This region of Jamaica has much history, and opportunities to visit historic sites abound. You can explore great houses and plantations (some working, others in various states of disrepair). In addition, reggae fans can worship the king of reggae, Bob Marley, at the Marley Experience theater.
Book with your hotel tour desk or 876-952-3692
Hours: 8:30 am-4 pm, Tuesday through Thursday
The Appleton Express is an air-conditioned bus that travels from Mo Bay to the Appleton Rum Distillery on the south side of the island. (If you traveled to Jamaica a decade ago, you may remember that the Appleton Express was formerly a train that took day-trippers across the island. Sadly, the train no longer runs. Ahh… the good old days.)
There’s a tour of the distillery, and every visitor gets a complimentary bottle; children get soft drinks. The tour also makes a stop at Ipswich Caves.
Plantations & Great Houses
Granville Main Road
876-952-2382, fax 876-952-6342
After a short time here, you’ll soon notice how often you hear the name “Barnett” and “Jarrett” on the island. Still among Jamaica’s most powerful families, the Barnetts and Jarretts were plantation owners and have owned land for many generations. Today, a visit to the Barnett Estate offers you a look back at the past to the days when this land grew everything from sugarcane to coconuts. You can take a one-hour horseback tour of the estate or a guided tour by a costumed docent. This plantation tour is one of the island’s best.
BELFIELD GREAT HOUSE
Hours: daily, 10-5
This restored historic house is open to visitors, with guided tours available before or after dinner. Located on the 3,000-acre Barnett Estate near Montego Bay, the site is also home to the Belfield 1797 restaurant, operated by Elegant Resorts International.
876-956-7310 in Montego Bay
876-957-4171 in Negril
Hours: 10-4, Monday-Saturday
Take a peek back at the plantation days with this heritage tour. Belvedere was one of the first estates to be burned during the 1831 Christmas Rebellion, so today most of the sites on the plantation are ruins or reconstructed. The uprising brought about the end of slavery in 1838.
Tours include a look at the ruins of the great house, dating back to the early 1800s, the ruins of a sugar factory, a horse-drawn sugar mill and herb garden. Belvedere is staffed by many craftspeople in period costume. Visitors can watch a blacksmith at work, see a bakery using a clay oven, talk with an herbalist in a wattle and daub house and see a canoe-maker carving the trunk of a cottonwood tree. Also on site is the Trash House Restaurant and Bar (where the sugarcane trash was once stored). Lunch is served daily and visitors can picnic on the grounds.
INACCESSIBLE CINAMMON HILL
CROYDON IN THE MOUNTAINS
Located 20 miles into the interior near the town of Catadupa
in St. James (take B6 out of town)
Hours: 8:30-5:30 daily; tours from 10:30-3:30
This 132-acre working pineapple and coffee plantation offers half-day estate tours. The property was the birthplace of Samuel Sharpe, a national hero on this island. Sharpe led a slave rebellion in 1831 that helped bring about the abolition of slavery. You can learn about the preparation of coffee, honey, pineapples and more.
GREENWOOD GREAT HOUSE
North Coast Hwy., 15 miles east of Montego Bay
Hours: 9-6 daily
This was once the home of the Barrett family (as in Elizabeth Barrett Browning). Tours include a look at the finery enjoyed by the plantation families. Like Rose Hall (below), Greenwood is a reminder of the turbulent period in Jamaica’s history when wealthy plantation owners lived in luxury thanks to the profits of the slave labor used to power sugar plantations.
North Coast Highway
Hours: 9-6 daily
Rose Hall is the best-known great house in the country and is an easy afternoon visit from Montego Bay. This was once the home of the notorious Annie Palmer, better known as the White Witch. Guided tours take you to the ballroom, dining room, and Annie’s bedroom and grave. The gift shop displays photographs of what many believe are ghostly apparitions in the bedrooms of Rose Hall.
THE WHITE WITCH
BOB MARLEY EXPERIENCE
Half Moon Shopping Village
North Coast Highway
Hours: 10-6 daily
This new attraction features a 68-seat theater where you can watch a documentary on the life and works of reggae great Bob Marley. The film runs several times daily. The largest part of the attraction is a huge shop filled with Marley memorabilia – CDs, books, T-shirts. The shop claims to have the largest collection of Marley gifts in the Caribbean.
Montego Bay has the best collection of golf courses in Jamaica; most take full advantage of the city’s location, offering gorgeous views of the sea and hills. Fees include US $10-30 for a golf cart and $5-20 for clubs. Caddies are mandatory and will cost an additional US $5-15.
