SD › Best Places to Stay in Jamaica
Updated: December 23, 2022
Our Favorite Jamaica Hotels
• 5-Star Hotel: GoldenEye
• Boutique Hotel: The Cliff
• Cheap Hotel: Lighthouse Inn 2
• Family Hotel: Round Hill
• Adults-Only: Couples Negril
• All-Inclusive: Iberostar Grand Rose Hall
• Best Pool: Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall
• With Private Pool: Trident
• Near Airport: Sandals Montego Bay
The Best Area to Stay in Jamaica
As the third largest island in the Caribbean, Jamaica certainly offers plenty of pristine white-sand beaches, but there’s a lot more to experience: spectacular mountains and waterfalls; Blue Mountain coffee; great food (jerk chicken, curry goat and Jamaican patties are just the start); excellent rum; and a dynamic culture that gave birth to ska, reggae, ragga, and the great Bob Marley, Jamaica’s most famous son.
For most visitors the choice of where to stay comes down to one of the “big three” beach resort areas: Montego Bay, Negril, and Ocho Rios. This makes sense for first time visitors (or those primarily interested in the beach), but for the more adventurous, the island offers a lot more.
Of the three big resorts, Montego Bay (MoBay) is the most developed – it’s actually the second biggest metro area on the island, with hotels and golf courses lining the coast, as well as a huge range of bars, restaurants, and shopping malls that range from upscale duty-free centers to local craft markets. Covering the far western end of Jamaica, Negril is younger and more laid back than MoBay, with dramatic cliffs folding into 7 miles (11km) of white sand – easily one of the island’s best beaches. Negril also has a well-earned reputation for partying and nightlife. Some 60 miles (97km) east of MoBay, but also on the Jamaica’s north coast, Ocho Rios is the smallest of the three, with its beaches enhanced by a huge array of extreme sports and natural attractions that include the Blue Hole, Dunn’s River Falls, and the Mystic Mountain adventure park. To really get a feel for the country and its history, you’ll need to at least visit Kingston, Jamaica’s pulsating capital and cultural hub. All the country’s biggest monuments and museums are here (including those dedicated to Bob Marley), and the city’s nightlife, culinary and arts scenes are unmatched. With more time Jamaica offers a wealth of even more rewarding experiences, from hiking among coffee plantations on the Blue Mountains and rafting on the Rio Grande, to beach-hopping along the sleepy East Coast.
The good news is that, unlike many Caribbean islands, the range of accommodation in Jamaica is incredibly wide, from numerous budget options to B&Bs and five-star resorts. The island was the birthplace of the modern all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean (Sandals opened its first resort here back in 1981, and Couples and Hedonism are also major players today), so visitors who have no intention of leaving the beach are well catered to. For those that prefer self-catering, the island is smothered with rental properties, from beachside chalets to grand villas – almost all of these can be booked online, but unless the property is centrally located, you’ll have to factor in the cost of a rental car.
Jamaica Travel Tips
- The busiest airport in Jamaica is Sangster International Airport, some 2 miles (3.2km) east of downtown Montego Bay (though it’s possible to walk to the closest beach hotels from the terminal). This is also the best airport for Negril, the East Coast, and Ocho Rios (though the latter is closer to Ian Fleming International Airport, which currently serves only American Airlines flights from Miami). Kingston’s Norman Manley International Airport is another major gateway, and is better if you’re heading for Port Antonio or the Blue Mountains.
- Jamaica’s currency is the Jamaican dollar (J$). US dollars (notes only) are widely accepted at major resorts (where prices for tourist services are usually quoted in US$), but in rural areas and Kingston the practice is less common. Unless you are at an all-inclusive resort, you are likely to get change back in Jamaican dollars. Using US dollars you’ll also lose around 10% on the conversion rate, compared to withdrawing Jamaican dollars from an ATM. Credit cards are widely accepted, but you’ll need cash for local restaurants and shops, especially beyond the major resort areas.
- If you intend to do a lot of exploring beyond the resorts (or Kingston) it makes sense to rent a car – all the major companies are represented in Jamaica, and driving is relatively easy (though Jamaica drives on the left, like the UK and Australia). There’s no need to rent a car if you plan to spend most of your time in one place or on the beach, as local taxis or tour buses regularly zip back and forth from the airport or local sights.
