Towns of Jamaica: Ocho Rios - From Sleepy Fishing Village to Bustling Tourist Mecca
Updated: Jun 23
Towns of Jamaica, Jamaica Attractions, Jamaican People, Jamaican History, Jamaican Culture
Ocho Rios! Ocho Rios! This tourist town is not only popular with tourists, but locals as well. I can recall slipping out to Ocho Rios for a few days on holiday with my mother to relax at the beach, enjoy the local cuisine, and just walk up and down the town. Jamaicans are friendly people and anywhere you go, you’ll receive warm greetings and pleasant conversation.
If you have been to Ocho Rios or visited anywhere else on the island, please let me know what are your opinions.
Ocho Rios is known for its breathtaking beaches, beautiful views, and a wide selection of shopping options great for high-class brands to charming souvenirs and special mementos. It is one of the most popular places to visit when in Jamaica, with friendly locals and visitors from around the world enjoying traditional favorites from food to events. Whether you are looking for a winter vacation getaway or summer hot spot, Ocho Rios offers plenty of reasons to visit.
Ocho RIos, or "Ochee" as it is known locally, has experienced such explosive growth over the last decade that few people can recall the sleepy fishing village, bauxite port and stream-laced bliss that once existed. Today it is a high-density town of concrete hotels, condominium complexes, office blocks, and multiple shopping centers.
The economy of the town is based almost entirely on tourism. The Urban Development Corporation, a government company responsible for much of the development still plays a central role, assisted by the St. Ann Development Company. The vigorous St. Ann Chamber of Commerce, representing a wide cross section of business and tourism entities monitors and guides development of the town.
The name "Ocho Rios" is a possible misnomer, as there are not currently eight rivers in the area. It could be a British corruption of the original Spanish name "Las Chorreras" ("the waterfalls"), a name given to the village because of the nearby Dunn's River Falls. In 2008, the attraction Mystic Mountain opened with a bobsled experience inspired by the Jamaican bobsled team that participated in the 1988 Olympics in Calgary. The attraction received a $570-million upgrade in 2019.
· 1 hr. 37 min (100.2 km) via A1 from Montego Bay
· 2 hr. 55 min (177.1 km) via A1 from Negril
· 1 hr. 21 min (84.0 km) via Hwy 2000 from Kingston.
By air, most travelers get to Ocho Rios by flying to Montego Bay's Donald Sangster International Airport, which is served by several international carriers. From there, you can book a shuttle bus or, if you want to pay more for privacy, a taxi for the trip to Ocho Rios. Visitors can transfer to Ocho Rios with an approved transportation provider such as Island Transfer & Tours (for 10% off private transportation - use coupon code: bustour10off when booking) or Jamaica Co-operative Automobile Limousine Tours (JACAL).
The North Coast Highway from the Sangster International Airport at Montego Bay to Ocho Rios has been improved since 2007. On 26 August 2011, the Jamaican government announced a $21 million revitalization plan for the resort area. Since March 2016, with the opening of the North-South portion of Highway 2000 (whose North terminus is located at Mammee Bay, a suburb of Ocho Rios), driving and commute times into the nation's capital, Kingston, have gone from over 2 hours to a little over an hour. The opening of this highway has reduced traffic on the old route between Jamaica's two cities (through the town and onto Fern Gully) immensely.
For travel to Ocho Rios, you might assume you won't need much more than beachwear. However, while the beaches are among the area's prime draws, you will need a bit more for your wardrobe. Many Ocho Rios restaurants and resorts have strict dress codes, especially at night. You don't need to bring a suit and a tie or cocktail dress, but you should at least bring a few collared shirts, long pants and closed-toed shoes so you can eat without causing a stir. You also should invest in a pair of water shoes. These will be helpful when climbing and exploring the waterfalls near Ocho Rios, such as Blue Hole and Dunn's River Falls, which are among Ocho Rios' top attractions.
Jamaica's bauxite/alumina industry was launched in the hills just north of Ocho Rios in 1952 when Reynolds shipped its first bauxite commercial cargo; this started the transformation of the tiny fishing village. At Phoenix Park near Moneague the genesis of the bauxite industry is commemorated by a roadside plaque made from the first aluminum cast from Jamaican ore.
