Located approximately halfway between the popular ports of Montego Bay and Ocho Rios on Jamaica’s north coast, Falmouth opened its cruise port back in 2011.
Rich with Georgian architecture, the town itself has long held historical importance in Jamaica and was even considered the “Paris of Jamaica” during the sugar heydays of the 1700s. And while that shine wore off along with the sugar trade, there are still some beautiful historic buildings to be seen. That said, most cruisers head out from Falmouth for sightseeing along the coast and in the lush surrounding hills. Many tour operators will pick you up at the port, but if you decide to get a taxi on your own, make sure the car’s license plate has a red section displaying PP or PPV (public passenger vehicle), denoting it’s a licensed taxi. Also, since most Jamaican taxis are not metered, you’ll want to agree on the fare in advance.
Bypass the port’s slew of tourist stalls for some truly fine works of art on display and for sale at the Gallery of West Indian Art, a fixture since the 1960s. You can take a taxi or book an outing with Barrett Adventures to visit the gallery, which lies on the western outskirts of Montego Bay, about 45 minutes from Falmouth. Among the original paintings and giclee prints by Jamaican artists, Cuban and Haitian artists are also well represented.
Horseback riding is a popular tourist excursion in Jamaica. And the grounds of the Braco Great House — just 15 minutes from the cruise pier in Falmouth — are among the island’s prettiest places to go riding. Formerly used for growing sugar cane and raising cattle, the estate now functions as a pimento leaf oil factory and riding grounds. Two-hour rides take you from the Braco Stables into the surrounding countryside, where you’ll even pass an abandoned airstrip built during WWII. The ride concludes at a beautiful private beach, where the horses are stripped of their saddles so you can ride bareback atop them into the clear Caribbean Sea.
Spot exotic musical instruments, rare books from the 17th century and Jamaican antiques during 45-minute tours of Greenwood Great House a former sugar plantation that was built in 1800 and is located about 15 minutes west of Falmouth. The house was once owned by the family of famous English poet Elizabeth Barrett-Browning, and it is now a classified Jamaican national monument. It may not be as well known as Rose Hall Great House, but the historic home is extremely atmospheric and a slice of 19th-century life.
A short taxi ride of less than 10 minutes from the cruise port in Falmouth lands you in the immaculately manicured grounds of all-inclusive resort Royalton White Sands Montego Bay. And $110 ($55 for kids ages 2 to 12) buys you a day pass to make the most of the excellent food and cocktails, pools, kids’ water park and water sports, such as Hobie cat and kayak rentals. The beach here has the powderiest of sands. And the clarity of the water will surely fulfill your Caribbean fantasies.
The nicest public beach in Trelawny Parish, Burwood Beach — less than 10 minutes by taxi from the Falmouth cruise port — is a pretty, safe and clean spot to enjoy the sun and sea during your port call. Lifeguards are on duty from morning to afternoon, and there’s a roped-off area in which you can swim to be sure you’re within the guarded zone. You can rent lounge chairs, and there are palapas for scoring some shade, too. Restrooms and showers for rinsing off are also available on-site. And the calm water, which stays waist-high for quite a ways out, is perfect for families with young children. Count on vendors walking by trying to sell you all manner of food, souvenirs and drinks; a simple “No, thank you,” will keep them moving along if you’re not interested.
It’s far from the greatest zoo you’ve been to, but this small facility within a few minutes of the cruise port delights children, in particular, with its natural mangrove habitat and crocodile sightings. Spend a few hours at Jamaica Swamp Safari Village admiring the feathered, furred and scaly residents, including American crocodiles, Jamaican boas, iguanas, white-faced capuchin monkeys, barn owls and the rarely seen Jamaican coney (a forest-dwelling rodent). Kids love the chance to hold a baby crocodile.
There’s nothing intimidating about the class one and two rapids you’ll navigate along the Rio Bueno River during fun rafting excursions just 20 minutes from the Falmouth cruise port. The tours last less than two hours and start with a 10-minute walk through the rain forest to the departure point. There are stops to enjoy a rope swing and swim in the cool water. And eventually you’ll paddle from the river right into the ocean, where the tour wraps up with a stop at a private beach on Bengal Bay and relaxing time to swim or enjoy a drink at the bamboo bar.
If shopping is your main goal during a port of call in Falmouth, you’re best off bypassing the touristy shops at the purpose-built port and hailing a taxi to go about 30 minutes away to The Shoppes at Rose Hall in Montego Bay instead. The 28 stores in the modern indoor-outdoor mall here are a good mix of upscale souvenir shops, jewelry boutiques, clothing stores and specialty food and beverage stores where you can buy things such as Cuban cigars, Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee and rum.
There’s nothing fancy about Far Out Fish Hut, a roadside, open-air shack about 10 minutes by taxi from Falmouth. But if you like your seafood flopping fresh, you’ll love the simple menu here. Choose from fresh-caught fish (parrot fish and snapper are almost always on the menu), and see them scaled and filleted before your eyes, seasoned and wrapped in foil and slapped on the grill. Enjoy the sea views while you wait to feast; a conch or fish soup should hold you over during the wait if you’re particularly hungry. Picnic tables set in the sand are the perfect casual setting for such a simple and delicious feast.
It’s a good 75-minute ride from Falmouth to Mayfield Falls, but Barrett Adventures makes the logistics easy, picking you up right off the ship in Falmouth for the excursion. You’re in for a far less touristy experience here than at the better-known Dunn’s River Falls, where many of your fellow ship passengers will no doubt be bound. You’ll climb the waterfalls, stopping in rushing pools for a natural massage, and take some time to float along the nearby Yardy River at a leisurely pace in a tube during a total of three hours of water fun. On the way back to port, there’s a stop for jerk chicken.