I took a one-week trip through Jamaica, attending a wedding at the Sandals Resort in Montego Bay and exploring many of the island’s cities, towns, and natural wonders, getting a “real Jamaica” experience.
Photo: Emancipation Park, Kingston
The Waterfall Climb
From the Montego Bay bus station, our group packed into a crowded local bus toward Ocho Rios, another popular resort town on the Caribbean. The bus station was very chaotic, with tons of people and vehicles all over the place. This bus ride was honestly the most miserable part of the trip because only one of my buttcheeks was on the seat and it was soooo uncomfortable and painful. I was thrilled when we finally arrived in Ocho Rios at our Airbnb, which was a few miles outside of town on a green hill with several dogs and a nice amount of space for the seven of us.
Our fun destination for the day was Dunn’s River Falls, a famous 600 foot climbable waterfall a couple miles outside of Ocho Rios. We stopped at a local restaurant to get food, browsed through a couple markets, and then went to Dunn’s and paid a $20 admission. They were selling water shoes for $10 but I decided to just make do with my flip flops, which wasn’t the most comfortable but worked fine.
Once inside the park, we followed a path down to the beach – which was the beginning point of our waterfall climb. Then, we spent about an hour walking up Dunn’s River Falls, climbing over rocks, navigating rushing water, and relaxing in calm pools of water. It was unlike anywhere I’d ever been and an incredibly beautiful and exhilarating experience.
Downtown Ocho Rios
From Dunn’s River Falls, we took a taxi into Ocho Rios and had a little trouble finding an outdoor market some of us had spotted and wanted to check out. Finally, the driver got us to the right place and I walked around the shops a bit with a friend. One friendly shopkeeper offered us a free wooden turtle as a “thanks for coming to Jamaica” ☺ I didn’t feel like buying anything and was over shopping so I took a couple friends on a walk into Downtown Ocho Rios and told my shopping friends to support the generous turtle man.
Central Ocho Rios is extremely crowded! The town’s central square has a small clock tower and tons of traffic and people milling about. We stopped at our first of many Jamaican patty places of the trip and my friend got a vegetarian patty. After a bit more walking around, we made our way back to rejoin our group at the market and began a search for a place to eat dinner. Unfortunately, a restaurant our bus driver had recommended turned out to be exorbiantaly expensive, the patty place was now out of patties, and we didn’t see many restaurant options along the road.
Finally, two local men offered to escort us to a vegan restaurant which ended up being down a side street and on the second level of a plaza. They were quite sketchy and seemed to expect us to go to a bar with them in exchange for showing us the restaurant so that wasn’t ideal but The Reflection Restaurant turned out to be amazing! The friendly chef told us about her all-vegan menu, including a combo of all of her dishes, and several of us enjoyed sweet fruit juices. It was the perfect meal!
After dinner, we walked over to a market to buy water and snacks and then took a taxi back to the AirBnb, where we played some rounds of Banana Grams, which was extremely frustrating because I suck at it 😞 before heading to bed.
Ocho Rios to Kingston
The next morning, we stood on the side of the road and hopped on a public bus east into the town of Port Maria, where we squeezed eight people and our luggage into a small five-seater taxi! This was to be the norm for the rest of our time together as a group 😂 The bus had consisted solely of locals and they were very friendly, offering us advice and directions and helping to carry our luggage. The taxi ride through the Blue Mountains into Kingston was stunning with amazing vistas of rainforest, rivers, and green hills. It was extremely bumpy though, and our driver continually would steer to the side to avoid potholes – a bit scary as we were constantly going around blind corners.
Once in Kingston, we stopped at a bank to exchange money and got some Jamaican patties for an early lunch. At the patty place, several of us noticed a Peanut Punch on the menu – one kind friend was the guinea pig and once we all tried it, most of us ordered one ourselves! It really seems like more of a peanut milk but it’s quite delicious and apparently a Jamaican staple. We then went to the Halfway Tree Bus Station, Kingston’s transportation hub, and caught a bus in the direction of our AirBnb. Unfortunately, once we got dropped off at a bus station, it took us nearly an hour to get a cab that seemed legitimate and offered a fair price for taking us up into the hills to our AirBnb for the night. We finally got one and squeezed eight people and our luggage into an even smaller cab this time!
Jack’s Hill & The Blue Mountains
Our AirBnb was situated in a neighborhood of Kingston called Jack’s Hill which is perched high above the city center in gorgeous rolling hills. Our AirBnb host was the self-proclaimed greatest rapper in Jamaica (he’s actually quite good) who lives in a large home with two swings overlooking a vast array of stunning green hills. He is multiracial and light-skinned and he told us a lot about how sometimes fellow Jamaicans treat him like an outsider or try to take advantage of him because of his white skin.
