Jamaica is a land of white sand, turquoise water, delicious food, wonderful people, and even better times. Our favorite base for exploring this vibrant island is Ocho Rios. Located about halfway across Jamaica’s north shore, Ocho Rios hugs a bay framed by rugged mountains, lush fern-filled gullies, and rivers that tumble down from the highlands as waterfalls. We have been to “Ochi”, as the locals call it, with both our entire crew and just as a couple. It really is ideal for either a family vacation or adult getaway. Of course, you’ll want to spend time just sipping rum punch and sunbathing on the beach but there are many awesome adventures in Ocho Rios, that just beg to be experienced.
Want to climb a waterfall? Ya mon! Want to raft on a crystal clear river? Ya mon! Want to zip-line though the jungle? Ya mon! Snorkel the bluest waters? Ya mon! How about adventures so unique you can’t enjoy them anywhere else in the world? No problem!
Ocho Rios has it all! Here are 8 of our favorite adventures in Ocho Rios you’ve got try!
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1. Do Dunn’s River Falls
Dunn’s River Falls is by far the most visited attraction in Jamaica. Is it touristy? Absolutely! But it is quintessential Jamaica and if you were going to enjoy just one of these adventures in Ocho Rios then climbing Dunn’s River Falls is a must. The best way to see the falls is to book a catamaran cruise that begins the climb right from the breathtaking beach. Dunn’s River Falls is one of the few waterfalls in the world that empties right into the Caribbean Sea.
You’ll be grouped with a guide and team of fellow travelers to form a human chain to the top of the falls. The 900-foot cascading falls may seem intimidating, but the knowledgeable guides are great and really entertaining. They will show you all the best hand-holds along the rocks and where to place your feet. The falls are bordered by lush, green vegetation that shades the area from the sun and keeps the area, and climbers, cool. There are plenty of opportunities on your climb to stop and get photos and just take in the scenery. There are also stairs alongside of the falls for those who do not want to get wet or are unable to manage the rocky, uneven terrain of the actual waterfall. But it’s truly an exhilarating experience to not just see the falls, but to be in the falls–to feel the power and hear the rushing of the water as comes cascading down all around you. After climbing the falls, you can relax and soak up the sun at the beach and even enjoy a Red Stripe beer from one of the local vendors…because Jamaica!
Tip: Be sure to wear a swim suit as you will get soaked and bring your own water-shoes. Flip-flops are not allowed on the falls and there is a charge to rent lockers. I also recommend bringing a waterproof camera. This is the one we use.
2. Jump into the breathtaking Blue Hole
For those looking for something a little more off the beaten path and quite a bit less crowded then I highly recommend taking a trip to the Blue Hole. Located in the hills of Ocho Rios, Blue Hole consists of a series of natural pools culminating in a waterfall all of which are a brilliant blue color due to the minerals inside. Here you will climb along the many cascading rocks to enjoy the natural pools and stunning views. The daring can dive or jump directly into the water, from raised platforms and rope swings. Or if you prefer you can gently slide down into the refreshing pools. Either way it’s an experience you won’t forget.
Tip: This is another location where you will want to have a pair of water-shoes or adventure sandals such as Tevas. I take my Tevas on every trip!
3. Raft the White River
Now that you’ve seen Blue Hole it’s time to grab a tube and discover the equally stunning White River. Just as the name suggests, this river in the Chukka White River Valley is so crystal clear that locals claimed they could easily see the white sands below. Your three mile adventure here begins at the famous Old Spanish Bridge, a 17th century national landmark. You pass over limestone riverbeds, through an old coconut plantation and beneath arching bamboo. Enjoy the alternating pace of the river between tranquil and serene and fast and exciting. The guides here, once again, know just what to do when, and will keep you laughing as you take in the sights of the lush rain forest all around you. It is the epitome of the “No Worries” vibe Jamaica has to offer.
4. Zip-line through the Jungle
Now that you’ve enjoyed some water adventures it’s time to take to the trees. It is not every day you can fly through the canopy of a Caribbean jungle. I highly recommend pairing your Blue Hole and White River adventure with some soaring through the White River Valley. Here you can enjoy a triple-traverse adventure through lush green vegetation across zip lines ranging from 150 to 520 feet in length. It’s an an exhilarating and addictive experience!
Tip: Be sure to dress accordingly. A t-shirt, shorts, and closed toed shoes are your best options.