- Jamaica experiences a tropical climate meaning hot weather year-round, but the peak tourism season runs mid-November to April, when it tends to be drier and a little cooler (and less humid) than in summer. September and October tend to be the most humid months, and also the prime time for hurricanes – hotel rates are subsequently cheapest at this time.
We’ve covered our favorite places to visit and stay in more detail below, but with more time (or on a second or third visit to Jamaica) these areas are also worth checking out.
- Treasure Beach: Tucked away on Jamaica’s lesser-visited south coast (60 miles/97km from Montego Bay), this collection of small bays and villages makes for an extremely laid-back beach vacation – tourism here is small-scale and community based, and you won’t find major resorts. The beaches themselves are beautifully undeveloped, primarily comprising fine black sand. Our favorite places to stay here include KuDehya Guesthouse, Beyond Sunset Resort & Villas, and Jake’s Hotel.
- Bluefields Bay: Jamaica’s southwest coast is anchored by this stunning bay and lively village (33 miles/53km from Montego Bay), sprinkled with enchanting guesthouses, bars, and friendly locals. There’s great Jamaican food plus a memorial to local hero Peter Tosh, legendary band member of the Wailers. Our favorite hotels here include Shades Cottage Guesthouse and Wilton House.
The Best Places to Stay in Jamaica
- Best Luxury Hotels in Jamaica
Bahia Principe Luxury Runaway Bay • Couples Negril • Excellence Oyster Bay • GoldenEye • Riu Palace Jamaica • Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall • Iberostar Grand Rose Hall • Round Hill • Royalton Negril • Sunset At The Palms • Trident
- Best Boutique Hotels in Jamaica
The Cliff • Geejam • S Jamaica • Tensing Pen
- Best B&Bs in Jamaica
Bailey’s • The Blue House • The Blue Orchid • Castlevue • Polkerris
- Best Cheap & Midrange Hotels in Jamaica
Cedar Ridge Lodge • Lighthouse Inn 2 • Wild Coffee Retreat • Xtabi
- Best Hostels in Jamaica
Backpackers Jamaica • Bak A Yaad • Five Gables • Germaican Hostel • Judy House • Ragamuffin
Where to Stay in Jamaica for…
- Most Romantic Destination: Negril
While romantic resorts and boutiques can be found all over Jamaica, Negril is a solid bet for couples, with some of the loveliest beaches on the island, captivating sunsets, and lots of stylish boutique hotels and luxury resorts to choose from. All-inclusive, adults-only Sunset At The Palms on Seven Mile Beach features intimate treehouse-style villas, while Skylark Negril Beach resort is a boutique hotel right on the beach, with a retro tropical design and an excellent spa. In Negril’s West End area, the rustic-chic villas at the Rockhouse Hotel top volcanic cliffs above the ocean, offering sensational views – there’s another high quality spa here, and guests can be ferried to the beach at Skylark (its sister property). Failing that, there’s always Hedonism II or Couples Swept Away; it’s possible for non-guests to visit the luxurious Oasis spa at the latter hotel, which offers packages for couples. For a romantic dinner it’s hard to beat The Caves, which has two private dining options actually located in a sea cave, plus the atmospheric Blackwell Rum Bar.
- Best Place for Nightlife: Kingston and Negril
As capital of Jamaica, Kingston serves up the island’s most dynamic nightlife, from all-night clubs and cocktail bars to weekly street parties. Sample the cocktails at the Regency Bar & Lounge, or head into the hills to enjoy reggae at the legendary Dub Club (7b Skyline Drive). In town there’s Fiction; the ever-popular CRU Bar and Kitchen, a rooftop bar with great cocktails; the Mahogany Tree Bar at Devon House, one of the few open-air bars in the city; and Usain Bolt’s Tracks & Records, the restaurant and sports bar dedicated to Jamaica’s track and field legend. Note that nightlife is very spread out across the city, so taxis are always the best way to get around Kingston at night. Negril offers an entirely different nightlife experience – it’s a lot more mellow, with beach bars and outdoor terraces taking in the waves and the stunning sunsets. The clifftops in the West End give the best views so tend to be busy at dusk, while late night partying tends to focus on Seven Mile Beach. This is where you’ll find The Jungle, Negril’s only real nightclub (on Normal Manley Blvd), while everyone goes to Rick’s Café in the West End at least once – it’s a touristy but fun night out, with live bands and local cliff divers providing entertainment. We also like the Canoe Beach Bar, Drifter’s Bar, and Boat Bar on Seven Mile Beach.
