Even if you’ve never been to Jamaica before, the country’s fame will have created some strong impressions. Gorgeous beaches, blue seas, Reggae music, tropical cocktails… it’s the classic Caribbean destination.
You’ve heard of many of its more famous sights as well, like Negril Beach, Kingston, and Ocho Rios. Celebrated in song or made famous on screen, their very names evoke a sunny island lifestyle.
Whether it’s relaxing with a rum punch on a tropical beach, or chilling to joyful beats, Jamaica promises the holiday lifestyle. Beyond the sea, sun and sand, you can explore geological wonders, Jamaica’s interesting history, or be active in its rivers and mountains.
Here are 12 of the best places to visit in Jamaica.
Dunn’s River Falls, Ocho Rios
Wide terraces of rock, carved by waterfalls that pour into the sea, Dunn’s River Falls is a natural wonder. Even better, you can splash around in the clear blue water, surrounded by tropical vegetation.
Only a short distance from the resort town of Ocho Rios, the falls are a great place to cool down on a hot day. You can climb the falls themselves, or—more sensibly—take the steps beside them.
The first option means getting very wet, and water shoes are also a good idea. This is one of the best hikes in the Caribbean, though it’s a slippery experience, with rough, uneven rocks.
Forming human chains to climb is a common approach. Even better is to take a guide, who can show you the best routes.
The falls are about 180 feet high, with a length from top to the sea of only 600 feet. Seeing a waterfall fall into the sea is a rare sight, even more so when a tropical climate means you swim in both. Visiting here is one of the best things to do in the Caribbean.
White River, Ocho Rios
Jamaica’s limestone bedrock gives rise to natural phenomena such as Dunn’s River Falls and the aquamarine waters that give White River its name.
Rolling through coconut groves and other tropical landscapes, the river forms pools and rapids on its way to the Caribbean Sea.
Those natural features are a playground for those who enjoy tubing, or wild water swimming. Bring water shoes and eco-friendly sun products. Being in the vibrant blue water, overhung with the varied greens of tropical vegetation, is something special.
Bamboo “Calypso” rafts are another way to see stretches of the river. Poled by a guide, you’ll learn about the flora, fauna and history of the river as you float under dense foliage.
As adventure companies on the White River have grown in popularity, so has their menu of experiences. From kayaking to whitewater rafting and zip-lining, there are many exciting options.
Blue Hole, Ocho Rios
Perhaps the most picturesque pool on the White River is Island Gully Falls, better known as the “Blue Hole”. Hemmed in by rainforest, you’ll find a series of cascades with beautiful aqua-blue pools.
One of the best places to visit in Jamaica, swimming in one of these natural limestone sinkholes with a torrent massaging you is an unmissable experience. Rent a tube to float around and take it all in, or enjoy a drink in one of the casual bars serving Caribbean cocktails.
If that all sounds too sedate, try diving off rocks or rope swings—a guide will tell you the safest places. The whole area is extensive, so walk around to discover other pools, streams and the main falls.
Green Grotto Caves, Discovery Bay
The limestone rock of Jamaica has weathered and eroded into many strange shapes. None are so odd as those in the Green Grotto Caves.
The caves take their name from the green algae that covers the walls. Tree roots from above add to the otherworldly appearance.
Caves full of eerie stalactites and stalagmites are common, but these are unusual in being connected to the sea. At their heart is a cavern with the underground “Grotto Lake”.
The caves are said to have been used by pirates and were certainly home to the early Arawak inhabitants of Jamaica. They were also a haven for runaway slaves in the 18th century.
In the present day, they are home to nine of Jamaica’s 21 species of bats. If you’re lucky, you may see some flitting around high above your head.
Doctor’s Cave Beach, Montego Bay
This small beach, just 600 feet long, has a giant reputation as one of the loveliest in Jamaica. It’s a classic Caribbean beach of blue seas and golden sand.
It found fame in the 1920s, when British osteopath Herbert Barker said its mineral springs were a strong curative. Hotels sprang up to cater to the rush of visitors, and Montego Bay arrived on the world map.
The “Doctor’s” name preceded all that, however, after the beach was donated to the community by a local doctor, Alexander McCatty, in 1906. At that point, access was through a cave but it collapsed during a hurricane in 1932.
The name may be unusual, but the beach’s present is much more entertaining than its history. With a bar, restaurant and shady trees, it’s a great place to unwind and one of the best places to visit in Jamaica.
Offshore, the Montego Bay Marine Park helps protect the calm waters. Swim or snorkel around patches of coral that attract shoals of small fish in brilliant colors.
The National Gallery of Jamaica, Kingston
This gallery is a real surprise for anyone not familiar with Jamaica’s rich culture of art. It’s the oldest and largest public art museum in the English-speaking Caribbean and the best place to go in Jamaica to admire contemporary art.
Specializing in work from the 1920s onward, the gallery also features historic work by Spanish and British artists. However, it’s that more recent work by local names such as Carl Abrahams, Cecil Baugh, or David Pottinger that is its real strength.
One gallery is dedicated to Edna Manley, most noted as a sculptor but also a painter. Married to the country’s first premier, her own work is strongly infused with Jamaica’s politics and history.
The colorful paintings, carvings, sculpture and ceramics in the galleries similarly convey a real sense of Jamaica’s vibrant cultural life. Shows by local artists often have work for sale, and there’s a good selection of books, arts, and crafts in the shop.
Rose Hall Great House, near Falmouth
One of the few remaining great plantation houses of Jamaica, Rose Hall is also among the most haunted places to visit in the world. Music legend Johnny Cash wrote a song about the “White Witch” Annie Palmer and her three husbands.