5. Get out on the Water! Snorkeling, Sailing and Kayaking
You don’t have to go far for a great snorkeling experience in Jamaica. We enjoyed snorkeling as both part of our Dunn’s River Catamaran tour and with an off-shore snorkeling excursion that departed right from our hotel’s private beach. The waters around Jamaica are filled with coral reefs and teeming with sea life in a rainbow of colors. Kayaking and sailing are also offered at most Ocho Rios all-inclusive resorts. Take full advantage of this opportunity to get out and explore!
Tip: Book early! Hotel snorkeling excursions and water-sports, while often included, fill up fast. Get to the water-sports desk at your hotel in the morning when they open to reserve your spot.
6. Climb Konoko Falls
Another picturesque Jamaica attraction is Konoko Falls and Park. Just like Dunn’s River Falls you can climb all the way up the waterfall, with the help of a guide but there is a different, less frenetic vibe to Konoko Falls. After climbing up the waterfall, enjoy the guided tour around the botanical gardens. They were once the home to the Taino Indian tribe, Jamaica’s first inhabitants and now feature a wide variety of indigenous animals and birds. The lookout point boasts a spectacular view over Ocho Rios and the bay and the gardens are gorgeous.
Tip: You guessed it! Water shoes or Keens are essential here too! Towels will also come in handy to dry off afterwards!
7. Be Amazed by the Bioluminescent Lagoon
One of Jamaica’s least publicized attractions is one of its best. Though technically not in Ocho Rios it’s worth making the short trip to nearby Falmouth for the Luminous Lagoon. Here, the fresh water of the Martha Brae river meets the ocean and creates the perfect environment for microorganisms, known as dinoflagellates to grow and live. When disturbed, these microorganisms emit a glowing light, known as bioluminescence. The Luminous Lagoon in Jamaica is actually the brightest of the four places (Puerto Rico, Indonesia, the Bahamas, and Jamaica) where this glowing water occurs due to its climate. Luminous Lagoon tours head out after dark for a five-minute boat ride from Glistening Waters marina. When they cut the engine, don’t miss the chance to enter the shallow water to swim. You can book your Luminous Lagoon Tour here.
Tips: The water here is not deep but try to be careful not to disturb the silt floor — kicking up mud reduces visibility. We found that treading water near the surface would emit brightest glow.
Visibility is best against a dark sky when the moon is less than half full, so plan your visit for the darkest night of your trip.
Most Cameras do not do the glowing water justice. If you do try and take pictures, make sure your flash is off. Glistening Waters team does provide a photo service and you can purchase your pictures after the boat ride so bring some cash. The camera that the Glistening Waters crew uses happens to be the same one I use for all my vacation photos. You can find it here.
8. Admire the Sunset on a Boat Cruise
Not every adventure needs to be an adrenaline rush. Sometimes it’s great to stop and savor your surroundings. Boy are the Jamaican sunsets spectacular! It’s also worth getting up early for sunrise, when you might be lucky to see dolphins in the bay.
Advice on adventures
Book your tours in advance! We booked all of our tours with Chukka. They included bus transportation and beverages. Our combo tours even included lunch. You can book tours in advance with Viator HERE!
Where we stayed in Ocho Rios
For our most recent visit we stayed at the Jewel Paradise Cove using our Hilton Honors points. This was undoubtedly one of the best uses ever of our points as the Jewel Paradise Cove is an all-inclusive resort. This mean our points not only covered our accommodations but our food and drinks as well. The private beach was perfect for relaxing in between our adventures and the spa was a delightful way to indulge in some down time. The bedrooms are very comfy and the restaurants, bars and buffet kept us fueled up. We particularly liked the range of complimentary non-motorized water-sports on offer, as well as the water-slide.
Final Thoughts on Ocho Rios
Everything you imagine an ideal Jamaican vacation to be can be found in this tourist friendly town. You shouldn’t have any problem exploring this little slice of paradise especially if you book your adventures in Ocho Rios ahead of time with a tour company. I feel like you could go back to Jamaica dozens of times and still find new adventures and stunning vistas. It’s just such a gorgeous country! And there’s something about the spirit of the people. Their positivity, the way they seem to spontaneously burst into song and dance, the warm way they called me, “my lady.” One of my favorite Jamaican phrases is “everyting is irie, mon,” which is basically how they say that things are chill. To feel “irie” is to feel content and free of worry, to be totally at peace. That’s exactly how I feel when I’m in Jamaica. It was a perfect place to breathe deep, dive in to some fun and just let the good times roll!
What are your favorite adventures in Ocho Rios? Or what would you most like to try? Let us know in the comments.
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