When I told people that I was staying in Ocho Rios for a few nights during my trip to Jamaica, most were already somewhat familiar with the city. It is a popular stop for many Caribbean cruises, so a lot of people tend to roam the town for a day and then leave at night. That’s too bad for them, because there is so much more to Ocho Rios than being a cruise stop. Ochi, as it’s called, has a distinctive culture and character all its own and is just 2 to 2.5 hours away from the airport in Montego Bay. I spent an amazing 4 nights there and now I’ve got the low down on everything you should do during your own visit.
WHERE TO STAY:
If you want a unique, exclusive experience, then there’s only 1 place to stay: the Jamaica Inn. We wanted to avoid large, generic all-inclusives, so the Jamaica Inn was perfect. It is a hotel that is steeped in history, with past guests like the glamorous icon Marilyn Monroe, and even British dignitaries (including Winston Churchill). It’s absolutely amazing that they saw the same, virtually unchanged, beautiful view that you see above of a lush lawn and gorgeous sandy beach. There are employees here that have worked at the Jamaica Inn for over 40 years, and guests know them by name. It’s truly a classic, romantic destination.
The accommodations at the Jamaica Inn are wonderful. Our suite had an open air veranda that was the size of our bedroom, overlooking the water. It was amazing after a long day of excursions to kick back with a drink and a book, while the sun sets over you. (Here I am reading The Devil in the White City, because apparently I bring Chicago with me everywhere.) The verandas are like having outdoor living rooms, complete with couches and tables. They are completely unique in Ocho Rios to the Jamaica Inn.
As for the beach, the Jamaica Inn has a private, crescent-shaped beach with champagne colored sand. Forget about having to “reserve” a beach chair and umbrella like you usually have to do. There are enough for all the guests, spaced comfortably around the beach. There is snorkeling equipment available to borrow, and we grabbed some to splash around the waters and saw tons of fish!
The food, of course, was delicious. We chose to go on a breakfast plan, and every morning we had fresh fruits to enjoy on our veranda. My favorites were the delectable banana pancakes and rich Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee. Blue Mountain coffee is amazing, and we definitely brought some back for our coffee maker at home.
The Jamaica Inn is maintained like a beautiful home away from home, with an air of history, mystery, and romance. As I sat on the terrace enjoying dinner, it was amazing to imagine Marilyn Monroe wining and dining in the very same spot all those years ago. Every guests realizes the same, and we met a lot of return visitors during our trip. It suffices to say that we hope to become return visitors in the future, as well.
WHAT TO DO:
These were the absolute best excursions we did in Ocho Rios!
Take the Zion bus to Nine Mile, Bob Marley’s birthplace and final resting place. If you’re a reggae lover like me, this is not to be missed. This colorful bus plays Marley songs for everyone to sing along to as you pass through beautiful, rural areas of Jamaica. On our ride to Nine Mile, we even drove through Fern Gully, a lush path which looks as magical as it sounds. The bus driver was able to take us safely through a lot of single lane roads, and our guide sang along with us and taught us a bit more about reggae and Jamaican culture.
Once you arrive at Nine Mile, knowledgeable Rastafarian guides take you through the village where Bob grew up. It is more commercialized now, with a lot of his memorabilia and souvenir shops, but his home and room are beautifully maintained. My boyfriend and I are huge Marley fans and were really just blown away to see the humble place he came from. This is a day long trip, but was truly a highlight. If you don’t have time to make it all the way to Nine Mile, try visiting the Reggae Xplosion museum in town.
We also had a really fun time on the Wilderness ATV Tour, which was a great way to inject a little adventure into our vacation. The guides are so nice and total experts, and after a few practice rounds on the ATV, you’re off and running. Our tour had 2 stops and ran from the morning till early afternoon. I didn’t want it to end! I wasn’t the best ATV driver, but the trail isn’t crazy challenging. It was rough but still fun.
We rode for quite a bit up to the highest point in Ocho Rios, Murray Hill. The views up there are amazing! We sipped on some cold sodas and relaxed, enjoying the view of the ocean and town below. The cruise ships were just mere dots in the water. The ATV ride down was better as I got more used to it, and then it was off to the next destination on the tour.
The Dunn’s River Falls is probably familiar to any cruise goer, but we went as well as part of the ATV tour. This is an awesome waterfall that you have to basically climb to the top with water shoes on! We passed by a lot of cruise ship passengers, who held hands in a line and slowly made their way to the top. I liked being independent of them and climbing around harder routes. Our guide gave us tips on how to navigate to the top, and took tons of pictures for us from dry land, like the one of me getting pummeled by water above.
WHERE TO EAT:
Ochi is definitely not short on great restaurants. On our first night, Mary Phillips, the general manager at the Jamaica Inn, told us about her friends’ new restaurant opening that very moment. We love love love Jamaican food and were definitely eager to try some local fare. We headed to town to Miss T’s Kitchen, a true gem. It was one of our best meals and very much off the beaten path. Even though it was the soft opening of the restaurant, we were welcomed with delicious food and drinks–authentic Jamaican at its best. We even chatted with Miss T. herself, who was so kind.
We also enjoyed some great jerk at a local place close to the Jamaica Inn called the Ranch. They served up platefuls of delicious jerk chicken and had the most incredible sauces, too. My boyfriend was so enamored with the spicy sauce that the super kind Ranch employees put some in a bottle for him to take home! They also showed us how to pick ackee fruit off a tree. The Ranch was a great local joint that was great for lunch and close by our hotel.
Another great restaurant is Evita’s, where a fusion of Jamaican and Italian influences combine for a unique and delicious experience. Think jerk spices + pasta! Above was my meal, jerk crawfish and spaghetti. The crawfish in Jamaica are huge and yummy. My boyfriend had jerk spaghetti, which had spicy jerk sausage. Needless to say, we both enjoyed our dinners. Evita’s is well-established in Ocho Rios, and its walls are filled with photos of the famous guests who stop in (Brad Pitt, Kate Moss, and the Rolling Stones, just to name a few). The founder, the dynamic Eva Myers, can also be found dining alongside you some nights as well.
Lastly, the Terrace at the Jamaica Inn is where you can get a full 5- course, unique gourmet dining experience every night. In keeping with its tradition, men have to wear collared shirts and long pants at dinner. (Jackets used to be required as well, but Mary has relaxed the atmosphere.) Sitting outdoors, feeling the breeze, listening to a live band, looking out onto the water, and enjoying course after course of food… Is there any better way to end the night?
My trip to Ocho Rios was a fantastic, romantic, delicious experience. If you have a vacation to Jamaica planned, Ocho Rios should be on the short list of destinations there!
Photos © The Daily Obsession