Arriving in Jamaica
Most tourists flying to Jamaica arrive at the Donald Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay. The stretch of Jamaica’s north coast from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios encompasses a large percentage of the country’s primary tourist zone. Besides those visitors arriving by plane, there are literally boatloads of tourists arriving every week to Jamaica’s north coast. Cruise ship terminals are located in Montego Bay, Falmouth and Ocho Rios.
The Distance from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios
The distance from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios is just over 60 miles. That means the country’s busiest tourism airport and 3 cruise ship ports are situated in a relatively compact area. Of course, the crystal clear waters and pristine beaches are one of the island’s biggest draws. Not surprisingly then, a rather narrow strip of coast from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios is where most of the tourism industry is focused. Despite this heavy concentration, there is so much more to Jamaica than what lies along the north coast. That being said, this particular guide will focus on that specific area of Jamaica.
Driving in Jamaica
When I travel to Jamaica, I do so independently and rent a car. Not everyone will be comfortable doing that, especially on their first visit. In Jamaica, they drive on the left side of the road. In most of the country, the roads are not as well-built, or well-maintained, as in most of North America, or Europe. Given this combination of factors, the fast and, sometimes aggressive, local driving style is more than most tourists want to deal with. I get it.
One of the Easiest Areas to Drive
If you think you do want to drive in Jamaica, though, there’s really no better part of the island to get your feet wet. The stretch of highway from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios is relatively straight. It is also in good condition, especially compared to some rural areas. There is a lot to see and do without having your own vehicle. However, having a car and some independence opens up even more possibilities. I’m always hesitant to recommend driving to first time visitors. Once you’ve got a trip under your belt, though, give it some consideration.
Rental Car Options
There are a number of car rental companies available at the Montego Bay airport. Personally, I use Island Car Rental. Their prices have always been reasonable and I’ve never had any issues with them. Also, I prefer to support the local economy by supporting local companies.
If you are not renting a car, you’ll need to decide how to get around. Where you stay and how you plan to spend your time will help dictate your decision. If you are staying in an all-inclusive resort, or even other hotels, you will most likely have a shuttle to take you to your destination. Resorts are dotted all along the way from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios. How long it takes will, obviously, depend on how far from the airport you are staying. Being on an all-inclusive may also mean you don’t get out and see much else. That would be a shame, in my opinion. Even if you’re staying at an all-inclusive, try to get out and experience the local culture.
The Knutsford Express
If you are staying in Ocho Rios, your property may have a shuttle. If not, there is another good option. The Knutsford Express offers a nice, comfortable a bus ride from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios. As a bonus, they have a terminal right at the Donald Sangster Airport in Montego Bay. Besides Ocho Rios, they offer routes to a number of other cities and towns around the island. The terminal in Ocho Rios is at the popular Island Village Shopping Center. From there, it may still be a bit of distance to your final destination. The staff should be able to help you negotiate a taxi the rest of the way, if you simply ask for assistance.
Conveniently Located Terminal
When I’m in Ocho Rios, I tend to stay at either Turtle Beach Towers, or Fisherman’s Point, both of which are across the street from Island Village. Once you disembark from the Knutsford Express, you can easily walk to either of these places. If you choose to branch out to other parts of the island during your stay, the convenience of the Knutsford Express could be worth your while for that, as well. Their buses are large, comfortable, air-conditioned, coach-style buses. Since I rent my own car, I do not have personal experience with the Knutsford Express. I have only heard good things about them and their customer service, though. I have also seen their buses and would feel completely comfortable and safe in booking with them.
Montego Bay gets its fair share of tourists. It is Jamaica’s second city, behind the capital of Kingston. It has also long been known as a tourist destination. In more recent years, Montego Bay has also developed a more negative reputation than it once held and, unfortunately, it’s not completely undeserved. There are plenty of all-inclusive resorts in Montego Bay. They tend to be on the side of town going towards Ocho Rios. This is the side of town most visitors see if they venture outside the resorts. There is also Montego Bay’s famed “hip strip”, along Gloucester Avenue. Here you’ll find plenty of souvenir shops, restaurants and other businesses meant to allure tourists.