HALF MOON GOLF CLUB
This 18-hole course hosts the Red Stripe Pro Am and is considered one of the island’s best. Rates run $95. Facilities include a clubhouse, restaurant, bar and pro shop. Par 72.
Links-style golf is the attraction of this 18-hole course. Rates run $45; facilities include a clubhouse, restaurant, bar and pro shop. Par 72.
This 18-hole course is one of the best in the Caribbean (some even say the world). Built on a 19th-century sugar plantation, it is an official PGA tour course and many tournaments are held here. Facilities include a clubhouse, restaurant, bar and pro shop. Rates run $40-60 for guests, $100-125 for those not registered at Tryall. Par 70.
AUTHORS’ TIP: Even if you’re not a golfer, don’t miss the waterwheel next to the main road at Tryall. It’s a great photo spot.
WYNDHAM ROSE HALL
This 18-hole course has hosted many invitational tournaments and is well known by golfers and non-golfers alike because of its location on the grounds of the historic Rose Hall great house. Rates run $50-60. Facilities include a clubhouse, restaurant, bar and pro shop. Par 72.
FUTURE COURSE AT WHITE WITCH
Adventures on Water
AGUASOL THEME PARK
Hip Strip, downtown Mo Bay
Most of the larger properties offer a good selection of watersports fun. If your property isn’t beachfront, consider a day at AguaSol, a theme park on Walter Fletcher Beach. This sand beach park has a full day’s worth of activities aimed at travelers staying in downtown properties without beach access. The beach (which has lifeguards and security) includes water trampolines, jet skis, banana boat rides, Wave Runners, kayaks, pedal boats, glass-bottom boat rides and snorkeling. There’s also tennis (a tennis pro is on staff for lessons), a GoKart racetrack, table tennis and an evening disco.
Doctor’s Cave Beach, downtown Mo Bay
Sea Trek is a 45 minute excursion that will take swimmers and non-swimmers 8 years and older 15 feet below the sea in a safety helmet that provides air. (876) 953-5619
Montego Bay is home to several beautiful beaches and almost any beachfront property will have a great slice of sand. Most vacationers use the beach at their property to avoid the numerous vendors found on public beaches offering everything from hair braiding to jerk pork to “something special.”
Some of the most notable and best-known public beaches in the city are:
- Cornwall Beach. A favorite with locals. There’s plenty to do at this action-packed beach, including watersports. Located off Gloucester Avenue.
- Doctor’s Cave Beach. This downtown beach is really the birthplace of Montego Bay’s tourism. In 1906 Dr. Alexander James McCatty stated that the waters off this beach had all kinds of health benefits (there are minerals in the water). The doctor donated his property to start a bathing club. In the early twenties, the beach was the subject of an article by Sir Herbert Barker, a British osteopath, who claimed that the waters had curative powers. Soon the beach became a tourist attraction and visitors sought the healing waters. Hotels sprang up near the beach, which at that time was accessed through a cave that was destroyed by a hurricane in 1932. Today, this spot is still called Doctor’s Cave Beach and is a favorite with locals as well as with travelers staying in the downtown hotels. 876-952-2566. Open daily; admission charged. Off Gloucester Avenue, near downtown Montego Bay.
- Walter Fletcher Beach. Another downtown beach, Walter Fletcher is a favorite with local and vacationing families because of its calm waters. Off Gloucester Avenue, near downtown Montego Bay.
North Coast Hwy.
This operator offers snorkel trips and sunset cruises. Snorkel cruises stop in the Montego Bay Marine Park, which offers some of the island’s best snorkeling areas. Equipment and lessons (if needed) are provided. After the park, the vessel sails along the coast past Doctor’s Cave Beach and the party begins. There’s unlimited beer, rum punch and soft drinks. The sunset excursion also hugs the shoreline and drinks are provided.
204 Chatwick Plaza, Queen’s Drive
Sailing cruises can be booked through most hotel tour desks and you can also call the Rhapsody office directly. Cruises include day trips, snorkel excursions and sunset sails, as well as private charters.
CAPTAIN’S WATERSPORTS LTD.
White Sands P.O.
876-952-3624, fax 876-979-0843
E-mail: [email protected]
This 36-foot private charter company offers excursions to many beaches and reefs. The vessel has two double berths and is available for charter by the hour or day. Land and sea packages.
