It's hard to believe Ocho Rios was once a small fishing village. Nowadays, the city is alive with tourists and (so many) cruise ship passengers ready to adventure in Jamaica. Ocho Rios may not be as loud and vibrant as Montego Bay but it has plenty to offer. The craziest thing about Ocho Rios is the beaches are not the main focal point - at all.
Don't forget that even if you aren't staying in Ocho Rios you can still visit it from surrounding cities. When we visited we were actually staying in Montego Bay and got a private driver for the day to take us to all of the attractions in Ocho Rios. It is a little under two hours each way, so while it is a long day, it is totally worth it.
And I know that hiring a private driver sounds uber expensive but it actually wasn't! We went with the company Paradise Travel Jamaica and it was totally worth the money. Our driver Willy picked us up in the early morning and drove us to Ocho Rios while we slept a bit. He suggested things we would have never thought of and he got us to attractions during the quieter times when other tour groups weren't present. If you do go with the company Paradise Travel Jamaica I highly recommend asking for Willy specifically.
Anyway, onto the best things to do in Ocho Rios....
Best Activities Close or in Ocho Rios
Dunn's River Falls
The most famous waterfall in all of Jamaica, but I'm here to tell you it is certainly not the best. Dunn's River Falls is a gorgeous cascading tiered waterfall that you can climb (with a trained guide). If you are short on time I suggest skipping it because of how crowded it has gotten in recent years. By the way, I have a full list of the best waterfalls in Jamaica here.
Also, I want to add that you should 100% bring water shoes with you to Jamaica. All of the waterfalls require them and once you arrive you’ll either rent or buy them before you head in. Avoid overpaying while in Jamaica and buy them on Amazon before you leave. They are super tiny and will definitely fit in your luggage. Here are the exact ones I bought for our trip and definitely recommend.
Now this is the place you need to be. I read about the Blue Hole before traveling to Jamaica and honestly it EXCEEDED my expectations. And not just a little bit, it exceeded it by far. This place is magical.
Basically, this place was purely local up until about 6 or 7 years ago when it started to become insta-famous. Now it has railings and guides for tourists and it is soooo fun. You enter through the front to a small lagoon with a rope swing. Then you climb a short trail (maybe about 10 minutes) to another portion that has the huge waterfall and small pools above it you can wade in. Under the huge waterfall is a cave that is epic and next to the waterfall is a 20 ft diving platform that is scary in the funniest way possible.
I have a whole entire article here on why I would go to the Blue Hole over Dunn's River Falls. It also contains practical information like how to get there, what it costs, and what you should pack.
Fern Gully Scenic Drive
This is one of those things that I really didn't hear much about until I was with our driver Willy from Paradise Tours Jamaica. He suggested the gorgeous drive and I am so glad that he did. Fern Gully is a five-kilometer winding road built atop an old riverbed. You'll pass under giant tree ferns that form a canopy overhead, creating a tunnel-like effect. Along the way, you can stop at roadside stalls to buy wooden carvings (that are hilariously phallic in nature) and other souvenirs.
Rainforest Adventures, Mystic Mountain
Honest opinion time: I was really pumped to go here and was kind of let down. I'm including it on the list because Mystic Mountain is a great place for families, especially if you have kids of different ages. Although it does have a ton to do it feels a little too low-cost Disney-like. Overall, I personally found it to be way over priced for what it was.
Anyway, Mystic Mountain in Jamaica is a super popular attraction - especially for cruise ship visitors. The venue offers several different types of adventures for travelers of all ages. You start by reaching the top of the mountain on a chairlift called the Sky Explorer. The chairlift is about 15-20 minutes and takes you over the rainforest canopy with some awesome views. I actually loved this part because we got to see some cool birds and view the ocean and land from above.
Once you are at the top you can choose from a variety of activities. There is the bobsled, a single roller coaster ride that is suppose to emulate a Jamaican Bobsled (like in the Olympics). This is the part that I thought was super overpriced and a bit of a let down. They also have a zip-line course, nature walks, and an infinity pool with a water slide.
Beach Horse Ride
Explore the beautiful island of Jamaica on horseback! The ride includes passing castles and sugar factories that are over 100 years old. You'll see birds fly overhead before you enter the shallow beach waters. No experience is necessary for these rides and most tours include pick up from your hotel. The cost is usually around $70 a person depending on the company.
Best Activities Outside of Ocho Rios
Relax on an inner tube and drift along over extremely gentle rapids. I suggest this tour company booked through Viator.
Green Grotto Caves
The famous caves are a 30ish minute drive from Ocho Rios and located in Runaway Bay. The Green Grotto Caves are Jamaica's best-known limestone caves. These caves were once used by the Arawak Indians and have a fascinating history including being used as a hideaway of escaped slaves and Spanish settlers fleeing from the British. You may also recognize them from some Bond movies. Guides today will share with you the history and point out huge stalactites and stalagmites. Beware, there are bats and snakes here!
Martha Brae River Rafting
Probably the furthest away from Ocho Rio on this list is Marta Brae River rafting. But it is seriously a must do. Experience a romantic ride on top of a hand-crafted bamboo raft. Your guide will paddle you along the river while you take in the scenery. You can stop at some of the many beautiful points or rope swings along the way. The whole ride takes 2-3 hours.
Here is the exact location of Puddin Man.
Yeah, I didn't spell this wrong. It is puddin, with no G. This isn't exactly an attraction, but more of a road side food stop. Basically it is a pie-looking slice of food that is made traditionally over coals in a pot outside. There are very few places in Jamaica to even get this (other than at a locals grandmothers house). Our amazing private driver Willy suggested we stop at the small roadside restaurant outside of Ocho Rios and I'm so glad we did. We tried potato and caramel and both were DELICIOUS. Literally one of the best things I have ever eaten.
This is also one of the best cheap eats. If you want to do Jamaica on a budget you should definitely stop here. Check out this article for all of my budget travel tips for Jamaica.
Dolphin Cove - Don't do it
Another extremely popular attraction in Jamaica that I have bad to mixed feelings about. This is a typical 'swim with dolphins experience'. From my research Dolphin Cove in Ocho Rios is not overly cruel to the animals it care for BUT the bottom line is typical of most dolphin experiences.
Dolphins do not belong in captivity and many die in the process or are extremely unhappy.
Final Thoughts on Jamaica
Jamaica can be a fun family friendly destination or even better, a couple only trip. If you’re thinking of leaving the kids at home check out the best kids ride on toys to keep them entertained. One last thing... even though researching ahead of time is great, I definitely recommend bringing a guidebook along with you. Here are some books I recommend...
And of course, if you have any questions DO NOT hesitate to reach out to me via Instagram, Twitter, or just shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org).