My love affair with the Caribbean is no secret, and it was only a matter of time before I found myself booking a British Airways flight to Jamaica for a 5-day getaway. There is so much to love about the Caribbean, from the food to the waterfalls and, most importantly, the friendliness of the locals who take such pride in their islands. Whilst the Caribbean islands have many similarities, each of them have their own distinct personalities, and these characteristics come out through all the wonderful things travellers are able to experience whilst visiting. Jamaica is no exception!
Five days is an incredibly short time for a Jamaican holiday, and I would highly recommend spending two weeks travelling across the country. If, however, like me, you are pressed for time but still want to experience Jamaica for yourself, you might want to consider Ocho Rios. There are plenty of things to do in Ocho Rios that will keep you entertained for a few days, whilst showing off the beauty of the island and allowing time to relax in a hammock on the beach.
If you already know that you want to travel to Jamaica, you might also want to read about some critical information you need to know before flying to Kingston.
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14 Things to Do in Ocho Rios
- 14 Things to Do in Ocho Rios
- Dunn’s River Falls
- Fern Gully Rain Forest
- The Blue Hole
- Rainforest Adventures at Mystic Mountain
- Shaw Park Gardens
- Turtle River Falls and Gardens
- Sun Valley Plantation
- The Nine Mile Tour
- The Hawksbill Turtle Release
- Luminous Lagoon
- Green Grotto Caves
- River Rafting & Tubing on White River
- James Bond Beach
Dunn’s River Falls
Dunn’s River Falls are one of the most famous waterfalls in Jamaica and for good reason. It is believed to be the site of the famous battle of “Las Chorreras”, fought in 1657 between the Spanish and the English for possession of the island. The Spaniards called the area “Las Chorreras”, which means “the waterfalls or the springs”. 180 metres of terraced limestone cascades form the Dunn’s River Falls and can be climbed all the way to the top with the help of a guide. The waterfall is surrounded by a large park which is also worth walking around.
At the park you’ll find the stalls of many vendors selling local souvenirs. Note that these guys are master sellers and they will pull you in. It’s a little hard to avoid them though as the stalls are lined up on the exit route.
A few tips for all those planning to visit, I strongly recommend you buy and wear water shoes (like the ones I’m wearing in the picture below). You can pick these up for really cheap and if you want to walk on the rocky ground under the waterfall, they are a must. If taking your camera or mobile phone (which is highly recommended!) make sure they are in waterproof casing as they will very likely get wet. These are sold just outside the entrance to Dunn’s River Falls, but as is typical in these situations, these are somewhat overpriced.
Lastly, its worth pointing out that cruise ships often stop at the port, and when they do, the Dunn’s River Falls become swamped with visiting tourists from the cruise ships. This could detract a little from the experience, so you might want to plan your visit around them. Your hotel concierge may be able to provide further information on the best time to visit during your trip.
Entrance to the park costs about $15, and do be sure to take cash. Lastly, please respect the signs and do not carve your name, birthday, shoe size, etc into the rocks. It’s such a pointless action yet I saw so many doing it. Let’s respect the places we visit!
Fern Gully Rain Forest
Fern Gully offers a beautifully lush and scenic drive through three miles of rainforest plants, right through the heart of Jamaica. Thanks to the trees and ferns that arch over the road and provide the equivalent of a rainforest canopy, it has very much become a tourist attraction in itself. Located approximately 25 minutes away by car from downtown Ocho Rios, many tourists prefer to actually walk the route, to really take in the richness and density of the greenery. Along the way, you might want to stop at some of the roadside stalls to purchase carved wood souvenirs.
The Blue Hole
Not far away from the Fern Gully is the Blue Hole (also called Island Gully Falls or the Secret Falls), quite appropriately named given that it’s a collection of turquoise pools and hidden waterfalls, tucked away in the mountains. If you’re brave enough, you can jump from a series of points, guided by the staff. The staff are legendary – they know these waterfalls so well that they walk around the rocks and water like they are walking around their bedroom.