Montego Bay is home to several sport fishing companies that offer you the chance to reel in marlin, sailfish, dolphin or wahoo. With most operators, groups can charter the boat or opt to share the vessel with other travelers. Expect to pay about $300 for a half-day cruise, and that includes just about everything your group will need for the excursion, including equipment. Many companies offer free hotel pick-up.
Irie Lady, 876-953-9266 (phone and fax) E-mail [email protected]
No Problem, 876-995-2912
North Coast Marine at Half Moon 876-953-9266
The Montego Bay Marine Park (876-952-5619) was the first protective park in Jamaica. It was established to preserve the natural resources of this underwater wonderland. A quick look at the area and it’s easy to see the treasures that lie beneath the surface. Several sites draw divers with their protected conditions.
- Basket Reef. Known for its basket sponges.
- Airport Reef. Just offshore near the Donald Sangster International Airport, this site includes coral caverns.
- Chubb Reef. This site is near the Holiday Inn east of town.It is known for its large schools of Bermuda chubbs.
- Widowmaker’s Cave. Do you really want to dive at a site named Widowmaker’s Cave? Well, many adventure travelers do. Many fish congregate here and you’ll also see black coral.
Fun Divers, Wyndham Rose Hall 876-953-2650
North Coast Marine Sports, Half Moon 876-953-2211
Resort Divers, 876-973-5750
Sandals Inn, 876-952-4140
Sandals Montego Bay, 876-979-9130
Sandals Royal Caribbean, 876-953-2231
Seaworld, Holiday Inn/Wyndham Rose Hall 876-953-2180
Most Mo Bay resorts offer opportunities to take a boat just offshore and snorkel or dive among the reefs. Even first-time snorkelers can appreciate a look at colorful corals, graceful fans and fish that include friendly sergeant majors, butterfly fish and shy damselfish.
MOBAY UNDERSEA TOURS
Gloucester Avenue, downtown Montego Bay
876-971-1049 or 952-2347 or 940-4465
We especially enjoyed our tour aboard this semi-sub. If you aren’t a diver or don’t have the opportunity to snorkel at the Montego Bay Marine Park during your stay, a trip with MoBay is a good option, enabling you to catch a peek at the best-preserved reefs in Jamaica. During our tour, we spotted a sea turtle as well as countless tropical fish and some very healthy sea fans and sponges. Highly recommended for families.
River Rafting & Cruises
EVENING ON THE GREAT RIVER
Hours: Sunday and Thursday evenings
This quiet, romantic raft ride on the Great River includes dinner and a show. Price includes transportation from Montego Bay hotels as well as dinner and bar.
LETHE MOUNTAIN VALLEY RAFTING
20 minutes west of Montego Bay, North Coast Highway
Hours: 9 am-5 pm daily
This is the epitome of relaxation. Climb aboard a bamboo raft and take a one-hour float down the tranquil Great River. The ride is quiet and hassle-free (no vendors here, in contrast to the Rio Grande rafting excursion) and you’re welcome to take a dip in the river if you like. The ride isn’t cheap, but it is very relaxing.
MARTHA BRAE RIVER RAFTING
876-954-5168 or book through your hotel tour desk
Hours: Opens daily at 9 am; closes at sunset
Like the mountain rafting at Lethe and the Rio Grande near Port Antonio, this attraction features rafting down a tranquil river, the Martha Brae. The ride lasts about one hour.
Adventures on Horseback
Riding a horse through the surf is a favorite Mo Bay activity. There are also many beautiful trail rides.
AUTHORS’ TIP: We suggest morning rides. By midday, temperatures away from the beach trade winds can get high. Be sure to wear long pants and sneakers or boots for a ride.
ROCKY POINT STABLES
North Coast Highway,
next to Half Moon Golf, Tennis and Beach Club
Rocky Point is a full-service horseback riding facility near Half Moon Golf, Beach & Tennis Club on the North Coast Highway. You can ride on your own mount or participate in organized trail rides with a group. These range from the 45-minute Jungle Jaunt to the two-hour Trail and Treat option. Instruction is available in dressage, riding technique, show-jumping and even polo. Transportation can be arranged to and from Montego Bay area hotels.
ROCKLANDS FEEDING STATION
Feeding times: 3:30 pm and 5 pm daily
Founded by Lisa Salmon, Jamaica’s best-known ornithologist, this bird sanctuary is surrounded by clouds of grassquits, saffron finches and, most especially, hummingbirds.