I’ll be honest here. Montego Bay has never been my favorite part of Jamaica. I grew up on the other side of the island and never spent much time in Mo Bay (as it is colloquially known). When we went to the north coast, we usually went to the Ocho Rios area. Even now, that’s where I normally go for some sea and sun. None of that’s to dismiss Montego Bay, but it is a grittier place than it used to be. Still, if you stick to the tourist areas, there’s no reason to avoid Montego Bay.
Use Common Sense and Enjoy Yourself
Yes, you may see some of that city’s problems in the news, but thousands of visitors happily vacation there every year. The same advice should apply as in any city, including wherever you’re from. Avoid high crime areas and you’re unlikely to be a crime victim. If you don’t know which areas to avoid and which are okay, ask a local. Jamaicans are friendly people and the vast majority are happy to steer you in the right direction.
Coming out of Montego Bay, heading east toward Ocho Rios, one of the popular historic sites you will pass is the Rose Hall Great House. This is the site of an old plantation, infamous for its former owner, Annie Palmer. Annie Palmer is called the “White Witch of Rose Hall” in popular legend and is believed to have murdered multiple husbands. A popular novel was written about her, which provides some historical backdrop, albeit it fictional and sensationalized. You can tour the great house and grounds. If you are not traveling independently, your resort can likely set you up with a tour and for cruise passengers, you can check the available excursions. Rose Hall is a common destination for day visitors and longer term vacationers alike.
Rose Hall Area Accommodations
Among the resorts in the vicinity of Rose Hall are Half Moon, Seacastles, Jewel Grande Montego Bay Resort, Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall, Hilton Rose Hall Resort and Iberostar Selection Rose Hall Suites. There are numerous shops and restaurants in the area, as well, for anyone wishing to venture outside their resort. This area really provides no cause for concern, in my opinion, if you wanted to wander around a bit. Of course, if you have any questions, or qualms, just ask the staff at your hotel for suggestions.
As you continue eastward, the highway meanders along the coast, providing frequent panoramas of the turquoise Caribbean Sea. You’ll pass through little towns along the way and will certainly notice a number of other hotels and resorts scattered along the coast. In one of the areas where the highway veers away from the sea, you will pass by Falmouth. Falmouth itself is on the waterfront, so if you want to visit, you’ll have to take a small detour off the highway. In recent years, this old seaside town has been revitalized. The impetus for this was the decision to make Falmouth another cruise ship port.
If you arrive in Jamaica onboard a cruise ship at Falmouth, there will no doubt be an array of excursions available to you. Some of the attractions are in close proximity to Falmouth, but many will involve venturing further afield. The Martha Brae River is close to Falmouth and bamboo raft tours are available there. The town of Falmouth itself is somewhat historic and worth a look, although it is not a big place. There are, not surpisingly, beaches nearby for those who don’t want to head off for more adventurous activities.
Moving on, it won’t be long until you come to Discovery Bay. This town, and the bay its named after, takes its name from Christopher Columbus’ arrival here in the 15th Century. In fact, there is a small park here called Columbus Park. There are few historical artifacts to see here, as well as a nice view of the bay. Although there’s not a whole lot to the park, I consider Discovery Bay to be a decent pit stop location. There are usually vendors at Columbus Park selling crafts, as well as fruits and produce. Personally, I’ve found it to be a pretty convenient and reliable place to stock up on fresh fruit when I arrive on the island.
Things to Look For in Discovery Bay
Puerto Seco Beach is located in Discovery Bay and has undergone some rejuvenation in the past few years. There are, also, a few restaurants and an easy access gas station right on the main road. The Texaco Station in Discovery Bay has a patty shop next door, if you want to grab some cheap eats on the go. If you aren’t familiar with Jamaican patties, you definitely need to have some while you’re there. They are the quintessential Jamaican fast food. The name “patty” may conjure images of something like a hamburger patty, but Jamaican patties are actually more akin to empenadas. Right behind the Texaco is another fruit stand you may want to check out. I haven’t had great luck finding what I’ve wanted at that stand, but to be fair, availability varies everywhere. That’s sort of the nature of buying fresh fruits and produce, regardless of what country you’re in.
The Ultimate Jerk Center
When I fly into Montego Bay, I intentionally book my flights so that I arrive sometime around midday. By the time I get my luggage, clear customs and pick up my rental car, I usually end up in Discovery Bay in the early afternoon – ready for some lunch. It has become the tradition for my family to have lunch in Discovery Bay on our arrival day. Our spot is The Ultimate Jerk Center. Discovery Bay is not a very big town, so once you pass the “downtown”, be on the lookout. The Texaco I mentioned will be on your right, if you’re heading toward Ocho Rios. That junction is, essentially, the main commercial center of Discovery Bay that is on the highway.
