Rosheda Stephenson always has a laptop stuck to her fingers. When not penning women's fiction, she writes about travel, lifestyle and law.
What Does Ocho Rios Have to Offer?
Ocho Rios will quickly become your favorite resort town in Jamaica no matter what you like. That's a strong statement—I know. How can I possibly predict that the multitude of personalities visiting Jamaica will all like the town?
Well, it's simple. Ocho Rios can be all things to all people because of its geography and well-developed attractions. It's the town for you if you like mega all-inclusive beach resorts with miles of beach, all-day entertainment, and multiple exotic restaurants. But it's also the town to go to if you like secluded cabins in the mountains and greenery everywhere you look.
If you love a good party, Ocho Rios delivers. But if you're more into outdoor adventure or looking to plan a tropical destination wedding, there is no better resort town you can stay in while on your Jamaican vacation.
Seems too good to be true? Read on, this guide to everything you need to know about visiting Ocho Rios may just convince you that the town is the place to stay on your next Jamaican vacation.
Where Is Ocho Rios in Jamaica?
Take a quick look at the map above. You'll see a pin on Ocho Rios' location on the northern coast of Jamaica. Locals refer to that whole stretch of coastline running from Ocho Rios to Negril as the North Coast with the same reverence that some Californians refer to Santa Barbara and its environs as the Gold Coast.
That's because the area not only has some of Jamaica's most beautiful beaches, but the highest regarded hotels and real estate prices to boot.
Leave the coast and venture inland, and the landscape suddenly changes.
If you're driving, your car starts climbing uphill, and the tangy ocean air coming through your window gets cooler and fresher.
The blueness of the sea also gives way to lush, tangled trees. And this is where a whole other world opens up.
This varied geography is the reason Ocho Rios is lastingly popular among visitors and locals. Beach lovers can spend days soaking in the sun. But those looking for other activities will find everything from ziplining above the tangled forest to climbing one of the world's most famous waterfalls.
There's a whole section on things to do in Ocho Rios later. For now, let's get back to practicalities that will affect when and how you get to Ocho Rios.
Weather in Ocho Rios
Like all resort towns, when you plan your trip to Ocho Rios will depend on the weather. Jamaica has an active hurricane and rainy season that will affect your vacation if you time your trip to coincide with it.
Visit in the rainy season between June and November, and you're likely to spend a good part of your days locked inside while sudden rainstorms and the occasional hurricane threaten to bring flooding and mayhem outside. Or come during dry season which falls between late November and April and you'll spend your days enjoying warm ocean water and clear sunny skies.
But this isn't the whole picture. Even when it's rainy, temperatures stay warm. Average temperatures during rainy season are around 88 degrees Fahrenheit, with July and August seeing highs of 90 degrees. This is just a bit higher than that of the dry season which averages 84 degrees in the day, and 75 to 79 degrees at night. This means that although the dry season is regarded as the best time to visit, you can always choose to visit in the wetter months and still have weather that's warm enough to enjoy the island if you don't mind planning around the rain.
Because of this, choosing when to visit Ocho Rios is dependent on what you are personally willing to tolerate, and your budget.
Best Times to Visit Ocho Rios is Subjective
There's no rule that you must visit Jamaica during dry season—also known as peak season—when the majority of all visitors go to the island. Many visitors choose to come outside of tourist season since all the hotels stay open in both the off and shoulder seasons.
At this point, you may be wondering what all these other seasons mean. And also exactly what you can expect if you decide to visit during them?
Peak season in Jamaica is the season when most visitors plan their vacation. It falls in the dry period of the island—November to April—and is perfect for vacationers looking to escape chilly winters for warmer and drier climes.
If you visit during peak season the likelihood of rain is very small and the temperatures stay at a nice warm average that is perfect for enjoying the beach without getting burnt—sunscreen is still needed though.
Peak season also means higher rates and more crowds if you choose Ocho Rios as your resort town. Expect to pay full price and to book months in advance if you want to visit during this time.
Shoulder season comes between early April and May when it's still sunny, but frequent, heavy rains haven't yet arrived. In shoulder season, the resorts are less crowded and the chance of rain is relatively low. When it does rain, the showers tend to end quickly and there are no hurricanes at this time.