The story goes that the alumina content of St Ann's 'red dirt' was discovered when the original owner, Sir Alfred d'Costa became distressed with the poor condition of his cattle and sent abroad samples of the soil for analysis and the high bauxite content was revealed. The pier at the west of town is the only reminder of Reynolds Jamaica Mines once the economic base of Ocho Rios. In 1980, after lengthy negotiations, the Jamaican government acquired all the land owned by Reynolds, plus 50% of the company's mining assets to create a partnership with Reynolds continuing to manage the operation. Early in 1984 Reynolds announced their intention of pulling out of Jamaica and by mid-1984 they were gone, an abrupt end to an important chapter of local history. To date the Jamaican government has been unable to find another joint venture partner or foreign investor to re-open the mines. The Reynolds pier is still used to ship sugar and more frequently by cruise ships when there are more than two of these in port.
Located above Shaw Park Gardens, Coyaba lives up to its name being the Arawak word for paradise. The garden is small but refreshing. Among the treasures in the small museum are a Spanish water jar, sixteenth century maps, slave shackles and a bill of sale, and rarest of all, a Zemi stone. Each Arawak possessed at least one Zemi, a small idol in which his personal god resided, and each Zemi was given a name by its owner. Their religion, heretical by Spanish standards, did not prevent Peter Martyr of Anghiera from describing the Arawaks as "a people so full of love and without greed that I believe there is no better race or better land in the world." The Coyaba gallery displays works of Jamaican artists and the gift shop has choice craft items. Fruit drinks and Blue Mountain coffee are served on the paved terrace and a bar is strategically located mid-garden.
Notorious pirate Henry Morgan once used this site as a lookout, but today Firefly in Jamaica refers to the hilltop home of playwright, Sir Noel Coward. It was also his final resting place. The property, a one-bedroom home, still houses some of the playwright’s photos and paintings, and his pianos remain in place. Guided tours are available of Firefly, during which you can learn about the playwright’s history, and about Jamaica’s pirate-ridden past. The major highlight is the magnificent view of the coast from this amazing vantage.
Shaw Park Gardens is a beautiful botanical garden, located in the hills above Ocho Rios.
The 25-acre garden features around 600 species of flowers along with many ferns and shrubs such as bougainvillea, palms, hibiscus, and ferns. The entrance to Shaw Park is some 900 feet above sea level, giving a great view of Ocho Rios from the top of the gardens. The Park is then tiered over many levels, meaning that many different plants which thrive at different altitudes can be grown here. The garden boasts a majestic waterfall which cascades down a rocky bank, surrounded by many varieties of beautiful flowers.
There is a bar if you are thirsty, a cascading stream to splash in if you are hot, and even a tame hummingbird that enjoys hamming it up for photographers.
Tour the estate of the late Sir Harold Mitchell, British author, industrialist, and politician for an introduction to local flora and crops such as banana, cassava, pimento (allspice), coconuts, and limes. The tractor-drawn jitney will pause at spectacular views like the White River gorge where Jamaica's first hydro-electric plant was built, or Sir Harold's Viewpoint - from where, on a clear day you can see 90 miles across the sea to Cuba. The tour is conducted by a cadet from the Prospect Cadet Training Centre, a school founded by Sir Harold for the sons of less privileged Jamaicans. The curriculum includes music, first aid, riding, swimming, and self-reliance skills along with academic subjects. The tour ends at the beautiful Prospect Chapel, which is non-denominational and built with stone and wood from the estate. In the grounds are trees planted by many famous visitors: Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill, Pierre Trudeau, and Henry Kissinger to name a few.
If you're looking for a tropical adrenaline rush, Rainforest Adventures Mystic Mountain should be on your must-do list. This popular tourist attraction offers several different types of adventures.
Start by ascending the mountain on the Sky Explorer, a chairlift perched high over the rain forest. At the top, you can enjoy breathtaking views of the cruise ship port and coastline below. From here, you can zoom down the mountain on the Bobsled, a single-person roller coaster ride, or fly through the rain forest canopy on the ziplines.
