It’s altogether too easy to think of certain destinations in only a specific number of ways. Jamaica, for instance, might bring visions of tropical beaches, tasty jerk dishes, and friendly islanders. Yet, it is home to a remarkable list of cultural, historical, natural, and other sites.
As one fan of the island wrote, “A veritable jewel of the Caribbean region, Jamaica boasts its own unique Carib come Creole come African come colonial come Latin culture and heritage.” That translates to something for everyone, and whether it is an old English mansion, a historic plantation, a stunning beach, a museum, or just about anything else, you can find it in Jamaica.
Dunn’s River Falls
Many travelers are surprised by the dense jungles and steep hills in the Ocho Rios area of Jamaica. Thinking of it as a spot for white-sand beaches, the idea of fresh waters cascading into amazing waterfalls arrives as a pleasant bonus. However, this is exactly what can be expected when paying a visit to Dunn’s River Falls.
Tucked between the jungles and the beaches, it easily rates as one of the top destinations on the island. You may find yourself elbow to elbow with scores of others eager to wade into the waters or climb the amazing shelves of stone that make the falls. It can be a very challenging and tiring experience if you intend to make the climb, but you can also just plan for a dip in the plunge pools formed by the natural rocks and falls.
You will want to plan for a few hours or even a full day. There is an admission fee, but you can stay all day and until closing. There are tours and enthusiastic nature guides happy to tell people all about the history of this spot, including the area’s history as a battle site.
Rick’s Café Cliffs
While you might read the words “Rick’s Café” and think of Casablanca, the island of Jamaica is also home to its own Rick’s. Located in Negril, it is (as one enthusiast notes) “one of the most popular tourist attractions and hot spots on the island.” While you might think the appeal is the food and drink, it is actually the cliff diving that occurs each evening at sunset. There are 35-foot high cliffs with amazing sunset views, and as that same enthusiast noted, “The cliff is also the place where people engage in the most heart-throbbing, nerve-racking cliff diving in Jamaica. Those who love adrenaline and adventure have even climbed to the top of trees, above Rick’s Cafe, and dived 80-feet into the water.”
It is popular with islanders, too, and that makes it a great spot to meet authentic Jamaican residents.
Seven Mile Beach
And while you’re heading to Rick’s, pay a visit to one of Negril’s other major attractions – its famous Seven Mile Beach. Consistently rated as one of the best beaches in the world, it has white sands, flawless turquoise waters, amazing sunsets, loads of nightlife spots right along the beachfront, and an array of great spots to savor the sun.
Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park
If you would rather spend time on verdant hills and stunning mountains, this is for you. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and perfect for avid hikers. Keep in mind that it is not a spot for the novice hiker as the highest peak stands at a surprising 7,400 feet. It is defined by craggy terrain and extremely humid conditions, but a climb can offer you some of the most unique views and experiences imaginable.
As one expert said, the “summit offers sweeping panoramas over the tropical canopies of the forest all around, while views down to Kingston on the south coast and Hope Bay and Annotto in the north are revealed on the clearest days.”
Rafting the Rio Grande
If you are heading to the national park, you can also plan to take a rafting adventure along the Rio Grande. A beautiful body of water that winds its way along the foothills of the Blue Mountains, it offers rides out of Port Antonio. Visitors are taught how to navigate the flat, bamboo rafts as they make their way past amazing river gorges, plantations full of bananas, and into the mountain lowlands.
Rafting is also possible along the Martha Brae River in Falmouth.
A small village in the heart of Jamaica, it is not terribly far from Rio Bueno and the beaches of Montego Bay. Why is it a must-see destination? It is the home and resting place of legendary musician Bob Marley. Described by many as a little cluster of homes, it is where you can see his childhood home and take tours given by authentic Rastafarians who take the eager to see Rock Pillow – the site where Marley said he learned to play and from which he took inspiration.
There is also a Bob Marley Museum in Kingston, known as One Love, and it was converted from his home to a museum by his wife upon the late singer’s passing.
The Luminous Lagoon
The Trelawny wetlands area is home to a remarkable experience that definitely rates as a must-see site. Running from Rock to Falmouth, this lagoon is home to millions of dinoflagellates. These are glowing microorganisms that love the blend of fresh and salty water that meet in the lagoon. Pay a visit at night to see how they glow in the dark whenever the waters shift in the tide or are disturbed by fish and sea life. You can take tours right out of a local marina to see these amazing creatures.
Other spots to consider are Rose Hall Great House, home of the White Witch of Rose Hall; James Bond Beach, home to author Ian Fleming (and where many of the most famous Bond stories were written); and eat Jamaican jerk at Scotchies (with seven spots on the island), or in Portland in general. Clearly, there is much more to see and do here. So, while making plans for a visit to this enchanting island, be sure you include at least one or two of these “not to be missed” stops and experiences in Jamaica.