Rio Bueno Jamaica – Where Art, History, and Adventure Combine
Things to do in Rio Bueno Jamaica – Art, History, and Tons of On-River Fun
Rio Bueno Jamaica is another hidden gem that often gets overlooked. Mais Oui Villa has the enviable distinction of being located smack dab between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, on the western edge of Discovery Bay, overlooking the beautiful Rio Bueno Harbour in Jamaica. We get to enjoy the best of both worlds.
At first blush, Rio Bueno Jamaica is a little no-name town with nothing to write home about (no pun intended), unless you know what to look for. And we do!
Where is Rio Bueno Jamaica?
Rio Bueno is a tiny seaside village near the border of St. Ann to the east and Trelawny to the west. It is about 5 minutes west of Discovery Bay’s town center.
Going east, Rio Bueno is about 45 minutes from Montego Bay, 15-20 minutes from Falmouth, 5 minutes from Discovery Bay, 15 minutes from Runaway Bay, and about 40-45 minutes from Ocho Rios.
It is a sleepy little town but when cruise ships are in port, especially at either the Falmouth or Ocho Rios port, Bengal Beach at the Rio Bueno Harbour can get busy from all the cruise ship passengers doing on river activities. Otherwise, most guests at the beach are those staying at nearby villas.
What is Rio Bueno Jamaica’s claim to fame?
Rio Bueno is one of the locations that has been hotly debated as the site of Columbus’ first landing in 1494, the other sites being Discovery Bay and St. Ann’s Bay. Given the presence of the river and the horseshoe shape of the bay, Rio Bueno does seem to be the most plausible location. Additionally, artifacts attributable to the Tainos, the indigenous people, have been found in the area.
A few movies have been shot here with the most notable being the 1960s “A High Wind in Jamaica” and the 1990s Wide Saragasso Sea.
Presently, the main draw is the Rio Bueno or Bengal River, which empties into the Rio Bueno Harbour, one of Jamaica’s deepest harbours. With all its on-river activities, the Rio Bueno River rivals any other river in Jamaica for fun!
How did Rio Bueno get its name?
Supposedly when Columbus first landed in Jamaica, he was attracted to the river. He was so happy to see the river that when he landed, he scooped up a handful of water and declared, “Rio Bueno”, which translated into “Good River”. Ok, I jazzed up the story but that’s the gist of it.
The Best Things to Do in Rio Bueno Jamaica – Where Art, History and Adventure Combine
Art – Joe James Art Gallery
An art lover’s paradise! Imagine walking through a rustic art gallery with wall to wall paintings and sculptures to get to a seafront restaurant all set in a historic building, the former Harbour Master’s Quarters. Now, this is the definition of unique.
Joe James is an internationally acclaimed painter and sculptor. Together with his family, he runs the art gallery and restaurant, Lobster Bowl. He is an interesting character and was good friends with Bob Marley. Hanging out with him and hearing his stories is a treat.
Historic Sites in Rio Bueno Jamaica
View of Rio Bueno Harbour
The harbour is best viewed from overhead. One of the best spots to see it is just after leaving Braco on the Rio Bueno bypass traveling east towards Ocho Rios.
Built in about 1789, this is one of the oldest stone bridges in Jamaica and is one of the few which is sloped. Given the age of the structure, we know it was not constructed of steel or cement; yet, it was strong enough to support trucks and other heavy vehicles. What a testament to good craftsmanship!
With the new road being built which bypasses Rio Bueno, the bridge isn’t really used much anymore. Be sure to take a picture of it when you are doing one of the one river activities or as you drive past it on the sea-side of the new highway.
St. Mark’s Anglican Church
This distinctive pale blue seaside church was founded in 1833. It has been used in movie sets and photo shoots. The gravestones date back to the 1800s. The church was frequently visited by Her Royal Highness Princess Alice, aunt of King George VI.
Rio Bueno Baptist Church
If you look across the harbour over to the hills above Rio Bueno to your left as you stand on the upper balcony at Mais Oui Villa, you will see the Rio Bueno Baptist Church. It has a distinctive stone exterior and a red roof. The original church was built in 1829 by the Baptist missionaries who were largely abolitionists. They faced opposition from slave owners and zealous Anglicans who burnt it to the ground. It was rebuilt in 1833-34. The current structure was built in 1901.
The Baptists, in 1843, established Calabar Theological College in Rio Bueno. The school’s mission was to train local men for service to the Baptist Missionary Society in the West Indies and Africa. The first convoy of missionaries from Jamaica to Africa sailed out of Rio Bueno Harbour. The school later moved to Kingston and became Calabar High School. The hills above Rio Bueno still maintain the name of Calabar.
