highway. It has the requisite clear, aqua water you expect to find on a Jamaican beach, shady palm trees and tiny, calm waves, making it a hub for families and a very crowded stretch of sand on weekends and holidays.
A water slide and playground give kids even more to do, and the snack bars and vendors renting out boats, jet skis, sea bikes and other water sport equipment keep everyone else entertained. There are changing facilities, thatch huts for shade and snorkeling gear for hire. It’s a great destination for an afternoon escape from Ocho Rios.
Horseback Riding on the Beach
If there’s anything to make you feel more uninhibited than galloping down a beautiful Jamaican beach on horseback, it must be some experience, because feeling the ocean breeze on your skin as you ride a magnificent horse through crashing Caribbean waves has got to be one of the coolest things you’ll ever do.
The Heritage Beach Horse Ride tour from Ocho Rios gets you out of town and into Jamaica’s splendid hinterland for a ride through old Taino Indian land toward a secluded beach. At the beach, you can strip down to your bathing suit and get back on your horse for a ride through the water, giving you and your animal a much-needed cooling off.
You don’t need to be an expert equestrian to enjoy this activity, and saddles are left on the horses while you’re in the water so you won’t worry about falling off.
- The Viator Travel Team