As with Dunn River Falls, be sure to bring cash for entrance, a waterproof camera case and your water shoes for your own safety. I recommend visiting in the morning before it gets too overcrowded!
Rainforest Adventures at Mystic Mountain
If you are an adrenaline lover or are travelling with a young family, Rainforest Adventures will be right up your alley. Located just a 2 minute drive away from Dunn’s River Falls, Rainforest Adventures offers multiple activities that can be enjoyed by travellers of all ages. From ascending the mountain whilst viewing the lush rainforest to enjoying the panoramic views of Ocho Rios’s skyline, before descending with a single-rider roller coaster or zipline. Guided nature walks are also on offer, along with access to the infinity pool.
Shaw Park Gardens
Shaw Park Gardens are multilevel tiered botanical gardens spanning across 25 acres, and offer exceptional panoramic views of Ocho Rios and the Caribbean Sea. Local guides are available for visitors wanting to learn more about the gardens and the wildlife that live there, including Jamaica’s national bird, the Doctor Bird. A stroll around the gardens will reveal over 600 species of plants, a large cascading waterfall, as well as flower gardens and picture-perfect picnic spots. Entrance to the park is $10.
Turtle River Falls and Gardens
Walk 10 minutes north on Eden Bower Road from Shaw Park Garden and you’ll come across Turtle River Falls and Gardens. Nature lovers should consider stopping to visit here too, if looking to see even more waterfalls, plants and exotic birds. It’s not uncommon to see visitors feeding these birds from outstretched arms! Be sure to pack a swimsuit as many choose to take a dip in one of the small ponds. Entrance fee to Turtle River Falls is also $10. If short on time though, it might be best to pick one of the two parks above and explore without feeling rushed.
Sun Valley Plantation
Sun Valley is a working plantation and was one of the most interesting tours I have been on. Once you arrive, you’ll be greeted by the present day owners that will walk you through the story of the property. You’ll learn all about the tropical fruits and plants, the spices used in Jamaican cooking and maybe even taste some of the exotic fruits. If you are interested in learning about local produce and how it is grown, then I definitely recommend that you check this out!
The Nine Mile Tour
It goes without saying, Nine Mile is naturally going to make the list of the top things to do in Ocho Rios. Nine Mile is a small, sleepy village located in the mountains of St. Ann parish, that just so happens to be the birth place and final resting place of legendary Bob Marley. Each year, thousands of fans and tourists alike visit Nine Mile to pay homage to the infamous King of Reggae.
The best way to learn all about Bob Marley’s everyday life and music is to book a Nine Mile Tour that will take you to his birthplace, house, and mausoleum. As expected, Nine Mile has become a tourist hotspot. So much so in fact, that our Jamaican driver recommended we give it a miss if only staying in Ocho Rios for a short period of time. Whether this is advice you wish to follow is totally down to personal preference. I admit that I wish I had been to see it, and definitely plan to visit the next time I find myself in Jamaica.
The Hawksbill Turtle Release
Watching the newly hatched turtles being released back into the sea was an incredible experience and I could not recommend it more. Mel Tennant, the organiser of this tour, works tirelessly to save the turtles from being illegally poached – unfortunately, there is a long-standing tradition that eating the turtle eggs has health benefits. After moving to Jamaica in 2003, Mel purchased a seaside home not too far away from Ocho Rios. He soon discovered that each year, sea turtles came ashore in front of his house to lay their nests of between 100 and 240 eggs. Once they hatch, Mel and his team guide them from the nest to the water.
You’ll get to participate in cleaning the sea turtles from sand after they hatch and line them up so that they can begin their journey back to the sea, not to be seen again for another 20 years. It was one of those experiences where you cannot believe what you are taking part in. The little baby sea turtles were so small and even as I write this now, I can’t help but wonder where the sea turtle I held and washed is now.
Note that turtle releases tend to happen between the months of October and December.
The Luminous Lagoon is one of the most surreal things anyone could experience – a phenomenon that can only be seen in four places around the world: Jamaica, Puerto Rico, The Bahamas and Indonesia. They say that Luminous Lagoon is the largest and brightest of all four. The drive from Ocho Rios to Falmouth (where the Luminous Lagoon is situated) takes around 1 hour, or around 40 minutes if driving in from Montego Bay. It’s a pretty short tour (about 45 minutes) – shorter than the ride from our hotel in Ocho Rios in fact – but oh so worth it!
