Everything irie in Jamaica, mon! Known for Reggae, Blue Mountain coffee and jerked meats, Jamaica is an island rich in beauty, culture, and history. Ocho Rios is a port city on the northern side of Jamaica. Once a sleepy fishing village, today, it is a bustling hub of cruise tourism.
When your cruise ships ports in Ocho Rios, what is there to do? Whether you are into relaxing beach days, high-energy thrills, cultural tours, or souvenir shopping, there are plenty of things to do when you find yourself in Ocho Rios.
Related: Things to Do in Falmouth, Jamaica
Dunn’s River Falls
Arguably, the number one destination for cruise passengers when they visit Ocho Rios is Dunn’s River Falls. The draw to these famous falls is the scenic climb from the white sandy beach at the bottom of the falls, all 180 feet up, to the very top. Along the way, tourists stop to take photos of its gorgeous cascading waters and enjoy its many the pools. Climbing is usually accomplished in groups with some human chain formation and the assistance of a local tour guide.
Be warned, the falls are slippery and can be somewhat tricky or strenuous for some. Water shoes are highly recommended. This biggest complaint about the falls has always been the aggressiveness of the vendors at the Craft Market as you exit. If not interested in shopping, a simple, “No thank you”, is all that’s required.
The Blue Hole
Another hugely popular waterfall destination is The Blue Hole. Instead of climbing this waterfall from top to bottom, cruise passengers can jump their way down the falls. Most of the jumps are fairly small and easily done by children 10 years and older. For adrenaline junkies, however, the main attraction will be jumping from the highest portion of the falls into the large blue pool for which it was named. To avoid slipping on the wet limestone rocks, water shoes are recommended. Friendly guides escort guests between the different jumping points so it can all be accomplished safely. A photographer will follow your party down the falls capturing each jump and burn the photos to a CD if you choose to purchase them. If you’ve seen the cruise-themed Netflix movie, Like Father, there’s a prominent scene shot at The Blue Hole to give you an idea of just how beautiful it really is there.
The 1998 Winter Olympic Jamaican bobsled team didn’t only result in a movie about Jamaican bobsledding, it also spawned a bobsledding tourist attraction popular with fans of the movie worldwide. Unfortunately, there’s no actual ice to sled on, but the concept is similar and still a blast to do. Instead, the Cool Runnings Bobsleds in Ocho Rios ride on rails and are more like gravity powered roller coasters winding down a tropical Jamaican mountainside. Riders control their own speed, so going fast or slow will be up to you. Cool Runnings is one of several attractions at Rainforest Adventure’s Mystic Mountain.
Canopy Zip Line
The rush of zip lining through the forest canopy is another attraction available at Mystic Mountain in Ocho Rios. The Canopy Zip Line excursion includes a scenic ride to the top via the Sky Lift, a 25-meter suspension bridge, 5 separate zip lines, and 6 platforms. No walking to the beginning or end of the zip line is required. The Sky Lift can be ridden in both up and down the mountain. Access to the Hummingbird Garden, Lookout Towers, Mystic Waterslide and infinity edge pool also on Mystic Mountain’s grounds are also included when booking the zip line attraction. Food may be purchased at the restaurant on premises for those who choose to spend the day at Mystic Mountain.
Martha Brae River Rafting
Rafting on the Martha Brae is Jamaica’s version of gondolas in Venice. One of the more romantic excursions available, guests will float down this calm and picturesque river on a 30-foot long rustic bamboo raft for approximately three miles. The raft Captain uses a long bamboo pole to help guide the raft along informing passengers about Jamaica and this historic river. The ride itself lasts approximately one hour, but bars, shops, and other facilities are available to enjoy both before and after the ride. Bring a swimsuit to take advantage of a swim in the river; however, staying completely dry is an option as well.
White River Tubing
Located near the Blue Hole, water adventure enthusiasts will have a fantastic time floating in tubes down the White River. The journey is a nice combination of tranquil floating to take in the lush forest and tiny, yet exhilarating, little river rapids that both adults and children will enjoy. Life jackets are provided but where the tubing takes place, the river is quite shallow. Guides often walk along next to the tubes keeping them toward the center of the river. River tubing along the White River is a good activity to combine with a trip to The Blue Hole due to their proximity.
Swimming with dolphins is a bucket list activity that is available in many cruise ports. Dolphin Cove in Ocho Rios offers dolphin interactions that take place in a natural cove rather than an artificial pool. A variety of different dolphin interaction experiences are available to choose from, as well an up close and personal shark encounter. Family members who do not want to purchase an encounter are able to pay an entrance fee in order to accompany family on their adventure. Entrance to Dolphin Cove includes beach access, a Jungle Trail walk, and snorkeling with stingrays. Lunch is available on site for additional purchase.
