Ocho Rios has some interesting sites, many of which feature beautiful greenery and tropical surroundings.
This open-air park marks the spot where, according to some, Columbus first set foot on Jamaica. The small park is worth a stop if you’re already heading along the North Coast Highway. You can see cannons and maritime artifacts.
Hours: 8:30-5:30 daily
The historic home of playwright Noel Coward is open for tours. Named for the luminous insects seen in the warm evenings, this house has certainly entertained its share of luminaries from the political and entertainment worlds, including Queen Elizabeth II, Sir Laurence Olivier, Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor, Alec Guiness, Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton. A tour of Firefly includes a look at the home, photos of the many celebrity guests and the grounds where Coward is now buried.
DUNN’S RIVER FALLS
Hours: 8-5 daily
This is the one attraction that just about every cruise ship passenger and resort guest enjoys, a spectacular series of falls that is actually climbable. Guides lead groups up the falls. At the end of the climb, you are led into a hectic market with vendors selling crafts, carvings and T-shirts.
Be prepared to get wet and have fun at Dunn’s River Falls, but don’t expect a quiet, private getaway. The adventure here can be trying to work your way through crowds of tourists and higglers.
A3, south of Ocho Rios
Fern Gully is a stretch of Highway A3 that winds south from Ocho Rios. For three miles, the road is lined with lush ferns and innumerable plants; well worth a drive even if you’re not headed that way.
PROSPECT PLANTATION TOUR
A-1 west of Ocho Rios
If you’re interested in learning about Jamaica’s fruits, this is an excellent opportunity. This working farm takes visitors by tractor-drawn jitney or on horseback to view fields of bananas, cassava, sugarcane, coffee, allspice and more.
An easy walk in Ocho Rios is the One Love Trail, a roadside paved walkway with sea views. It runs from the bauxite factory to Dunn’s River Falls.
This two-day hike starts with an early morning pick-up from Ocho Rios hotels then heads off into the mountains for a trek in the national park. After overnighting (and we mean a short overnight) in a log cabin, groups begin the trek to the summit at 2 am, arriving at the top in time for sunrise.
CRANBROOK FLOWER FOREST
West of Ocho Rios at Laughlands, one mile off
North Coast Highway (sign on left past Chukka Cove)
Hours: 9-5:30 daily
876-770-8071 or 995-3097
A popular picnic destination for families, this beautiful garden also offers a good hike. Budget about an hour to walk from the central gardens to the waterfalls; bring rubber-sole shoes for walking on the often-wet rocks.
SANDALS GOLF AND COUNTRY CLUB
This course takes advantage of the verdant scenery for which Ocho Rios is known. The lovely clubhouse has an elegant restaurant and bar to enjoy after play. Par 72.
BRACO VILLAGE RESORT GOLF CLUB
West of Runaway Bay on North Coast Highway
This nine-hole course and club includes a putting green and driving range. Par 28.
BREEZES GOLF AND BEACH RESORT
North Coast Highway
This championship course sits across the street from the Breezes Resort and many of its guests use the excellent facilities. The course has hosted such events as the Heineken World Cup Western Zone Qualifier and the Jamaica Open. The course includes a clubhouse, restaurant and pro shop. Par 72.
Ocho Rios is a better choice for bicyclists than bustling Montego Bay, but still be careful along the North Coast Highway. Rental bikes are available at some resorts, as well as Abe Rental & Sales Ltd, 876-974-1008, and Jake’s Bike Rental, 876-973-4403.
BLUE MOUNTAIN BICYCLE TOURS LTD.
Main Street, Ocho Rios
876-974-7075 or 974-7492, fax 876-974-0635
Great for those who aren’t up for a mountain bike trek uphill, these tours cruise 18 miles downhill through the Blue Mountains and the tropical rain forest. Tours include brunch, lunch, refreshments and all bike equipment.
