Compared to my other travels, I’ve spent a decent amount of time in Jamaica. The island of Jamaica is larger than many others in the Caribbean and there are several areas which are ideal for tourists. The main tourist areas are: Montego Bay, Negril, and Ocho Rios. Tourists also may choose to stay on the south side of the island in places that are more secluded.
In terms of cruising, there are also 3 cruise ports in Jamaica, all on the north side of the island: Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, and Falmouth. All of my our cruises (with Carnival) have always docked at Montego Bay.
Since Jamaica is a large island, the shore excursions and activities that you want to take, largely depend on where you are staying or where your cruise ship docks. I have not had the experience of taking a shore excursion in Jamaica (This was the cruise where Brian had a newly sprained ankle, so we just stayed in port), all of my activities and tours were completed when I stayed on the island for 4 night stays.
- 1 Unique to Jamaica (10 Things to do in Jamaica):
- 2 Adventures on the Island of Jamaica:
- 3 Planning Your Trip to Jamaica:
- 4 Cruising to Jamaica – Shore Excursions:
- 5 Next time I visit Jamaica:
- 6 Transportation on the Island of Jamaica:
- 7 Lodging in Jamaica:
- 8 Restaurants/ Meals & Drinks on the Island of Jamaica:
- 9 Tips/ Things to Know before visiting Jamaica:
- 10 Helpful Things to Pack for a Trip to Jamaica:
- 11 My Time Spent on the Island of Jamaica:
Unique to Jamaica (10 Things to do in Jamaica):
There are lots of unique things that you can do in Jamaica (in addition to sitting on the beach or by the pool!). Below is a list of the 10 that I believe are the most unique:
- Climb down Dunns River Falls
- Visit Rick’s Cafe at sunset and see the cliff divers
- Go swimming in the bio-luminescent lagoon (aka, “Glistening Waters”)
- Swing from a rope at YS Falls
- Visit Dolphin Cove and swim with the dolphins
- Ride in a bobsled
- Visit the Pelican Bar in the middle of the ocean
- Go on an eco tour of the Black River
- Eat jerk chicken
- Visit 4 Margaritavilles
Adventures on the Island of Jamaica:
Dunn’s River Falls
My favorite memory from Jamaica was my family climbing up Dunn’s River Falls. This waterfall is unlike most waterfalls that you are used to because it is actually a bunch of mini falls all grouped together in a line. You can book your ticket for Dunn’s River Falls directly from their website and it’s only about a 20 minute taxi ride from Ocho Rios. Or you can visit the falls through a cruise ship shore excursion.
Once you arrive at the Falls a guide takes you all the way to the bottom of the falls near the beach and from there you start your climb up. The total climb doesn’t take that long, maybe an hour or so depending on how much you stop to swim, take pictures, or do one of the little “waterslides”. Wear watersocks. I do not recommend the climb for people with weak ankles or bad knees because it’s basically rock climbing, but overall it’s not a real strenuous activity. My whole group did it without any issues.
Visit Rick’s Cafe and watch the cliff divers
If you have time, I highly recommend visiting Rick’s Cafe in Negrill. The cliff divers are really impressive and neat to watch. Also the sunset and the view of the lighthouse are beautiful. One thing, it is very, very crowded so I recommend being patient if you are looking for a table for dinner. We just had a drink and left. Added bonus, the drive from Montego Bay to Rick’s Cafe is pretty scenic with the ocean on one side and we made a quick stop at Margaritaville in Negrill as part of the drive.
Note, if I were going back to Rick’s Cafe, I would look into taking one of the sunset boat tours that pulls right up to the restaurant. Cruise ship excursions can also take you to Rick’s Cafe as part of their “Negril Experience” tour, although they wouldn’t be there late enough for sunset.
Swimming in the Luminous Lagoon
Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures from this excursion, but I loved it. It’s a nighttime tour (therefore not available to cruise ship visitors). We were picked up from our hotel in Montego Bay and driven the short distance to Falmouth (Note, if you are searching on Google Maps, the destination is the Glistening Waters Restaurant). From there, we boarded a boat that took us out into the lagoon. The crew showed us the glowing water in buckets and eventually let us out to swim in the water (unlike Grand Cayman where swimming is discouraged). It was really neat and something that you are only able to do in a few places of the world so I recommend it!
YS Falls is a lot different from Dunn’s River Falls. The falls are much taller and there are stairs that take you to the pools for swimming and rope swinging. It’s beautiful and much less crowded than Dunn’s River Falls.
