Ocho Rios and the Central North Coast

Attractions

St. Ann is full of rivers and gardens, thus its well-deserved nickname, “the garden parish.” Locals will pronounce Ocho Rios as any incarnation from oh-cho ree-os to oh-cho ryhas or, most commonly, simply “Ochi.” Ochi is the biggest town in St. Ann; its name is a creative derivation of the Spanish name for the area, Las Chorreras (Cascades), in reference to the abundance of waterfalls. Before the Spanish conquest, the area was known as Maguana by the Tainos. There are indeed several rivers in the vicinity, but not necessarily eight as a literal translation of the Spanish name might suggest. Four major waterways flow through the town area of Ocho Rios: Turtle River, Milford River, Russell Hall River, and Dairy Spring River. Just east of town are Salt River and White River, the latter forming the border with St. Mary, and to the west is the famous Dunn’s River, Jamaica's top tourist attraction.

Tourism became important in Ocho Rios in the late 1970s, taking over for bauxite as the area’s chief earner. The old Reynolds Pier just west of town is now used to export limestone aggregates, the industrial wharf sharing a small bay with the town’s cruise ship terminal. The cruise ship industry has been a key component of the city’s tourism boom, bringing mixed results. The steady income is appreciated by many businesses, especially those concentrated around the pier, but the enormous volume of passengers flowing through each day creates a huge demand for services that has not been met with adequate housing for the thousands who have arrived to work the tourism sector over the past few decades. Many of these arrivals are professionals who have been given little choice but to resort to living in squatter settlements. Still others come to Ochi with few credentials and earn their living hustling any way they can, making harassment of tourists a widespread problem.

Just west of Ocho Rios is St. Ann’s Bay, on the outskirts of which the first Spanish capital was established at Sevilla la Nueva, or New Seville. Today Seville is an archeological site and Great House complex where several heritage events are held throughout the year. Farther west along the coast are the communities of Runaway Bay and Discovery Bay. Runaway Bay is a small town with a golf course, a few resorts, and a small commercial strip along the highway, whereas Discovery Bay is likely Jamaica’s most exclusive villa enclave—where rentals go for upwards of US$10,000 per week. Again the tourism offering stands in the shadow of one of the island's largest bauxite terminals operated by US-based Noranda. The large domed storage facility attached to the wharf by a conveyor belt was cast as Dr. No's lair in Ian Fleming's first James Bond film.

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Castleton Botanical Gardens

Castleton Botanical Gardens (free, tip guides) along the main Kingston-to-Annotto Bay road (A3) just over the border from St. Andrew, is still one of the nicest parks in Jamaica, despite having suffered years of neglect and recurring hurricane damage. Castleton was established in the 1860s and planted with 400 species from Kew Gardens in England. It remained an important introduction point for ornamental and economically important species, including scores of palms as well as poincianas and the large Bombay mango variety.

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Blue Hole on the White River

Blue Hole on the White River features a series of waterfalls and natural pools found along the White River in an area known locally as Breadfruit Walk. Once relatively unvisited by tourists, this section of the river has become a hot spot, and locals who keep the banks clean and guide visitors to the different pools suitable for swimming ask for a US$10 per person contribution.

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Irie River

Of many river gardens that bless Ocho Rios, this one stands out for its tranquility and untouched natural splendor

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Kokono Falls

Konoko Falls (8am-5pm daily, admission US$20 adults, US$10 children 12 and under) was upgraded in December, 2015, bringing endangered animal species to a breeding program in partnership with the Hope Zoo Preservation Trust. Visitors can see yellow-billed and black-billed parrots, iguanas and yellow snakes as well as conies and a pair of American crocodile. The waterfalls are fit for swimming and climbing with nearby rest room facilities, a bar, and jerk pit.

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Reggae Beach

Reggae Beach (contact Kavona, cell tel. 876/473-7077, 8 a.m.–6 p.m., 9 a.m.–midnight on Fri.–Sun., admission US$9.50) is a picturesque stretch of sand on an unspoiled cove a few minutes' drive east of Ocho Rios. The beach hosts excellent annual events like Luau and Frenchman's Parties, and an occasional stage show. A bar and restaurant on the property serves a variety of seafood dishes, including lobster, shrimp, fried fish, and chicken (US$12–25).

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Laughing Waters

Laughing Waters is probably the most stunning beach in Jamaica for the combination of gurgling falls and fine, golden sand. The beach was made famous in the first James Bond film, Dr. No, when Ursula Andress emerges from the sea singing and echants 007, played by young Sean Connery. Located just east of Dunn's River Falls and Pearly Beach, the property is managed by the St.

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Dunn's River Falls

Dunn's River Falls (8:30 a.m.–4 p.m. daily, from 7 a.m. on cruise ship days, US$20 adults, US$12 children 2–11, J$600/300 residents) is by far the most visited tourist attraction in Jamaica, if not the Caribbean. The site is owned by the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) and receives over 300,000 visitors a year who come to climb the waterfalls starting from the mouth of the river where it tumbles down to meet the sea in the middle of a fine, golden sand beach. The river pours cool spring water into the warm Caribbean making for an exhilerating swim.

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Seville Great House

Marking the spot where the first Spanish capital of Jamaica was established, Seville Great House (9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, US$5 adults, US$2 children) stands atop a hill commanding a panoramic view of the North Coast at the center of rolling lawns. The great house contains a museum where visitors are offered an historical tour highlighting the area's history and a selection of artifacts on display.A large water wheel located along the driveway below the great house stands as a reminder of the sugar works.

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Priory Beach

Just east of the stoplight in Priory, a turnoff leads down to Priory Beach, where an inflatable water slide is set up on Sundays and a sound system blasts dancehall, with selectors from Bass Odyssey entertaining the locals. There are several small cook shops, pan chicken vendors, a pudding shop, and a billiard hall along the stretch of highway running through Priory.

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