On Jamaica’s wild and beautiful north coast, you can float downriver on a bamboo raft, climb up a waterfall, and even see Bob Marley’s childhood home.
Here are the top 10 things to do in Ocho Rios that will give you a real Jamaican vacation.
This underground cave system is one of Jamaica’s most intriguing natural features, and it is quite different from the lush jungle foliage and water features around it. While leading visitors down rough-hewn stone steps that descend a few stories below sea level, a guide provides historical narrative about the caves and points out limestone formations and other features.
Movie buffs recognize the pools at the bottom of the public-access area as a film location for Live and Let Die (James Bond’s nemesis had his underground lair here). But unlike the movie, there’s no swimming allowed. Note: Even though the tour is relatively short (taking under an hour to go down to the pools and back up to the surface), you may want to avoid it if you’re claustrophobic. It’s quite hot, and bats are all around.
At most waterfall landmarks, you just admire from a distance. At the iconic spring-fed Dunn’s River Falls, you actually get into the water and climb to the top of the terraced falls.
It’s slippery and physically demanding but worthwhile because of the jungle-like vegetation on both side of the falls and the lagoon swimming along the way. Group excursion guests tend to wish they had more time here to relax once they reach the top. Consider splurging on a semi-private tour so you can set your own pace and not feel crowded. If you go on your own, you can take as long as you want to climb the falls, but if you’re there with a cruise line-led group, you typically spend 60 to 90 minutes climbing Dunn’s River Falls. Just keep your ship’s departure time in mind.
The Jamaican bobsled team is more than just a movie fantasy. It’s a real athletic team that competes internationally — including in the Olympics. And there’s a ride based on it at Rainforest Adventures Mystic Mountain. Aside from this adrenaline-spiking downhill experience, the park also offers a zip line canopy tour, “Sky Explorer” sightseeing chairlift and a pool/waterslide area.
If you have any interest in Bob Marley’s music or legacy, book an excursion to the village of Nine Mile, where he was born. You can continue on foot to the top of Mt. Zion to see his favorite meditation spot and final resting place. There are many versions of a Bob Marley experience, ranging from an intimate semi-private tour to a party bus. Ganja (marijuana) consumption is by no means mandatory, but it’s everywhere when you get to Nine Mile, so don’t bring children if you don’t want them around it.
Not to be confused with tubing or whitewater rafting, this is the quintessential Jamaican chillax experience of floating on a bamboo raft down a very mellow stretch of river. Think Red Stripe, reggae music, jungle scenery and river-swimming when you get overheated.
Raft floats are offered on both Martha Brae River and White River through Marvyn’s Paradise Tours and the cruise lines. Ocho Rios Tour services the White River and has two-person rafts that create a more intimate experience than those of the group excursions.
If you want the waterfall-climbing experience of Dunn’s River Falls without the crowds, you’ll appreciate the off-the-beaten-path charm of Konoko Falls. Major cruise lines are increasingly offering it as an alternative waterfall climb — sometimes in tandem with a Fern Gully drive tour or an activity at Mystic Mountain. It’s beautiful and peaceful, surrounded by jungle foliage, but in a botanical garden setting that doesn’t feel too wild or overgrown. You’ll find two natural pools on the way up and a bar at the top. Because the falls are less crowded and the natural terraced “steps” shallower than Dunn’s River, it’s a less-stressful climb.
Zip line through the jungle canopy and over a valley at an exhilarating speed. This is a memorable way to sightsee; sometimes you’re far above the scenery and other times whooshing through the middle of it — with absolutely no barrier between you and nature. The Chukka canopy tour is popular with cruisers, especially packages that also include Dunn’s River Falls. Tip: You’ll need to hold on to the rope the entire time you’re in the air, so consider bringing a GoPro that attaches to your helmet for the best video and photos of your experience.
Thundering waterfalls, dense rainforests and foggy mountains provide most of the adventurous outdoor activities, but Ochi's beaches attract those who just want to kick back and relax.
A trip to Bamboo Beach Club is available as a ship shore excursion or on your own. This is a great option if you're after an entertainment-type all-inclusive beach getaway. Cultural dancers, reggae musicians and singers entertain while you sip on unlimited rum drinks and Jamaican beer (there's lemonade, too.) There's also plenty of Jamaican-style food that is included as part of your admission fee. The location itself is a stunner and the all-inclusive amenities make it a breeze to simply relax and enjoy the day.
A “Beach Break” is that do-nothing excursion that somehow never gets old. If you’d rather not do a resort pass — head for the small but well-outfitted Mahogany beach instead.
Besides sunbathing and drinking rum punch, visitors can Jet Ski, snorkel, go on a banana boat ride, or go kayaking for a fee. A lot of cruise partners offer a Mahogany Beach stop as part of a larger excursion itinerary (for example, Cool Runnings catamaran tours pick up there), but people who just want a beach outing will often hire a private guide/driver or get a taxi. The drive time is about 20 minutes each way.
A catamaran tour is a totally different experience than the claustrophobic van or bus tour. Get out on an open-air boat, feel the wind in your hair, sway to the reggae and take in the clear blue of the Caribbean. This is a GREAT excursion if the weather’s nice.
The most popular catamaran itinerary goes down to Dunn’s River Falls, with a snorkeling stop on the way and a guided climb up the falls once you arrive. On the way back, the bar opens for unlimited Red Stripes and rum drinks, and the party atmosphere cranks up along with the music. Cool Runnings is a popular cruise partner — also known for its straight-up “party boat” sunset sailings and romantic dinner cruises.