Top 10 things to do in Jamaica
Fuelled by reggae, rum and Rastafarianism, Jamaica has it all; palm-fringed white-sand beaches, stunning mountains, lush rainforests and knockout cuisine. We check out the top 10 things to do in Jamaica, the most compelling island in the English-speaking Caribbean.
10. Climb the Dunn’s River Fall
Where: Ocho Rios on the north coast.
What: For the fit and sure-footed, Jamaica’s top-grossing tourist attraction is a spectacular 600-foot cascading waterfall that flows directly into the Caribbean Sea. Hand-in-hand with other climbers (rather like a h- uman daisy chain), visitors ascend from the base of the falls to be guided up limestone tiers to the summit by competent experts.
Highlights: After clambering up the limestone ‘steps’ for around 30-minutes (keeping to the left side which is far easier and safer to climb), head down to the small beach at the foot of the falls - all-day beach access is included in the entrance fee. Swim in the cascades and pools, grab a snack from the restaurant, and take plenty of selfies under the tumbling waters. Open daily from 8.30am to 4pm, admission costs £12 for adults and £6 for children. For those without sensible footwear (flip-flips are a strict no-no), you can rent a pair of water shoes for £4.
9. Enjoy the sights and sounds of Brother Bob
Where: At 56 Hope Road in Kingston.
What: A must for Marley enthusiasts, The Bob Marley Museum is located on the site of the reggae legend’s home and recording studio. His main residence from 1975 (until his death in 1981), the property was converted into a museum by his wife Rita in 1987 - it became a Protected National Heritage Site in 2001. Open Mondays to Saturdays from 9.30am to 4pm, each tour takes around one hour and 15 minutes, including a 20-minute film about the musician.
Highlights: The tour includes an extensive photo gallery with walls adorned with Rastafarian murals and Bob’s gold and platinum discs for Exodus, Uprising and Legend. Displays include stage outfits (including his favourite denim shirt) and the bullet-holed walls resulting from his attempted assassination on 3 December 1976. There is also a recreation of the ‘Wail 'n' Soul’ record store in Trenchtown and an 80-seat cinema (formerly his studio) showing Marley footage. Explore Marley’s life in more depth in the museum’s reference library and stock up on memorabilia in the gift store. Admission costs £12 for adults and £6 for children.
8. Take a bobsled ride at Mystic Mountain
Where: At Ocho Rios, in Jamaica’s ‘Garden Parish’ of St. Ann.
What: The headline attraction at Mystic Mountain is Rainforest Bobsled Jamaica, inspired by Jamaica’s 1988 Olympic bobsled team. Following a 15-minute ride through a canopy of trees in the Sky Lift Explorer chairlift, thrill-seekers can enjoy a gravity-defying drive down 1,000-metres of stainless steel track on custom designed high-tech sleds.
Highlights: Ranked as the top attraction in Ocho Rios, this exhilarating gravity-propelled bobsled ride plummets down the side of a mountain through dense tropical landscapes and coastal features. There is a brake on each bobsled to control the speed of descent, but those who prefer to freewheel can hit speeds of up to 40mph. Children must be at least 46" in height to ride and lap-riding is not permitted. Admission costs £40 for adults and £28 for children aged five to 12 years. Tickets include entrance to the park, the Sky Explorer Ride and a visit to the Mystic Mountain Pavilion that houses displays of Jamaica's greatest sporting moments.
7. Watch the sunset at Pelican Bar
Where: Offshore in Parotee Bay, St. Elizabeth
What: A rustic driftwood bar resting on stilts, the Pelican Bar is set on a submerged sandbar located around a quarter of a mile offshore in Parotee Bay. Owned by Floyd, a charismatic local fisherman, this quirky attraction in the middle of the sea is only accessed by boat. Guests are picked up by fishermen from the mainland at either Treasure Beach or Black River and ferried across the water - the journey takes around 20 minutes.
Highlights: The bar is a circular structure furnished with wind-powered lights and low wooden benches – perfect for playing dominoes and watching the sunset. The menu is limited to seafood and usually includes lobster, fish or red snapper, all of which is freshly prepared on a tiny gas stove. Guests are invited to kick back, listen to reggae tunes, sample Floyd’s made-to-order rum-infused cocktails, and leave their mark on the bar by carving their name in the bar floor. Swimming back to shore is not recommended.
6. Hit the sands at Seven Mile Beach
Where: On the western tip of Jamaica at Negril, west of Montego Bay.
What: Loaded with free love and Jamaican spirit, Negril (nicknamed Capital of Casual) is beach party central. The showstopper here is Seven Mile Beach, a stunning stretch of ivory sands, swaying coconut palms and waters that offer some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving on the island. Head to the north end of the beach for luxurious all-inclusive resorts, head south for smaller boutique-style hotels, and head everywhere else for chill-out bars, cafes and restaurants.
Highlights: One of Jamaica’s most famous hotspots, Rick's Café on the West End Cliffs is where locals and tourists feel compelled to plunge from 100-feet-high cliffs into the ocean below. The vibe here is particularly relaxed and open-minded; guests should bear in mind that some stretches of sand are reserved for nude bathers. Beach concessionaires offer scuba diving, fishing, tubing, sea kayaks, sailing, windsurfing, snorkeling and parascending. Glass-bottom boat tours are available for those eager to discover the wonders of the underwater world.
