Ah Ocho Rios! All of my Jamaica trips have involved stopping over at this seaside town and I have so many fond memories of climbing Dunn’s River Falls and chilling at the jerk centre. It may be a ‘tourist town’ but it still manages to combine commerce with all of the Caribbean touches I’ve grown to love. Since I’m usually locked in when staying with family, it’s nice to go somewhere where you feel independent and can discover places by accident.
I’d definitely recommend it as somewhere to visit if you feel a little bit daunted. We’d received so much advice along the lines of ‘Try and find this random waterfall’, which is amazing if you’ve hired a car, but if you want to save on transport costs then it’s easier to base yourself here. It’s a complete contrast to Kingston (which is less than two hours away on the Knutsford Express coach), where you’d have to get taxis from place to place and feel a bit disorientated. There’s so much to do in Ocho Rios and everything’s on your doorstep.
The consistently hot weather, adventure excursions and shopping plaza make Ocho (pronounced Oh-Chee) a popular destination for cruise ships, but I’d always recommend searching for the more authentic places. Most of the resorts, shops and bars are situated to the West but once you pass the clocktower on Main St, you can experience the local farmers markets, colourful restaurants and feel like you’re getting a taste of the real Jamaica.
I finally got to know the place properly and spent a memorable 72 hours exploring with Lucy. Here’s what we got up to.
The Perfect Hotel For All Accidentally Wes Anderson Fans
Now here’s another location for your pastel Pinterest board, meet the Jamaica Inn. It’s a hotel that will transport you back to the 1950s with its decor (the shade of Wedgewood blue has been kept the same) and it wouldn’t seem out of place on the Accidentally Wes Anderson feed.
I didn’t manage to perfect a symmetrical photo, but there’s so much potential with the croquet lawn, classical arches and rattan furniture. There’s even a photo of Marilyn Monroe when she visited back in 1957.
Shall I start a petition for Wes to shoot his next film here? I can now see the beauty of certain interiors whenever I visit Jamaica, which is probably down to the man himself and the Mid Century revival. The hotel is definitely a place for relaxing and sipping one of their famous banana daiquiris on the beach.
The sand is swept constantly to keep it looking postcard-ready and it seems to appeal to those who like to visit the same place repeatedly and recognise the staff (the barman Teddy has been working there for almost 60 years). I’m sure that a new, social-media obsessed generation will be descending on the blue villas pretty soon.
We were guests of the Jamaica Inn for lunch
Be A Thrillseeker
If you fancy living out the Cool Runnings experience, then Mystic Mountain needs to be on your list. It’s a rainforest adventure park that includes the famous bobsleigh rollercoaster, which you maneuver along a 1000 metre track. It’s fun and definitely not as daunting as it sounds (I did manage to do a few cheeky Instagram Stories on the slower parts) plus there’s the option to pair up with a trusting friend. Just bear in mind that additional rides will cost extra.
Our package also included unlimited access to the Sky Explorer, a chairlift that takes around twenty minutes and showcases the stunning views of Ocho Rios. The whole park is geared towards cruise ship passengers, so you can be in and out within three hours and there’s a mini-museum that condenses Jamaican history pretty well. I’d definitely recommend setting off early, we packed in two Sky Explorer rides, one stint on the bobsleigh plus a nature trail before 11am and still had more adventures to come.
Next on my rather meticulously planned itinerary was a visit to Dunn’s River Falls. The park is one of Jamaica’s main attractions and you could easily spend a day making the most of the beach and attempting the 600 feet climb. There’s the option of climbing yourself or waiting for a guide to take you along in a group, so don’t worry if you’re a non-swimmer like me. You’re holding hands with other people throughout and the pools aren’t that deep (though I may still have had a few diva freakouts).
We booked our entire adventure day on the Mystic Mountain website, as it was easy to navigate and offered an extra 15% off. The park is around 3 miles away from town, so we sorted a pickup from our AirBnb and paid £58 in total each. You’ll also need to factor in buying water shoes ($10 USD) and a locker ($3 USD) at Dunn’s River, plus a waterproof phone case if you’re determined to document everything. Also consider the logistics of the park and plan your day accordingly (the restaurant and shops are near the entrance and the beach is right down at the bottom) so you’re not wandering around aimlessly.
Understand The History
I was also determined to visit Green Grotto Caves thanks to Charlie as I was previously unaware of these vital underground networks. Our guide explained that caves have a particular significance in Jamaica as pirates would use them to hide treasure, the Spanish hid there when being driven out by the British and the slaves used them as an escape route to the Maroons. Once you start exploring, it’s crazy to believe that these groups would have navigated them in the pitch black and looked for certain tree roots to work out whether water was nearby.
If you’re in the area, then see if you can stop by Columbus Park in Discovery Bay. It’s a bit of a small, open air museum with different artefacts from the colonial period in various states of disrepair. Unfortunately there’s no official tours, but the plaques give a bit of insight into the first area that Christopher Columbus discovered.
Everything We Ate
Prepare to feel hungry! I’d cleverly picked an AirBnb near the Ocho Rios Jerk Centre as I’d been before and knew it was reliable. Everything is cooked fresh to order and there’s plenty of affordable combinations.
If I had to pick a fave, then my meal at the Ultimate Jerk Centre opposite Green Grotto Caves was definitely up there in terms of taste, aesthetic and additional sauce. Just look at all the pink! Jerk pork can be the trickiest thing to get right and the UJC definitely passed the test as you don’t want something that’s too dry (like Boston Jerk Centre) or fatty (I’m looking at you Ocho Rios Jerk Centre).
On the extremely rare occasions we weren’t eating jerk, I kept the menus Jamaican with curried shrimp at Miss T’s Kitchen and a platter at Dave’s Lobster Shack. These were some of our pricier, but still reasonable meals. The prawns at Miss T’s were nice but not the best value for money (I wolfed them down within minutes) and paying at Dave’s became confusing. The price we were quoted in Jamaican dollars was around 15% less than what we were quoted in USD, so I’d definitely make sure you have enough of the local currency.
I’d also recommend having a drink at the Hibiscus Lodge Hotel and admiring the view, plus ice-cream at the mini branch of Devon House. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, then the Reggae Pot ‘Rastarant’ cooks up dishes such as okra stew, curried tofu and ackee.
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