Where to Vacation in Jamaica
What locations are good for a family vacation?
Where should I go if I am single or as a couple?
Where is good for exploring Nature?
These are common and sometimes perplexing questions if you are unfamiliar with the island. The information below approaches it from the perspective of vacationing families needing activities that cater to both adults and kids vs vacationing singles/couples looking for more adult themes. It does not address the activities within ther resorts, but the activities that are available in the surrounding areas. All the mentioned areas have great beaches.
The north coast of the island has the greatest concentration of vacation resorts and activities. It is also the location of all cruise ship ports and so the greatest variety and density of things to see and do outside the resorts. There are four major vacationing areas on the north coast, some are closer to towns and others less so. This area in general is good for family vacations, singles and couples.
Recommended reading: Days 1 and 2 of Circling Jamaica by Car
Montego Bay is the second largest city after the capital city of Kingston. It is a bustling city with all the amenities of a city; banking, commerce, stores and a local outdoor market where the locals shop for fresh produce. It is also a port for cruise ships. There are many options for vacationers of all ages during the day and night; hotels, restaurants, bars, nightclubs and a variety of shops for trinkets and gifts. The town is not within walking distance of the of the resorts, but a within easy reach via a short taxi ride.
Distances from Montego Bay:
- Falmouth, (21 miles, 45 mins), Runaway Bay (47 miles, 1hr 20mins) , Ocho Rios (62 miles, 2 hrs), Oracabessa (75 miles, 2hrs 20mins)
Ocho Rios is also a cruise ship port and a popular vacation spot. It is a much smaller town than Montego Bay with much less hustle and bustle. Of all the north coast locations, Ochio Rios is the best for a balance in variety of things to do. It is ideal for the family and kids because of local attractions such as Dunn's River Falls (famous waterfall), Mystic Mountain (zip lines, water slides, bob sled flume rides, canopy tours) , Dolphin Cove (swim with dolphins), all within a 10 min ride from the town.
Ocho Rios also offers smaller hotels, restaurants, bars, nightclubs and a variety of shops for trinkets and gifts, as well as a local market where the locals shop for fresh produce. Its location makes it ideal for excursions into the interior mountains. One such excusion is a visit to Nine Mile, a small mountain village where Bob Marley was born, or a visit to Walkerswood, a small factory in the mountains that produces jerk seasoning that is exported around the world.
The activitives mentioned above are possible from any of the other locations on the north coast, but it takes more travel time.
Distances from Ocho Rios:
- Runaway Bay (17 miles, 40mins), Montego Bay (62 miles, 2 hrs), Oracabessa (13 miles, 30mins)
Oracabessa is located in the parish of St Mary. The closest towns are Ocho Rios to the west in the parish of St Ann, and Port Maria to the east, the capital of St Mary. Port Maria is a small fishing town, some may call it a village, with not much of anything for vacationers. There isn't much in the immediate surrounding areas of Oracabessa, but it s a great location if you are interested in the local living of rural Jamaica. Activities outside of the resorts are essentially those that are available in Ocho Rios, which is 13 miles away (30 mins by car). The resorts in this area are generally all inclusive.
Distances from Oracabessa:
- Runaway Bay (30 miles, 1hr 5mins) , Ocho Rios (13 miles, 30mins), Montego Bay (75 miles, 2 hrs 20mins)
Falmouth ( ) , Runaway Bay ( ) and the other areas between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios
There are many resorts on the stretch of coast between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios with pockets on concentration in areas like Falmouth and Runaway Bay. There is a plethora of things to do around, and between the two towns, and all are within reach of these resorts. The resorts along this coastal stretch are great for families, where most of the time is likely spent on the resort property with day trips in between. The variety of activities also make it a good option for singles and couples.
Falmouth is home to one of the cruise ship ports and is an interesting, small, quaint and historical town. It is considered one of the best-preserved Georgian towns in the Caribbean. Many late 18th-century and early 19th-century buildings still stand. In its heydey, the town was called the Paris of the Western Hemisphere because of its wealth and infrastructure derived from being the central trading point for sugar.
There is a lot to do on the north coast in addition to the attractions and excursions covered in the review of Ocho Rios. Some others include: Green Grotto cave tours, river rafting, horse back riding, ATV adventure safari rides, Great House tours plus more.
Distances from Falmouth:
- Montego Bay (21 miles, 45 mins), , Runaway Bay: (27 miles, 50mins), Ocho Rios (42 miles, 1hr 20mins), Oracabessa (30 miles, 1hr 45mins)
Distances from Runaway Bay:
- Montego Bay (47 miles, 1hr 20mins) , Falmouth: (27 miles, 50mins), Ocho Rios (17 miles, 40mins), Oracabessa (55 miles, 1hr 5mins)
The west coast of the island is a mixture of over seven miles of white sand beaches that rapidly disappear and give way to steep cliffs as the land rises quickly and precipituously above the ocean to the south. The entire area spans two parishes and is still expanding. Negril, is actually a small fishing village, but the entire area over the years have come to be described as Negril.
Recommended reading: Days 6 of Circling Jamaica by Car
Negril is a tourism meca, it was built for vacations with many large resorts and smaller boutique hotel occupying a common stretch of beach. Negril caters more to adults and partying, with a thriving night life, bars, restaurants and roadside vendors serving local foods cooked by the road side. The atmosphere at night is throbbing with music and party goers along the beach.
