A jewel on top of the Caribbean sea, Jamaica is the most compelling of all of the islands. On the surface it is the best for English-speaking locals and lively vibes, but holds a sometimes hidden depth that every tourist cannot leave without exploring.
Do Go Chasing Waterfalls
Near the pretty Northern port stop of Ocho Rios, behind the white ribbon beaches and in the middle of the lush tropical forest, you’ll find the Dunn’s River Falls.
Climbing up this stunning collection of cascades is something most visitors want to do at least once when on holiday in Jamaica, but there lays the problem- don’t expect to have these falls to yourself! You’ll be making the ascent in a linked line with your fellow tourists (and maybe some locals thrown in for good measure.)
If that takes some of the magic out of the experience for you take a look at the YS Falls instead.
The seven-tiered waterfall in St Elizabeth parish is just as spectacular but without the hoards of eager crowds. You’ll have to make your own way there but that’s sort of the point – where you have organised tours, you have more people!
The Marley Effect
The Marley effect can be felt throughout the island with the iconic reggae strains wafting from every beach bar. Bypass the street sellers with their Bob Marley dreadlocked hats and instead pay true homage to the Jamaican King of Music with a trip to Nine Mile (the mountain birthplace of Marley) just 75 minutes from Ocho Rios.
If you loathe to take up your precious port time sweltering in a taxi then the Reggae Explosion Museum in Ocho or the Reggae Walk of Fame and Museum in Falmouth are good alternatives and are right on the cruise ship doorstep.
Another Ocho Rios favourite is Mystic Mountain – a sort of natural theme park hidden up in the rainforest canopy that overlooks the gorgeous white sand beaches and never-ending deep blue.
Ever seen the film Cool Running’s? Make like Sanka and ‘Feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme! Get on up, it’s bobsled time!’ This attraction features a bobsled ride above the treetops, although it won’t be the snowy experience you’d usually expect, be prepared for the blazing Jamaican heat.
Or if you want to make like Mowgli and head high into the mountain rainforest, there’s a SkyExplorer ride which will take you gently over the swaying tips of the trees, plus a canopy zip line ride for those who fancy a quicker, more adrenalin pumping route.
Finally, wander the butterfly and hummingbird gardens then relax at the Mystic Infinity Edge Pool. Be sure to give the bobsledders a wave as they come whizzing past – and try to spot your cruise ship in port way down below!
The architecture in Jamaica is a step up from most Caribbean island destinations, with Falmouth in particular having a strong architectural identity. Take an hour out of your day to wander this port town to get a feel for the 18th Century Georgian/Gothic mix, or book yourself onto a Falmouth Heritage Walk – the Court House and Anglican Church are highlights to get your camera battery charged for.
Elsewhere on the island the Prospect Plantation in Ocho Rios is one of Jamaica’s oldest 18th century sugar estates, and the Hampden Great House near Montego Bay is a great afternoon out for rum fans – you can take a tour of the onsite distillery and, of course, help them out by giving the sweet/spicy nectar a taste test…
Another of Mo’ Bay’s famous great houses is Rose Hall, but cruisers of a nervous disposition might want to give this one a miss. Legend has it that the hall is haunted by the ghost of Annie Palmer, known as the White Witch of Jamaica; she’s said to have murdered two husbands, including the owner of Rose Hall Plantation John Palmer, as well as numerous slaves before being murdered herself.
If you’re feeling brave (or you’ve come directly from a Hampden House rum tasting!) you can finish off your tour of this majestic plantation house with a look at the tomb that’s said to be Annie’s final resting place. It’s sure to send a shiver down your spine, rum or no rum…
Fancy feeling like an island castaway?A trip down the pea green Marth Brae river on a bamboo raft should do the trick. Whether you choose to be guided through the greenery or fancy giving the bamboo pole-ing a go yourself, it’s a really pretty trip.
Take a taxi to the jumping off point and you’ll find plenty of ready-made rafts and their captains waiting, meaning you won’t have to put together the bamboo raft yourself – which is always a bonus.
If you’re looking for the very best beach on the island, Doctor’s Cave Beach in Mo’ Bay is undeniably popular.
Easy to reach from any cruise port, this stretch of sand is the place to party with a sea view, whether that means trampolining in the water, snorkelling or just chilling in one of the Hip Strip beach bars behind it. Maybe you want to test the reported rejuvenating properties of the waters, or perhaps chilling under an umbrella with a bottle of Red Stripe is tonic enough. Either way, it’s a good spot to recharge your sightseeing batteries in the sunshine.
However, if playing ‘dodge the rainbow coloured beach umbrellas’ is your idea of holiday hell, pop over the dividing wall and spread your beach towel on the soft sands of neighbouring Cornwall Beach instead – it’s a much less busy alternative.
For those who feel like a party just isn’t a party without music, cocktails and, yes, a waterslide, the Jamaican institution that is Margaritaville is a must. With locations in Mo’ Bay, Ocho Rios and Falmouth, this larger than life hangout is the place for you if those cocktails just don’t taste as good without a waterslide within splashing distance!
Kiss a Dolphin
Forget aquarium based swimming with dolphins, this natural cove that’s surrounded by tropical rainforest, offers the opportunity to swim with dolphins in their natural(ish) environment. If dolphins just aren’t James Bond enough for you though, you can also get up close and personal with sharks instead…
One of the really great things about having a Jamaica stop-off on your cruise holiday itinerary is the fact that, although each port is distinct (Falmouth for Georgian architecture and Ocho Rios for rainforest adventures), they’re close enough together to make all attractions accessible, whichever port your ship is pulling into.
Add spice to your Jamaican port days by mixing some classic island experiences with some off-the-radar exploration and you’ll have a big smile on your face on your return to ship. Have you been to Jamaica already? Are you a self-confessed fan of the Caribbean? Leave us your comments…