Ocho Rios, Jamaica’s third-largest town, sits on the north coast an hour or so’s drive east of Montego Bay. Ochi, as the locals call it, is not as popular as it once was with tourists, but is still a thriving town with plenty going on. Fewer cruise ships land here these days because they mostly go into Falmouth, but enough come to keep the tourist trade going. You’ll find tourists wandering around freely, relaxed and happy. Although with ships the size of housing estates, the queues can border on the ridiculous. So its worth timing your visit with a ship departure time and if the town sometimes feels like a circus it’s because tourists (including Jamaicans) flock here for some of the most beautiful and natural attractions in Jamaica.This list covers attractions beyond Ocho Rios – because everyone loves being on the road in Jamaica.
1. Dunn’s River Falls
Apparently Jamaica’s top attraction but only your God can help you if you arrive at the same time as 3000 passengers from one of the cruise ships. If you can actually manoeuvre the tourists and make it in, climbing up the natural tiers of limestone that step down 180m into small pools is the easy bit. For the record, it’s much more enjoyable If you freestyle and ditch the frankly weird hand-holding human chains that the tourists form. It’s also quicker to go your own way as the human chains move at a snail’s pace and pause frequently for photos and general larking about. The guides do a great job of keeping everyone entertained and safe, and if you forget your water shoes, just go barefoot. I did. I didn’t slip or catch a verruca. Win. The climb/walk/swim is the closest you’ll come to feeling like a migrating salmon, but the good news is there’s no bears trying eat you! Only hustlers with market stalls. Don’t be scared of the hustlers – they’re organised into stalls lining the exit path. Enjoy the banter- they won’t bite and, if you ask me, not enough people own wooden carvings of men with gigantic cocks.
Once the home of playwright Sir Noël Coward, who was preceded at this site by pirate Sir Henry Morgan (now of rum fame). It’s a bumpy ride to firefly and probably by the time you read this, the roads will be even more pot-holed. The guide will magically appear and take you through the house giving a potted history of Coward’s time in Jamaica. You’ll pass a table where the queen mum had lunch. There are paintings and photos of many of Coward’s famous friends about the house. If you’re musically inclined, you could bash out mad dogs and Englishmen on his piano, although i suspect it will need tuning. His lovely pineapple bed is still in place in the surprisingly modest bedroom from where the guide will usher you into his en-suite to happily show you the shower where he suffered his fatal heart attack. Coward lies buried beneath a plain white marble slab on the wide lawn. The views are spectacular – sweeping across the bay and out to sea. It’s no wonder Sir Henry Morgan built his pirate lookout here – this is an added bonus on the tour. The lookout contains the bar and appropriately enough for a pirates den, is where the guide takes your money from you at the end of the tour (although its very reasonably priced, and she doesn’t have a cutlass).
3. New Seville Great House & Heritage Park
Less than 1km west of present-day St Ann’s, marks the site of the first Spanish capital on the island – Sevilla la Nueva – and one of the first Spanish settlements in the New World. Jamaica was discovered by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the New World when he landed on the north coast on May 5, 1494, at Santa Gloria, present day St. Ann’s Bay. The site has been occupied since prehistoric times, and includes the archaeological remains of the Taino village of Maima; the 16th century Spanish settlement; and the post-1655 British sugar plantation known as New Seville. The encounter, co-existence, and merging of Taino, Europeans and Africans at this site was the initiation of the racial and cultural diversity that characterizes the current Jamaican demography and gives credence to the National Mono, Out of Many, One People. Oh not many people know that It’s easy to drive past it and miss the slightly faded signage – it’s on the left if you’re coming from Ochi, look out for the Chukka sign and equestrian center as across the road.
4. Mystic Mountain
The most popular attraction after all the other most popular attractions in Ocho Rios and probably the most expensive. It features a series of zip lines crisscrossing the forest, as well as the signature ‘bobsled’ ride through the dense foliage. For your own sanity and enjoyment: arrive before the cruise ship hoards. Local friends tell us Mystic Mountain is one of those places they all save up to take their children at least once in their childhood – expensive, but what price happy memories?
5. Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon (seven miles east of Port Antonio), Jamaica.
The Blue Lagoon is perhaps one of the the most beautiful natural spots in Jamaica. Not only is it the place that launched Brooke Shields’ movie career but Cocktail (Tom Cruise) was filmed on a beach nearby. Though at the time of writing, I think the beach and the bar are no more. The Blue Lagoon is perhaps one of the the most beautiful natural spots in Jamaica. The 55m-deep ‘Blue Hole’ (as it is known locally) opens to the sea through a narrow funnel, but is fed by freshwater springs that come in at about a depth of 40m. Its breathtaking and very cold and almost like swimming in a freshwater lake. If that doesn’t tickle your fancy take a boat ride with the lovely Captain Fox, wherever you want to go in his boat – he’ll take you.
6. Goldeneye Estate
OK, so technically not Ochi but only 10 miles away, Goldeneye is the original name of James Bond novelist Ian Fleming’s estate on Oracabessa bay. Flemming purchased land adjacent to the renowned Golden Clouds estate in 1946 and built his home on the edge of a cliff overlooking a private beach. If there is paradise, it’s probably close to this. The good news is you don’t need to cash in your life savings and sell your grandma to stay here, just call ahead and make a lunch or dinner reservation. This is one the best kept secrets in Jamaica and you’ll be channelling your inner peace within minutes of arriving. This place sometimes completely booked out by Hollywood stars, so time your visit well.
7. Jamaica Inn
If wrestling queues of tourists and downing shots in Margaritaville isn’t your bag, then lucky for you Ochi has something for everyone. If you prefer your cocktails served at your lounger, whilst you admire the quietness of the beach, then Jamaica Inn is for you. There is also a croquet lawn, pétanque, a spa, and afternoon tea is served daily at 4pm. With only 48 rooms and suites, you’ll never have to search too far for some peace and quiet. This is one of my favourite spots in Jamaica; truly peaceful.
8. San-San Beach
This is adjacent to the Blue Lagoon and so is an hour east of Ochi. For some reason San-San gets overlooked and visitors head to the crowded Frenchman’s Cove instead (just around the headland). I’m still not sure why. San-San, to me anyway, seems a nicer, cleaner, bigger and quieter place and plus ordering food doesn’t involve a 3 month wait. In addition the water is nicer. You’ll also find the Horse Man (offering beach rides on beautiful horses) and Captain Fox loitering around here too. Make Captain Fox’s day and let him take you out on his boat. It’s a nice way of seeing the Blue Lagoon and you get to look into the millionaire waterfront villas that line the approach – take your camera and pretend to be a paparazzi.
San San Beach, located just off the A4 (a couple of minutes past Frenchman’s Cove)Portland, Jamaica.
If you’re bored of jerk chicken and fried breadfruit (how?!!) or the food from your all inclusive hotel head to Toscanini – Jamaica’s favorite—and most authentic—Italian restaurant. It’s in a lovely Methodist manse with wood filigree railings on the veranda and white linen tablecloths. The menu manages to be both totally Italian yet filled with nods to local, fresh ingredients.
Enjoy your time in this lovely part of Jamaica. If you’re staying in one of the big hotels, be sure to venture out for the day and sample some of the local highlights.