The Ultimate Jerk Center will be on the left, once you clear that commercial neighborhood. The restaurant occupies a fairly large area. It has a bar and plenty of outdoor seating. There will be a walk-up window where you place your order. Then you wait at the counter until your order number is called. If none of this seems obvious to you when you arrive, ask one of the employees how to go about ordering. For a more detailed review of The Ultimate Jerk Center, I actually wrote a whole blog post about it. If you love real Jamaican jerk, I’ve even written a how-to guide that will teach you how to make it at home.
Green Grotto Cave
Right across the street from The Ultimate Jerk Center is the Green Grotto Cave. This cave system is unique, in that it largely above ground, rather than being subterranean. There is a small underground lake inside the cave, too. For years, part of the cave tour involved a little boat ride on the underground lake. Unfortunately, that has been discontinued (unless they’ve started it back very recently), but they still take you down to see it. Aside from the bats that one would expect in a cave, lots of cave swallows have their nests near the entrance. If you’re waiting for the next tour to begin, the swallows flitting back and forth provide a little lowkey entertainment.
The next town you’ll come to is Runaway Bay. Probably the most popular hotel there is the Franklyn D Resort and Spa. There’s a golf course nearby, also. The reason I go to Runaway Bay, though, is to the beach. The main beach at Runaway Bay is Cardiff Hall Beach, but it is better known locally as Flavour’s Beach. The latter name is taken from Flavour’s Beach Bar and Restaurant. There is a traffic light right at the entrance, plus you’ll see signs for Flavour’s. Free public parking is available right beside the bar/restaurant.
Flavour’s Beach is my family’s go-to beach. Even though we may be staying in Ocho Rios, we make the drive to Runaway Bay. It’s only about a 30-minute drive, each way, from Ochie (the local slang Ocho Rios). The beach here is nice and, especially on a weekday, it’s rarely crowded. Although there may be a few tourists, this is more of a local’s beach. All of that combined makes it worth the drive for me.
Flavour’s Restaurant and Bar
As for the restaurant, I have eaten there, but I don’t go for the food. The service was slow, even by Jamaican standards, and the food was rather average. It was a little pricey, too. Honestly, I try to time our beach excursions so that we’re not stuck there for lunch. If you’re not able to time it that way, it’s not that the food is bad. I just wouldn’t go there specifically for the purpose of eating. The bar, on the other hand, is convenient if you’re working up a sweat in the sun. At the bar, the prices are geared more towards locals, which is a plus. One of the vendors by the beach is usually selling jelly coconuts, too, if you want something more naturally refreshing.
It bears mentioning that only a few hundred yards down the beach from Flavour’s are some private rental properties that are right on the beach. I’ve never stayed in any of them, but I have looked them up online. The prices may be a bit too rich for budget travelers, but they are nice places. I have seriously considered booking one, or more, of them for a group trip someday. There are many other houses and villas between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios. Check AirBnB to see what’s available. New to AirBnB? You can get a $30 credit if you sign up with my invitation code.
Priory & St. Ann’s Bay
Before you get to Ocho Rios, you pass through a couple of small towns in short succession. The communities of Priory and St. Ann’s Bay have a number of villas and hotels clustered around them. Most are off the main highway. As a word of caution, if you are driving, take care through this stretch. The road narrows here, with shops and houses on either side. There isn’t much of a shoulder, but there will be vehicles parked there anyway. Look for traffic coming in and out of the main road and, most importantly, watch for pedestrians. None of this is a big deal, but it’s worth being aware. Most of the highway from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios is more open and less congested. The closer you get to Ocho Rios, you will see things getting a little more crowded.
Just before you drive through Priory and St. Ann’s Bay, you pass a place called Llandovery. There’s a good chance you won’t even be aware of it, except you will see Chukka Cove on your left. Keep this in mind for later, if you’ve haven’t planned ahead. Chukka Caribbean Adventures is a popular source for tourist activities. If you stay right in Ocho Rios, you will probably notice their large catamaran. They have a variety of activities available, but the only one I have partaken of is horseback riding. My last visit to Jamaica, my daughter and I went horseback riding at Chukka Cove and we had a good time.