HIGH HOPE MOUNTAIN BICYCLE ECOTOUR
16 Top Road, St. Ann’s Bay
876-972-2997, fax 876-972-1607
Of special interest to ecotourists and those who aren’t out for a challenge, this tour takes a five-mile downhill route through the beautiful hills, starting 2,300 feet above sea level. A guide points out the native species seen along the way. Complimentary fruit juices are provided and fruit sampling is encouraged. This tour is recommended for travelers 12 to 60 years old in good health with no physical handicaps. A bicycle helmet and safety lesson are given.
Ocho Rios is home to several beautiful beaches. Note: Resort beaches are private and restricted to use by guests or those who have obtained day passes. Guests or day pass visitors at the SuperClubs area resorts (Grand Lido Sans Souci, Grand Lido Braco) or Couples Ocho Rios have nude beaches on-site. The Couples Ocho Rios beach is especially unusual because it is located on a small offshore island that includes a swim-up bar, a pool, hammocks and restrooms.
n James Bond Beach (876-975-3663), west of Ocho Rios in the town of Oracabessa in St. Mary, is near Ian Fleming’s former home, Goldeneye. It’s open daily and admission is charged. Ian Fleming used to come here for a swim. It offers plenty of opportunities for active travelers, including Wave Runners, helicopter tours and horseback rides. There’s also a beach bar and grill. Admission charged.
MOVIES MADE IN JAMAICA
Jamaica’s varied terrain has played host to many Hollywood films. Check out some of these movies for a look at Jamaica on the big screen: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea; Island in the Sun; Dr. No; A High Wind in Jamaica; The Harder They Come; Papillon; Live and Let Die; Return to Treasure Island; Club Paradise; Clara’s Heart; Cocktail; Mighty Quinn; Wide Sargasso Sea; Scam; Cool Runnings; How Stella Got Her Groove Back.
Dive operators are found at most of the all-inclusive hotels, including Couples, Club Jamaica, both Sandals and Sans Souci. Local Ocho Rios dive sites include :
• Jacks Hall, a 40-foot dive with all types of coral.
• Devil’s Reef, a sloping ridge east of Ocho Rios that is home to many sponges as well as morays.
• Top of the Mountain, a 60-foot dive near Dunn’s River Falls filled with many coral heads and gorgonians.
• Wreck of the Katryn, a 50-foot dive to a 140-foot minesweeper that was deliberately sunk.
• Dickie’s Reef, good for beginners, starting at a depth of 22 feet.
Boscobel, 876-974-2353 or 957-7330
Couples Ocho Rios, 876-975-4271/2/3/4/5
Enchanted Gardens, 876-972-1937
Garfield’s Dive Station, 876-544-4354 or 876-544-4424
Jamaica Fun Cruises, 876-972-2117
Jamaqua Dive Centre, 876-973-4845
Oras Watersports, 876-974-5794
Resort Divers, 876-974-5338
Reef Divers, 876-973-4400
Seascape Dive Resort, 876-972-2753
Seaworld Resorts, 876-953-2250 (Cariblue Beach Hotel); 876-974-5691 (Sandals Ocho Rios)
Sandals Dunn’s River, 876-972-1750 or 972-1610
Sans Souci Lido, 876-974-2353 or 957-7330
The Braco and Runaway Bay areas are home to two dive shops operated by Resort Divers (an operator with offices in Montego Bay, Runaway Bay and Ocho Rios; web site www.resortdiver.com). Grand Lido Braco is home to Resort Divers, 876-974-5338 or 954-0657, fax 974-0577. In Runaway Bay, Resort Divers is located at FDR Resort, 876-974-5338. Good dive sites in the Runaway Bay and Braco areas include :
• Caverns, a 40-foot dive that’s often the home of nurse sharks.
• Nursery, a 20-30-foot site that includes large coral heads.
• Wow Cliff, a wall dive that borders the Cayman Trench.
