Ocho Rios is about a 45-minute drive east of Falmouth. It may be less well-known than the trendier Montego Bay, but in terms of natural attractions, it’s much more exciting. The city gives visitors the opportunity to fly through the rainforest canopy, swim with dolphins, and tour seaside properties of some of the world’s most respected artists, all the while reveling in the lush setting. There are not eight rivers flowing through Ocho Rios, as its name implies. The name results from a misinterpretation of the city’s original Spanish appellation, Las Chorreras, meaning “waterfalls,” which was fitting as the magnificent Dunn’s River Falls is found here.
First-time visitors to Jamaica must see the world-famous waterfalls, which inspired the local saying that Ocho Rios is “where heaven spills into the sea.” A steady stream of water cascades over rocky limestone cliffs into the Caribbean waters below. Spend the day in the pools at the base or climb to the top of the 600-foot-high mountainside, either splashing through the water or walking up the parallel staircase. Hollywood has been drawn to Dunn’s River Falls, too. In 1962, the falls had a big role in Dr. No, starring Sean Connery as James Bond, and in the 1988 film Cocktail with Tom Cruise.
Known as the attractions capital of Jamaica, Ocho Rios is within minutes of some of the island’s most popular theme parks. Who can forget the Jamaican bobsled team? The 1993 flick Cool Runnings immortalized their quest for an Olympic gold medal. Mystic Mountain is home to the thrilling roller coaster Bobsled Jamaica. Paying tribute to Jamaica’s 1988 and 1992 teams, this signature coaster takes riders on a gravity-driven drop down thousands of feet of twists and turns. Just like in bobsledding, the speed of the descent is controlled by a handbrake in the car.
For a more steady adventure, take the Mystic Mountain Rainforest Aerial Explorer 700 feet above the ground on a chairlift-style cable car. This soothing ride glides through the top of the canopy, providing glimpses of the cliff-lined north shore and the emerald treetops. At the peak, explore the educational pavilion that emphasizes four distinct components of Jamaica’s proud history: the environment and natural resources native to the island; the country’s colorful heritage and culture; Jamaican maritime prominence; and the athletic tradition of the Jamaican people. There will also be time to walk up to the observation tower for spectacular views. During the return ride, the tram glides just below the treetops, providing a different perspective of the forest.
Ocho Rios is also home to the Green Grotto Caves, a large labyrinth of limestone caves with numerous intriguing rock formations, chambers, and light holes. The caves are part of a series of interconnected passageways that spread across 64 acres far beneath the Dry Harbour Mountains. Along with stalagmites and stalactites, there is a small, yet captivating underground pool called the Grotto Lake within the innermost cavern.
Estimated to be more than a half-million years old, the Green Grotto Caves have served different purposes for various groups of people throughout Jamaica’s history. The native Taíno Indians found shelter in the caves; slaves found refuge in them; and Spaniards used them as hideouts when the British took over. Today, the caves are used for ecological exploration. Swim with dolphins at Dolphin Cove, an exciting entertainment facility surrounded by lush tropical jungle. The all-inclusive theme park is home not only to a family of bottlenose dolphins but also to exotic birds, snakes, and iguanas. Watch a thrilling shark show, witness stingrays gracefully gliding through the lagoon, and visit a replica of Jamaica’s most famous pirate haunt, Little Port Royal, where pirates roam through town. There’s also the opportunity to relax on the beach while listening to the rhythms of Caribbean music and to sample the world-famous Blue Mountain Coffee at the Star Buccaneers coffee shop.
Ocho Rios, also known as the garden center of Jamaica, is flourishing with tropical plants and flowers. Of the 3,800 kinds of flowering plants and ferns growing on Jamaica, some 720 are endemic. The Cranbrook Flower Forest offers stately royal palms, perfectly groomed lawns, cascading waterfalls, and an array of tropical flowers. Nature enthusiasts will be awestruck during the three-mile drive through Fern Gully. The former riverbed is now a winding road that runs through a shaded forest with more than 300 species of fern trees. The gully is lined with vendor stalls where islanders display wood carvings and other local crafts.
Rafting down the Martha Brae River, another popular excursion, is Jamaica’s version of a Venetian gondola ride. Participants board a 30-foot-long bamboo raft and enjoy a three-mile ride along the Martha Brae River. An expert guide paddles the raft down the gentle waterway, passing some of nature’s most beautiful treasures. Each raft typically holds between two and four passengers. For a more solo experience, there are also river tubing and kayaking options along the Martha Brae and the Rio Bueno.
To get in touch with the wonders of the plant and animal life of Falmouth, take a guided tour of the nearby Jamaica Swamp Safari Village. Here, visitors can venture into a walk-through aviary and observe various species of rare endemic birds; watch the American crocodile being called, fed, and handled; view various species of exotic animals including the kinkajou, the tayra, and the agouti; hold a baby crocodile or a Jamaican yellow snake; and learn about the exploits of Agent 007 and the famous crocodile-jumping scene from the James Bond film Live and Let Die, which was shot on location here in 1972.
The natural splendor of the northern coastal region has inspired a number of noted artists. Author Ian Fleming found inspiration for his James Bond adventure series on one of the island’s most exquisite strips of sand. His former home has been transformed into GoldenEye Hotel on James Bond Beach, which is about 20 minutes away from Ocho Rios. Jamaica earned a starring role as the gorgeous setting for two James Bond films: Dr. No and Live and Let Die. The area also inspired British playwright Sir Noël Coward to write many manuscripts at his cliffside cottage, Firefly Estate.
Jamaica is celebrated for its tropical beauty, its reggae music, and its cuisine, but it’s the spirit of the people that really makes this Caribbean gem shine. A strong African heritage stems from the same sugar industry that allowed the island’s plantation owners to prosper. These African cultures have since been joined by an influx of Asians, Indians, and Middle Easterners, making Jamaica a melting pot of cultures from around the world. It makes sense that the national motto is “Out of many, one people.”
Rastafarianism was brought into the limelight in the 1970s thanks in large part to reggae legend Bob Marley. Bob Marley fans can pay tribute to the king of reggae at the mountain village of Nine Mile, the musician’s birthplace. It’s the location of the Bob Marley Museum, which features exclusive memorabilia and the Bob Marley Mausoleum, the musician’s final resting place.