If you choose Chukka for their horseback tour, they will come to pick you up wherever you are staying. They provide shuttle service to all the area hotels and resorts, but they will also pick you up at least some of the condo complexes. Even though I have my own car, we still took the complimentary shuttle. In fact, I don’t know that I could have found the place on my own, if they’d allowed it. Where they do the horse-riding tours is separate from the main Chukka Cove location you see from the highway.
As for the time spent riding horses, we had a good time. The staff is excellent. My daughter had never ridden a horse and they made sure she was comfortable and looked after. After a nice trail ride through what was once a sugar plantation, you get to ride in the sea. The views along the way, especially when you arrive at the water, are pretty awesome.
Arriving in Ocho Rios
From the airport in Montego Bay to Ocho Rios is about an hour and forty-five minutes, if you don’t stop anywhere along the way. In other words, it’s taken longer to write this blog post than to drive to Ochie from Mo Bay. When your trip is over, you simply retrace your steps from Ocho Rios to Montego Bay. Let’s not worry about that yet, though. This virtual trip is just getting started. You are now arriving in Ocho Rios.
As you come into town, you’ll start to see signs for some major tourist attractions. Namely, you’ll pass the entrances to Dunn’s River Falls and Mystic Mountain Rainforest, in that order. Both will be on your right, with the sea to your left. Lastly, on the sea side of the road, you’ll pass Dolphin Cove. After that, you are entering almost immediately into Ocho Rios. If you happen to choose Turtle Beach Towers, or Fisherman’s Point, you’re going to make a left pretty quickly.
If you’re staying at one of the other Ocho Rios hotels, or resorts, in town, you have just a bit further to go. From here on out, I’ll focus on what to do in Ocho Rios. I certainly haven’t done everything there is to do, or eaten at every restaurant. However, this guide offers some insight and reviews that should get you give you plenty to occupy your time. Trust me, there are plenty of things to do in Ocho Rios and the surrounding area.
Ocho Rios Bay Beach (aka Turtle Beach)
The main beach in Ocho Rios is hard to miss and many of the town’s hotels and condos are located on, or near, the beach. I have some nostalgia for this beach, because I’ve been going there since I was a young boy. It’s actually where I learned to swim. If you’re staying in Ocho Rios, it is hard to beat it for convenience. Truth be told, though, there are other, less crowded, less touristy beaches that I prefer.
If you have some means of transportation, I would recommend exploring different beaches. If not, there’s nothing wrong with this beach. Besides swimming and soaking up sun rays, you can go a on a glass bottom boat ride to the reef, or engage various other paid activities. You should note that some stretches of the beach have lounge chairs and other amenities which may only be for the patrons of certain hotels.
The Dunns River Hype
If you’ve ever seen a TV commercial for Jamaica, you have almost certainly seen footage of the famous Dunn’s River Falls, located on the outskirts of Ocho Rios. From tourism brochures to posters and more, these impressive cascades are one of the most recognizable icons of the island, long known as the land of wood and water.
What you might not know, though, is that Jamaica is practically teeming with spring fed rivers, often set in beautiful, lush rain forests and, quite often, featuring picturesque waterfalls. It is true that Dunn’s River is one of the largest and most impressive of the numerous waterfalls on the island. It is also easily accessible from some of the country’s main tourist hubs. However, it is also more likely to be packed with tourists. When I was a kid, it was not so crowded and people were free to climb the falls freely, without joining one of those human daisy chains of hand holding tourists being guided to the top. Forgive me if it sounds judgmental, but neither my nostalgia for simpler days, nor my dignity, will allow me to climb the falls in such a manner.
This article isn’t really about Dunn’s River, though. It’s about the fact that there are alternatives and some are quite nearby. One such place is Konoko Falls and Park. Perched in the mountains overlooking the town of Ocho Rios, the Konoko Falls are smaller than their more famous counterpart, but you can enjoy their beauty in a less crowded and more unobstructed manner. Yes, they provide guides, but you’re given more freedom of movement and the entire experience seems a tad less orchestrated. Aside from the cool waters of the tumbling falls, you are surrounded by a lush, well-appointed botanical garden.
