Photo: Ruth Peterkin/Shutterstock

How to Take a Family Trip to Ocho Rios, Jamaica, Filled With Nature, Adventure, and Culture

Jamaica Insider Guides Family Travel
by Nickolaus Hines Jun 6, 2024

Denver was hit with a late spring snow dump the day before my wife, Heather, and 18-month old daughter, Margot, landed home after an eight-day trip to Jamaica. The baby got our light jackets as we waited for our Uber driver, who made a joke about not being prepared for spring in Denver.

His joke immediately shifted to excitement when we mentioned we had just taken a family trip to Jamaica — a place he loved for the similarities in the food and music to Guinea, where he was raised. He said he had picked up many young, post-vacation families over the years, but not many who had taken the whole household to Jamaica.

For us, that seemed surprising. After many family trips around the world as our toddler approaches 20 flights before two, Jamaica proved to be one of the most family-friendly places we’ve been.

It was my second trip to the island. My first, an early fall solo trip based in Kingston for Jamaica’s 60th Independence Day celebrations, immediately made me want to come back. Particularly to Ocho Rios, where my local guide took the time to explain just how much my yet-to-be-born daughter would love to visit.

It’s safe to say she was right. It’s where Margot fell in love with sand and warm ocean water, took her first steps while listening to a steel drum player, and got her first taste of jerk. When she gets older, I know we’ll be back to experience (or reexperience) more of the activities that make Ocho Rios such a great place for a family vacation.

Family-friendly things to do in Ocho Rios

Photo: Nickolaus Hines

The beach is of course always nearby in Ocho Rios. Calm shallow water, soft sand, and numerous water adventures from catamaran cruises to snorkeling and scuba diving bookable through the resorts are enough to keep any family entertained for days. But there’s also so much more to do.

Walk the town

Regardless of whether you’re staying at a resort or in a stunning Jamaica Airbnb, you’ll want to get out and see the small, walkable town of Ocho Rios. On the side where cruise ships dock, you’ll find Island Village. High-end retail shops, souvenir stores, tour companies, and restaurants surround a central courtyard. It’s the meeting point for the Caribbean’s biggest tour operator, Chukka, and also where you’ll find Margaritaville Ocho Rios in Island Village complete with a 60-foot waterslide.

Head to the eastern part of town to escape the bulk of tourists. A short walk leads to local-favorite restaurants like Ben’s Jerk Pit and Miss T’s Kitchen where you can try classic Jamaican food staples from seafood to jerk to oxtail cooked to perfection. Small shops sell clothes and souvenirs, and market stalls are filled with fresh fruit (seek out a coconut and a piece of cut up sugarcane from one of the Rasta vendors) and spices (here’s how to make sure your spices taste just as good when you get home).

Dunn’s River Falls

Photo: Left, CO Leong/Shutterstock; right, Nickolaus Hines

Hours: 8:30 AM to 4 PM every day
Entry cost: $25 per person

This is one of the most popular stops in Jamaica for anyone visiting the island, and it’s worth the hype. Dunn’s River Falls is defined by the 960 feet of river complete with natural waterfalls and pools that end in the sea — one of the few island rivers that empty directly into the Caribbean. Guides take groups on a walk right through the river to soak and let the falls hit your back. While there’s an established route to follow, it can get slippery and it’s best for kids who already have sure footing (and water shoes).

A full day can be built around going to Dunn’s River. In addition to the falls, there’s a small waterpark and splash pad for kids of all ages, the white-sand Dunn’s River Beach that’s saddled by the Caribbean and the river, and a zipline course that sends riders over the people walking the falls below.

Dunn’s River Falls: Follow the main road out of Ocho Rios west for a couple of miles. A short drive later, you’ll spot signs for Dunn’s River Falls. Alternatively, you can book with an outfitter like Chukka.

Turtle River Gardens

Hours: Monday through Saturday, 9 AM to 4 PM
Entry cost: $20 for adults, $10 for kids

The Turtle River runs through this 15-acre tropical garden, with 14 waterfalls on the property. It’s more than a waterfall destination, though the viewing platforms over the river make it easy to walk the grounds and take rest stops to view the indigenous and endangered plants for the entire day. There’s also a 15,400-square-foot, walk-in aviary with tropical and endemic birds; butterfly house; koi pond; great lawn; and tour guides who can explain the levels of the rainforest and all that call it home. Bring food to make a day of it.