If you visit in the shoulder season, you'll get to enjoy all the sites with a fraction of the crowd of peak season. And the rates will be lower than those of the peak season
Off season coincides with the rainy months between June and November and sees a great reduction in both visitors and rates because of the regular rainstorms and high chance of hurricanes. Rainstorms come almost every day in this season, while the temperature stays warm.
Although it will rain every day, the rain will rarely last more than an hour and will hardly come more than once or twice per day. With a good part of each day being dry, patient visitors can plan their activities around the rain or stay close to their resort so they can head back at a moment's notice.
If you are visiting Ocho Rios during the off season you will get great savings on otherwise expensive hotels and negligible foot traffic. But in addition to the rain, also be prepared for the chance of a hurricane or two forming.
If these hurricanes are strong enough, you may have to evacuate.
The possibility of cutting your visit short is no reason to be turned off from visiting during hurricane season though. Hurricanes form regularly, but they rarely progress to strengths dangerous enough to warrant evacuation. Importantly, they take days to form, so you will always have enough time to leave the island in the event a strong one hits the island.
If you do decide to visit during off season when it's very rainy, do stay on the major highways while driving. The most popular attractions should be closer to the highways so this will be easy.
But there are some off the beaten track places that will be on local roads that may be prone to sudden flooding so bear this in mind if you chance visiting during rainy season. Your hotel front desk will be helpful on what to avoid if you choose to drive around in rainy season.
Speaking of driving around, if you're considering staying in Ocho Rios on your Jamaican vacation, you'll be happy to know that getting to the town has become easier because of the opening of a new airport in 2022!
Getting to Ocho Rios
The two major ways to get into Ocho Rios by air is by flying into Montego Bay or Kingston, both major cities with airports in Jamaica. Montego Bay is around an hour and a half from Ocho Rios, so you will have to arrange transportation if the hotel you choose doesn't offer shuttle service.
If you fly into Kingston, you'll be two hours away and similarly need transportation to get into Ocho Rios.
Whichever you choose, you'll find that most of the major U.S. airlines fly there, along with ones from Canada and the UK.
An Easier Way to Get Into Ocho Rios
As of November 2022, arriving in Ocho Rios will be much, much easier. A new airport, the Ian Fleming International Airport, will open to flights from American Airlines and hopefully to more commercial flights.
If you plan on traveling before then, the Ian Fleming Airport is open to more expensive charters that will give a premium experience at a higher price tag.
Cruise ships also stop in Ocho Rios for day excursions, but those are covered later in this guide.
Hotels in Ocho Rios
Once you get to Ocho Rios, you'll be pleasantly surprised at the variety of accommodations in the town. I've stayed at budget hotels with both good and bad experiences, and I've also stayed at a luxury hotel that was so nice my niece who was a toddler at the time, grabbed hold of the room door and declared she was never leaving five minutes before check out time. I'll save you the stressful details of the drama that ensued when she dug in her heels.
My point is, you can find any kind of accommodation you want in Ocho Rios. In addition to budget and luxury hotels, all-inclusive resorts are big in the area. But private rentals like villas and more homey air BNBs are also popular.
Unfortunately, there are no reputable campsites in Ocho Rios. And those looking to dock a boat or yacht to stay on will have to go to the marina in nearby Montego Bay, or to the marina in Port Antonio, which is further away. Apart from those exceptions, the list of accommodations in the town is long and varied.
I won't bore you with a list of all the accommodations in Ocho Rios, but I figured giving you an idea of the best in each category will help with your research.
Budget Hotels in Ocho Rios
Budget accommodations in Ocho Rios are well represented. Whether or not you consider them budget is another question. To give you an idea of the price, in 2022, a budget hotel will cost between $100 and $150, more or less, in the peak season. The upper end represents those closer to a beach with some added amenities like breakfast included, or pools.
I want to be honest too, and say at that price point you can get a place with stained bathrooms, or stiff beds (yes both things have happened to me). But you can also get decent places with clean facilities and pleasant staff.
Just do your research! Here are a few of the best-rated hotels in Ocho Rios:
The Hibiscus Lodge
For a lush garden setting, and close proximity to a good beach.
The Pineapple Court Hotel
For delicious local breakfast included in your rate and pleasant staff.