Guided rain forest walks, a rope course, climbing wall, Ragamuffin thrill ride, and an infinity pool with a waterslide round out all the fun here. You can even ride electric ATVs. Not sure which activity to choose? You can combine several of the attractions in a variety of packages depending on your interests.
Many visitors also combine a visit here with a trip to nearby Dunn's River Falls.
Originally the great house of a small pimento plantation; it was restored and embellished to provide a showcase for Jamaican art and craft. The catalyst for the project was Annabella Proudlock, assisted by a group of friends and friendly business firms. Works of internationally acclaimed artists can be seen here including pieces by Jamaican Primitives nowadays called Intuitives among them Albert Artwell, Brother Everald Brown and the late Kapo. There are shows every month during the tourist season and craft fairs at Easter and on Independence Day (August 1st). Laminated Annabella Boxes are a popular gift item that originated here. A moderately priced pub-style restaurant and bar is an added attraction.
This is the island's premier attraction, visited by almost a million persons annually. It is a place of unique beauty where the river dances down a giant limestone staircase to a white sand beach and warm blue sea. Climbing the falls with a guide is easier than it looks but there are ordinary steps with handrails and wooden observation decks for the non-athletic. Guides will offer to carry your cameras and take snaps as you frolic in the foam. In the river there are pools to swim in, caves behind falls, and mini whirlpools. Colorful shrubs, ferns, palms, and huge shade trees grow above, beside, and even in the river. There is also a beach with attendant changing rooms and lockers. In the sea, the mixture of icy river water and warm saltwater makes for exhilarating swimming.
Get up close and personal with the Chukka White River Valley location, offering stunning natural beauty and historic landmarks. The clarity of the water at White River Valley and the consistency of the river flow make it stand out above other locations on the island. The limestone bedrock filters the river’s water so it remains crystal clear even when there’s flooding. Located in St. Mary, Jamaica, this location is home to beautiful wildlife and an extensive history. With the exciting zipline adventure and thrilling river tubing journey this location is the perfect piece of paradise when paired with the Blue Hole experience!
Turn south into the hills at the White River Bridge and follow the signs to Calypso Rafting. The trip on a bamboo raft takes about 45 minutes to the mouth of the river with the option of a dip at a swimming hole.
Nine Mile Village in Saint Ann Parish is the birthplace of Reggae icon Bob Marley; it was also his final resting place. This fact has made the area tremendously popular with music fans, and you can do a guided tour of the local museum and the mausoleum where the popular musician was buried.
The Bob Marley Mausoleum is managed by members of Marley's family. It has many historical artifacts including guitars, awards, and photographs. Nine Mile is where Bob Marley's musical career began and influenced many of his songs.
There is a Rasta-colored ‘rock pillow’ on which Marley laid his head when seeking inspiration. His body lies buried along with his guitar in a 2.5 m tall (8.2 ft.) oblong marble mausoleum inside a small church of traditional Ethiopian design. There are two mausoleums on the property. The first is that of Marley's mother, Cedella Booker, known as Mama Marley. The second contains the remains of Marley himself.
The city Ocho Rios hosts a yearly international jazz festival. For two weeks in June the Ocho Rios Jazz Festival presents outstanding local and international jazz artists at different venues. The best artists and compositions from Jamaica take place in this festival side by side with guest artists from the Caribbean Islands. One of the purposes of the festival is to promote the “Classical Black Music and America’s First Art Form” and preserve its original American nature. Information on the festival’s program, venue, lineup information show times, schedule of events, how to get there etc., is present in the festival’s link website.
The Sandals Golf & Country Club in the hills nearby can be found by turning inland at the bridge over the White River. The 18-hole par 71 course and clubhouse have recently been revamped and a gourmet restaurant added. Sandals guests play free but other visitors are welcome and pay a green fee.
Super Clubs Golf Club at Runaway Bay is an 18-hole par 72 championship course. Visitors are welcome and pay a green fee. Resident Pro Seymour Rose is considered one of the longest hitters in the world.
