Located about halfway across Jamaica’s north shore, Ocho Rios hugs a bay framed by lush tropical mountains, fern-filled gullies, and streams that tumble down from the highlands as waterfalls. “Ochi,” as the locals call it, was a backwater port until the mid 20th century, when a fellow by the name of James Bond cavorted on a gorgeous local beach in “Dr. No.” All of a sudden, the whole world wanted to go there, and cruise ships soon outnumbered cargo ships along the waterfront.
A small-town vibe endures along Main Street, while the coastal enclaves to the east seem little changed from British colonial days, when 007 author Ian Fleming lived in a beachfront house called Goldeneye. In addition to good restaurants and nightlife, Ocho Rios is a hub for adventure sports.
Breakfast: Jamaica Inn – With its palm-shaded views across the Caribbean, this old seaside resort has been a local favorite since 1958. Traditional breakfast choices include cassava bammy (a flatbread), spicy escoveitch fish, and steamed callaloo (a spinach-like green).
Lunch: Miss T’s Kitchen – Anna-Kay Tomlinson’s new restaurant in downtown Ochi became an overnight sensation with visitors and locals alike. Authentic Jamaican country cooking blends with reggae, calypso, and other island tunes in a garden with brightly painted wooden tables. Miss T’s specials include curry goat, oxtail stew, jerk pork (barbecued meat seasoned with plenty of allspice), and steamed fish with okra.
Dinner: Harmony Hall & Toscanini’s – A sprawling Victorian-era mansion (built in 1886), Harmony Hall was renovated in the 1980s into an upstairs gallery showing the works of more than a hundred Jamaican artists, and Toscanini’s eatery on the ground floor. The restaurant features upscale fare in a dreamy tropical setting, and while the menu changes daily, it might include rack of lamb or lobster and scallion gratin. The gallery closes at 5:30 pm, so browse the art before eating.
Drinks: Bamboo Blu – This chic shack sits on a white sand strand on Mammee Bay, about 6 miles west of Ocho Rios. Picture a thatched roof café-bar with endless sea views and a soundtrack of tropical island tunes, where you can sip an ice-cold Red Stripe on a daybed or a bamboo raft.
Tip: Although jerk is Jamaica’s best-known food, the national dish is exotic saltfish & ackee. The fish is salted cod, and ackee is a yellow tropical fruit that bears an uncanny resemblance to scrambled eggs when cooked. Prepared in a skillet with bell peppers, scallions, Scotch bonnet peppers, onions, tomatoes, black pepper, thyme, coconut milk, and a little pork, it becomes a delectable dish that Jamaicans eat for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
For Everyone: Beaches and bards – Rent a car for the day and cruise the north coast of Ocho Rios in search of great beaches and the famous writers who loved them. Noel Coward’s breathtaking Firefly estate is on a mountaintop; James Bond Beach is right next to Goldeneye. Then spend the rest of the day lazing at Reggae Beach with its open-air bar, seafood shack, lounge chairs, and shade trees.
For Couples: Bob Marley Zion Bus Tour – Jamaica’s musical icon was born in the village of Nine Mile, 25 miles southwest of Ocho Rios. Given the poor roads and lack of signs, the trip is difficult to make on your own. But the Zion Bus Line gets you there and back with lively commentary, Marley music, and plenty of rum punch.
For Families: Mystic Mountain – This rain forest adventure park blends nature and adrenalin sports in the jungle. Visitors ride a chair lift from sea level to the summit, then choose from various kid-friendly attractions, including a simulated Jamaican bobsled ride, a zip line ride through the canopy, and a water slide into an infinity edge pool. There is also a live butterfly habitat and hummingbird garden.
For the Adventurous: Blue Mountain Bicycle Tours – This day-long excursion starts in the cloud-shrouded peaks behind the north coast and includes a downhill bike ride through rain forest, past coffee plantations and roadside farms, that ends at a waterfall with a swimming hole. You’ll share the road with goats, dogs, and donkeys, but there’s a Red Stripe waiting at the end.
Dunn’s River Falls is famous for its natural beauty and the sheer amount of water pouring down the rocks, but it’s just as celebrated for its crowds. Like your nature with solitude? Consider a guided tubing trip down the White River, where you can float beneath the forest canopy to the sound of birdsong.