All-Inclusive Resorts in Ocho Rios
As one of Jamaica's major resort towns, Ocho Rios is home to every all-inclusive hotel with a presence on the island. If you're unfamiliar with all-inclusive hotels—just imagine a hotel where all the entertainment you need, multiple restaurants, watersports, premium alcohol, kids clubs, and more are included in your per night rate.
But, all-inclusive hotels are not for everyone. Really look at the experience the hefty rates include and decide if the 'pre-designed vacation' route is for you. Also, don't assume that popular all-inclusive lodging will just treat you well because of the premium rates you will pay. Research what other guests have said, or better, get firsthand, recent recommendations from friends who have visited. Once you're certain this type of accommodation is for you, check out the following family and adults only, all-inclusive hotels in Ocho Rios:
Best All-Inclusive Hotels for Families in Ocho Rios
For its awesome waterparks and affordable rates (comparatively speaking).
Franklyn D Resort
Private nannies are included in your stay and it genuinely has an 'all about kids' culture.
For a snack bar that kids never want to leave, an amazing wave simulator for older kids to get addicted to, and strong drinks for the adults in the family.
Best All-Inclusive Hotels for Couples in Ocho Rios
Any From The Couples Chain
Whether you're planning a destination wedding or you're part of a couple looking to reconnect, Couples stand out among romantic all-inclusive hotels in Ocho Rios for their genuine customer first philosophy. Nothing you ask is too much, and service is always with a smile. The strong drinks and superb entertainment seal the deal
Luxury Hotels in Ocho Rios
Ocho Rios is the perfect town for more discriminating travelers. With everything spread out among the lush landscape, you can easily have the privacy you need for more intimate experiences with your loved ones. And being one of Jamaica's oldest resort towns, Ocho Rios has a refined tourism product that includes some of the most exclusive properties in Jamaica.
For an amazing private beach, out of this world food, breathtaking views, and some of the nicest staff in Ocho Rios.
Hermosa Cove Villa Resort
Probably Ocho Rios' best kept secret. For its private villa feel, although villas are attached to each other, private plunge pools for each villa, and artistic landscaping.
Beaches in Ocho Rios
That line of beaches we spoke about along the North Coast will come in handy once you're settled in your hotel. In Ocho Rios, you're never far from a beach. In fact, the same goes for waterfalls and rivers!
And the beaches in Ocho Rios are the classic turquoise water, white or champagne sand type.
And they just pop up at the side of the road, an unending line of blue waves just lapping the sand as you drive along.
And some even have waterfalls flowing into them.
Sorry, I got lost for a minute. But you get my point, right? The beaches in Ocho Rios are sublime, postcard perfect if you want to be cliched.
Here are some of my favorites:
Mahogany Beach is good if you like off the beaten track, rustic fun with good local music.
The beach is on an unmarked road and rarely advertised. But if you ask around and you find it, for about $5 you get a beach with beach chairs, covered huts where tables can be provided if you want to eat some good local foods beach side, and a tiny river running into the bluest ocean.
There's also a bar where the party music can get loud, and a party boat that shows up with party goers in the afternoon. Visit early if you want this beach almost to yourself!
Facilities aren't the best, but I always use the people of an establishment to judge a place and Mahogany Beach has some staff that are the coolest, most laid back you'll meet, and a picnic area with benches and chairs, which is unusual for beaches in Jamaica.
Puerto Seco is your quintessential tropical beach with white sand, turquoise waters, and added activities for families.
Soft, white sand, and some of the clearest water in Ocho Rios will make you want to snap photos the minute you arrive. If you have children they will enjoy an inflatable waterpark in the ocean, glass bottom boat rides, and other water activities.
Puerto Seco also has a restaurant and bar right on the beach. Prices are a bit high, but it's well worth it for the excellent facilities.
Dunn's River Falls
A beach with a majestic 180-foot high waterfall flowing into it!
Dunn's River Waterfalls and Beach is one of the 'must dos' you will keep reading about while you research visiting Jamaica.
And it's not overhyped.
Visit the beach and you get the chance to climb up the waterfall while water rushes down at you. You'll be climbing limestone steps cut into the side of the waterfall by the force of the water over centuries. On your way up, you'll pass small wading pools, also naturally formed,
After climbing the waterfall, there's a small beach at the base with soft sands and a nearby restaurant and craft market.
