The port town of Ocho Rios used to survive on the strength of fishing and banana boats, but now it is the daily arrival of cruise ships full of tourists that keeps the coffers full all along the northeast coast of Jamaica. Ocho Rios and its near neighbours Runaway Bay, Discovery Bay and Port Antonio are mainly clusters of holiday resorts and hotels, catering to package-deal holidaymakers and several celebrities who maintain their private retreats in the region.
Ocho Rios cannot claim to provide a genuine Jamaican experience, and is filled with tourist paraphernalia. Because of the need to entertain thousands of fun-seekers, the natural and historical attractions of the area have been commercialised and controlled. There is plenty to see and do in-between bathing and sunning yourself on the magnificent beaches, from climbing up waterfalls to horseback riding through sugar cane plantations, or taking afternoon tea at the former home of British playwright/songwriter, Noel Coward. Although carefully tailored to suit tourist needs, the region is still very beautiful and the good amenities are a bonus.
The surrounding countryside at Ocho Rios (situated in the 'Garden Parish' of St Ann) is lush and tropical, with fern-clad cliffs and breathtaking waterfalls. A self-drive tour of the region to take in the scenery, like a drive through the famous three-mile vine-draped Fern Gully, is very worthwhile.
Ocho Rios is a town dedicated to fun and sun, a crossroads of pleasure and leisure full of surprises and delights in the centre of Jamaica's vacation wonderland.
Near the centre of Ocho Rios lies the popular beach and waterfall attraction of Dunn's River. The waterfall cascades down 600ft (183m), forming cool pools among slippery rocks. A favourite tourist pursuit is to climb to the top of the falls with a guide, enjoying being splashed by the cold, clear mountain water en route. Water shoes are a good idea because the rocks can be very slippery, but people of all ages manage the activity and one can turn back and climb down at any stage.
Alongside the Dunn's River Falls in Ocho Rios is Dolphin Cove, where visitors can swim with a family of bottlenose dolphins. The natural cove is surrounded by four acres of lush tropical rain forest, and is also home to species such as rays, eels, sharks, and tropical birds like the macaw. Swimming with the dolphins is a profound experience that makes it onto many people's bucket lists.
One of Jamaica's most prominent natural attractions, the huge, labyrinthine limestone cave is 5,000 feet (1,524m) long and characterised by stalactites, stalagmites, overhead ceiling pockets, numerous chambers, light holes, and a subterranean lake in its depths.
The caves have played an important role in Jamaican history: the island's original inhabitants, the Arawak Indians, used them for shelter; they were used as a hideout for Spaniards during the British take-over; they were a natural haven for runaway slaves; the Jamaican government used them to store barrels of rum during World War II; and they were even used as a den for smugglers running arms to Cuba. They were also used as a setting for scenes from the 1973 James Bond film,
Located just a short distance from Runaway Bay, the history and natural features makes this a fascinating excursion for adults and children alike.
Firefly cottage, on the cliff above Port Maria, was the holiday retreat of famed British playwright and composer Sir Noel Coward.
Coward died in 1973 and the house is now a national monument which has been preserved almost exactly as Coward left it, complete with two grand pianos on which he composed some famous tunes. Seeing all his belongings and the place he lived and wrote is a big thrill for his fans, but the place is delightful even for those who don't know him because of the spectacular coastal views. Coward is buried in the garden under a simple marble gravestone and there is a statue of him in the grounds.
The cottage is off the beaten track, and the lack of crowds adds to the its charm. There is a small bar at Firefly, so you can enjoy a drink while admiring the view.
The popular Rain Forest Adventures centre (or Mystic Mountain Amusement Park) offers a number of different adventures. Visitors can zip-line through the treetops; take the Sky Explorer chairlift for spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and beaches; enjoy an infinity pool and water slide; and wander through the Butterfly Garden and Hummingbird Garden for a rest from thrills. For a bobsled ride with a difference, Bobsled Jamaica offers visitors a plunge through the rainforests with wonderful twists and turns.
The park is safe and well-maintained with wonderfully friendly and competent staff. All the activities come highly recommended by previous visitors. The centre also has some shops and stalls, a restaurant, and locker facilities for storing bags and valuables. The park offers a great variety of things to do, and visitors to Jamaica should definitely reserve a full day for this fun-filled attraction.
The Coyaba River Garden and Museum offers and interesting way to spend a couple of hours while on holiday in Ocho Rios. The museum - named after the Arawak word for 'paradise' - has exhibitions detailing Jamaica's history, from its original inhabitants, to the colonialists, and eventually independence in 1962.
