Unsplash / Sébastien Jermer

Ocho Rios Jamaica is one of the Caribbean nation’s main tourist destinations on its north coast.  Ocho Rios (eight rivers in Spanish) was once a sleepy banana export and fishing port and is now a major cruise ship port of call.

The town was once a preferred destination for British and American artistic and literary society.  Noël Coward followed Ian Fleming in building a beautifully situated home in the hills overlooking Ocho Rios, and Errol Flynn was a frequent visitor.  Fleming wrote several of his James Bond novels at his home, GoldenEye, and the Dunn’s River Falls and beach area was used in the filming of the first James Bond film, Dr. No.

Beaches are not the primary focal point for Ocho Rios tourism, in fact, the bay itself is dominated by an ore terminal.  The emphasis is on the area’s spectacular natural setting and features, its gardens, waterfalls, and rivers.

Tourism has followed the cruise visitors and new attractions featuring the natural bounty of land and sea have been developed to take advantage of the steady crush of tourists from the ships.

There is a wealth of natural attractions to see during your stay in Ocho Rios, and one good reference to things to see and do in the area is the summary prepared by the guidebook Frommers.

Natural beauty spots in Ocho Rios

Undoubtedly the most famous site in the area, if not in all Jamaica, Dunn’s River Falls is an impossibly photogenic series of terraced waterfalls that drop down 600 feet to an inviting pool at the bottom of the falls and flow out to the sea, bordered by a scenic stretch of beach.

Dunn’s River Falls does suffer from its popularity with the cruise ship crowds, who flock here to climb the falls.  This is done with the help of a guide, who leads a human chain of visitors slowly up the falls, carefully picking out the best places to step on the slippery limestone rocks as you walk through the rushing waters. Water shoes are a must to navigate the falls walk.

Guides will expect a tip at the end, so try to keep some money dry in a waterproof pouch you carry with you.  Be aware that there is a crafts market at the end that you must pass through on your way out, and local merchants can be aggressive in touting their merchandise.

In the age of Instagram, the Blue Hole, now referred to as Island Gully Falls, has risen dramatically in popularity in recent years.  It consists of a series of beautiful waterfall-fed pools in the jungle set along a river.  A 25-minute drive from Ocho Rios, Island Gully Falls sees fewer crowds than Dunn’s River Falls.

Swim in the turquoise water and relax on the rocks while taking in the gorgeous jungle views. Channel your inner Tarzan on the rope swings.  The higher you climb, the fewer the people.  Guides show you the best places to swim and cross the river to avoid rocks.

Shaw Park is a 25-acre terraced garden that was formerly the Shaw Park Estate. Home of a Jamaican family until the beginning of the 19th century, then later a hotel whose pool is still part of the gardens.  These lush botanical gardens set on the hills overlooking Ocho Rios and the Caribbean are a beautiful and relaxing alternative to the many action-oriented attractions in the area.  A waterfall soothes with the sound of falling water, and there is a myriad of bird life to enjoy.

Take the time to drive Fern Gully, a scenic 3-mile stretch of winding road built on the site of a former riverbed. The river disappeared after an earthquake in 1907.  Giant tree ferns form a canopy overhead, blotting out the sunlight.  Along the way, there are roadside vendors whose stalls carry locally-made crafts and souvenirs, such as wood carvings.

Outdoor adventure highlights

Many attractions have been built to take advantage of the natural beauty of the flora and fauna of Ocho Rios, Jamaica, and the cruise ship tourism that provides them with a steady flow of guests.  These can provide a fun diversion for visitors looking for adventurous fun.

Mystic Mountain has built a series of outdoor adventures out of the jungle terrain around Ocho Rios.  The adventure begins with the Sky Explorer chair lift ride.  Once at the top, you can then take a single-person bobsled ride through the rain forest, and then finish by zip-lining through the trees.  Those who had enough excitement after the bobsled ride could opt to ride the chairlift down!

Dolphin Cove is set across the road from Dunn’s River Falls and is a marine park that offers guests an up-close encounter with local sea life.  Snorkel with stingrays or join in the dolphin encounter experience to feed and swim with these intelligent mammals.  You can also paddle on glass-bottomed kayaks or take a jungle trail walk.

Drift over gentle rapids on the White River riding comfortably in plastic tubes while enjoying an aquatic adventure offered by tour companies such as Ocho Rios White River Tubing Safaris.  Participants can float lazily along with the current while birders can spot species in the trees en route.  Limestone bedrock underneath the river filters out impurities and gives the river its lively blue color.  Ocho Rios White River Tubing Safaris offers a 90-minute excursion with round-trip transport, the tubing adventure, guides, and refreshments included.

A taste of historical Ocho Rios

Ocho Rios, Jamaica was a place where artists flocked in the early 1900s.  Playwright and composer Noel Coward’s 1-bedroom hilltop retreat, named Firefly for the luminescent insects that light up the evening sky, perches in the hills 20 miles east of town.  Photos, paintings, and pianos still in place as Coward left them. There is a statue of him on a bench gazing out at the stupendous views of the north coast of Jamaica.  This great vantage point was once the site of a lookout for pirate Henry Morgan.  Ian Fleming also lived nearby at Oracabessa in a home he called GoldenEye, now a luxury hotel.

Music fans may want to join a tour to the village of Nine Mile, where reggae icon Bob Marley was born and where he was buried.  Guided tours include the house, small museum, and burial site.  Here you can learn more about Marley’s life and his Rastafarian religion.

Ocho Rios, Jamaica is one of the scenic highlights of the island’s north coast. It is blessed with gorgeous natural surroundings including rivers that feed waterfalls and create beautiful attractions like Dunn’s River Falls.  The beauty of local flowers and plants can be admired at several botanical gardens such as at Shaw Park.  History devotees can tour Firefly or the Marley house and museum to see Ocho Rios’ history. And those wishing to charge their adrenaline can do so in the jungle adventures of Mystic Mountain, tubing on the White River or getting up close to marine life at Dolphin Cove.

Ocho Rios shares its natural beauties in different ways, but the spectacular setting leaves an indelible impression on all who visit.