Ocho Rios and its environs offer a wide variety of visitor accommodation. Two adjacent multi-storey hotels on Ocho Rios bay were cleverly "married" to produce the Jamaica. With 720 rooms it is the island's largest hotel, while extensive conference facilities, state of the art "Jamaica'n Me Crazy" disco, clover-shaped pool fed by a 26-foot artificial waterfall, etc. makes it one of the most impressive hotels.
The all-inclusive genre is represented by Sandals Dunn’s River, Couples and Ciboney; small inns include Mantalent Inn and Almond Tree; Shaw Park Beach Hotel is popular and versatile, and the range of self-catering condominiums includes Turtle Towers, Fisherman's Point, Sandcastles, Sombra and Columbus Heights. Two unique properties are Enchanted Gardens (with icy natural waterfalls and steaming open air jacuzzis) and posh Jamaica Inn situated on what is arguably the best beach on the north coast and so small and successful that it does not need to advertise.
Locals take pride in their Jamaican cuisine, and visitors have plenty to say about it. You can enjoy several restaurants, and food stands featuring authentic Jamaican dishes.
Eating options range from elegant gourmet restaurants through fast food outlets (Kentucky Fried, Burger King, Shakey's) to jerked snacks at Jerk Village. A cross section of well-established restaurants include Evita's and Almond Tree, The Ruins where you dine by waterfall, Glennís Place (with a bonus of piano bar or jazz), Trade Winds and Blue Cantina (2 locations). Bill's Place is an extremely popular watering hole, while the local version of nouvelle cuisine offered by Rastafarian brethren Javies and Muggy at Jungle Lobster House under the old White River bridge is highly rated. Most all-inclusives sell day or night passes which cover all you can eat or drink plus entertainment and sports facilities.
A favorite for locals and visitors is the Cardiff Hall Restaurant at Runaway Bay. Guests can enjoy international and local dishes featuring locally grown produce, fresh seafood, and signature dishes sure to please your taste buds.
Want to enjoy some spicy jerky in a low-key setting? The Bizot Bar and Restaurant is the place for you with a unique bar and lighting setting that allows guests to enjoy the great outdoors while watching food preparation.
Looking for a great jerk meal? Look no further than Scotchies, which has over the years received rave reviews for its jerk chicken, pork, and other items. This place is a must visit if you are in Ocho Rios, and it is advisable to go with a relatively empty stomach so you can try everything there is! If you don’t like super spicy food, you can ask for your sauce to be placed on the side. This casual spot has affordable prices, which means you can order more, and even some things to go!
Ochee swings at night with discos and bars, live bands and floor shows at most hotels. Top class artistes are frequently presented in concert at showman Keith Foote's Little Pub on main street.
Did someone say shopping? Shopping options throughout the area not only help to boost the economy of the island, but visitors say it is one of the best areas to shop till you drop.
Find everything you need from clothing, shoes, spices, and more. If you want something sparkly, check out the stone and jewelry collection at Colors. Here, you will find a selection of precious stones, crystals, Swiss watches, and other quality jewelry. They even have fine quality Cuban cigars such as Juliana and Cohiba.
The Island Village Shopping Center has an array of shopping options including the Island Leisure souvenir shop featuring stylish print T-shirts. Need to make a quick run for last minute items? Stop at the Herba Kadabra supermarket.
Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee®
Live the Jamaican experience with Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee®! Enjoy Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee®, the aroma, the exquisite, distinctive taste which leaves a mellow after-taste and pleasant memories.
Jamaica Blue Mountain® coffee is available in supermarkets, cafes, and stores across the island and on-line after June 26, 2021, at the Jamaica So Nice Shop.
Jamaica's new normal for travel delivers an authentic, relaxing and Covid-Secure travel experience. The Jamaica Tourist Board is committed to providing the highest levels of health for visitors, tourism workers and local communities. Before travelling, take a moment to learn about Jamaica’s entry requirements, on-island health and safety measures, testing capacity, and more.
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Jacqueline Cameron is an editor/writer with years of writing experience running the gamut from blogging to reporting. She lives in Kingston, Jamaica and is the chief writer for the Jamaica So Nice Blog. She is a trained engineer and musician and loves to see people transformed through her work.