- Best Place for Food and Restaurants: Kingston
Sampling Jamaican food is one of the island’s great pleasures, from gourmet restaurants serving fresh lobster and conch to the beloved stalls selling jerk chicken. The vast majority of foreign visitors experience Jamaican food at the three main resorts (MoBay, Negril and Ocho Rios) – and while the choices are excellent at all of them, Kingston is really the best place to get a sense of the diversity of Jamaican cuisine. You’ll find a wider choice of restaurants than anywhere else in Jamaica here, from Chinese to Middle Eastern, as well as authentic Jamaican dishes and a good choice of vegetarian and vegan spots such as the excellent Cheffing Don (121 1/2 Constant Spring Rd; phone: +18764516932) and Marianna’s Kitchen (67 Constant Spring Rd; phone: +18766682092).
Other highlights include the cheese and charcuterie platters at Uncorked; the treats at Eleni’s Bakery Jamaica; Chilitos Jamexican Food, fusing Jamaican and Mexican dishes; the creative small plates at Broken Plate; brunch at CRU Bar and Kitchen; the tasty crêpes at Tea Tree Crêperie; the patties served at Devon House Bakery, adjacent to the upscale Steak House on The Verandah; and famous Gloria’s Seafood over in Port Royal. Of the resort areas, Negril offers the best cosmopolitan dining scene, with the likes of Flag City Seafood & Grill, Kool Vybes Bar And Jerk Center and Ivan’s all justly popular, though Montego Bay also features top-notch restaurants in its major resorts.
- Best Place for Shopping: Kingston and Montego Bay
Though most Jamaican resorts attract local souvenir sellers as well as larger craft markets and touristy shops, you’ll find the most authentic goods and the best prices in Kingston. Reggae fans are in for a real treat in the capital, where you’ll find some the last remaining record and music shops, especially on Orange Street: Rockers International, Prince Buster Record Shack (127 Orange St), and Derrick Harriot’s One Stop among them. You’ll find bargain souvenirs at Carby’s Souvenir and Craft Village, and at nearby Craft Cottage; local fashion at Sun Island; and candles and aromatherapy at Starfish Oils. It’s also worth checking out the weekly Kingston Night Market (on Tuesdays at 8 Hillcrest Ave), which showcases local arts and craft vendors, and the Coronation Market, the capital’s premier fresh fruit and veg market. For contemporary Kingston artists, visit the Olympia Gallery.
Montego Bay is known for duty-free shopping malls – it’s a good place to shop for the usual jewelry, perfume, bags, high-end fashion and leather goods. St James Place Shopping Plaza, Baywest Shopping Centre, and the upscale Whitter Village are good places to start. The central Sagicor Montego Bay Commercial Centre (aka the “LOJ”) has a couple of clothes shores, pharmacies, and souvenir shops, while you’ll find a selection of locally-owned stores on St James and Barnett streets in Downtown MoBay. There are also a couple of handicraft markets here: the Old Fort Craft Market (on Fort St), and the slightly cheaper Harbour Street Craft & Cultural Village (between Harbour St and Howard Cooke Blvd). All sorts of Jamaican goods are sold here, from wickerwork and handmade jewelry to T-shirts and woodcarving. Other stores worth checking out include Henderson’s Bookstore (27 St James St), Island Perfume & Gift Shop, and Sangster’s Book Store.