• Ganja Planes, two aircraft that ran – you guessed it – ganja a few decades ago. Today they provide a perfectly legal high to divers with their varied fish life (including many barracudas). An intermediate or advanced dive.
• Judy’s Paradise. An intermediate or advanced drift dive, this site is known for its rays, turtles and nurse sharks.
Go out with an operator for a half-day or full day of deep-sea fishing off the coast. Those with experience may bring home tonight’s dinner!
Broadreach Cruises, 876-974-2527
King Fisher & Sun Fisher 876-974-2726 or 974-2260
Mitzy, 876-974-2527 or 957-4224
Sunfisher Ltd., 876-994-2294
Triple B, 876-975-327r
120 Main Street
876-974-2264, fax 876-974-2183
For the best view of Ocho Rios, consider a quick helicopter tour. We tried this, traveling from the Couples Resort up the coast to get a birds-eye view of Goldeneye, and it was an experience to remember. The operator offers three tours. The Jamaican Showcase lasts one hour and goes all the way to Kingston and Port Maria. The Memories of Jamaica tour, a half-hour ride, travels over Noel Coward’s Firefly and Ian Fleming’s Goldeneye. The Ocho Rios Fun Hop, a 15-minute trip, swings over Shaw Park Gardens, Fern Gully, Prospect Plantation and Dunn’s River Falls.
Guided Trail Rides
CHUKKA COVE EQUESTRIAN CENTRE
North Coast Highway, between Runaway Bay and Ocho Rios
876-972-2506, fax 876-972-0814
Chukka Cove is well known for its world-class polo matches, but the center also offers guided horseback trips along the beach and in the mountains. They operate a very popular three-hour beach ride for beginners and experienced riders that departs daily at 9 am and 2 pm. The trip takes you through Richmond and Llandovery, two of the oldest sugar estates on the island. Shower facilities on the beach are available and free refreshments are served.
4 Church Crescent, St. Ann’s Bay
876-972-0905, fax 876-972-9204
E-mail [email protected]
This tour company offers two guided horseback tours. The Hooves Beach Trail takes 2½ hours, departing at 9:30 and 2:30 daily. The ride crosses Seville Estate in St. Ann with a visit to the great house and break on the beach (including a ride in the sea).
The Bush Doctor Mountain Trail is a two-hour trail ride 1,800 feet above sea level. It offers a good chance to peek at the rural side of Jamaica. Rides are offered at 9:30 and 2:30 daily.
Refreshments are included, as is round-trip transportation from Ocho Rios, Boscobel, Oracabessa and Runaway Bay hotels. There is a weight limitation of 250 pounds and riders should wear long pants and sneakers; those taking the beach ride should bring swimsuits and towels. Discounts are offered for children under 12 and private rides are available on request.
COYABA RIVER GARDEN AND MUSEUM
Shaw Park Estate, Shaw Park Ridge Road
Hours: 8:30-5 daily
INTERESTING FACT: Coyaba is an Arawak word that describes the practice of burning herbs on flat stones. The scent put the Indians into a heavenly state, or “coyaba.”
This attraction offers information and displays on the Arawaks through a small but nice museum. Starting with pre-Columbian history, displays follow the development of the island through the years. Special exhibits spotlight the “famous sons of St. Ann,” including Bob Marley and Marcus Garvey, while other recall the history of the region with facts such as Falmouth’s introduction of electricity, something achieved before the city of Philadelphia boasted electric power.
“A lot of people who come to Jamaica don’t get to see the real Jamaica,” explains Toni Allen, manager. “We’re a beautiful country but we also have a beautiful people and a beautiful history.”
The real splendor of this attraction lies in its beautiful gardens. Stroll past natural springs and waterfalls, where small pools are filled with colorful koi and turtles. Ginger lilies, silk cotton trees (which bloom only every seven years), Jamaican cedar, pimento, jade vines and bamboo fill the park that lies alongside the Milford River Head (with a daily flow of two million gallons).