Cash fans will also want to tour the nearby Cinnamon Hill Great House. He and his wife June Carter owned it for 30 years.
Rose Hall was built in 1770. It is one of only 15 grand houses out of 700 to survive a Slave Revolt in the 1830s.
Tour its grand rooms, fine furnishings, and tropical gardens with their beautiful sea views. It’s an insight into the opulent lives of the slave-owning class of that time.
Slavery plays a prominent part in the tale of Annie Palmer. Her story is a morbid, yet fascinating one, involving voodoo, vast inheritances and murdered husbands.
Your guide will spin you the story but—spoiler alert—it all comes from a Gothic novel. It still helps make the tour one you’ll not forget in a hurry.
Bob Marley Museum, Kingston
No name is more associated with Jamaica than Bob Marley. His music is rooted in the lifestyle and history that Jamaica is known for.
Find out more about both man and music at his former home at 56 Hope Road, Nine Mile, Kingston. This is the house where he lived and recorded until his death from skin cancer in 1981. It’s one of the best places to visit in Jamaica for Bob Marley fans.
His was a remarkable, but too-brief life—and could have been even shorter. You can see bullet holes from an assassination attempt in his bedroom wall.
On a tour, you’ll also see the original Tuff Gong Studio. This is where he recorded hits such as “No Woman, No Cry”, and “Redemption Song”.
Marley’s record shop is still there, and you can still buy music. You’ll also find reggae-branded memorabilia such as tote bags, T-shirts or even socks.
The One Love Cafe onsite serves vegetarian meals in line with the Marley’s Rastafarian faith. The Ital (“Vital”) diet eschews salt, preservatives and meat.
Take a Heritage Walk through Falmouth to discover one of the best-preserved Georgian towns of the Caribbean. Founded in 1769, it even had piped water before New York.
A guided tour is the best way to discover the town’s history. You’ll see some original 18th and 19th-century Georgian houses, and buildings such as St. Peter’s Anglican Church, the oldest in Jamaica.
The historic Jewish cemetery recalls that Jamaica was once a refuge for Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. Tiny graves recall the sadness of infant life cut short by tropical disease.
A major port for slave arrivals, Falmouth boomed during the sugar trade. It later became a center for Abolition and the William Knibb Memorial Baptist Church commemorates a leading campaigner.
Your guide will bring you right up to date with details of some of Falmouth’s more modern residents. These include Olympic gold medal-winning sprinter Usain Bolt, and Bob Marley’s son Ky-Mani.
Devon House, Kingston
George Stiebel, Jamaica’s first black millionaire, made his fortune from a gold mine in Venezuela. He built this mansion in 1881, on what became known as “Millionaire’s Corner”.
Stiebel was born in 1821, 11 years before the end of slavery in Jamaica. You can find more context for that in nearby Emancipation Park, with its central “Redemption Song” sculpture.
The style of his home is Georgian, with a strong Caribbean influence, set off by a garden and fountain. Now a National Monument, the house is filled with antique (and reproduction) furniture.
A large courtyard now has a range of shops selling Jamaican souvenirs. However, the greatest attraction for many local visitors is the I-scream shop.
Taste its imaginative flavors of ice cream, from guava to Blue Mountain Coffee. It was voted one of the best Ice Cream Parlors in The World by National Geographic.
Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park
You can easily see why this mountainous corner of Jamaica, east of Ocho Rios and north of Kingston became a refuge for the indigenous Taino and runaway slaves. Peaks covered in jungle, plunging waterfalls and thick forest make it beautiful, but wild.
Some of that wildness has been tamed into coffee plantations producing the famous Blue Mountain Coffee. Thanks to its reputation as one of the best in the world, you probably won’t leave the island without drinking more than a few cups.
The park, recognized as a Unesco World Heritage Site, is a haven for bird and animal life. There are more than 200 bird species that shelter and feed among the 800 species of endemic plants.
Roads in the park are rough, even more during or after a tropical rain shower. A 4WD vehicle and a good guide are essentials.
Bamboo Beach, Braco
This long sweep of sand is another strong contender for the best beach in Jamaica—a competitive field. Its soft white sand is delineated by cliffs at each end.
Beach bars are shaded by the thick vegetation that crowds in behind the beach. The contrasting strips of green vegetation, golden sand and blue sea make for the perfect tropical picture.
The bars push out music to enhance the mellow mood. That mood is no doubt also helped by the drinks—Caribbean rum and fruit cocktails—and food served here.
Most visitors just enjoy lying on a lounger—where servers will bring the fresh drinks—on the beach or even in the water. The more active take a swim or kayak along the beach.
You can also hike inland through the trees to a look-out spot. An option preferred by many is to enjoy a massage and just chill out.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, St. Ann’s Bay
The Spanish influence on Jamaica is not much remembered. The Spanish had a presence on this Western Caribbean island from Columbus’s arrival in 1494, until the British took it over in 1670.
One reminder is the pretty Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, whose roots go back to 1534. The stones from an original Spanish Catholic church on the site were re-used in this building from the 1940s.
The open-sided porch and curved arches evoke that original Spanish influence. The vegetation covering the front facade also takes you back through the centuries this spot has been a center of worship.
This is one of the most beautiful settings for a church in the Caribbean. It stands in a large churchyard blooming with tropical plants and shaded by palms.
Nearby is the spot where Columbus first landed in Jamaica. He declared St. Ann’s Bay “the beautifullest of any he had yet seen in the Indies.”
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