The entry price includes a tour of the waterfall, so its well worth it.
Bamboo Blu Beach Club
Bamboo Beach Club is your beach if you like Instagram worthy settings and the celebrity feel.
While this beach is pretty small, the setting more than make up for it. Posh beach beds shaded by canopies sit by the ocean, and there is an excellent restaurant where the food and gorgeous beach side decor will leave you feeling like a celebrity.
Best Things to Do in Ocho Rios
If you can rip yourself away from the beach, there are lots of other things to do in Ocho Rios. Here's a list of things to do for any interest you may have.
Swim With Dolphins at Dolphin Cove
This popular place brims with excitement and close up experiences with dolphins. From the screams of delight to the splash of dolphin fins, this is one of the things you must do if you like water and animals.
Different packages are offered from the basic swim with the dolphin package to a package where kids get to care for and help train a dolphin. Also offered are educational programs on Caribbean sharks and stingrays.
Tour a Working Plantation—Prospect Plantation
Plantations, traditionally used for growing sugarcane, began in the British part of Jamaica's history. Tour the more than 1,000 acres of Prospect Plantation for a feel of what plantation life must have been like, and for amazing views of the ocean.
The plantation is like a compound divided into different areas all dedicated to something specific. Rows of sugarcane, cocoa and coffee give a typical agrarian feel. But others like breadfruit and limes may be new to you.
And if you tour Prospect Plantation, you'll be in good company. Drew Barrymore and Winston Churchill have visited and planted trees!
Experience Jamaican History at Columbus Park Museum
The Columbus Park Museum is filled with opportunities to learn about the Spanish and Taino period of Jamaican history. Located on the very spot where Christopher Columbus landed in 1494, this ocean side museum is filled with artifacts from the indigenous Tainos who inhabited Jamaica when Columbus landed, and examples of Spanish style architecture.
Eat Like a Local at Faith's Pen
No visit to Jamaica is complete without eating some authentic Jamaican food with the local people. Luckily, the parish of St. Ann where Ocho Rios is located is home to the favorite place for Jamaicans to hang out and have a real Jamaican meal—Faith's Pen.
This roadside eatery is really just an aromatic collection of colorful shacks bursting with spicy smells and the fast paced Jamaican dialect coming from locals who've interrupted their drive for a meal break. Along with the local vibes, you'll get to eat some of the best jerk chicken and pork on the island.
Go Ziplining Above the Rainforest
Some of the best off-beach activities in Ocho Rios happen in the interior of the town where extreme adventures abound. A good midpoint activity for the less bold is ziplining.
But it won't be some generic zipline trip. Ziplining in Ocho Rios gives you views of the Caribbean Sea while the treetops fly by. If you look close enough you may even spot colorful boats out for the afternoon.
After ziplining, many of the outfits offer added activities. Some like Mystic Mountain add waterslides and an infinity pool. Others, like Chukka Cove offer river tubing.
Swim on Horseback
Forget about the traditional horseback ride.
Instead you may enjoy relaxing on a horse while he takes you through the ocean. These fun rides can be had at many place sin Ocho Rios but Chukka Tours is the most organized. Kids as young as six may also enjoy the activity.
Raft Through Ocho Rios' Countryside
Perhaps one of the most relaxing things to do in Jamaica, this river tour goes down White River and takes you through the countryside of Ocho Rios where you can expect to see glimpses of how rural Jamaicans live.
The views of the greenery and of the calm river water only makes a raft through Ocho RIos better.
Swing Like Tarzan Into a Natural Blue Hole
In the tropical mountains of Ocho Rios is a cavern with a naturally formed pool in its limestone. Although, far from the ocean, this pool miraculously has turquoise blue water that invites visitors to jump in.
But there's no need to jump when you can swing from one of the ropes hanging above the water. And swing is what almost everyone does when they visit Blue Hole, the colorful name given to the naturally formed pool.
Also included in a visit to Blue Hole are the amazing waterfalls that flow into the pool. If ever there was an untouched paradise spot in Jamaica, this is it.
Things to Do on a Day Trip From Your Cruise Ship
Ocho Rios has a popular cruise ship terminal where cruises dock often to bring temporary visitors into the town. If you're planning a cruise, you will find well orchestrated operations from all the reputable tour operators and attractions.