You can’t really see it from the images as they are slightly blurry, but there I am swimming amongst fish that glow in the dark. I admit that is a pretty basic way of explaining it. What actually happens is that the millions of dinoflagellates that live in the lagoon emit light when disturbed, creating that eerie electric blue glow that you see in the pictures. Totally jaw-dropping!
Green Grotto Caves
The Green Grotto Caves are Jamaica’s well-known maze of limestone caves located in Falmouth – the same town as the Luminous Lagoon. The caves have quite an noteworthy history, once used as a shelter by native Arawak Indians, and later as a hiding place for escaped slaves and smugglers. In more recent times, the caves have been used as a nightclub, as well as a shooting location for a James Bond movie! When not acting as a backdrop for blockbusters, the Green Grotto Caves are a quiet home to bats and snakes. For those interested in learning more, plenty of tours are available!
River Rafting & Tubing on White River
If you’re a nature lover looking for an adventure where you can relax and take in the beauty of Jamaica’s tropical scenery, river rafting or tubing down the White River is for you. White River is located closer to the coast and drains into the sea, meaning it’s about a 30 minute drive from downtown Ocho Rios. Despite the drive, it is worth checking out as the consistency of the river flow stands out above other similar attractions on the island. Whether you opt for river rafting or river tubing, this is a calming and serene trip where nature lovers can admire the lush scenery and wildlife that call the area their home.
There are plenty of tours available online, some including both river rafting and river tubing, along with a dip in those clear waters!
Would you believe that Firefly was once the former lookout for pirate Henry Morgan? Whilst the real life swashbuckling tales are very much a thing of the past, this hilltop property was more recently the home of a writer of tales, playwright Sir Noel Coward. Despite his death in 1973, photos, paintings and pianos are still very much in place. Even if not interested in pirates or plays, Firefly comes highly recommended, and offers a wonderful view of the coast from one of the best vantage points on the island.
For those that are more interested in the history of the property, a guide can be booked for further insight into the life of Sir Noel Coward and Henry Morgan.
James Bond Beach
The island of Jamaica has strong connections to the James Bond empire. Not only was it the backdrop for a few of the James Bond movies, but it was also home to the creator of the 007 series, Ian Fleming. That said, James Bond Beach is not listed here because it has some connections to the movies – in fact the name was given to the beach by the Jamaican Tourist Board. It is listed here as the beach is absolutely stunning, with crystal clear waters, views of the mountains of St Mary and brightly painted changing rooms.
For visitors that are more interested to learn about the 007 side of things, the home of Ian Fleming (aptly named Goldeneye) is located adjacent to James Bond Beach. The property itself has its own illustrious history, boasting owners that include Bob Marley, and presently Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records. Under the ownership of Chris Blackwell, the property has slowly been converted into a resort.
A few final notes worth mentioning. During our time in Ocho Rios, we had met a driver through our hotel and he kindly helped us to organise trips and tours for the whole of our stay. If not planning from beforehand, drivers and tours can always be booked through your all-inclusive resort, but the sad reality is that these are very often overpriced and only a fraction of the ticket price trickles down to the locals. If you have booked a driver, ask them about what tours they recommend. They will be more than grateful that you are giving them the opportunity to earn money directly!
A second point regarding Dolphin Cove, as it is an attraction featured on most Ocho Rios itineraries. Try to avoid this if you can – it has been documented that the Dolphin Cove has turned to breeding the dolphins in-house as it is no longer possible to get dolphins from the wild. The dolphins bred here will unfortunately live a captive life, and will not be equipped with the skills to ever live back in the wild. As cute as it may look to capture a picture sharing a kiss with a dolphin, this is not something to endorse.
Have you been to Ocho Rios or just Jamaica in general? I’d love to hear about your favourite sites to see and travel tips! Drop them in the comments!
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