- Best Beaches: Ocho Rios and Negril
Though the entire coast of Jamaica is studded with fabulous beaches, Ocho Rios is our favorite place to go beach hopping. Ocho Rios Beach itself is a good place to start, while Mahogany Beach is a little more laid back, and Dunn’s River Falls Beach and Mammee Bay area a short drive west. For a little more seclusion we prefer Pleasure Cove Beach just east of town, while Bamboo Beach (aka Reggae Beach) is the place for chilled beach bars and reggae music (Fridays are most fun here). Over in Oracabessa Bay there’s “James Bond Beach” which featured in the Dr No movie (and is near Ian Fleming’s GoldenEye, now a hotel complex with its own gorgeous cove). Alternatively, if you’d rather stay in one place, it’s pretty hard to beat Seven Mile Beach in Negril, arguably Jamaica’s most beautiful stretch of sand.
- Best Place for diving and snorkeling: North Coast/Negril
The best scuba diving and snorkeling sites tend to be concentrated on the north coast of Jamaica, basically the whole stretch between Negril and Ocho Rios (including Montego Bay) – the visibility is best here, there are numerous reefs, trenches (the Cayman Trench lies off the North Coast), overhangs, and wall dives, and even a handful of ship and plane wrecks to explore (the SS Kathryn off Ocho Rios is the most popular). Negril is probably the best place for diving overall thanks to sites such as the “Throne Room”, which is incredibly rich in coral and marine life, and “Frenchman Hole”, which has ledges and a cave; Surprise Reef is great for beginners.
- Best off the beaten path: Cockpit Country
Anyone wanting to really get off the tourist trail should consider renting a car to explore Cockpit Country, a largely untouched area of rainforest, ridges, and hills in the northwest of the island (inland from Montego Bay). Some of the villages here are inhabited by the descendants of the Maroons, enslaved Africans who escaped in the 18th century and fought a series of wars against the British (Accompong Town still retains a degree of autonomy). Just to the south of Cockpit Country proper lies the surprisingly isolated Appleton Estate rum distillery, where you can tour the facilities and sample the finished product. Contact Traveler’s Rest @ Maroon Town, which offers bed and breakfast in the area.
- Safety in Jamaica
Jamaica is much safer than the headlines sometimes make it seem. The major resorts are generally well policed, and the vast majority of Jamaicans are friendly and welcoming. Drug-related crime is a problem in Jamaica, but primarily in parts of Kingston and Spanish Town that you are highly unlikely to ever be near. Take the usual precautions at night and you should be fine. One thing you are likely to encounter at some point is what’s dubbed “hustling” – mostly humorous but sometimes aggressive sales pitches from (mostly young male) Jamaicans while you are otherwise peacefully strolling the street or lying on the beach – selling anything from jewelry to guided tours, “ganja,” and massages. Though this can be irritating (or just tiring after a while), it’s really not dangerous (the erstwhile salesmen do not want any trouble with police). There’s not much you can do about, so try and stay civil (with a polite but consistent “no thanks”) and retain a sense of humor – it’s the reality of making money in a developing country.
The 7 Best Places in Jamaica for Tourists
The capital of Jamaica isn’t likely to be the version of Jamaica you’ve come to experience (initially at least). It’s not a beach resort, obviously, and it’s definitely a tough, edgy city, but you won’t really appreciate modern Jamaica without at least spending some time here. All the major events in Jamaican history happened here – it’s the pumping heart of all Jamaica’s major cultural, artistic and music scenes, and boasts a dynamic nightlife and culinary scene.
Kingston is city-break territory – you could spend a week or so here, but a couple of days is probably enough to get a taster, especially if you also want to visit some beaches during your vacation. The primary sights fall into two areas: the old Downtown near the waterfront, and Uptown (most of Kingston’s hotels and guesthouses are here), which encompasses the more upscale business and residential districts a mile or so north. The main attractions downtown include the National Gallery of Jamaica, which contains the best collection of Jamaican art; National Museum Jamaica, which holds over 19,000 artifacts dating from the pre-Columbian era to current times; and the Natural History Museum, which focuses on Jamaica’s ecology. Marcus Garvey, the Jamaican political activist, is commemorated at Liberty Hall, site of the Kingston headquarters of Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (Garvey is buried in National Heroes Park, just to the north). Uptown, there’s the Peter Tosh Museum, Hope Botanical Gardens, and Emancipation Park, a memorial to the 1838 end of slavery in Jamaica. For Bob Marley fans, there’s the Trench Town Culture Yard Museum, where the legend grew up; the Bob Marley Museum, his beautiful home from 1975 until his death from cancer in 1981; and Tuff Gong Recording Studios.