Things to Do
Certainly, the falls and the botanical garden are the main attractions, one serving to highlight the other, but there are a few other items of interest on the grounds. A small, simple museum provides visitors with an overview of both the Taino Indian heritage of the area, as well as a look at the history of slavery on the island. Although the museum is, essentially, a one room display area, it does well at providing a summary of its subject manner. For those unfamiliar with the history of Jamaica, it is worth the extra few minutes to pop into the museum.
Retail and Restaurant Amenities
A gift shop is located in the Spanish courtyard area of the park and there are also a couple of restaurant options. Although I’ve not eaten there, there are bars located at both on-site eateries, so I did enjoy a refreshing beverage at the Arawak Jerk Pit. Although I can’t speak from personal experience about the quality of the food, I would say by the looks of the actual jerk pit, they take their cooking seriously. I found myself pondering how hard it would be to build a pit like that in my backyard.
Prices will vary, depending on what you choose to do at Konoko Falls, but they accept cash (US or Jamaican), travelers checks and major credit cards. Personally, I would recommend setting aside a half day, give or take, to enjoy the waterfalls and grounds. If you are staying in Ocho Rios, it’s only a ten-minute drive, or less, from the downtown area. Inquire with your hotel about the best transportation options to get there. If you have your own car, basically you get on the A3 and turn right onto Shaw Park Road, just past Ocho Rios High School. Simply follow the signs the rest of the short distance up the mountainside.
When I think of Dolphin Cove in Ocho Rios, Jamaica the first word that comes to mind is expensive. There, I said it. It costs a lot of money. Period. Maybe you can afford to spend a lot of money, maybe you can’t. Maybe you really can’t afford it, but you spend it anyway. Everyone’s interests and financial situations are different, but whether or not you think Dolphin Cove is a good value, relatively speaking, understand that your day there will most likely cost more than a day at Disney World. From my own experience, I can tell you that for what I paid for my family of three to visit Dolphin Cove, I could have brought another person to Jamaica with us.
Weighing Your Options
So, am I telling you not to go? Nope. Not at all. I’m just being up front with you. On our trip, my family decided to do one, big, expensive touristy thing and Dolphin Cove was our choice. The cost has given me pause when it comes to recommending the place, but the reality is – we had a blast! We swam with dolphins! Dolphin Cove is generally cited as the #1 tourist attraction in Jamaica and, in fact, we were far from being alone when we visited. Clearly, people love the place and it continues to be a fond memory for my family.
The grounds of Dolphin Cove are gorgeous. Much of the ascetic beauty is simply the natural environment of the tropical vegetation, coupled with the clear, turquoise waters of the Caribbean. The developers of Dolphin Cove did a good job of blending their attraction into its surroundings, so the natural and man-made complement each other quite well, for the most part.
Getting Friendly with Dolphins
Of course, the highlight of this destination is the dolphins and if you do nothing other than pay for general admission to the park, you will definitely see some dolphins. Given the fact that you can walk pretty close to the dolphin areas and that the water is so clear, you’re going to see them. It’s a given. However, I can’t imagine that too many people that visit Dolphin Cove don’t want to get in the water and have a personal experience with these lovable marine mammals. Why wouldn’t you? Afraid of water, or can’t swim? Okay, so maybe some people just want to look, but we wanted some personal time with a dolphin and you probably would, too. Different “experiences” come with a different price tag. You can wade in and touch a dolphin, you can swim with a dolphin (which is what we did), or you can get the two dolphin experience. Your comfort level in the water, as well as your pocketbook, will probably steer your decision on which to choose.
There is also an opportunity to have a “shark encounter”. This involves a separate, fairly hefty fee, but if you have a thing for sharks, maybe you’ll want to spend the extra money. If so, you will wade into the waters where you can touch, feed and give a hug to a nurse shark. Nurse sharks are known for being pretty docile and, although they can get up to 14 feet in length, the ones at Dolphin Cove are not that large. It’s a pretty mild shark encounter, not like descending underwater in a cage, while a great white circles you hungrily. From the boardwalk, you can easily see the show, listen to the employees tell you all about the sharks and watch as other people pet the big fish. It’s free to watch.
Other On-Site Activities
Most of the other activities on site are included with your admission. There are shops, craft vendors, a restaurant and if you want a photo package of your dolphin experience, make sure to factor those into your budget. For no additional charge, though, you can walk along the lovely Jungle Trail, where you’ll encounter parrots, love birds and rabbits (yeah, I don’t get the connection either, but my daughter loves rabbits, so it was all good). You can take an excursion on a glass bottomed kayak, or let a guide zoom you down the coast a bit in a mini-boat.