Ruins of the Hotel Wellington
In its heyday, Rio Bueno rivaled Falmouth as a shipping port. The town had a booming tourist business with inns and taverns and was the stopover point for travelers.
The Hotel Wellington is believed to be one of the oldest hotels in Jamaica. It was considered a top-notch place. According to the Friends of the Georgian Society of Jamaica, Lady Nugent, wife of the Governor of Jamaica, wrote of having breakfast there in 1802. The building is in ruins and is literally at the side of the road just across from Joe James’ Gallery.
Ruins of Fort Dundas
The fort was built in 1778 just to the west of present-day Rio Bueno to defend Jamaica against the threat of Cuba to the north of the island. The fort was named after Henry Dundas, the British Secretary of War. The remains can be seen behind the Rio Bueno Primary School.
On a side note, feel free to bring some pens, pencils, erasers, crayons, and other school supplies with you. The staff would welcome the donation.
Adventure on the Rio Bueno River Jamaica
The Bengal or Rio Bueno River holds all the action. Here you can choose to do river tubing, rafting, boarding, kayaking, or waterfall climbing each offering a different experience.
Jungle River Tubing on the Rio Bueno River
River Boarding on the Rio Bueno River
River Rafting Adventure on the Rio Bueno River
River Kayaking on the Rio Bueno River
For the really adventurous – Try jumping off a rope swing into the Rio Bueno River
Bengal Beach on Rio Bueno Harbour
The on-river activities end where the river enters the sea. There is a lovely stretch of beach and is a frequent hangout place for our guests.
Don’t go to Rio Bueno Harbour expecting a port lined with cute little shops and cafes. Expect a beach. Further to the western side of the harbour, is a port which is the central logistical hub for Tankweld, importer and exporter of bulk building materials, one of the main employers in the area. Sometimes you will see ships there picking up or dropping off cargo.
We call Bengal Beach Big Beach just because it is bigger than Little Beach which is 2-3 minute walk from Mais Oui Villa. Big Beach is a very nice beach; however, because of the contribution from the Bengal River, some of the sand is not white but more of a tannish – grey color. So if you are looking for a totally white sand beach like Negril, this would not be it. That said, it is a beautiful and calm beach that will delight beach lovers and should not be missed!
To read more about beaches in our area, read this blog post: Beaches in Jamaica – The Top Recommended Beaches Near Discovery Bay.
Should you stay in Rio Bueno Jamaica? Is the Discovery Bay/Rio Bueno area right for you?
The area is ideal for families and or groups looking for peace and quiet. This is not the place for singles or people looking for nightlife or bars. Transportation is necessary as, other than Bengal Beach, you will need to drive the few minutes to the described locations.
Read this blog post: Is a Stay in Discovery Bay right for you?
Where to stay in Rio Bueno Jamaica?
You wouldn’t really stay in Rio Bueno itself.
Instead, you would want to stay in the area just beside Rio Bueno called Bengal (where Mais Oui is), which is on the eastern section of the harbour towards Discovery Bay. Accommodations here are largely in the form of villa vacation rentals.
If you want a hotel, Melia Braco Village is a luxury all-inclusive hotel located in Braco, just on the outskirts of Rio Bueno, going west.
If you are traveling as a group and are interested in staying in the Rio Bueno area, check out Mais Oui Villa in Discovery Bay, an 8BR boutique Jamaica villa for large groups overlooking the Rio Bueno Harbour. The Rio Bueno attractions are a five-minute drive away and well over 40 attractions are within a 40-minute drive.
Which airport would you fly into if you are staying in Rio Bueno Jamaica?
Answer – Montego Bay.Anyone staying anywhere from Bluefields on the southwestern side of the island to Oracabessa, just beyond Ocho Rios, would fly into Montego Bay’s Donald Sangster International Airport. That would include Negril, Falmouth, Rio Bueno, Discovery Bay, Runaway Bay, St. Ann’s Bay, and Ocho Rios.
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‘Til next time.
Think and dream Jamaica!
Sherry, Darrell, and Darrian
Considering a visit to Jamaica with a group? Contact us today for more information about, Mais Oui Tennis & Spa Villa, our boutique 8-BR ocean view Jamaica villa rental experience in beautiful Discovery Bay, Jamaica. Perfect for multi-generational families and groups, retreats, and intimate destination weddings and vow renewals.
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