5. Swim and swing at The Blue Hole
Where: Just outside of Ocho Rios, a 30-minute drive from the town center.
What: Referred to locally as The Secret Falls, The Blue Hole is a crystal-clear 40-foot by 50-foot mineral pool encased by Karst limestone. A fabulous (and free) off-the-beaten-track alternative to Dunn’s River Fall, this waterfall and swimming area in the mountains is perfect for lazing by the water’s edge, cliff-diving, or lathering yourself with therapeutic mud.
Highlights: Requiring a bit of a hike uphill through the forest, The Blue Hole tempts daredevils with a 20-foot cascading waterfall and a Tarzan-style rope swing. The fearless can jump 22-feet off the cliff into the hole whilst the less brave can climb down a ladder to swim in the icy water - or simply luxuriate in a pure mineral bath. There is an outside bar selling ice-cold Red Stripe and the pool stays open until the early hours of the morning – or until the last person leaves.
4. Enjoy an underwater adventure at Montego Bay Marine Park
Where: On the north coast of Jamaica at Montego Bay.
What: In a bid to ‘protect and restore a healthy Montego Bay ecosystem for the betterment of Jamaica and the world’, this vast area of protected seawater spans the entire length of Montego Bay. Famed for its awe-inspiring dive sites, Jamaica's first national water park is paradise for scuba diving experts and curious beginners keen to discover sunken wrecks, underwater gardens, rainbow-colored sponges, tropical fish and coral reefs.
Highlights: This all-encompassing park includes the waters of Doctor's Cave Beach, Aquasol Beach, Cornwall Beach and Dead End Beach. Whilst there are exciting vertical drops of up to 100-feet to challenge PADI-certified divers, those who prefer to stay closer to the water’s surface are well catered for. Explore underwater with a mask and snorkel - or else stay completely dry in a glass bottom boat or semi-submarine. For super-keen aquatic fans, The Montego Bay Marine Park Trust, an environmental non-governmental organisation established in 1991, runs classes and seminars about the significance of protecting this fragile environment.
3. Check into a couples-only luxury beach resort
Where: On the beachfront at Bloody Bay, five miles from the fishing village of Negril
What: An adults-only playground for design-conscious guests, the ultra-stylish Couples Negril faces the sugar-white sands and crystalline waters of Bloody Bay, just north of Seven Mile Beach. With its chilled-out and romantic vibe, this 18-acre all-inclusive resort delivers on every level with gourmet cuisine in four restaurants, contemporary guest accommodation, a sublime spa and a fabulous pool with swim-up bar.
Highlights: Set in low-rise buildings, guestrooms offer a patio or balcony overlooking the bay or tropical gardens whilst swankier beachfront suites have Jacuzzis and hammocks. The full-on sports activity schedule includes water skiing, wind surfing, hobie-cats, scuba diving, tennis and use of the state-of-the-art fitness center. For the less energetic, yoga, spinning, aerobics and pilates are available. Dining is a chic affair where gourmet lovers can savour Caribbean and Jamaican fare in laid-back but elegant settings.
More information and to book: Surrounded by beautiful tropical gardens and bordered by a stunning soft white beach lined by swaying palm trees, Couples Negril is the epitome of a perfectly romantic Caribbean vacation.
2. Appreciate Jamaica’s artistic heritage
Where: At the Roy West Building on the Kingston Waterfront.
What: Established in 1974, The National Gallery of Jamaica (NGJ) is the oldest and largest public art gallery in the English-speaking Caribbean. Paying tribute to the country’s artistic heritage, the superlative collection of Jamaican art includes around 1800 pieces of artworks displayed in a 30,000-foot exhibition space.
Highlights: Housing extensive collections of early, modern and contemporary Jamaican art along with smaller Caribbean and international holdings, the NGJ offers permanent exhibitions and at least five temporary exhibits annually. The museum also presents a range of educational services, including guided tours, film screenings, lectures, panel discussions and children’s art programs. Be sure to visit the gift shop for reproductions, books, art posters, jewellery, ceramics and crafts made by local artisans - profits support Jamaican artists and help to fund the NGL programs. The gallery is open Tuesday to Thursday 10.00am to 4.30pm, Fridays 10am to 4pm and Saturdays 10am to 3pm. Admission is free.
1. Tuck into delicious jerk chicken at Scotchies
Where: At four locations: Kingston, Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Discovery Bay.
What: For foodies, no visit to Jamaica is complete without a stop at Scotchies, a no-frills restaurant that has been pleasing palates since it opened in Montego Bay in 2000. Designed to delight meat-lovers, the mouth-watering succulent jerk chicken - cooked slowly over hot coals and pimento wood and covered with zinc sheets - is regarded by locals as the best on the island.
Highlights: Diners at this highly-acclaimed al-fresco ‘jerk pit’ are seated at barrel stools around rustic wooden tables under thatched roofs. Whilst spicy jerk chicken, pork and sausage are the bestsellers, fish is also on the menu along with delicious side offerings such as roast yam, sweet potato, breadfruit, rice and peas. For a cheap, cheerful and casual sit-down (or take-away) experience, Jamaican fare doesn’t get more delicious than this. Unless you are a vegetarian.