Pet a Stingray
Another experience you can have with an aquatic critter is actually included in the regular admission price and, for me, I thought it was more interesting than the sharks. You can get into the water with and give a belly rub to a stingray. Don’t worry, though. Their barbs are removed, so they’re not going to impale you, or anything quite so vacation ending as that.
Swimming with dolphins is an unforgettable time and Dolphin Cove does a great job of providing a safe, fun filled environment to do just that and so much more. Although I can only vouch for the Ocho Rios location, there are three other facilities on the island: Dolphin Cove Montego Bay, Half Moon Dolphin Lagoon and Moon Palace Jamaica Grande. The activities and associated costs will surely vary from place to place, but I can only assume the same high standards will apply at each location.
Island Village Shopping Center
One of the more popular and, frankly more contemporary, shopping areas in Ocho Rios is at Island Village. There are a few restaurants to choose from at Island Village. There is also a coffee shop and quite a few retail stores. I’ve never seen a movie there, but Island Village also has a movie theater.
As the name suggests, this little eatery combines typical taco shop fare with Jamaican cuisine. The Mexican-ish aspects of the Rasta Taco shop are reminiscent of the American West Coast. In fact, one of Rasta Taco’s two locations is in Laguna Beach, California. The menu isn’t very complicated. Each of their offerings comes in vegetarian, or chicken. You can get the Rast Bowl, a Rasta Burrito, or Rast Taco. Well, let me correct myself. The one exception to the vegetarian/chicken choice is their fish tacos. If these sound like typical West Coast dishes, they are. The difference is the Jamaican twist in ingredients and seasonings. The fish is done Jamaican escovitch-style. The chicken is jerk chicken. You get the idea. The couple of times I’ve eaten at Rasta Taco, I’ve been satisfied with my order. Another thing it has going for it is that there’s really no other place in the area doing something similar.
Island Coffees Café
Upstairs in Island Village is Island Coffees Café. They also have two locations in Kingston, if you happen to go that way. The coffee at Island Coffees Café is sourced from the world famous Blue Mountains of Jamaica. You can get all the usual coffee house options, including a cup of fresh pour over coffee. Light menu items, particularly breakfast fare, is also available. Being a coffee shop, their opening hours are a bit earlier than most places. This makes it a good spot for grabbing a brew and a bite before heading to the airport on departure day.
Near the beachside of Island Village (yes, there’s a beach – more on that later), is the Boardwalk Bistro. This restaurant is actually owned by the same company that owns Island Coffees Café. Boardwalk Bistro offers buffet-style meals, as well as offerings off a menu. Their food covers a range of both Jamaican dishes, as well as items more familiar to foreign guests. I have had a variety of things here, from burgers to curry goat with rice and peas. Neither myself, nor my family, has ever been disappointed with our food choices at Boardwalk Bistro. I won’t go so far as to say it’s a budget diner, but being in the middle of a tourist town, it’s easier on the wallet than a lot of places.
Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville
Margaritaville, the now-famous restaurant chain of musical entrepreneur Jimmy Buffet, is probably familiar to anyone who dreams of chasing the permanent vacation. They have become ubiquitous enough, that I don’t really feel like I need to go into much detail about the place. Plus, these kind of American visions of “paradise” aren’t my primary focus. But…it is, arguably, the anchor establishment of the Island Village Shopping Center.
Location, Location, Location
Margaritaville’s small beach offers a nice alternative to the main beach in Ocho Rios. It is also very conveniently located to the cruise ship port, Fisherman’s Point and Turtle Beach Towers. So, it may be one of the easiest places to grab a bite and a beverage, depending on your location. It’s overpriced, which shouldn’t be too surprising. If you have finicky eaters, though, it does offer a predictable menu for American palates.
WiFi – It’s the Only Thing You’ll Get for Free
Perhaps the handiest reason to keep them on your radar is the free WiFi. I have gone there more than once for that reason alone. If you are in Ocho Rios without cell phone data and your accommodation doesn’t have free WiFi, you can count on Margaritaville. This is normally not a problem for me, but on one trip, I found myself technologically challenged. Their WiFi allowed me to check in for my departing flight, which was much appreciated.
