Cruising to Montego Bay — Jamaica’s second-largest city, located on the sunny northern coast — brings many adventures. Spend your time ashore exploring a historical great house or hotel, tubing down a refreshing river or just relaxing on one of the island’s iconic beaches.
Montego Bay’s main shopping and walking drag, the Hip Strip, can be a hectic place full of vendors wanting to hawk you tacky T-shirts or braid your hair. So take a break from it at beautiful Doctor’s Cave Bathing Club right in the middle of the action but a world apart. You’ll pay just $5 per person to enjoy the private beach for the day, with umbrellas and beach chairs available for rent (or, better yet, snag a free sandy spot in the shade of a palm tree). There are lifeguards on duty, and the warm water is usually as calm as a lake and crystal clear. The Sand Bar here is a sweet spot for a light snack or a colorful Bob Marley cocktail.
Jamaica’s lush rainforests and jungles are rich with birdlife. And one of the best spots to get up close and personal with the island’s famous hummingbirds is at the Rocklands Bird Sanctuary, located up in the hills near the town of Anchovy, about 20 minutes from the port by taxi. Caretakers will sprinkle millet into your lap and show you how to properly hold out a tiny bottle of sugar water to attract the winged beauties. It’s not unusual to see up to 15 species of birds here. Having a hummingbird hover within inches of your face to get a sugar fix from the bottle is an unforgettable experience. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see Jamaica’s national bird — the spectacular doctor bird — here, too.
Jamaica’s colonial-era history comes alive during fascinating day tours of Rose Hall Great House, which you can reach by taxi from the port in about 30 minutes. The immaculately restored Georgian mansion dates to 1770 and is among the most beautiful examples of a great house in all of the West Indies. It once operated as a thriving sugar plantation, but the house’s fame these days derives from the ghostly hauntings that supposedly happen here at the hands of a former (and very nasty) resident known as the White Witch. You’ll hear that story and more during tours inside the house and around its gorgeous grounds.
“Look, it’s a sea horse!” shouts a kid watching a rider on one of Chukka’s Horseback Ride ‘n Swim tours take his horse for a dip in Sandy Bay. Riding your steed into the clear blue Caribbean Sea is the final highlight of these roughly two-hour tours that will see you clip-clopping through a cricket field and up into the Jamaican backcountry to admire bamboo groves and bright-orange, flamboyant trees. Chukka’s guides are very knowledgeable and impart all kinds of info about Jamaica’s natural and colonial history as you enjoy the ride. There’s no experience needed to participate, and Sandy Bay is about 30 minutes from the cruise port.
If you prefer to spend your time in port relaxing at a beautiful beach and enjoying all-inclusive food and drinks, then purchasing a day pass at one of Montego Bay’s many resorts is the way to go.
Among the best places to indulge if you’re traveling sans kids is the honeymooner’s favorite: Sandal’s Montego Bay. With four swimming pools and a chilled-out, adults-only vibe, the resort promises a fun day. In addition to food and drinks and access to the gorgeous private beach here, you can also make use of sea kayaks and snorkeling equipment during your visit.
There are many places around Montego Bay to try spicy jerk chicken, one of Jamaica’s most treasured dishes. Along the Hip Strip (just a 10-minute drive from the cruise port), you can try the versions at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville Montego Bay or the Pork Pit. And a little further afield (heading east toward Falmouth from the cruise port for about 20 minutes), Scotchie’s is a long-standing favorite jerk stop, where the meat comes served with traditional sides such as callaloo and fried dumplings called Johnny cakes.
For a real local’s beach tip, visit Sunset Beach, a no-entry-fee-required beach at the east end of the Hip Strip in Montego Bay. Jamaicans prefer to swim here in the early mornings, when the water is dead calm and before the sun gets too scorching. But as the name would lead you to believe, sunsets are a time of beauty here, too. This small beach, also known as Buccaneer Beach, is located very close to the Sandals Carlyle. In case you have trouble finding it on your own, just ask any local; they’ll know it, for sure!
Experiencing the seas aboard a massive cruise ship is a far cry from a small sailboat’s perspective on Jamaica’s pretty coastline around Montego Bay. And you can enjoy the latter during short trips aboard the 40-foot sailboat, Lark, with Barrett Adventures. Captain Loxley or Carolyn Barrett will show you the ropes (and sails) as you blow along the coast, perhaps stopping at a reef to snorkel, too, if your onshore leave time allows.
For a dip that’s decidedly more refreshing (and cooler) than the balmy Caribbean Sea, spend an hour tubing along the Martha Brae River with Chukka tours in Falmouth (about a 45-minute drive from the port in Montego Bay). Chukka’s river tubing safaris can be combined with other activities here, such as zip lining and ATV tours. But when your time on land is limited, the short hour-long tubing adventures that take you splashing through historic aqueducts on the grounds of a former sugar plantation are the way to go.
Kings, queens, presidents and their ilk have all stayed at the spectacular Half Moon resort, just a 15-minute taxi ride from the cruise port. And it’s well worth the $40 fee for a day pass to enjoy the beautiful beach and views on the property’s lush 400 acres. There are two miles of beaches to explore here. And while you have to pay extra to dine and drink (the resort is not all-inclusive), the on-site restaurants are top-notch and offer some excellent seafood, jerk and Italian fare.