In addition, there’s historic Port Royal and the white-sand beaches at Lime Cay within a short drive or boat ride. Finally, Hellshire Beach is a rite of passage for any visitor to Kingston; it’s where Kingstonians traditionally go to let off steam (especially on weekends), and is best known for its party scene and famous Hellshire lobster and fried fish. Note, however, that the beach itself has suffered from extreme erosion in recent years (mainly due to climate change), so there’s not much to do here but eat.
• Don’t worry – strolling the downtown Kingston streets during the day is safe and the best way to soak up the lively atmosphere. It’s best to take taxis to get around, especially if you’re new to the city; always take taxis at night.
- The Best Hotels in Kingston
AC Hotel • Hotel phone: +1 876 750 3000
Courtyard Kingston • Hotel phone: +1 876 618 9900
Jamaica Pegasus • Hotel phone: +1 876 926 3691
Spanish Court • Hotel phone: +1 876 926 0000
Terra Nova • Hotel phone: +1 876 926 2211
- Best Cheap/Midrange Hotels
Eventuality B&B • Hotel phone: +1 876 649 3325
- Best Hostels
Backpackers Jamaica • Hotel phone: +1 876 543 6289
Dancehall • Hotel phone: +1 876 827 6761
Ragamuffin • Hotel phone: +1 876 332 9873
2. Montego Bay
Jamaica’s second-largest city, Montego Bay was the first of Jamaica’s major resorts and remains popular for good reason. It’s easy to access – the airport is within walking distance of the beach – and it offers a vast range of accommodation, from budget to all-inclusive five-star luxury. In addition, the city is big enough to offer a taste of authentic Jamaican culture – restaurants and bars – though most businesses are oriented towards overseas tourism. The location, with gorgeous beaches and offshore reefs, all backed by a low-lying ring of hills, adds to the appeal. The city can be broadly divided into two sections: Downtown and the northern section of Gloucester Avenue, aka the “Hip Strip”, though the biggest and poshest resorts line the coast even further east, beyond the airport. Visitors rarely stray into Downtown Mo-Bay, though historic Sam Sharpe Square contains the Montego Bay Cultural Centre, which hosts enlightening exhibits on Jamaican history, and shoppers will find the best bargains here. Just outside town, the Rastafari Indigenous Village is the best place to learn about Jamaica’s most misunderstood spiritual community. Up on the “Hip Strip” you’ll find private beaches such as Doctor’s Cave Bathing Club, which despite the charge (US$6) are not bad – featuring powdery white sand and no beach “hustlers”.
Easy day-trips from MoBay include a couple of intriguing old plantations: the Rose Hall Great House, best known for the legend of Annie Palmer, the “White Witch of Rose Hall”; and 18th-century Greenwood Great House, which is a bit more atmospheric. Montego Bay is also home to Jamaica’s major summer reggae festival, Sumfest, usually taking place from mid to late July.
- The Best Hotels in Montego Bay
Half Moon • Hotel phone: +1 800 626 0592
Riu Palace • Hotel phone: +1 876 940 8022
Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall • Hotel phone: +1 876 618 1234
Iberostar Grand Rose Hall • Hotel phone: +1 876 680 0000
Jewel Grande • Hotel phone: +1 833 325 3935
Round Hill • Hotel phone: +1 876 956 7050
Sandals • Hotel phone: +1 888 726 3257
S Hotel Jamaica • Hotel phone: +1 876 979 0000
- Best Cheap/Midrange Hotels
Castlevue • Hotel phone: +1 876 866 5450
Cedar Ridge Lodge • Hotel phone: +1 876 383 9068
Polkerris • Hotel phone: +1 876 877 7784
- Best B&Bs
The Blue Orchid • Hotel phone: +1 876 979 7531
Mynt Retreat • Hotel phone: +1 876 622 5530
- Best Hostel
Five Gables • Hotel phone: +18763123472
Some 50 miles (80km) west from Montego Bay, Negril is much smaller (less than 7,000 full-time inhabitants) and feels a lot more remote, despite the tourist development. Everything is dominated by its spectacular stretch of white sand (called Seven Mile Beach, though the length is disputed). Once the hangout of hippies, it’s now one of Jamaica’s most popular destinations, though sun, sea and partying are still the main items on the menu.
