Ocho Rios

Jamaica's name comes from an old Arawak word, Xaymaca, meaning "land of wood and water." Looking around the island, it's plain to see why the Arawaks came up with that description. The lush greenery of Jamaica's inland contrasts perfectly with the pristine white-sand beaches along the island's northern coast. Ninety percent of the island's 2.5 million residents are of West African descent, with the remaining population consisting mainly of small pockets of European minorities. The island lies ninety miles south of Cuba, and trails only its neighbors, Cuba and the Dominican Republic/Haiti in size, weighing in at forty-four hundred square miles.

In recent years, Jamaica's image has taken a bit of a beating, as some tourists have bristled at overly aggressive vendors and a rising crime rate. Some of the more affluent private resorts have taken to forbidding their guests from leaving the resort without a guide. Of course, this means that some people aren't getting the true feel of this island nation.

Travelers to Jamaica need not feel unsafe. As long as you take the same precautions that you would take in any major American city, you will have little to worry about. On the whole, Jamaica's people remain friendly and hospitable, and they are proud to welcome you to their island paradise.

Ocho Rios is on Jamaica's north coast, sixty-four miles, or an hour and a half's drive, from Montego Bay and two hours from Kingston, Jamaica's capital on the southern coast.

This small city has become a hugely popular tourist destination, with pretty much every major cruise line making a stop here. It has embraced the economic boom that has come with the tourism industry, and everyone is trying to get a piece of the action.

You may get the feeling that each person you meet here is trying to sell you something, and to some extent that is true. The people of Jamaica are poor, in general, and the little crafts they are constantly peddling may mean dinner on the table that night. If you do not want what is being offered, just politely and firmly tell them you are not interested. You need not feel intimidated.

If you come to Ocho Rios during the month of February, you will be treated to the Reggae Sunsplash Festival, which celebrates the beautiful sounds of traditional Reggae music, as well as the fascinating Rastafarian heritage.

So enjoy Ocho Rios' beaches and restaurants, negotiate yourself a good deal on some souvenirs, and allow yourself to get lost in Jamaica's island beat.

Docking & Local Transportation

Cruise ships dock at the Port Authority of Jamaica in Ocho Rios. There is easy road access from the port to surrounding tourist destinations.

Taxis and buses are operated by the Jamaica Union of Travelers Association, or JUTA. Rates are controlled, and a list of fares can be obtained from any JUTA office.

Local Interests

The peculiar story of Edinburgh Castle continues to captivate people. The castle's resident, Lewis Hutchinson of Scotland, used to shoot and kill people as they went by. He then buried them in a nearby pit. He was eventually captured and hanged, but not before offing forty-three people. The castle is in ruins now, but it still makes for a chillingly fascinating story.

The Coyaba River Garden and Museum, on Shaw Park Rd. (876/974-6235) is filled with local flowers, fountains, and artifacts from the ancient Arawaks, the island's original inhabitants. Coyaba means paradise in Arawak, and this garden is fittingly enchanting.

Harmony Hall, at Tower Isles on Route A3 (876/975-4222), used to be the crown jewel of a sugar plantation. Now it's a beautiful art gallery. The gallery houses The Garden Café, a quaint little restaurant that serves local cuisine.

Goldeneye is a hotel and the former home of James Bond's creator, Ian Fleming. It lent its name to the 1995 Bond movie that introduced Pierce Brosnan as 007.

Prospect Plantation, found on Route A3 east of Ocho Rios (876/994-1058), is one of the rare plantations that is still running. Trees have been planted here by luminaries ranging from Charlie Chaplin to Winston Churchill. In addition to the plantation tour, three trails run through the property that are perfect for horseback riding.

Lastly, for the adventurous souls, visit Dunn's River Falls (876/974-2857). A guide will help you climb to the top of a six-hundred-foot waterfall. Climbers would be advised to pack aquasox, as sandals won't provide adequate protection against sharp rocks. In addition, be sure to pay a visit to Fern Gully, a four-mile rocky-gorge that runs through the heart of the Jamaican rainforest.

Activities

Beaches

Ocho Rios has some of the best beaches in all of Jamaica, and that says something. After all, Jamaica has some of the best beaches in the entire Caribbean. Mallards Beach is the most well-known of the local beaches, and as a result you may not have much room to lie down. For a lesser-known locale, try Turtle Beach, further south. As always, there are more than enough beaches to be find if you are willing to be a little adventurous.

Golf

For a relatively small city, Ocho Rios can boast of some world-class golf courses. At Runaway Bay, adjacent to Ocho Rios, the Breezes Runaway Bay Golf Club (876/973-7319) offers a challenging course.

Sandals Golf And Country Club (876/975-0119) is a gorgeous course, with a tough design that is upstaged by the breathtaking scenery all around you. You won't want to hustle through eighteen holes here. Instead, stroll through the course's sixty-five hundred yards and enjoy.

Jamaica's oldest golf course, Manchester Country Club (876/962-2403) is only a nine-hole course. Nevertheless, if you only have a short time, this is a pretty course high above sea level.

Shopping

Depending upon your patience for this sort of thing, shopping in Ocho Rios can be the most exhilarating or frustrating experience of your life. It will seem like every single person in town is trying to sell you something, and seldom do any of them take no for an answer. If you find something you like, expect the first price quote to be ridiculously high. But be patient, anyone who wants to make a sale knows that there is room to negotiate. If you hold your ground, you will find good deals, but if you allow yourself to be pushed around, you may never want to go shopping again.

Soni's Plaza, at 50 Main St., is your one-stop shopping marketplace. You should be able to take care of all of your souvenir needs, and you might be able to pick up something nice for yourself as well.

Beautiful jewelry is on display at Mohan's in Soni's Plaza (876/974-9270). You can find good deals on gold chains and earrings, not to mention some gorgeous rubies. Taj Gift Centre (876/974-9268) will take care of most anyone's souvenir needs.

Brace yourself for the Ocho Rios Craft Park, which offers around 150 little stalls, each with a very eager seller. There are some nice things for sale here, including hand-woven baskets and handbags.

Dining & Nightlife

The Casanova (876/974-1353) offers fine dining, delicious drinks, and live entertainment for an all-inclusive price. This is a meal done right, with every taste bud ready to sing this menu's praises, and it is a terrific place to spend the evening listening to Reggae.

Parkway Restaurant, at 60 Da Costa Dr. (876/974-2667), is much less elegant, but every bit as delicious. The Jamaican menu will make your stomach heavy, but won't hit your wallet so hard.

Nightlife in Ocho Rios revolves mainly around the nightclubs in the resorts themselves. There are plenty of options, so you should not be lacking plans any night of the week.