Salmon moved to this verdant hillside in April 1952 and found the site, located a short drive from the beaches of Montego Bay, filled with feathered friends. “I went out every morning and gave them water to bathe in,” recalled Salmon. The practice continued for six years and gradually she moved the bath up to her porch, put out sugar water for the hummingbirds, and slowly trained the tiny visitors to eat from her hands.
Through the years, Salmon worked as a bird advocate, achieving a limit on Jamaica’s bird hunting season. In 1959 she opened the bird sanctuary and since that time travelers from around the world have hand-fed the regular guests of this bird diner. Tiny finches flutter around outstretched palms filled with birdseed, while fast-as-lightning hummingbirds drink from a hand-held bottle of sugar water.
East of Montego Bay
The capital of Trelawny parish, Falmouth is almost untouched by tourism. It was once a bustling center of commerce and had many fine buildings; today the community is well worth a look for its Georgian homes, many, alas, in poor repair. One building exterior you should make an effort to see is the Falmouth Parish Church, built in 1795. Today craftsmen have an open-air market near the church.
AUTHORS’ TIP: The best market days in Falmouth are Wednesday, when clothing and crafts are sold, and Friday and Saturdays, when fruits and vegetables fill the stalls.
Beyond Falmouth lies Glistening Waters and the Luminous Lagoon (some people call it Oyster Bay). This bioluminescent lagoon shimmers with microscopic organisms in the moonlight. When fish swim through the luminescent waters, they leave a streak of light. Night boat rides on these sparkling waters are offered by Rose’s by the Sea (876-954-3427).
South of Montego Bay on B8 to B6, which leads to Marchmont.
Turn west at Marchmont and continue to Seaford Town.
Seaford Town is one of Jamaica’s most unusual communities. It was founded by German settlers in the 1830s. Today descendents of those early residents populate the community. While here, stop by the Seaford Town Historical Museum, 876-995-9399, 9-5 daily, filled with artifacts from the town’s early days.
Montego Bay offers the best shopping on the island. If it glitters, glimmers, shines and sparkles, you’ll find it here – gold jewelry, precious gems, watches, and less expensive goods such as coffees, liquors and crafts.
Top shopping areas in town are the Half Moon Shopping Village for very upscale items and the Holiday Village Shopping Centre for a little bit of everything. In the Half Moon Resort, the Shopping Village is one of the island’s best, both for its high-end goods such as designer watches and fine jewelry, as well as for its clothing. The open-air village sits adjacent to the resort’s conference center and is also home to several restaurants and the Bob Marley Experience.
The Holiday Village Shopping Centre is across the road from the Holiday Inn and has a collection of inexpensive shops offering everything from Bob Marley T-shirts to rasta tams, woodcarvings to straw baskets. Liquor stores offer local rums, liqueurs and coffees.
If you’re looking for Jamaican artwork, an excellent stop is the Gallery of West Indian Art. The shop has an outlet in Montego Bay at 11 Fairfield Road, Catherine Hall (876-952-4547, fax 979-5156) and another at the Round Hill Hotel.
Don’t miss the opportunity to visit the craft market, an adventure in itself. Many travelers avoid the market because of the high-pressure sales people, but we have found it delightful. A friendly good morning, abstaining from photos until a purchase (no matter how small) is made, and general good manners will go far with the salespeople. Some smaller items available at the market include straw baskets ($3), tiny straw purses ($4), friendship bracelets in rasta colors ($1), coffee bean necklaces ($2) and bamboo bangles ($4).
AUTHORS’ TIP: After shopping, take a break with a soft drink or sky juice (like our snow cone) sold from pushcarts beneath the shade trees.
Your nights in Montego Bay can be as exciting or as peacefule as you wish. Try your luck at poker. Dance the night away to the reggae rythm. Or take in a local dance show.
CORAL CLIFF CASINO
11 am – 3 am
You’ll find slot machines in some of the larger resorts on the island, but the most extensive gambling site is at the Coral Cliff Casino on the Hip Strip. You can’t miss it – just look for the flashing neon lights. Only slot machine gambling is found here, but jackpots do get quite large. Free draft beer, sodas and rum punch are served at the slot machines.
Half Moon Shopping Centre
The black and white decor of the Half Moon Resort is carried out in this disco as well. Located in the shopping village, Planet Xaymaka, or Planet X, features all types of dance tunes and plenty of reggae. There is a cover charge, which includes one drink. On Sunday nights, Planet X features oldies. Nightclub action begins at about 11 pm most nights.
MONTEGO BAY LITTLE THEATRE
This local theatrical group produces a variety of shows. Call for show days (shows always start at 8 pm); admission is a very reasonable JA $250.