Negril is fairly spread out, with three main areas. At its heart is the small Downtown, just south of the Negril River, with most services and shops (including fresh food markets) around or near the town’s major roundabout/rotary (aka Negril Square). The three major roads that meet here are Norman Manley Boulevard (aka “the Beach Road”) that runs parallel to Seven Mile Beach; West End Road (aka One Love Drive), which runs along the cliffs to the southwest; and Nonpariel Road, which runs east to the nearest big town, Savanna-la-Mar (aka SavlaMar).
Seven Mile Beach comprises Long Bay to the south, and the smaller Bloody Bay further north, separated by a small headland – you’ll find most of the larger (and all-inclusive) resorts such as Royalton Negril, Couples, Hedonism II, and Riu Palace on Bloody Bay, while Long Bay features a mix of condos, boutique hotels and smaller, family-run guesthouses. The beach is squarely the main attraction here (and all the nightlife, eating and drinking that goes with it). Not far to the east of the beach strip lies the Great Morass, a giant swamp and wetland reserve you can explore on a boat tour (expect herons, egrets, and salt water crocodiles).
South of Downtown Negril lies the West End, which is quite different; the shore here is mostly rocky and lined by cliffs, with the resorts along the coast much quieter affairs – many have access to the water and are perfect for snorkeling and dive trips. West End Road/One Love Road meanders along the coast for around (5km) to 19th-century Negril Lighthouse, a popular photo spot (though Jamaica’s most westernmost tip is actually South Negril Point, 2km to the north). The coast road is known as Lighthouse Road thereafter, continuing along the coast to increasingly
remote villages and guesthouses. The West End is where you’ll get to see the most spectacular sunsets in Jamaica, best experienced at one of several clifftop bars.
• Negril offers some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving in Jamaica, with rich coral reefs, year-round warm water and excellent visibility. Try Negril Adventure Divers, One Love Scuba, or Scuba Dive Today.
• West End Road is lined with jerk shacks and bars, but the most famous spot is Rick’s Café, just south of the lighthouse, open since 1974. It’s best known for its sensational sunset views, 50-foot (15m) cliff-diving demonstrations (local boys doing their best impression of the Acapulco cliff divers), and live bands, but it can get mobbed by tour groups. Staff usually let enthusiastic visitors try jumping in themselves, beginning at around 10ft/3m (up to 35ft/10m maximum, after you’ve tackled 25ft/7.6m).
- The Best Hotels in Negril
Azul Beach Resort • Hotel phone: +1 876 620 0100
The Caves • Hotel phone: +1 876 957 0270
The Cliff Hotel • Hotel phone: +1 800 213 0583
Couples Negril • Hotel phone: +1 876 957 5960
Couples Swept Away • Hotel phone: +1 876 957 4061
Grand Lido Au-Naturel • Hotel phone: +1 876 619 2303
Hedonism II • Hotel phone: +1 855 400 9514
Nirvana on the Beach • Hotel phone: +1 941 708 0203
Riu Palace Tropical Bay • +1 876 957 5900
Royalton Negril • Hotel phone: +1 876 632 7401
Rockhouse Hotel & Spa • Hotel phone:+1 876 957 4373
Sandals • Hotel phone: +1 888 726 3257
Skylark • Hotel phone:+1 876 957 4364
Sunset At The Palms • Hotel phone: +1 876 854 8160
Tensing Pen • Hotel phone: +1 800 957 0387
- Best Cheap/Midrange Hotels
Lighthouse Inn 2 • Hotel phone: +1 876 957 4052
Roots Cafe Rooms • Hotel phone: +1 876 957 4479
Travellers Beach Resort • Hotel phone: +1 718 514 6031
Wild Coffee Retreat • Hotel phone: +1 876 633 5661
Westender Inn • Hotel phone: +1 800 223 3876
Xtabi • Hotel phone: +1 876 957 0121
Yellow Bird Sea • Hotel phone: +1 876 957 4252
- Best Hostels
Bak A Yaad • Hotel phone: +1 876 429 0544
Judy House • Hotel phone: +1 876 424 5481
4. Ocho Rios and the North Coast
The North Coast of Jamaica, anchored by Ocho Rios, offers a vast range of activities from the usual beaches and watersports to adventures in Jamaica’s wild hinterland. Thanks to upgrades and new, fast highways, it’s possible to drive here from Kingston (52 miles/84km) in just over an hour; from Montego Bay (62 miles/100 km), it’s just under 2 hours.