Turtle River Falls and Gardens: CV3Q+8XG, Eden Bower Rd, Ocho Rios, Jamaica

Make Jamaican chocolate with Pure Chocolate

@foodwtf Making #chocolate from scratch at 📍Pure Chocolate Company in #OchoRios #Jamaica #foodtiktok #cookingclass #chocolatemaking ♬ Little Things – Adrian Berenguer

Hours: Monday through Saturday, 9 AM to 5 PM (chocolate classes on Saturdays)
Chocolate class cost: $50 per person

Jamaica-born Rennae Johnson and her business partner husband Wouter Tjeertes opened Pure Chocolate Company in 2017 to highlight local cocoa that’s hand-dried on the island, with labels designed by Jamaican artists. The Island Village shop is worth a visit for any chocolate lover. It’s also where you can take a chocolate making class to learn the process and create flavors that match your tastes, whether that’s chocolate topped with candied fruit, nuts, or spices.

Pure Chocolate Company: Island Village

Mystic Mountain

Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 8:30 AM to 5 PM
Cost: $59 and up, depending on activities

A 3,280-foot tracked bobsled through the rainforest has long been the draw to Mystic Mountain for thrill seekers and anyone familiar with Jamaica’s Olympic bobsled history (or who just really enjoyed Cool Runnings). It’s reached by the Rainforest SkyExplorer chairlift — a ride in itself as it takes people 700 feet up through the tree canopy. There’s also ziplining through the trees.

Mystic Mountain: Drive west on the main road from Ocho Rios. Mystic Mountain is located between the town and Dunn’s River Falls.

Konoko Falls and Mini Zoo

Beautiful, tropical, lush, green garden in Konoko Falls, Ocho Rios, Jamiaca with a lot of foliage and scenic river flowing through the middle on a spring day.

Photo: DosanJones/Shutterstock

Hours: 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM every day
Cost: $20 for adults, $10 for kids 3 to 12, free for children under 3

Take a short drive inland from the town center to find the botanical gardens, climbable waterfalls, and zoo on the Konoko Falls property. You can make your own itinerary or take a guided tour to learn more about the birds and animals that call the area home as well as the indigenous Taino people who lived on the island before European colonization. The zoo portion is filled with exotic birds and endemic species, as well as mammals and reptiles. Step inside the small museum to get out of the heat after exploring the flora along the clear river.

Konoko Falls and Mini Zoo: 9VWV+QQ8, Ocho Rios, Jamaica

When to visit Ocho Rios with family

Jamaica is tropical, and there’s no cold season to speak of. There is, however, a peak season: December to April, when the weather isn’t quite as hot and the sun regularly shines all day. The rainy seasons run from May to June and September to November, and hurricanes pass through in June to November.

Much of the tourism infrastructure, from hotels to activities, remains open year-round. While the weather may be better in winter, that’s also when you’ll find higher accommodation prices and bigger crowds.

Where to stay for a family trip to Ocho Rios

We stayed at Moon Palace, an expansive all-inclusive resort with kid-friendly amenities like a sizeable splash pad, waterslides, private beach, and a wealth of restaurants. It’s hands-down the most family oriented resort we’ve stayed at, and had just as much entertainment for the adults as for the little ones.

Other resorts that center around family travel in Ocho Rios include RIU Ocho Rios and Beaches Ocho Rios.

How to get to Ocho Rios

Jamaica’s two main airports are in Montego Bay and Kingston. Both have many direct international flights and are about an hour to two hours away from Ocho Rios. We flew into Montego Bay, and our resort had a free bus transfer to and from Ocho Rios.

Travelers can also land closer to town at Ian Fleming International Airport, which is a short drive from Ocho Rios. Jamaica’s smallest international airport, direct flights on American Airlines regularly come in from Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Nashville, Charlotte, and multiple airports in Texas and Florida.

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