Green Grotto Caves
Green Grotto Caves has a long and fascinating history. Archaeological evidence shows the caves were first used by the Arawak Indians. Since that time, the caves have severed a remarkable number of purposes. They’ve been a hideout for Spaniards when the English invaded, a safe place for runaway slaves, hid arms being smuggled to Cuba, and as Government storage for rum barrels! But the most insane use? A nightclub! Visitors on the Green Grotto Caves roughly 45-minute tour may recognize the underground lake Used in a scene from the James Bond movie, Live and Let Die as well as see what’s left from its nightclub days. In case anyone in your party has a fear of them, you should know a lot of bats currently live inside the caves. Wear comfortable shoes as there is a bit of walking on uneven surfaces.
There are a lot of rivers in and around Ocho Rios, hence the name, which translates to Eight Rivers. Konoko Falls is another location where waterfall activities can be experienced, only without the huge crowds Dunn’s River Falls usually attracts. As well as being able to climb Konoko Falls, the grounds contain a small zoo, museum, and botanical garden. Guides will assist in climbing the falls and again, water shoes are highly recommended for additional safety. Unlike the other waterfall options, food and drink are available for purchase at Konoko Falls making it a better location to spend the day rather than being a stop on the day’s itinerary.
Yaaman Adventure Park
A relatively new offering in Ocho Rios is Yaaman Adventure Park. This attraction has a truly unusual mix of activities. If you have ever wanted to go to Jamaica and ride a camel, here’s your chance! Seriously, they have camels. It’s not all camels, of course. Yaaman has ATVs, Segways, a jitney tour, an aviary, and a culinary experience. For a really full day, packages that include all the activities, as well as lunch, are available, but a customizable package can be purchased instead. This park is affiliated with nearby Dolphin Cove and may be combined with a dolphin encounter.
Fern Gully isn’t so much a specific attraction as it is a scenic drive. Tour operators have long been driving along this route, resulting in its fame and transition into a must-see destination for tourists. The winding road, deep in a canyon, was once a riverbed. More than 100 years ago, an earthquake creating the gorge destroyed the riverbed. A road was later constructed at the bottom. The sides of the gorge are dense with tropical growth, specifically, more than 500 species of ferns, giving it the name, Fern Gully. The drive is roughly 3 miles and it is possible to walk it, but most just enjoy the beautiful drive.
Puerto Seco Beach Club
After receiving a $5 Million renovation the Puerto Seco Beach Club reopened in late 2018. This beach club not only features a gorgeous white sand beach, but a 150-foot pool bathers can use as well. Chairs, umbrellas, cabanas, and water toys, such as paddleboards and kayaks can be rented for a fee. Kids and kids at heart can purchase access to the floating obstacle course. There is a restaurant and bar on site serving up burgers, fish, and of course Jamaican Jerk chicken and pork. The beach club has an affiliation with Dolphin Discovery Montego Bay, so it’s possible to combine a dolphin encounter and a day at Puerto Seco.
Bob Marley Tour
Don’t worry about a thing, cause every little thing, gonna be alright! Fans of Jamaican legend, Bob Marley, can tour what is being called the Graceland of Reggae. The trip to Nine Mile is roughly a 90-minute ride from the cruise port across Jamaican countryside, passing through beautiful Fern Gully en route. During a tour of Marley’s childhood home and mausoleum, guides will provide information and insights into the life of the man known as the King of Reggae. You should know that the Rastafarian religion and culture involves marijuana. Expect to see, and be exposed to, marijuana use during this tour.
Chukka Good Hope
Similar to Mystic Mountain, Chukka Good Hope is a privately owned multi-activity destination. The Good Hope Estate itself is a historic plantation that may be toured during your visit. Additional attractions that have been added to the estate include ATVs, horseback riding, aviary, waterslide, pools, ropes course, and zip line. A highlight of the pool area is a man-made waterfall. A wide variety of package combinations enable guests to participate in the activities they desire, including some off-site activities such as The Blue Hole and White River tubing. Some, but not all, packages offer a buffet lunch and open bar.
Horseback Ride Into The Sea
The only thing that might top a horseback ride through the thick tropical forest or along a white sandy beach would be riding your house into the sea itself. The actual time spent on the horse in the water won’t be very long, but a ride through crystal clear blue waters is one of those quintessential Caribbean images that stay with you. There will be plenty of entertaining ride time on land before or after the dip into the sea. Both beginners and more advanced riders can take part in one of these tours and there are several vendors offering this type of ride. Jamaica Cruise Excursions and Chukka are two.
Shaw Park Gardens
For those who want to visit a waterfall and not get wet should consider Shaw Park Gardens. This mountain botanical garden boasts over 600 species of tropical flowers and plants in its 25-acre space. Hired guides can give guests a tour of the gardens, telling of the park’s history and of the lush vegetation there. Shaw Park was originally a sugar plantation and then an orange grove before becoming the botanical garden it is today. There’s no food or drink available for purchase within the park, but you can grab something on the way for a delightfully lazy picnic at the base of the falls.
If you are looking for a beach bargain that is away from the port, Mahogany Beach is a free public beach just a short cab ride away. The beach is well maintained with both sunny and shady spots to be had. Lounge chairs can be rented for a small fee and a nearby restaurant serves food and both hard and soft beverages. Mahogany Beach also has restrooms. Because it is a public beach, vendors will be around trying to sell their wares to the tourists. If annoyed by vendors, you should consider paying for entrance to a private beach area instead.
