Most people who have never been to Jamaica associate it with the Reggae legend Bob Marley, the infamous Jamaican Bobsled team movie- Cool Runnings and of course the endless white sandy beaches featured in numerous movies and exotic travel guides. It took me several visits to the island to appreciate its natural beauty, understand the culture and the reason the island is a major holiday destination and even make a few friends amongst the locals.
The island offers two airports associated with the main cities- Ocho Rios and Montigo Bay. Most cruise ships dock somewhere in between and some, like Royal Caribbean, had built their own terminals in pretty little harbours. The port of Falmouth welcomes passengers and tourists daily, featuring a quaint tourist village with coffee, souvenir and jewelry stores , traditional and fast food restaurants, a small swimming pool, fresh fruit stands, arts and crafts and even a small beach a short shuttle ride away.
The choice of activities in the area is endless- from climbing over waterfalls to zip lining in the jungle, from river rafting and tubing the lazy rivers, to riding horses in the ocean and even learning to cook traditional Jamaican meals in a 500 years old plantation – you will not be disappointed with the adventures offered by the cruise ships and the local tour operators. Dunn’s river Falls and the Chukka daily trips, as well as bob-sled and river rafting in the jungle seem to be the most popular adventures for a day visit.
However, there are lots of hidden gems, mostly known by the locals, worth seeing and experiencing on your own or as a group. Just get your water proof camera charged, don your swim gear and get ready to get your groove on … Jamaican style ……Yeah, Mon!!!
Here are my top favorite activities and not necessarily in this order- all of them were super fun and exhilarating.
#1 The Blue Hole
Just recently I visited a little known to the mass tourist natural wonder – the so called Blue Hole – an amazing symphony of crystal clear lakes, beautiful lagoons, foamy waterfalls and lush vegetation – the best kept secret by the locals, hidden well in the heart of the jungle.
I can not possibly exaggerate: the serenity and beauty of this site are breathtaking and while the factor of the unknown intimidates a little, the welcoming blue color of the lakes’ water lures you to explore and jump right in the midst of its turquoise awesomness.
Only about 10 min drive from Ocho Rios, your driver will take you up the mountains, where a group of guides (ask for Henry) will take you for a walk and a swim around the lakes. They will dare you to jump in the cool sparkling waters, swing on ropes a la Tarzan style, relax in a natural foaming jacuzzi, get waterfall massages and even do what I can only describe as pure insanity… OK, get this: to perform this excercise, for starters you will need to dive into a small opening in the rocks into a foaming vortex of water and get carried away by a powerful current that will suck you deep into the water and underneath the rocks. Disoriented completely by uncontrollable turbulence you will be twisted and spun around frantically, propelled even further into the unknown, to be finally catapulted to safety into another innocent looking lake. Words can not describe the exhilaration and utter joy you will experience and if you are anything like me, you will indulge in a decent doze of dread and fear for good measure as well. At the end, letting nature take charge of you, makes the adventure much more thrilling and exhillarating.
#2 Chukka Horseback riding
Those of you who love nature and its fauna will utterly enjoy this tour. You do not need to be a jokey or a cowboy to ride the beautiful and well train horses, anyone can do it, the pace is comfortable and even though there are thrilling moments, they are completely safe and you feel nothing but happy to be part of this experience. A bus will take you to the sight, where the horse stables are, you will get the chance to change and lock your valuables and the fun will begin with a short ride on a natural eco path. You can enjoy a leisure ride along the beach and later a more vigorous one in the ocean. You will be waste high in the water and you will get a taste what it was like for our ancestors to live their life on horses.
# 3 Dunn’s River Falls
Going to the Falls takes a while, but it is well worth it, for sure. For those who do not have water shoes, there are some available for purchase at the entrance of the sight, however if you have your own, bring them, as flip-flops, sneakers or whatever other shoes will not be permitted. Myself, I own a couple of pairs of these shoes and I love them! I can recommend the Speedo brand, they are great for any water sports (surfing, kayaking, paddle boarding, cave tubing) and even hiking or horseback riding, where you will have both a water and dry land terrain. The tour is fun either on your own or as a group, however be prepared to be gathered with lots of other tourists, this is not exactly a secluded sight
#4 Bob Sled and Zip line
Right in the heart of the jungle, you will take a leisure lift ride with breathtaking views of the Sea, followed by lots of thrilling challenges- you will have your heart and adrenaline pumping to the max. It is a family friendly tour, however very small kids are not permitted.
#5 River rafting or Tubing
This is one of my favorite activities in Jamaica, not only because you are submerged in a beautiful rain forest and you get to splash in the cool waters of the river via Zodiac rafts, but you enter what looks like an innocent competition with your friends turning into a semi-vicious battle, bringing the ancient flight or fight response to the surface, proving you can be a winner and a looser at the same time. Bottom line- you have lots of laughs and a healthy workout, leaving you pleasantly exhausted with some nice rewards at the end- a fresh coconut or a cold beer to cool your spirits and relax your muscles.
#6 Delights of Jamaica
Yep, you got it right- you will get to eat and learn how to make lots of yummy Jamaican specialties. A bus will take you to a 500 year old plantation, you will get to taste some of its amazing fruit and then you will reach the Colonial style estate, where a gorgeous view awaits you- a beautifully manicured botanical garden in front of you and the sparkling sea in the background create an incredible atmosphere for your cooking extravaganza. Several cooking stations are set up on the veranda and a local Chef will walk you through the dishes you will make with lots of little secrets Jamaicans use to make the meal exciting and memorable. Of course you get to eat at the end the barbeque jerk chicken, spicy coconut shrimp, the typical for the area bread called Fiesta and steamed fresh vegetables, seasoned to perfection. The fresh air, the gorgeous view, tasty meal accompanied by a cold Red Stripe beer makes you appreciate life and its blessings.
P.S. Don’t forget to try the fresh coconut, sprinkled with brown cane sugar, this is no time to be on a diet!!
There are several golf courses in Jamaica that will attract your attention- my favorite being Cinnamon Hills in Jamaica’s Gold coast, Montego Bay. The course winds its way along the turquoise Caribbean shores and through the lush mountain terrain at the demanding back nine. The 17 hole is as high as 350 ft above sea level and the panoramas unfolding around you, as well as landmarks like the Rose Hall Great House, Johnny Cash’s home, as well as a waterfall that starred in the James Bond “Live and Let Die” make it really challenging to keep your eyes on the ball. The irresistible scenery, the friendly staff and the “best caddies in the world” (according to Golfer Magazine), makes this par-72 layout and its diverse elevation a great course for both novice and seasoned golfers. I truly enjoyed my game there and can not wait to try the White Witch neighbouring golf course next time around.