If you're like me, and you're looking for a Caribbean vacation this winter, you're probably looking for a little adventure along with your beach lounging. There's nothing wrong with a little quality beach time, toes in the sand, drinks in your hand and all. But I also get a little restless when I sit around a new place for too long, just knowing there unexplored places and adventures that await.
On top of that, if you're out to save a little money like I was, we didn't use a tour group or cruise package to find our adventures. Everything needed to be researched and located on our own, sans tour guides. Our group rented a car, stayed in a lovely AirBnB, and went exploring on our own. We had to do our homework when it came to listing and comparing all of these hidden gems in Jamaica. Some were easier to locate than others. Some were on par with our expectations, some places far exceeded our expectations, and some places fell short.
So enjoy, and if you're planning to make your trip to Jamaica, whether on your own or with a tour group, here are the top adventures worth looking into!
1. Dunn's Falls
The first adventure is a unique experience that you may only find in Jamaica. These waterfalls are not just for viewing, these waterfalls are for climbing! When you visit the park, you'll be grouped up with a team, who will be your climbing buddies to the top of the falls! For the next hour or so, you'll start at the bottom on the beach and climb your way up the 600 feet of slippery rocks and splashing water. It's exhilarating to not just see the falls, but to be in the falls--to feel the power and hear the rushing of the water as it cascades down around you--as every part of you gets soaking wet! Our group was laughing and shouting with joy like a bunch of kids as we tried to navigate the pounding falls! I highly recommend this experience while in Ocho Rios!
*TIP: Bring (wear) your own water shoes if you don't want to rent some or pay for lockers. Sandals are not allowed on the falls, and lockers are for charge. It adds up; so to save a few bucks, come prepared!
2. Blue Hole
Locating this secret swimming hole and waterfall was an adventure in itself. Most people who visit these falls come with a tour group from a cruise ship or resort. But, as I stated earlier, my group was NOT part of a tour or resort. We decided to explore Jamaica on our own. And this meant navigating our way through the jungle to locate this hidden gem with the help of some local "guides" who wouldn't leave our side, whether we wanted them to or not! Let's just say, if you're planning on visiting the Blue Hole via car/by foot, sans tour group, you MUST read about my adventure when visiting the Blue Hole! You can read about my adventure here:
3. Frenchman's Cove
OK, so I did include a beach on this list, but for good reason! This hidden paradise requires a small entrance fee and a little bit of walking. It's also a good hour away from O.R., but it is SO worth it! The beach itself is beautiful, and almost entirely backdropped by gorgeous cliffs that give this bay that "cove" part. On top of that, a small river leads into the cove, creating this picturesque lagoon that is no more than 3 feet deep that you can wade and swim in, even when the ocean is rough. It happened to be rough when we went to Jamaica, so this was a blessing for us, because it meant we could actually bathe in the ocean water without worrying about rip currents. The secluded nature of this beach makes you feel like you're on a James Bond movie set!
4. Drinks at the Goldeneye Hotel
And speaking of James Bond...
Want to sip fancy cocktails surrounded by pristine ocean views and gorgeous infinity pools, but can't shell out the $600 a night resort price? Neither could we! But we heard that our money is just as good at the bar and any hotel guest! And after swimming and exploring all day, it felt good to be surround with some resort splendor.
Just call ahead and let them know you're interested in coming for a drink at the bar or dinner at the restaurant, and the staff will put your name at the entrance gate. You'll be able to sip $15 cocktails as you watch the sunset over the same ocean Ian Flemming did when he lived here years ago. Hey, no one said luxury was cheap!
5. Hiking the Blue Mountains
Alas, this was one activity on my list that I was looking forward to before we went to Jamaica, but I didn't actually get to do. I don't think I mentioned it, but there was a nasty hurricane off the coast of Central America at the time that unfortunately put Jamaica under constant cloud cover, wind, and rain the entire vacation!
We still had a great time, but this meant that those spectacular views we would've had from hiking the Blue Mountains would've been 100% blocked by cloud cover. It was for that reason we opted out of hiking. Maybe one day we will get the chance to hike this mountainous and stunning area of Jamaica. If you're in the northern part of Jamaica, this makes for an amazing day out exploring!
6. The Blue Lagoon
i almost didn't include the Blue Lagoon on my list, and I'll explain why in a moment. It's a two hour drive from Ocho Rios, but only about 30 minutes from Frenchman's Cove, so if you've already ventured out that far, it's worth the little extra drive. The stunning color of the water really is that blue--it's absolutely breathtaking!
However, the condition of the Blue Lagoon leaves a lot to be desired. Infrastructure is lacking, and except for a few locals who will offer to give you a ride around the lagoon in their boats, there's not much else to do here expect admire the pretty color of the water.
We stayed here for a whole 15 minutes. We opted out of the boat ride, thanked the locals and drive away with mixed feelings about the lagoon. While beautiful in its own "rustic" way, it could use a facelift a little around the edges with the shacks and debris that litter the area.
7. Glistening Waters Bioluminous Lagoon
This adventure was a unique experience and unlike anything I'll probably ever get to see again. However, just a word of caution--it might not exactly look how you think it might look!
The Glistening Waters tourist attraction advertises the chance to swim among the illuminating microscopic creatures that light up the lagoon each night with their unique ability to bioluminesce, or create their own light through a chemical reaction. I'm sure you've seen the pictures before--the lagoon that seems to glow at night!
It's true if you google pictures of the lagoon, it conjures up images of an other-worldly experience of swimming under a night sky with both stars above you, and surrounding you in the lagoon, as you happily snap away photos of a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But while these images are intoxicating, some of there are completely misleading. While the glowing creatures do exist, they are very faint and are only visible when disturbed, like, a person swimming and thrashing in the water, or the active motor of the boat.
When we went that night in our little boat to the middle of the lagoon, it was cloudy, cold, and the lagoon's star residents, the dinoflagellate bacteria that provide the bioluminescence, were shy that day. So the glistening waters experience, although pretty fascinating, wasn't as brilliant as the pictures lead you to believe.
I was the only one of my party of three that jumped into the 4 feet of brakish and muddy water. Being in the middle of a muddy lagoon with no lights and no way to see what is in the water around you is not for the faint of heart! However, being up close and personal with the plankton in the water definitely gives you a better view of their glowing talent.
It was a truly unique experience, and I would recommend it to visitors who have the time while in Jamaica, just don't be put out by any misleading expectations!
BONUS: The Beach, of course!
OK, so we packed in as much adventure as we could in the four short days we were in Jamaica. But on the last day, when the sun (finally) came out, we did what anyone would do on their last day there--enjoy the beach! We looked up some local beaches and found two: James Bond Public Beach ($) and Flavors Beach Bar (free) to enjoy our last, sunny, moments on this exotic island. So grab a Red Stripe, and enjoy, mon!