Bamboo Beach Club
Just a few miles from the cruise port is the Bamboo Beach Club. A little piece of paradise surrounded by almond and palm trees, the Bamboo Beach Club is situated in a stunningly beautiful location. Unique to this beach break excursion is that its lively Jamaican cultural experience. Colorfully costumed dancers, drummers, singers, acrobats are present to perform throughout the day. Most cruise lines offer an excursion to the Bamboo Beach Club alone or as part of a larger package. Excursion costs generally include a padded lounge chair, and unlimited food and drink, but check specific details for your cruise line.
Ocho Rios Bay Beach
Want to hit the beach and not stray too far from the ship? Ocho Rios Bay Beach lies just to the East as you exit the cruise port. A quick 15-minute walk and a $3pp entrance fee grants you access to this secure and serene little beach. The water is calm and quite shallow making it an excellent stop for families with little non-swimmers. Since the cruise pier is to the East of the port, Ocho Rios Bay Beach is the perfect spot for photos of you or your family standing on the beach with the cruise ship majestically in the background.
James Bond Beach
Off the beaten path and approximately 10 miles East of Ocho Rios is the famous James Bond Beach. The local town of Oracabessa was once the home of Ian Flemming, who is rumored to have written a number of his Bond novels while at this little beach. It was also the location for the scene in the movie Dr. No when Ursala Andress emerges from the water in her white bikini to meet James Bond. There is some decent snorkeling that can be done from the shore near the rocks on the eastern side. Entrance to this rustic beach is $5pp.
RIU All-Inclusive Resort Day Pass
If you are looking for a more luxurious beach day, an all-inclusive day pass to the Hotel RIU Ocho Rios is a good option. A resort day pass allows you to use all of the resort amenities without paying for an actual room at the resort. The RIU has two pools and a beautiful palm tree-studded beach where you can lounge in one of the hammocks. Besides the lunch buffet and unlimited open bar, the all-inclusive pass includes the use of snorkel gear, kayaks, and paddleboards. Beach towels are provided, so feel free to travel light and leave yours on the ship.
If looking for souvenirs, Blue Mountain Coffee, or unique Jamaican gifts, they are several options. The easiest location will be at the port itself, but prices and selection may not be the best. If out and about in the town of Ocho Rios, the Taj Mahal Shopping Center has Jamaican souvenirs, duty-free shopping, and a few restaurants. Oddly, the building is also shaped somewhat like its namesake, the Taj Mahal. Lastly, the Ocho Rios Craft Park is something like a swap meet with its market stalls and tents instead of permanent walls. Be sure to haggle to get the best deals. Vendors are known to be more aggressive in their sales tactics here, but that’s all a part of the Jamaican experience!
For an authentic Jamaican Jerk culinary treat, look no further than Scotchie’s. Popular with tourists and locals alike, this alfresco restaurant is always busy. The menu is simple and a la carte. Jerk chicken, pork, and jerk chicken and pork sausages portions are ordered by weight. Side orders consist of recognizable items like roasted corn, or rice and peas, but some you may have never heard of. Festival may sound mysterious, but it’s just bread and it’s good! And a Red Stripe beer goes well with the jerked meat after a day of adventure. Scotchie’s does take credit cards but requires that you show ID. Cash is preferable and US currency is fine.
Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville
It’s 5 o’clock somewhere and at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville in Ocho Rios, you can have a cheeseburger in paradise. Just a short walk from the cruise pier, you can hit up Margaritaville for not just tropical drinks and good food, but for fun in the sun as well. The Ocho Rios location has a pool with swim-up bar and 60-foot waterslide. If the beach is more your thing, they have that too with chairs, umbrellas, and water trampolines to use. Yes, it is a bar, but during the day, kids are allowed in. Best of all, entrance to Margaritaville is free, just purchase some food and drink.
Ocho Rios is a beautifully lush Caribbean port with a long, rich history and friendly locals. No matter what you choose to do during your day ashore, Ocho Rios is sure to be a highlight of your cruise.
Additional Tips for Ocho Rios
- Private Tour Guides
Gas is incredibly expensive in Jamaica so getting around isn’t cheap. Arranging for a private guide or driver for the day is usually the most economical way to get around during your visit if you plan on doing independent excursions. The larger your party, the better the rates will be as most drivers use vans or minibusses.
- Start your day early
Jamaica has three cruise ports, Ocho Rios, Montego Bay, and Falmouth. The most popular excursions get extremely busy, especially on days when there are a lot of ships visiting. It will be a better experience when you schedule your visits to these spots as early in the day and arrive before the rest of the cruisers do.
Marijuana is NOT legal in Jamaica; however, citizens are allowed to grow a limited number of plants. Possession of no more than 2 oz is a petty offense punishable with a small fine. While in Jamaica for the day, it is very common to smell it being smoked or be approached with an offer to buy. Possession of marijuana is prohibited on every cruise line. If caught, you could be charged with transporting drugs across international borders.
This guest post was written by Melissa Lagerquist.