Although Ocho Rios isn’t near eight rivers, as its name would seem to indicate, it does have a seemingly endless series of cascades that sparkle from limestone rocks along the coast. (The name Ocho Rios came about because the English misunderstood the Spanish las chorreras—“the waterfalls.”) The town itself isn’t very attractive and can be traffic-clogged, but the area has several worthwhile attractions, including the very popular Dunn’s River Falls. A few steps from the main road in Ocho Rios are some of the Caribbean’s most charming inns and oceanfront restaurants. Lying on the sand of what seems to be your own cove or swinging gently in a hammock while sipping a tropical drink, you’ll soon forget the traffic that’s just a stroll away. The original “defenders” stationed at the Old Fort, built in 1777, spent much of their time sacking and plundering as far afield as St. Augustine, Florida, and sharing their booty with the local plantation owners who financed their missions. In Discovery Bay, 15 miles (24 km) west, where Columbus landed, there’s a small museum with such artifacts as ships’ bells and cannons and iron pots used for boiling sugarcane. Don’t miss a drive through Fern Gully, south of Ocho Rios via the A3 highway.
POINTS OF INTEREST
The reggae legend was born and is buried at Nine Mile, in the parish of St. Ann, and today his former home is a shrine to his music and values. Tucked behind a tall fence, the site is marked with green and gold flags. Tours are led by Rastafarians, who take visitors through the house and point out the single bed that Marley wrote about in “Is This Love.” Visitors also step inside the mausoleum where the singer is interred with his guitar, and there is a restaurant and gift shop. It is best to take a guided excursion from one of the resorts. If you’re driving here yourself, be ready for some bad roads, and the hustlers outside the center are some of Jamaica’s most aggressive.
You’ll find a crowd (especially if there’s a cruise ship in town) at the small beach at the foot of the falls, one of Jamaica’s most-visited landmarks. Although tiny—especially considering the crowds—the beach has a great view. Look up for a spectacular vista of the cascading water, the roar from which drowns out the sea as you approach. All-day access to the beach is included in the falls’ entrance fee. Amenities: lifeguards; parking (no fee); toilets. Best for: swimming.
One of the busiest beaches in Ocho Rios, Turtle Beach has a mix of residents and visitors. It’s next to the Sunset Jamaica Grande hotel and looks out over the cruise port. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; parking (no fee); toilets; water sports. Best for: swimming.
A popular natural attraction that is an eye-catching sight: 600 feet of cold, clear mountain water splashing over a series of stone steps to the Caribbean Sea. The best way to enjoy the falls is to climb the slippery steps in a swimsuit (there are changing rooms at the entrance), as you take the hand of the person ahead of you. The entrance, which looks like one for an amusement park, is usually crowded, especially when cruise ships are in port, but it is well organized. It’s easy to make arrangements and get trusted guides who will offer bits of local lore while showing you where to step. After the climb, you exit through a crowded market, another reminder that this is one of Jamaica’s top tourist attractions. If you can, try to visit on a day when no cruise ships are in port. Always climb with a licensed guide at Dunn’s River Falls. Freelance guides might be a little cheaper, but the experienced guides can tell you just where to plant each footstep—helping you prevent a fall. Ask for a guide at the Dunn’s River Falls ticket window. Official licensed guides are inside the Dunn’s River Falls property, not outside the gate. They should be able to show you credentials if asked. If you arrange the tour through a resort or cruise ship, the guides provided will be licensed.