Ocho Rios (aka “Ochi”) itself is a small but lively town with a pleasant beach lining the bay, a cruise ship terminal and lots of shops, hotels, services, and excellent local craft and food markets, making it a good base for the region. The Island Village mall is a popular place to shop, with stores selling souvenirs, clothes, and jewelry. Just to the north, it’s worth paying the small fee (usually $5) to access Mahogany Beach, a beautiful cove with a small lagoon and restaurant. Numerous beaches and coves fan out east and west of Ocho Rios, but it’s the range of activities on offer that makes Ochi different. Mystic Mountain, just over a mile to the west, offers a chairlift over the forest canopy, zip-lines, a thrilling bobsled ride, and infinity pool. At the nearby Dolphin Cove, you can swim with bottlenose dolphins and feed sharks, while Dunn’s River Falls remains one of Jamaica’s most beautiful cascades, despite the tourist development that surrounds them. The waterfall park includes an attractive white-sand beach with a reef just offshore. Just outside Ochi, the Turtle River Falls and Gardens (Eden Bower Rd) is a beautifully preserved slice of rainforest, encompassing 14 waterfalls on the Turtle River, flower gardens, and a walk-in aviary. The nearby Konoko Falls offers a similar experience, with botanical gardens and the impressive waterfalls themselves, a series of terraced cascades with pools big enough to swim in.
With a rental car, there’s also lots to explore along the coast either side of Ochi. To the east there’s the tranquil coastal communities of Oracabessa and Port Maria, separated by Noël Coward’s Firefly House, now an enlightening museum dedicated to the British playwright; Coward lived here and is buried in the garden. Oracabessa itself is home to GoldenEye, once the residence of James Bond author Ian Fleming, and now a lavish five-star hotel. This section of the North Coast is incredibly scenic, with just a few guesthouses and boutique hotels. Beyond Port Maria, the best base to explore this stunning, lesser-visited coastline is Robins Bay, known for its low-key, eco-friendly hotels and Rasta-oriented community of Strawberry. West of Ochi, the main resort hubs are Runaway Bay and Discovery Bay, but the rest of the coast is sprinkled with a handful of relaxed guesthouses, boutique hotels, and unspoiled beaches.
• The beaches are a little better in Negril and Montego Bay, but for the variety of activities on offer, Ochi is hard to beat.
• Note that Ochi is a popular cruise ship port, so the town and its major attractions can get mobbed (mainly between December and March). Most ships leave port by early afternoon.
• The holiday rental market is booming in and around Ocho Rios, with a vast array of properties available from luxury mansions to simple apartments or chalets.These can be excellent value, but you’ll usually need to rent a car to make the most of them.