The gardens also have small, self-contained accommodations. Especially well suited to couples, the charming rooms were constructed using bricks from Port Royal.
CRANBROOK FLOWER FOREST
West of Ocho Rios at Laughlands, one mile
off North Coast Highway (sign on left one mile past Chukka Cove)
Hours: 9-5:30 daily
876-770-8071 or 995-3097
This beautiful park, a recent addition to Ochi’s tourist offerings, is a must-see for anyone who wants to experience the lush beauty of Jamaica away from the crowds. The area is the private creation of Ivan Linton, who has pampered the plants of this former plantation for over two decades. “It has taken 19 years to develop,” says Linton. “I am a dabbler. I’ve always enjoyed gardening and been involved in horticultural societies.”
Today, Linton proudly points out the bird of paradise, croton, ginger, heliconia and begonias. The grounds are perfect for a picnic. After you eat, hike alongside the shady Laughlands’ Great River. The path climbs high into the hills to a waterfall paradise and is highly recommended.
The day we journeyed here, children were playing in the river as their mothers did laundry in the shallow water. Other activities include bird watching, pond fishing, croquet, donkey rides and volleyball.
AUTHORS’ TIP: Be sure to wear good walking shoes for the hike at Cranbrook. On our recent visit, we hiked up to the waterfalls over very slippery rocks.
2 miles east of Discovery Bay
At the bottom of the cave lies a subterranean lake where you can ride on a boat. The cave was used as a hiding place for many people throughout history, from pirates to the Spanish governor, who was looking for a place to avoid the British. This is a good destination for those who want to see caves without really going off the beaten path.
SHAW PARK BOTANICAL GARDENS
Hours: 8-5 daily
These beautiful 25-acre gardens are perched high above Ocho Rios, with excellent views of the bay and the coast. The gardens include a stunning waterfall as well as many tropical blooms.
7 miles south of Ocho Rios on A3
If you’ve shopped for Jamaican food either on or off the island, you’re probably familiar with Walkerswood. This small community produces the popular Walkerswood Jerk Sauce, which spreads a taste of Jamaica throughout the world. Today if you’re traveling beyond Fern Gully, you’ll see this small community. The factory isn’t open to the public, but the efforts of this village can be found island-wide.
Thanks to the popular food purveyor, the tiny village exerts an influence far beyond the borders of St. Anne’s Parish. Established in 1978, the company was conceived as a project to provide employment to residents of the area located in the hilly countryside just inland from the north coast. Founder and Managing Director Johnny McFarlane recalls that initially “the company made fudge, then fish cakes to supply the nearby Jamaica Defense Force Base, as well as selling seasoned sausages and pork to local bars.” While these dishes proved popular, it was the seasoning with which they were prepared that really ignited the company’s success.
Walkerswood Jerk Sauce, made in the traditional way with hot peppers, scallions and spices, was originally sold in a market in Ocho Rios. It soon became popular not only with locals, but also with travelers who liked it so much that they raved to their neighbors. Letters (and sometimes money) began to pour in from customers desperate to replenish their supply of jerk sauce from afar.
In 1986, the company began exporting their Jerk Seasoning in earnest, opening a small sales office in Miami. Walkerswood’s first year of exports, says McFarlane, “were all of US $15,000,” but have since grown dramatically, reaching US $3 million last year.
Although the company has grown, it remains very much a part of the Walkerswood community. The factory, located since 1978 on the grounds of the Bromley Great House in the village of Walkerswood, at present employs around 60 local residents.
12 miles south of Ocho Rios on A3 to intersection of A1;
continue south on A1 about 4 miles
Foodies shouldn’t miss the small community of Faith’s Pen, where rows of food stands offer food specialties with home-cooked taste. For just a few dollars, buy a streetside lunch of jerk or callaloo served at a picnic table. Faith’s Pen stalls include such names as “Neita’s One Stop,” “Johnny Cool No. 1” and “Shut’s Night and Day.” Look for jerk chicken, curried goat, roast fish and mannish water. You can expect to fill up on traditional dishes for under $10 per person. The facilities are spartan. Each stall has a small area with stools, and meals are served on Styrofoam plates.
