How the heck am I to decide where to stay in Jamaica?
With six distinct and enticing areas to from which to choose, it’s tough, down right nerve-racking, trying to decide where to stay in Jamaica.
If you are wrestling with the question of where to stay in Jamaica, check out our primer about the different tourist areas in Jamaica, then decide.
Discovery Bay/Ocho Rios area
Located in St. Ann, considered the garden parish, Ocho Rios is the second most popular tourist area. The Ocho Rios area encompasses the stretch from Rio Bueno/Discovery Bay to Oracabessa, which includes Runaway Bay, Mammee Bay, and St. Anns Bay. Of all the resort areas, this area has the most diversity in terms of things to do. Beautiful beaches, enchanting gardens, and lots of attractions abound. Visit the famous Dunns River Falls or try the now popular Blue Hole. Go river rafting or tubing, parasailing, snorkeling, scuba diving, or swim with the dolphins. Go horseback riding in the ocean. Want to golf? There are 2 courses in the area – one in Runaway Bay and the other outside of Ocho Rios. Tour Green Grotto Caves to see intriguing rock figures. Raise your heart rate ziplining or on the rides at Mystic Mountain. Visit a James bond 007 film set.
History says Columbus “discovered” Jamaica in 1494 when he landed in Discovery Bay. Visit Columbus Park which commemorates his landing but goes over to the Rio Bueno Harbor for some fun on the Rio Bueno River, the river which actually encouraged him to land. Seville, Jamaica’s first capital and where Columbus was stranded for a year, is just up the road from Discovery Bay.
Discovery Bay, perhaps the most central location on the north coast, will allow you to tour all the different resort areas on the island to your heart’s content without having to drive too far. It is truly a convenient base from which to see the island.
Here is one of the other really nice things about Discovery Bay … It is on the more developed resort section of the island, the North Coast, but here you are not plagued by being neck to neck with other tourists. Large all-inclusive developments did not take hold here. Instead we are blessed with more refined development that still preserves Jamaica’s essence. How wonderful … the best of both worlds.
Known as MoBay, to the locals, this is a bustling city with lots to offer and is perhaps the capital of tourism in Jamaica… white sand beaches, all-inclusive hotels and resorts, villas, restaurants, night-life. Tour historical plantation houses such as Rosehall, Greenwood and Belfield. Swim at Doctor’s Cave Beach with its supposedly healing powers. Hang out on Gloucester Avenues Hip Strip with its duty free shopping, nightclubs and bars. Everyone knows Margaritaville and Pier One are the party places. For upscale shopping, try the Shoppes at Rosehall. Reggae lover? MoBay hosts the annual Sumfest, the largest reggae show in the world. Are you a serious golfer? If so, this area has the most and the best courses.
Kingston is the capital city, Jamaica’s heartbeat. I wouldn’t think of Kingston as a vacation destination on its own but I almost never go to Jamaica without spending a day in Kingston. Despite its reputation, which I think is highly exaggerated, Kingston has a vibe and energy that I just love. Kingston is Jamaica’s cultural mecca showcasing the performing arts at Little Theater, the large collection of Jamaican art of the National Gallery of Art. Play golf, watch a horse race at Caymanas Park, visit the shops at Devon House, watch cricket at Sabina Park, take a glass bottom tour to see the sunken city of Port Royal, the richest and wickedest city in the 17th century. And, of course, if you are a reggae fan, you have to go to the Bob Marley Museum. Even Barack Obama went there during his 2015 Presidential visit. Yep, that’s Bob’s jeep, still parked outside.
Tourism in Jamaica started here but failed largely due to the distance from Kingston’s airport and the development of Montego Bay with its own airport. Still, this is a quiet, laid back place, naturally beautiful with some of the finest scenery in Jamaica. Truly a get away from it all experience. See the bottomless Blue Lagoon, Reich Falls, Somerset Falls, Trident Castle, Frenchman’s Cove. Years ago, this was the playground of movie stars like Errol Flynn, Ginger Rogers and Bette Davis. Many movies were films here. Remember Tom Cruise in the movie Cocktail? For some of the best birdwatching in Jamaica, try the Rio Grande Valley. Hike the Blue Mountains, source of one of the world’s best and most expensive coffees.
Picturesque fishing villages and uncrowded beaches are the norm as is a truly laid back lifestyle, reminiscent of Jamaica long ago … unhurried and with fewer large tourist developments. Unlike the North Coast, the sand in many areas of the South Coast has a much darker hue than on the northern side of the island. Also while the North Coast is typically lush green with hills and valleys, the South Coast tends to be more arid, especially on the plains.
Tourism development sort of left the South Coast behind, which is not a bad thing. When I think of the South Coast, I think of the Black River, Jamaica’s longest river and the Great Morass, our largest protected wetland habitat. Then there are the Santa Cruz Mountains which fall sharply to the flat and arid Pedro Plains. We have places like Treasure Beach, Bluefields, Little Ochi, Milk River Bath, Holland Bamboo. This is the place for maybe those who want to blend in with the locals a little bit while go exploring quiet places.
Hike YS Falls. See how rum is made at Appleton Estates. Savor peppered shrimp in Middle Quarters. Stand at Lover’s Leap and hear the legend of the two slave lovers who jumped together rather than being separated and were caught up in a golden net at taken to the heavens. We can’t forget about Mandeville and the Cockpit Country, home to community tourism. Located high in the cool hills, these areas offer great birding, hiking and spelunking.
Negril is about an hour and a half west of MoBay. It is home to the famous 7-mile beach and Ricks’ Café, known for its amazing sunsets. Negril is sort of far from everything else so go to Negril if you basically intend to stay there. Negril is a paradox … a laid back and do as you please attitude but also a spring breaker’s paradise with nightlife galore. Watersports are abundant here … cliff diving, snorkeling, water skiing, parasailing. If you are a golfer, this isn’t the place for you, unless you don’t mind a long drive into Montego Bay for the better courses.
So, still thinking about where to stay in Jamaica?
The truth is, unless you have very specific needs, you can’t really go wrong with your choice. Jamaica is the third largest island in the Caribbean, but it is only 4411 square miles, just a little smaller than the state of Connecticut, USA.
I love all the different areas of Jamaica as each one has its own unique feel. I live for new experiences so I choose to stay in Discovery Bay then do either short trips or day trips to explore the other areas depending on how much time I have. That is my solution to the dilemma of just where to stay in Jamaica. Works for me!
While you are at it, check out these other blog posts:
Think and dream Jamaica!
Til next time,
Sherry, Darrell, and Darrian
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