The cliffs of Negril face west and with hotels, boutique resorts, bars and restaurants perched on rocky outcrops overlooking the caribbean sea. Sunsets are majestic as the sun sinks below the distant horizon of the ocean.
Distances from Negril:
- White House (35 miles, 1hr drive), Montego Bay (50 miles, 1hr 50mins) , Ocho Rios (110 miles, 3hrs 30mins), Port Antonio (173 miles, 5 hrs 30mins)
South CoastThe South Coast of Jamaica is largely untouched by tourism but that has been slowly changing in recent years as some of the larger established resorts look for more untapped beach front properties. There are now a few resorts around the White House area.
Recommended reading: Day 5 of Circling Jamaica by Car
) and Black River(
The areas around Whitehouse and Blackriver are still undeveloped, so there is not much by way of shopping, reaturants, bars or nightlife outside of the resort. The closest place for that is Negril about 35 miles, a 1 hr drive, to the west.
There are however, some activities adults and children, such as a visit to YS Fall, a natural series of cascading waterfalls in a park setting. The ride from the entrance to the park is via a tractor pulled wagon, which kids enjoy. The river and waterfalls are open to bathers or you can hike upstream on a boardwalk. There is also several zip lines down the the mountain above the river, bathers and cascading waterfalls. There is also an area of natural pools created by diverting the river, where you can bathe and picnic.
In the town Black River cruises are available up the river; a 1 1/2 hour boat tour up the river past giant Red Mangrove rare and endangered American Crocodiles in their natural habitat.
Distances from White House:
- Negril (35 miles, 1hr drive), Montego Bay (42 miles, 1hr 45mins) , Ocho Rios (101 miles, 3hrs), Port Antonio (156 miles, 5 hrs)
Northeast CoastThe Northeast area of Jamaica is by far the most beautiful and unspoilt area of the island. For the most part it is still Jamaica's best kept secret. For years it was difficult to get there by road because the infrastructure was so bad. Most visitors flew in by small planes (when there was an operational charter service) to the local airport. The infrastructure is now much improved and it is slowly being discovered (a blessing or a curse depnding on perspectives) as more resorts along the north coast begin offering day trips.
Recommended reading: Days 2 & 3 of Circling Jamaica by Car
Port Antonio a small town and the capital of the parish is the gateway to several hotels east of the town. There are no resorts in the area. There are a few very expensive Hotels such as Trident as well as more reasonable smaller hotels and villas. Many of the villas offer maid service as part of the price. You pay for the food and they will cook the meals - breakfast, luch and dinner. The beaches in this area are pristine and quiet. It is not uncommon to have an entire beach to yourself. The area is ideal for those looking to get away from the maddening crowd and looking for quietude, relaxtion and nature. Night life and partying is non-existent.
Distances from Port Antonio:
- Ocho Rios (63 miles, 2hr 15mins), Montego Bay (126 miles, 4hrs) , Negril (110 miles, 3hrs 30mins), Negril (173 miles, 5 hrs 30mins), White House (156 miles, 5 hrs)
Most historical places with the vacationing areas are located along the north coast. Several Great Houses such as Greenwood and Good Hope are worth visiting. The town of Falmouth is also tish in history and is considered the best-preserved Georgian towns in the Caribbean.
Black River on the south coast is also a town of hsitorical significance. Unfortunately, it is not well preserved and is today a small sleepy town. It was however, once a thriving town because of the significance of its port. It was the first town in Jamaica to have electricity and the first car.
You are never far from nature, no matter where you stay in Jamaica. There are some areas however, that are better situated for accessing and exploring places inland and the mountains.
Port Antonio by far is the best place to experience unspoiled nature. It is also the top place for experiencing quietude, to kick back and relax with a good book and a beer. In other words, not a lot of options for night life, partying and festivities. The areas around Port Antonio is lush and green with the ocean to the north and the the Blue Mountains to your back. The Rio Grande where rafting began, meanders from hign in the mountains through the country side as it sleepily enters into the ocean. Relaxing on a bamboo raft as it makes its way slowly from the mountains to the sea is the epitomy of unwinding in the heart of nature. Waterfalls such as Reach Falls in the mountains about 40 mins east, are still unpoiled. Port Antonio and its surrounding areas is a popular place for bird watchers.
Ocho RiosOcho Rios is another great place to experience nature. It provides a good balance between accessibility to the interior mountains and options for other activities for adventure and nightlife. It does not take long to be out of the town and into the mountains. Several rivers are also within reasonble distance.
Black RiverThe Black River is about 33 miles, navigable for about 25 miles. The river was the main transportation route for the parish, as the its travel throughs dense mangrove swamps. Black river and along with Bluefields about 20 miles west, is listed by BirdLife International as one of Jamaica's globally Important Bird Area, 20 of the island's endemic species have been observed in area.
QietudeFinding quiet and peaceful spots without going great distances around the more established vacation locations such as the north and west coasts, is difficult.
Port AntonioBy far this location and with the places in their quiet setting, natural surrounding and uncrowded beaches makes it an ideal pick for quietude.
White HallThe south coast is growing in popularity, but is still yet unspoilt, natural and laid back. It is for now still an option for a peaceful and quiet vacation.
Treasure Beach, about 18 miles east of Black River, is a collection of small fishing villages and coves along the south coast. It is very laid back, tranquil and serene. A great place to enjoy the simplicity of the seaside villages in Jamaica. It is pretty remote, accessible by small roads with surrounds that are more arid than lush.