Bob Marley’s birthplace and the cradle of reggae music, the land of delicious jerk barbecue, exotic beaches, lush nature, and adventure activities – Jamaica is more an experience than a simple bucket list destination. And before I start sharing my Jamaica experience with you, I’ll just note one thing: Jamaica is not an island for those people who don’t know how to relax and enjoy life. There is one sentence one Jamaican once told me: “There is no problem in Jamaica, just a situation” – and once you are there and start interacting with Jamaican natives, you’ll know exactly what my Jamaican friend meant by that.
Before I tell you more about the places I enjoyed the most in Jamaica, I would like to share with you some facts about Jamaica.
- Jamaica is the third-largest island in the Caribbean Sea, after Cuba and Hispaniola. It is an island country of the West Indies, with the capital city of Kingston, situated in the southeast of the country. Other big cities are Ocho Rios, Falmouth, Montego Bay.
- It had a long colonial history: it was under Spanish rule until the 17th century when Great Britain conquered it, renaming it Jamaica. The island became independent from Great Britain in 1962, but still remains a member of the Commonwealth.
- It is the fourth-most populous country in the Caribbean: the population of Jamaica counts over 2.9 million inhabitants, while this count doubles with tourist influx. Most Jamaicans are of African origin, the descendants of slaves brought by European colonists.
- Jamaica is a bilingual country: The primary spoken language of Jamaica is an English-based creole called Patwa (Patois), while English has the status of official language used in public life.
- The island is the birthplace of reggae music legend Bob Marley. He was born in Nine Miles, St. Ann, and his home and museum are located in Kingston. There are many tours offering the visit to the house and museum, for more information visit the official museum website: https://www.bobmarleymuseum.com/
BEST THINGS TO DO IN JAMAICA
Jamaica has so much to offer, but here I’ll write about things I personally preferred the most and absolutely think are worth visiting. I had the opportunity to visit all these places while working on a cruise ship (check out my crew member experience here) while our cruise ship was docked in Falmouth and just a couple of times in Ocho Rios.
1. CLIMBING THE DUNN’S RIVER FALLS
This unusual waterfall is one of the most popular natural attractions in Jamaica and in the entire Caribbean! For nature lovers and adrenaline seekers, this place is a must! The waterfall is located in Ocho Rios, just a half an hour drive from the cruise port and a city center. Situated in the middle of the green jungle, by the sea, Dunn’s river falls extend across more than 180 meters with water tumbling over rocky terraces and limestone ledges into the sea.
It takes 45 minutes to climb the falls, depending on the crowds. It a strenuous but extremely fun activity, particularly if you are coming with a group of friends. Be ready to get wet (don’t worry, water is not that cold) and if by any chance you feel like you cannot continue, there is a staircase by the waterfall so you can give up anytime.
Before you start climbing, you will be divided into groups, each with an instructor who will be the leader. You have to listen to your instructor because sometimes the currents in some parts of the waterfall are strong and the instructor will warn you during the climb. You have to wear water shoes and if you don’t have them, you can purchase them there – mine was 10$. Right by the entrance to the waterfall area, there are changing rooms and restrooms so you don’t have to worry about where you’ll change your clothes. And when it comes to that, bring extra clothes because you will get wet during the climb.
The good thing about the waterfalls is that even if you don’t want to climb, there are still things to do. There is a staircase along the falls, so you can see the people climbing without doing it yourself. Also, the surrounding area is full of shops and places to buy some snacks or drinks, so you can have fun however you choose to do.
If you are coming by the cruise ship, I always recommend you take one of the shore excursions as that way you are guaranteed to come back to the ship on time. Jamaicans can be very irresponsible when it comes to the organization (they are always late, they don’t show up, or they overcharge you…) so in order to be sure, book a tour with a ship. You’ll realize why I’m telling you this once you come to Jamaica!
2. JAMAICA HORSEBACK RIDE N’ SWIM
Horseback ride n’ swim is one of the most unique experiences I’ve had! This is one of the shore excursions offered by the cruise company well worth doing if you have never tried this sort of activity! The excursion was organized from the port of Falmouth and it took us one hour drive to reach the starting point.
Bear in mind that buses in Jamaica are not the same standard buses you are used to (if you live in Europe or USA) – Jamaican ones are smaller, have some additional middle seats and can get crowded, so if you are not a fan of long rides – think twice before booking a tour.