Visit Mystic Mountain & Ride the Bobsled
Anyone who is a fan of the Olympics, knows that Jamaica is famous for it’s bobsled team. This particular tourist attraction is built to capitalize on this fame by offering tourists a chance to ride in a bobsled. This is probably worth doing since it’s the only place to get a “bobsled” type of experience, but I will warn you that it’s expensive for what it is. We booked the full package for Mystic Mountain which included ziplining, bobsled, and the SkyExplorer chairlift ride to the top of the mountain. The chairlift ride was really neat, although not for those who are afraid of heights. The bobsled was fun for the novelty of it, although it’s really just a roller coaster with a bobsled car on rails (not really a bobsled) and you only get to ride it once. The infinity pool and waterslides were fun with pretty views. And the ziplining was fun – it’s the only place where I’ve ever ziplined a vertical drop (go me!). Overall we had a good day, but I think if you’re worried about the cost/value then this stop is not for you. To save money you could just do the chairlift and bobsled and save ziplining for elsewhere.
Dolphin Cove is another place that can be kind of expensive. Although, to be fair, I think that all dolphin encounter excursions in the Caribbean are expensive. It’s something that you do once just to say that you’ve done it and then you’re good. And so that’s what we did. There are two separate Dolphin Coves in Jamaica, we visited the one at Ocho Rios. Admission to the park is very reasonable and if you only want to pay that it’s still worth stopping. All the extra add-ons drive up the cost and then you pretty much have to buy the photo package at the end since you’ve already spent so much money. But, that being said, we had a great time at Dolphin Cove. They have a lot more besides just dolphins including: tanks with lots of different sea animals, exhibits where you can hold snakes and birds, a speed boat ride, glass bottom kayaks, and a beach. (Picture: my fearless sister holding both the lizard and snake as her husband stands as close as he dares.)
Visit the Pelican Bar & take an Eco Tour on the Black River
We booked a combination tour that drove us all the way to the southside of the island to visit the Pelican Bar. Once we reached the town of Black River we boarded a small fishing boat which headed out into the ocean to visit the Pelican Bar. The Pelican Bar is a restaurant and bar which has been featured on the Travel channel. It’s basically a stick hut structure built on a sandbar in the middle of the ocean. After an hour or so at the Pelican bar, our fishing boat took us back to shore. We some dolphins playing in the ocean on that boat ride which was really neat.
Next we boarded a pontoon boat which took us on an eco- tour of the Black River. The mangrove trees made the scenery very beautiful. And we had a great hour long boat ride looking for alligators along the river. One of the alligators was absolutely gigantic, eesh. Overall, a very interesting, fun day but it was long. Expect to spend a lot of time in the bus on a very twisty, windy rural road, take your motion sickness medicine if you need them.
Planning Your Trip to Jamaica:
Jamaica is a pretty big island, and different adventures work well depending on where on the island you are staying. Based on the 3 main tourist areas, here are things I recommend grouping together:
- Ocho Rios (northeast) – the bobsled, Dunn’s River Falls, Dolphin Cove,
- Montego Bay/Falmouth – (central, near the airport) bio-luminescent lagoon
- Negril (the west coast) – Rick’s cafe, YS Falls (easier to see if you stay in Negril or Montego Bay)
- South side – pelican bar, Black River tour (seen while staying in Montego Bay, but it’s an all day trip)
We only stayed in Ocho Rios and Montego Bay and were able to do all of these things, it just meant that we had a bit of a longer drive to some. Below is our itineraries for each trip.
5-Day Itinerary if Staying in Montego Bay:
- Day 1: Fly into Jamaica, take hotel transfer to hotel, bio-luminescent lagoon tour at night.
- Day 2: All-Day Tour to Negril, Margaritaville on Seven Mile Beach, Rick’s Cafe at Sunset
- Day 3: Relax at Resort
- Day 4: All-Day Tour to Pelican Bar, Black River eco-tour, YS Falls
- Day 5: Fly Home
5-Day Itinerary if Staying in Ocho Rios:
- Day 1: Fly into Jamaica, take hotel transfer to hotel.
- Day 2: Morning at Dolphin Cove, Afternoon in downtown Ocho Rios (Margaritaville/ Souvenirs)
- Day 3: Relax at Resort
- Day 4: Morning at Magic Mountain, Afternoon at Dunn’s River Falls
- Day 5: Fly Home
Cruising to Jamaica – Shore Excursions:
As mentioned above, I have never had the chance to officially participate in a cruise ship shore excursion in Jamaica. However, I have cruised to Jamaica. Make sure you note which cruise port is being used before you book your cruise because that largely impacts which shore excursions will be offered.