South on B-3 from Runaway Bay 18 miles to Alexandria;
turn east in Alexandria to Nine Mile
This small community was the birthplace of reggae legend Bob Marley. Today his former home is the Bob Marley Centre and Mausoleum (open daily; admission). 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.” The home’s walls are filled with photographs and scribbled messages left by fans.
AUTHORS’ TIP: This site can be a hassle, with numerous vendors and attempts to harass tourists, so consider a guided tour for this excursion.
One of the best polo facilities in the Caribbean is just outside Ocho Rios. Chukka Cove Equestrian Centre, on the North Coast Highway, is home to many international matches. Open daily; admission charged. 876-972-2506, fax 876-972-0814. See page 174 for details about horseback riding excursions offered by Chukka.
Ocho Rios doesn’t have the selection of shops found in Montego Bay, but shoppers will find plenty of “shop-portunities” in this port city.
One of the top shopping areas is Soni’s Plaza, on Main Street, filled with duty-free shops offering good buys on jewelry, watches, perfumes, liquor and more. Many of the hotel personnel we talked with in the downtown area shopped regularly at Soni’s for clothing and jewelry. Top shops here include Chulani Jewelers (fine gold and gemstone jewelry, watches and perfumes), Casa De Oro (sells everything from Tiffany watches to Mikimoto pearls), The Gold Mine (features Krieger, Bulova, Swiss Military watches and fine jewelry) and others.
Another top shopping area is the Tajmahal Shopping Centre. This open-air mall is home to Bijoux Jewelers (Breitling watches, Raymond Weil watches, Swarovski crystal, Baccarat crystal, Hummel figurines, Fendi leather), Casa De Oro (Mikimoto pearls, Fendi leather, Cartier leather, Tag Heuer watches, Tiffany watches and jewelry, Rado watches, and an extensive perfume center) and Mohan’s Duty Free Shop (crystal, perfumes, cigars, Cross and Parker pens and Swiss Army knives).
Ocho Rios has two craft parks, both off Main Street. The Ocho Rios Craft Park, opposite the Ocean Village Shopping Centre, is open 8-6, Monday through Saturday. It has 154 vendors selling everything from sandals to woodcarvings to straw goods. The Olde Market Craft Shoppes is nearby and also has plenty of handmade goods.
AUTHORS’ TIP: Expect to bargain for the best price at both places, but do it in good fun and you’ll find that the vendors are not as high-pressure as they seem.
Another interesting stop is Wassi Art Pottery Works, on Back Street in the community of Great Pond (on the east side of Ocho Rios).This shop offers a tour of its factory. Visitors learn that the pottery is made of clay from Castleton, a small town in the mountains of northeast Jamaica. The clay is worked into a variety of objects – tiles, sculptures, plates, candlesticks – and sold at the store and at fine boutiques island-wide.
Art lovers will also enjoy a stop at Harmony Hall, 876-975-4222 or 876-974-2870. This excellent art gallery is one of Jamaica’s best and a good place to purchase original works of art. Don’t miss the Annabella pieces, souvenir boxes decorated with Jamaican art. Harmony Hall sponsors several art shows annually.
Much of the late-night action in Ocho Rios takes place in the resorts and along a stretch of James Street known as the Reggae Strip. The area is similar, although smaller in scale, to Mo Bay’s Hip Strip. This Reggae Strip (directly across from the Renaissance Jamaica Grande) comes alive every Thursday evening starting at 7pm. At that time, the street bustles with live entertainers and booths offering local cuisine. One of the top nightspots in town is Jamaic’n Me Crazy at the Renaissance Jamaica Grande. It’s popular with both locals and travelers. 876-974-2201.