There is also a reward for those visitors who make the effort to learn about the country's history. The incredible tropical gardens at the museum are a wonderful surprise. A lush, steamy garden complex, dotted with giant banyan and cedar trees, and natural springs and pools filled with koi fish and turtles, the Coyaba Gardens make for a wonderful daytrip for the entire family. The gardens are also home to the gently-cascading Mahoe Falls, which are particularly fun for the kids to climb.
There is also a gift shop on site, where you can buy local products such as carved figurines, coffee and rum.
Renowned for its perfect beaches and accessible coral reefs, the resort of Runaway Bay is an idyllic, laid-back corner of the Caribbean. Situated just to the west of Ocho Rios, the bay gains its name either from Spanish troops fleeing the British, or from runaway African slaves; no one is really sure which.
What is certainly true is that no one is running away from the spot today. The quiet beaches such as Cardiff Hall Beach and Fisherman's Beach have calm, crystal clear water, perfect for snorkeling. With shallow waters and reefs close to shore, they are also perfect for scuba diving, with 'Shallow Reef' a particularly good spot for beginners. Rustic, open-fronted beach bars serve up rum cocktails and a chilled night out with the locals.
The captivating Green Grotto Caves are nearby, ideally situated for an excursion. Also not far is the village of Nine Mile, the former home of Bob Marley.
Ocho Rios is a resort haven with many activities, attractions and excursions to occupy the holidaymakers that flock to its shores.
There is natural splendour galore in the area, with wonderful Caribbean beaches (be sure to visit James Bond Beach!) and some incredible waterfalls, jungle trails, rivers and caves. Some favourites include Dunn's River Falls and the nearby Dolphin Cove, where visitors can enjoy the natural series of waterfalls and pools, and swim with dolphins. The Green Grotto Caves are also very popular and conjure imaginings of the pirates, smugglers and runaway slaves who once utilised them. For thrilling jungle adventures visit the Mystic Mountain Amusement Park for canopy tours of various kinds. And for some fun river tubing venture out to the picturesque White River Valley.
Cultural attractions within Ocho Rios include Columbus Park Museum, a varied and fascinating open-air museum that has a vast collection of cultural and historical exhibits to explore; the Coyaba River Garden and Museum, an interesting history museum located in a gorgeous tropical garden; and the nearby Bob Marley Mausoleum, at the iconic musician's childhood home in Nine Mile Village.
Reggae music fans the world over make the pilgrimage to the famed singer/songwriter's grave site at the village of Nine Mile, where Marley was born. The two-room shack in which he lived is open to view as a sort of museum and memorial, filled with memorabilia, and alongside it is the mausoleum in which Marley and his half-brother are buried.
Visitors can sit on Marley's meditation spot, resting their heads on the rock 'pillow' he mentions in his song lyrics. The site also has a vegetarian restaurant and small shop. Reggae concerts are held at Nine Mile each year on 6 February, Marley's birthday.
Many tourists in Jamaica miss out on the beauty of the rural, inland regions because they tend to stick to the coast, so this excursion is also a great way to explore the lovely scenery around Nine Mile and Mount Zion.
Fans of 007 will not want to miss a visit to James Bond Beach, where the 1962 film launched the career of Sean Connery. The pristine stretch of white sand, surrounded by lush mountains and crystalline waters, is located just 20 minutes from Ochos Rios and is a great place to escape the crowds. A great way to visit is via boat from one of the resorts nearby. Glass-bottomed boat tours from the beach are also a fun way to explore the coastline, with opportunities to see turtles and other marine life.
Those looking for a bit of excitement should catch a 'waverunner' tour past the famous Golden Eye villa, where Ian Fleming wrote the James Bond novels. Visitors can then head to Moonraker Jamaican Bar & Grill for a bite to eat with stunning views and good local food.
Just seven miles (11km) from Ocho Rios, lies the scenic and wonderfully relaxing White River Valley, a green, lush area, with the susurrus sound of the river mixing with birdsong in the air.
Most popular among the activities on offer is a tube ride down the river. There are a few exciting rapids but mostly it is just a relaxing float down the river through stunning scenery. It's a very safe excursion and suitable for all ages making it a great family activity. Adventurous tourists can also enjoy zip-lining, forest walks, bird-watching and more in the valley. On Tuesday and Sunday nights, visitors can sign up for an 'Exotic Night on the White River', where flaming torches create the perfect ambience for a romantic dinner by the riverside.
The White River Valley is also home to a Reggae Park, predictably popular among local music enthusiasts.
No direct flights from Heathrow to this Destination