- The Best Hotels in Ocho Rios & the North Coast
Bahia Principe • Hotel phone: +1 876 973 7000
Couples Sans Souci • Hotel phone: +1 876 994 1206
Excellence Oyster Bay • Hotel phone: +1 876 617 0200
Golden Clouds • Hotel phone: +1 877 682 7999
GoldenEye • Hotel phone: +1 876 622 9007
Hermosa Cove • Hotel phone: +1 876 974 3699
Riu Ocho Rios • Hotel phone:+1 876 972 2200
Jamaica Inn • Hotel phone: +1 844 209 6751
Jewel Paradise Cove • Hotel phone: +1 833 325 3935
Sandals Royal Plantation • Hotel phone: +1 888 726 3257
- Best B&Bs
Pink Rock Inn • Hotel phone: +1 876 974 4208
- Best Cheap/Midrange Hotels
Bailey’s Bed & Breakfast • Hotel phone: +1 876 808 7321
The Blue House • Hotel phone: +1 876 822 4433
GC Resort • Hotel phone: +1 876 627 6010
5. Portland & the East Coast
The northeast coast of Jamaica is one of the most beautiful parts of the island, most of it falling within Portland Parish. It’s extremely scenic – though it’s a bit harder to get to than the three major resort areas, there are plenty of places to stay and you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous beaches backed by jungle-smothered hills that rarely get busy. The parish capital, Port Antonio, is around 56 miles (90km) from Kingston, and is loaded with historic charm, while inland there are waterfalls, rainforest hikes, and rafting trips on the serene Rio Grande. Of the beaches, Long Bay and Boston Beach are known for surfing (Boston is also famed for its jerk stands), while Frenchman’s Cove and Winnifred Beach are wonderfully secluded strips of sand (with good snorkeling just offshore). Other highlights of the region include the harborfront Port Antonio Craft Village (Allan Avenue), where you’ll meet genuine artisans and craftspeople; pretty Turtle Cove just east from Port Antonio, home to the incredibly luxurious Trident Hotel and its event venue, Trident Castle, which really does look like a faux European fortress; and San San Beach, just under 2 miles (3km) east of Frenchman’s Cove, a gorgeousstrip of bone-white sand with excellent snorkeling.
- The Best Hotels in Portland & the East Coast
Frenchman’s Cove Resort • Hotel phone: +1 876 993 7270
Geejam • Hotel phone: +1 876 993 7000
Great Huts • Hotel phone: +1 876 353 3388
Moon San Villa at the Blue Lagoon • Hotel phone: +1 876 993 7777
Trident Hotel • +1 876 633 7100
- Best Cheap/Midrange Hotels
All Nations Guesthouse • Hotel phone: +1 876 421 3613
Inn The Town • Hotel phone: +1 876 220 0272
Mesmerise Guest House • Hotel phone: +1 876 797 3432
Polish Princess Guest House • Hotel phone: +1 876 289 7005
Viva Violas • Hotel phone: +1 800 490 9825
- Best Hostels
Germaican Hostel • Hotel phone: +1 876 866 2222
Porty Hostel • Hotel phone: +1 876 578 0198
6. The Blue Mountains
For a real break from the beach, consider staying in, or at least visiting, the Blue Mountains, eastern Jamaica’s lush, high-altitude backbone. Here you’ll find cool forests, superb hiking and small-scale tourism. Highlights include the trek up Blue Mountain Peak, Jamaica’s highest at 7,402ft (2,256m), which takes anywhere from 3 to 6hrs round-trip (depending on your fitness level), and tours of plantations cultivating the famed Blue Mountain coffee; the Mavis Bank Coffee Factory, the Craighton Coffee Estate (owned by Japan’s UCC), Devon’s Coffee Plantation, and Holywell Coffee Plantation all offer excellent tours. There’s also the remote Cinchona Botanical Gardens, established in the 19th century around 4800–5200 ft above sea level, and known today for its orchids and spectacular views. Holywell Recreational Park is easily accessible from Kingston, and popular for its five hiking trails, tropical plants, and Jamaica’s national tree, the Blue Mahoe. It’s part of the Blue & John Crow Mountains National Park, which encompasses most of the Blue Mountains, plus the Port Royal Mountains to the west, and John Crow Mountains to the east.
• Blue Mountain Bicycle Tours is a fun way to see the mountains, with 3hr tours that mostly involve riding downhill.
- The Best Hotels in Blue Mountains
Lime Tree Farm • Hotel phone: +1 876 446 0230
Silver Hill Select • Hotel phone: +1 876 420 7014
Strawberry Hill • Hotel phone: +1 800 688 7678
Tranquility Estate • Hotel phone: +1 876 2931088
- Best Cheap/Midrange Hotels
Jay’s Guest House • Hotel phone: +1 876 321 8204
Kingsworth Bed and Breakfast • Hotel phone: +1 876 361 1692
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