Book your tour before landing so you can take advantage of a smoother experience. When pre-booked, tour operators will pick you up in air conditioned buses, and sometimes provide drinks and entertainment on the ride to whatever attraction you choose.
Here are some ways to fill the hours you have in Ocho Rios:
Things to Do on a Cruise to Ocho Rios
Bobsled on Mystic Mountain
In addition to the ziplining mentioned in the general things to do section above, if you plan on spending a few hours, Mystic Mountain offers packages that include bobsledding and meals from their on site restaurant.
Spend A Day At A Beach Club
Beach clubs where you can spend a few hours or a whole day on the beach, for a fixed price that includes meals and entertainment are big in Jamaica. In Ocho Rios, they are all conveniently located close to the cruise port.
Some of the better ones include, Bamboo Beach Club where cultural music performances are part of the package, and Bamboo Blu (see above).
The waters off Ocho RIos is home to a decent reef with diverse sea life that you can snorkel. Some of the best diving outfits, combine a snorkeling trip with a cruise on a catamaran boat where you can party to live DJ music on the way to the dive site.
Plan a Combo Of Your Favorite Activities
Want a taste of everything?
If you can't decide on one activity, it's easy to plan a combination of two or three of your favorite activities. There are dozens of places that plan tours where you can sail or bus between attractions. Usually you get to spend an hour or two in your first attraction, stop for lunch, then go on to the others.
Any of the activities in this list, or the more general one above can be combined. Some popular companies offering combo tours are Kool Runnings Catamaran Tours and SNL Jamaican Tours.
Planning a Destination Wedding to Ocho Rios
You may already know why Ocho Rios is the perfect tropical paradise to plan a destination wedding in Jamaica. But if you're wondering about the practicalities of planning a wedding in the town, here's a rundown of answers to some of the most popular questions brides and grooms planning a destination wedding to Jamaica have.
What Documents Do I Need to Get Married in Jamaica?
Getting legally married in Jamaica will take some preparation. The good news is that these preparations can be done in 24 hours if you have the correct documents. Here is the government source where the rules for obtaining a marriage license in Jamaica can be found. In a nutshell, the following documents are needed:
- Birth certificates for both bride and groom. Birth certificates must have fathers' names.
- Copies of photo IDs
- Divorce decrees if applicable
- Death certificate if either party is widowed
- If a name has been changed, the supporting documents for the change.
All documents must be notarized. And once a marriage license is issued, you will have 90 days to use it.
If you use a wedding planner or a resort, they will take care of the application process and give you instructions on how to send the documents and timelines. If planning a wedding on your own, it's a good idea to liaise with your marriage officiant or to come to the island a few days before your wedding to get the license. To help you be prepared for all eventualities on your special day, I recently wrote about some important things you must pack for your destination wedding to Jamaica.
Where Can I Have a Destination Wedding in Ocho Rios?
Since Ocho Rios is home to so many beautiful waterfalls, you can get married in front of a waterfall like Konoko Gardens Waterfall, where water will flow peacefully down terraced steps in the background while you say your vows. You can also have a tropical wedding in a garden that will smell and look like paradise.
If you choose to get married at a resort like Couples or Grand Bahia Principe, you'll have your choice of a beachside wedding, a wedding in a gazebo overlooking the ocean, or a wedding with beautiful greenery.
But you aren't limited to those two hotels, most of the all-inclusive hotels in the town offer weddings.
What's the Cost of a Destination Wedding in Jamaica?
Destination weddings in Jamaica range from free to prices in the tens of thousands depending on the kind and size of wedding you desire.
Many resorts will throw in a free wedding for just the couple if you stay a stipulated number of nights. If you're having a bigger wedding with many guests, some resorts will also give you a free or highly reduced wedding providing the guests all stay at the resort. Check your favorite resorts for prices.
If you don't plan on using an all-inclusive resort for your wedding, you can expect a wedding planning agency in Ocho Rios to charge around $1500 for a wedding for just the couple and approximately $8000 for a catered wedding which includes venue, decor, legalities, and alcohol for up to 30 people.
Destination weddings are one of the many reasons people choose to visit Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Adventure seekers, beach lovers, families, and those looking to simply unwind will also love the town. Regardless of your reason for wanting to visit Ocho Rios, you should now have all the information you need to plan the perfect vacation