Taj Mahal Shopping Center
The Taj Mahal Shopping Center is another popular collection of souvenir shops, restaurants and boutiques. It is actually close to Island Village Shopping Center, so you could double up on both at one time for a full-on shopping spree. Unlike Island Village, the Taj Mahal Shopping Center has been around since I was a boy. For reasons unknown to me, the building in the center is shaped like a miniature Taj Mahal, thus the name.
I’m not really a shop-til-you-drop kind of guy, but they do have a variety of stores worth checking out. One of the main reasons that I go to the Taj Mahal Shopping Center, though, is that they have a cambio for exchanging currency. If you are staying on that side of Ocho Rios, in my opinion, it’s the most convenient place to change your money.
There are a couple of bars and restaurants, as well. The one I usually go to is the Cafe Express, which is located upstairs. They serve a decent breakfast. My family likes to get waffles with fruit, while I prefer a traditional Jamaican breakfast of ackee and saltfish with callaloo. You can get all of that at Cafe Express, so it works well for us. The prices aren’t overly inflated for tourists, either. It’s nothing fancy, mind you – just some reliable comfort food at a reasonable price.
Evita’s Italian Restaurant
How to Find It
Evita’s is up the hill from Ocho Rios, one the same side of town as the cruise ship port and Island Village. If you have a vehicle, the road leading to Evita’s can be found behind the Taj Mahal Shopping Center. You could take a cab, if you don’t have your own car. From the area of Island Village and Taj Mahal, it is really not a very far walk, either. Maybe 10-15 minutes, but keep in mind that much of it is uphill.
Ambiance and Setting
Evita’s offers delicious Italian with an excellent view of Ocho Rios from above. In the evenings, you can enjoy a nice breeze on their open terrace, with the city lights glistening below. Although Evita’s isn’t necessarily a “fancy” restaurant, it is well appointed with a professional wait staff. Showing up in your swimwear for dinner probably won’t get you barred from entry, but you will be under-dressed.
My Personal Pick
I have tried a few things on the Evita’s menu over time, but one of my personal picks is their One Love Penne. It is penne pasta in an alfredo sauce with steamed callaloo and jerk seasoning. It has just the right amount of spice to it. I will admit, I have tried unsuccessfully to duplicate it at home. That just gives me a reason to keep going back to Evita’s.
Tracks and Records
Not only from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios, but beyond to Kingston and even London. That’s where you’ll find locations of Usain Bolt’s chain of sports bars: Tracks and Records. As I write this, I am aware that the Ocho Rios location of Tracks and Records is moving from its original location. It was not too far out of the way, but hopefully it will be a little more conveniently located.
Come for the Food, Stay for the A/C
All that aside, this establishment is still worth a mention. The interior features plenty of imagery of the sprinting legend. Although it is a sports bar, also offering up music, I have to say that the food is really quite good. In particular, I was impressed with the traditional Jamaican offerings on the menu. The curry goat was actually some of the best I’ve had in Ocho Rios. Everyone else in my party on my last visit seemed equally pleased with their choices.
If there’s one thing I hope they duplicate in their new location, it is the air conditioning. After a week on the go, in the heat, Tracks and Records had some of the best A/C in the city, which was well received by my crew.
Calabash Ital Restaurant
If you are vegan, vegetarian, trying to eat healthy, or simply curious about the Rastafarian influence on Jamaican cuisine, you may want to try Calabash Ital Restaurant. Ital cooking is the common Rastafarian approach to food. It may be easiest to simply say it is vegan, but with some differences. Most notably, ital cooking does not use salt.
Calabash Ital Restaurant is not located in central Ocho Rios, but is a fairly short walk from the town center. The food is served in plentiful portions and is priced for everyday people, not for gouging tourists. In fact, you may see some tourists eating at Calabash, but it’s not an authentic establishment. Unless you are already familiar with Jamaican produce and dishes, you may need to ask questions, but that’s no problem. They offer friendly service, as well as high quality home-cooking.
But Wait, There’s More…
If you made it this far, thanks for sticking with it. In reality, there is so much more to see, do, taste and enjoy than what I have covered here. This guide only scratches the surface of all that awaits you on Jamaica’s north coast, from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios. I hope this, at least, gives you a foundation from which to enjoy your own exploration of Jamaica.
Have you been from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios, or points in between? Let us know your recommendations, and experiences in the comments.