Ocho Rios and the Central North Coast

Tours

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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Barrett Adventures

Many travelers find letting a tour operator take care of the driving is the easiest, most hassle-free way to get around the island. One of the most dependable and versatile tour companies on the island is Barrett Adventures. Barrett can pick you up from any point on the island, getting off the beaten path more often than any other tour company in Jamaica. Barrett also books many of the best budget accommodation options across the island, including a few spots in the Blue Mountains.

 

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Strawberry Fields Together

Strawberry Fields Together Beachfront Cottages and Adventure Tours (US$90–220) sits on a seven-hectare property with six cottages ranging in comfort level from rustic Hibiscus to seaside honeymoon lavishness in Moonlight Magic. Two small private beaches with fine white sand line idyllic crystalline coves protected by coral reefs. An outdoor dining area has a wood deck, bar, pizza oven, and jerk center for eating and entertainment under the heavens.

In: Accommodations, Tours

Prospect Outback Adventures

Prospect Outback Adventures are offered on the active 405-hectare (1,000-acre) Prospect Plantation, bought by Sir Harold Mitchell in 1936 and still owned by his heirs. Mitchell entertained all manner of dig­nitaries in the great house and at the estate's luxurious villas. A tradition was that his guests would plant a tree on the grounds to mark their visit. The most notable of these tokens of remembrance is the giant mahog­any planted by Winston Churchill in 1953. It stands in the driveway behind the great house.

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Chukka's Horseback Ride 'N Swim

Chukka's Horseback Ride 'N Swim (US$73) offers 2.5-hour rides through forest and along the shoreline before swimming on horseback. Remember to bring a change of clothes, and a waterproof camera if you don't want to buy photos from Chukka. The tour is located between Negril and Mobay, about a half hour to Negril and 40 minutes to Mobay in the fishing village of Sandy Bay. Chukka offers a two-hour dune buggy excursion for people over 18 ($76) and two-hour ATV tours ($75).

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