Your excursion options are basically:
- Dunns River Falls, from any port
- Bobsled/Zipline/Chairlift (Sky Explorer) at Magic Mountain, from any port
- Appleton Estate Rum Tour, from Montego Bay
- Negril Experience (Margaritaville & Cliff Diving), from Montego Bay
- Bob Marley/ Rastafari Experiences (No idea what this is), variation from any port
- Dolphin Encounters, from any port
- Tubing/ Blue Hole (haven’t done, this would probably be my choice next time), from any port
- Beach Break/ All-inclusive (Only thing special about this is that the rum is probably Appleton Rum)
- The same Snorkel/Kayak/ Horseback Riding excursions that you see at all Ports.
- The “Best of” excursions that you see at all Ports.
Next time I visit Jamaica:
- Stay in Negrill & spend time at the Seven Mile Beach
- Drive through Ferngully
- Visit the “Cool Blue Hole”
- Visit the Blue Mountains
- Tour the Appleton Rum Factory
Transportation on the Island of Jamaica:
They drive on the left side of the road in Jamaica so we didn’t rent a car. We relied on airport transfer shuttles, taxis, and booking tour packages. Everywhere on the island, the drivers fly at high speeds making you feel as if you are on a thrilling amusement park ride instead of a car on the road. If you are a nervous passenger, I recommend getting a seat in the back and just laying down and trying to take a nap. Bring medicine for motion sickness if you have a tendency to get motion sick.
Lodging in Jamaica:
I’ve stayed at two resorts, both owned by the RIU hotel chain. The first was the RIU Montego Bay and the second the RIU Ocho Rios. The RIU hotel chain has two levels of hotels, the basic RIU’s and then the RIU Palace which is slightly more expensive but nicer. We stayed at 2 basic RIU’s. Overall, I had a good experience at both. The beaches were beautiful and the pools were also nice, although I slightly preferred the beach at Ocho Rios. Overall the resorts were nice and clean, although they could use a fresh coat of paint. The food at the RIU was just average, but comparable to other resorts in the Caribbean. If you do stay at a RIU, I recommend making dinner reservations on the first night so that you can try all of the different restaurants. If you don’t like them, you can always just go to the regular dining hall. We had a great time playing with the free hobie cats on the beach.
For my next trip, I would like to try staying in Negril and I would try either another hotel chair or a RIU Palace to see if the meals are better.
Restaurants/ Meals & Drinks on the Island of Jamaica:
As mentioned above, there are 4 Margaritaville’s in Jamaica and just luck, my group visited two of them. Unfortunately, the one in Montego Bay was under construction at the time. In my opinion the food at Margaritaville is just okay, and it’s definetely overpriced. However, the locations in Jamaica have other things to do besides just eat and drink. A couple of them had waterslides and the one in Negril was my favorite one because of the beach and the water trampolines. These activities don’t cost any extra!
If you stay at a resort, they will most likely have a jerk chicken stand. You have to try it at least once. It’s pretty good.
Appleton Rum is made on the island of Jamaica. You can take tours to visit their estate. Or if you stay in an all-inclusive resort, you can guarantee that Appleton Rum will be in your liquor cabinet.
Tips/ Things to Know before visiting Jamaica:
- Jamaica is known for their theft, even when items are locked in the room safes. I recommend leaving valuables at home. For things like money and passports that you have to bring, consider buying your own travel safe. I accidentally left about $40 in a bag on my bed one evening, came back after dinner and it was gone.
- They smoke marijuana everywhere – it’s their way of life, get used to it. A polite “No, Thank you” works just fine if you are offered any and do not wish to partake.
- If you are a young woman, you will get hit on everywhere as the young men seem to be very interested in finding an American girlfriend who will take them to the U.S. Again, a polite “No, Thank you” works just fine.
- Jamaica has their own currency, the Jamaican Dollar. One US dollar should be worth more than 100 Jamaican dollars depending on the exchange rate at the time.
Helpful Things to Pack for a Trip to Jamaica:
- Wet Clothes Bag (for tours so you don’t have to wear wet clothes around after swimming)
- Water Socks (for Dunn’s River Falls)
- Waterproof Camera (not pictured, they don’t actually sell mine anymore, it’s old)
- Waterproof Camera floatie (seriously awesome to keep you from losing your camera overboard)
My Time Spent on the Island of Jamaica:
- 5 days in Montego Bay in January 2014, at the RIU Montego Bay
- 5 days in Ocho Rios in April 2014, at the RIU Ocho Rios
- 1 day cruise port in January 2015, on the Carnival Magic
Hope you find our travel guide helpful!