Ochos Rios: history and lush landscapes

Ochos Rios is in the parish of St Ann and lies midway between Montego Bay and Port Antonio. Wrapped around a half moon shaped harbour, it is one of the oldest populated parts of the island, having the earliest known Taino settlement. The Arawark speaking Tainos were the original settlers in Jamaica and named the island “Xaymaca,” which means “land of wood and water.” This was later written phonetically by Spanish explorers, who substituted a J for the X.

The arrival of Columbus in 1494, landing in Seville, west of St.Ann’s Bay, signalled the end of the Tainos who were wiped out by slavery and disease by the early 16 C.

It was the Spaniards who established the first sugar mills in the area but it was the introduction of bauxite mining in the 1940s which changed the region. Mining still goes on from the Reynolds open-cast mines at Lydford, in the hills south of town.

Another major change took place in the 1960s when the Jamaican government formed a Development Council and launched a systematic development of Ochos.The harbour was dredged and a small marina built. The shore was reclaimed and sand brought in to make Turtle Beach. They built shopping complexes and hotels and it became a popular destination for cruise ships.

It has remained a destination for cruise ships and also an all- inclusive package for holiday makers. However because OchosRios has more hotel rooms than anywhere else on the island, there is a variety to suit most tastes and budgets. Ochos is also a good base for exploring the countryside further afield.

The scenery around Ochos is stunning with hill villages, valleys and waterfalls, It is home to Jamaica’s most visited tourist spot   Dunns River Falls 3kmwest of  Ochos. Dunns consists of   a series of pools and cascades tumbling down to the beach below. Because of the number of tourists making the slippery 30 minute climb from the beach to the top it is hard to quite appreciate its natural beauty but climbing it is a fun diversion. You can hire appropriate shoes at the site and wear swimwear; it goes without saying that you will also get very wet.

More waterfalls cascade in Coyaba River Garden ( an Arawark word meaning ‘heaven’ or ‘paradise).The garden  feels like a bit of paradise  with walkways and trails leading through lush gardens full of streams and plants including  550 types of ferns.

A museum tracing Jamaica’s heritage from the Tainos to independence is in the grounds, along with a gift shop, vegetarian restaurant, and art gallery.

Another mini paradise is  Cranbrook Flower Forest west of Ochos with a variety of trees and flowers and a   hiking trail which follows the river to the source and a natural swimming pool.

White River Valley is a natural adventure park with the White River as its main theme.  River tubing or kayaking down the gentle rapids of White River gives you the chance to see the countryside from a different angle. The park has shops and a restaurant with all the buildings built in an eco and ethnic style.

An 18th century plantation. tour at Prospect Plantation includes a horseback river ride through the forest down to the White River.

Discovery Bay is where Columbus first set foot in Jamaica. There is an open-air museum with many historical artefacts which details the history of the area.

Discovery Bay also has the Green Grotto Caves, which were used as a hiding place for runaway slaves. A system of passage ways twist and turn through limestone formations and stalactites, leading down to an underground lake.

40 miles south of OchosRios heading into the mountains is the village of Nine Miles. This is where Bob Marley was born and where he is buried.

There is a small museum dedicated to his life and his mausoleum.

Discover more about spices and Jamaican cuisine at Walkerswood Jerk seasoning factory, nine miles from Ochos

The former home of British playwright Noel Coward Firefly is 20 miles south of Ochos near Port Maria. The house overlooks the Galina Point/Cabarita Island shoreline and has undergone a meticulous restoration and includes a couple of grand pianos where Coward composed. Coward is buried in the garden of the villa.

The Amnesia is probably the liveliest night club in Ochos featuring mostly dancehall music. There is an all-night dance marathon on a Saturday.

Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville in OchosRios has the characteristics of  Margaretville establishments in other places with lots of music, party games and cocktails.

The Little Pub has a sports TV and a resident band plays here six nights per week.

The Village Green at Island Village hosts two live shows each week for the tourist crowds.

There are several shopping centres.

Island Village is next to the cruise ship pier. The village includes jewellers, boutiques selling beachwear and souvenirs.

Tajmahal Shopping Centre has high end jewellery stores while the new harbour shops feature the usual range of duty free shops.

There are also several craft markets selling more traditional Jamaican crafts including carvings and straw goods.

For a real Jamaican experience visit the huge open air market in the centre of town selling everything from fruit to clothes.

If you are looking for work by local artists head to Harmony Hall. Originally a vicarage it is now an art gallery showing   Jamaican crafts and works by leading Jamaican artists.

Ceramic art can be bought at the Waissi Art Pottery Works outside Ochos town. You can also take a tour and see how the pottery is made.

The Toscanini at Harmony Hall is an Italian restaurant with an excellent reputation. It prepares food from all local produce and has a good vegetarian menu.

Evitas also has an Italian theme and claims to be the smallest and best pasta house in Jamaica.  Just up from Island Village its sauces still have a distinctive Jamaican feel.

The Almond Tree in the Hibiscus Lodge has a tiered terrace overlooking the sea and specialises in sea food.

John Crow’s Tavern on Main Street has outdoor dining with Jamaican dishes and fast food.

If you are looking for somewhere really special, Goldeneye could be the place. Former home of James Bond creator Ian Fleming. Goldeneye has eight beautiful villas, including Fleming’s own house, scattered across grounds overlooking a cove.  There are also waterfront cottages, but the thing which makes this place special is the hotel’s secluded, private island with its own beach and water sports.

Goldeneye lies 16 miles east of Ochos at Oracabessa.
Ten miles east of Ochos on 22 acres of land is Beaches Boscobel Resort and Golf Club Resort. The Beaches Resorts are good at providing amenities for kids, and this resort has a state-of-the-art video game centre, a spacious pool with a gigantic water slide, a fully equipped and well staffed day care centre and a teen disco. For adults there is diving and snorkelling as well as a golf course.

The Royal Plantation lies in eight-acre grounds around two private beaches just east of Ochos.This Georgian hotel prides itself on providing real luxury.

All 74 rooms face the sea and feature marble bathrooms, and the resort has three gourmet restaurants.

Sandals Dunns River Golf and Spa Resort has a Mediterranean feel with an open-air type of design. They provide a shuttle service from Sangster airport. There is complimentary access to the non- motorized water sports equipment, including catamarans, kayaks, sailboats, aqua trykes, windsurfers and glass- bottomed boats. Fitness facilities offer two pools, two saunas, two steam rooms, three whirlpool tubs and a full service spa with pampering treatments. There are also tennis courts and, of course, a golf course.

Apparently The Jamaica Inn was Winston Churchill’s favourite hotel. It’s a family-run ‘inn’, overlooking a private cove. It has an old work feel to it with a croquet lawn, games room, and library. Water sports include scuba diving, and guests have access to the facilities at Shaw Park Beach Hotel but children under 14 are not admitted.

Shaw Park Beach Hotel

Is an adults-only all-inclusive resort with thatch-roofed oceanfront units spread along a beach in a private cove. Features include an oval pool, two tennis courts, game room and disco, plus water sports and floor shows.

Sandcastles is a large and centrally located resort  in Ochos the resort is a stone’s   throw from Turtle Beach. This refurbished resort has bright studios as well as one- and two-bedroom suites in various configurations. All have cable TV, plus modern furnishings. There is also a sports bar.

For the more budget conscious there a number of more modest hotels such as

Mahoe Villa and Guesthouse  near Shaw Park or

The Marine View Hotel in Mallards which has a central location with basic amenities.

The Jamaica Tourist Board has more information.www.visitjamaica.com