On the other hand, these rides can be very funny and educational as drivers sometimes tell stories about Jamaica or just share some local jokes, so probably you won’t get bored. In addition, Jamaica’s natural surroundings on the way there are beautiful, so you’ll be enjoying some gorgeous views and landscapes.
Once you reach the starting point, you will be welcomed by staff and instructors who will provide you with a briefing and necessary equipment – and, of course, your new best friend, a horse.
The ride is split into two parts: on land and in the ocean. The part on land is beautiful as you will be exploring the Jamaican countryside: you will pass farmland, sugar plantations, and hear tales about Jamaican history. Once this part is over, you will take a break and then continue the more thrilling part of the adventure: swimming with horses in the ocean. Horses are well-trained and guides are with you all the time, so you don’t have to worry about safety. Also, regarding your mobile phone – you can take it with you but make sure you have a waterproof phone case.
After the riding experience, we took some refreshments at the bar, picked up our stuff from the lockers (you can rent lockers there), and embarked the bus for the way back to ship with smiles on our faces and some great new memories.
3. SWIMMING WITH DOLPHINS AT DOLPHIN COVE
If you love animals and enjoy spending time with them, go have fun with dolphins at the dolphin cove. There are three locations where you can interact with dolphins, and the one I went to was the one in Ocho Rios, just 15 minutes ride from the cruise port.
The place is lovely, it has a small zoo, a restaurant, a couple of shops to buy souvenirs, and welcoming staff who will introduce you to the dolphin interaction programs they offer. You can choose between a dolphin encounter where you hug, kiss, or dance with the dolphin, or swimming with the dolphins, where dolphins will push and pull you, plus you get some kisses as well. There is also a program called Royal swimming, which means swimming with two dolphins at the same time – the absolute highlight! While you are having fun with the dolphins, the photograph will take professional photos of you that you can purchase afterward. Photos are not free, you have to pay for them and usually, prices are quite high, depending on the dolphin program you chose.
Some of these places also offer swimming with sharks and stingrays in their natural environment! How cool is that? Anyway, this is a very nice activity which I definitely recommend doing BUT bear in mind that, if you are coming from Falmouth – it takes one hour and a half to reach the dolphin cove, so it’s much better to go on this tour when you are located in Ocho Rios.
4. CHUKKA ADRENALINE ZIPLINE, RIVER TUBING & ADVENTURE FALLS
This activity is for adventure seekers and people in decent physical shape, ideal for families and group of friends! It is packed with adrenaline and if you are ready for an unforgettable Jamaican experience – you’ll love this one! Chukka is a company and one of the biggest tour operators in Jamaica organizing all sorts of activities and tours, like ATV rides, bamboo rafting, river tubing, zipline, and many others. They have several estates throughout the whole island, so you can choose where to go based on where your location is. One of the shore excursions onboard my cruise ship was a tour to Chukka estate located half an hour drive from Falmouth, where our ship was docked. Once my friends and I got there, we enjoyed the zipline over the replica of Dunn’s River Falls as well as tubing down the famous Martha Brae River. We had delicious traditional Jamaican lunch afterward – jerk chicken with rice and salad. The staff at the estate was very organized and friendly, which contributed overall to our experience.
5. DOCTOR’S CAVE BEACH, MONTEGO BAY
Montego Bay is one of the most popular tourist towns in Jamaica. It is very crowded and has many attractions to offer, but what I liked the most was the beautiful Doctor’s Cave beach located in the town center. In order to get to the beach, you can catch a taxi or go with a shore excursion offered by the cruise company.
The entrance to the beach is not free, there is several dollars fee that you have to pay in order to enter. At the beach, you can rent beach chairs and umbrellas, or you can take your own. There are a couple of restaurants where you can grab something to eat, or you can do it outside the beach area as the town center is close by. If you are a beach person, you’ll love this place.
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE GOING TO JAMAICA
- Don’t be surprised if Jamaican people start offering you weed at every single step: at the market, shop, beach, wherever you go there will offer you. Sometimes it gets annoying and overwhelming, but that’s just who they are and it’s part of their culture and lifestyle.
- Don’t pay with credit cards, always have some cash with you! To be honest, I avoid paying with credit cards in the Caribbean. Only if you see that place is an official store, then yes, but if you are buying in regular stores, try paying with cash.
- Jamaicans are very relaxed to such an extent that you start wondering if they take life seriously or not. They take everything easy and seem like they just don’t care – don’t take it personally, try to relax and take it easy as well – that’s the tried recipe for a perfect vacation in Jamaica!