A few of us who wanted to explore the area walked down the street to Kingsworth Hostel, which we’d heard led tours. The owner of the hostel agreed to take us on a driving tour and hike partly up to Blue Mountain Peak (for $30 each), but he was quite a talker and we had to keep reminding him that our time was limited and we needed to get going 😤 Finally, we were on our way and took a surprisingly long two-hour drive on windy, bumpy roads, some of which were unpaved, to the trailhead for Blue Mountain Peak. Our (not in a hurry) guide stopped to talk to seemingly every person we passed along the way but we finally made it and hopped on the trail.
It was late in the afternoon so we unfortunately didn’t have time to make it to the top of Blue Mountain Peak, but we hiked half of the trail up to the gate at Portland Gap. Along the way, we got wonderful panoramic views of Jamaica’s mountains and could even see Kingston far in the distance. Toward the end, we walked through a “Black Forest,” a very dense forest canopy with tons of unique vines, plants, flowers, and trees. We turned around made it back down to the car just as it got dark. We stopped to buy coffee from a local hostel (the Blue Mountains are famous for their coffee), grabbed a quick dinner, and went back to our AirBnb where we relaxed and said tearful goodbyes to the bride and groom who were leaving us to continue on their own honeymoon adventures the next morning.
A Kingston Walking Tour
We took a taxi from Jacks Hill to our second Kingston AirBnb, which was centrally located in the city just off Hope Road between two of Kingston’s most famous landmarks: The Bob Marley Museum and Devon House. The AirBnb, while quite casual and basic lodging, actually was also a vegan restaurant and gift shop in a very artsy, musical setting which we loved.
Our group set off on a walking tour to see Kingston’s sights. Much of what I read on the internet was that Kingston isn’t a walkable city, but we definitely proved that wrong – walking to many of the city’s coolest sights without any issue. We first stopped in a mall to cool off, enjoy AC for a minute, and buy some cold drinks (it was a hot, humid, hot, hot day!). I got a small peanut chocolate milk which was as good as it sounds! Hungry, we were excited to find a healthy-ish fast food chain called Island Grill. It had lots of healthy and vegetarian options and was very refreshing and filling for a quite low price.
Our next destination was Emancipation Park, a lovely medium-size park filled with palm trees and tropical trees with bright orange flowers. I climbed an orange flower tree and we relaxed in the grass and ran through the sprinklers to cool down. We didn’t see it until we passed it in a cab later, but the most dramatic attraction in Emancipation Park is a large statue of two freed slaves on one of the exterior corners.
Next, we walked through a commercial area to Heroes Park, one of Kingston’s largest parks. It looked quite unkempt and ugly at first, but as we got deeper in, we came to the nice part of the park which featured memorials to influential Jamaican leaders and even two guards standing in small guard posts who did a “changing of the guard”-esque ceremony every few minutes. The memorials were architecturally unique and stunning and there was almost no one else there, so it felt like such a great find!
Exhausted from the heat, we took a taxi to our next destination: The Church of the Holy Trinity, which looked pretty average on the outside but featured a stunning large round dome and beautiful architecture on the interior. We befriended a young girl whose mom was cleaning up inside and relaxed in the cool building for a while before we caught a taxi back to the AirBnb. It was now time to say goodbye to three of our friends who were staying near the airport that night to fly out the next morning.
Finding A Pool in Kingston
Now it was just one friend and I left in the group and we were super hot and desperate to find a pool! We walked to a nearby hotel and the friendly front desk worker called several hotels with pools in the area to see if they allowed day access for non-guests. One of them said yes but only until 4pm (it was just around 4:00). We didn’t agree with this early end time and decided to see if we could get in, so we walked over to The Mayfair Hotel, walked right in the gate, and sat at the hotel’s poolside bar and ordered drinks. Within minutes of entering the pool, someone came by and told us that the pool had closed at 4 and ordered us to leave since we weren’t guests, but it was 100% worth it because we felt so refreshed from our dip 😄
We went back to our AirBnb and enjoyed a hearty vegan Jamaican combo dinner at their restaurant before taking a 20-minute walk down Hope Road to a gas station to buy water and snacks for the next day. After walking back home, we fell asleep quickly.
Click here to continue on to the next portion of the blog as we dip in and take a bamboo raft around the incredible Blue Lagoon in Port Antonio and have the wildest Couchsurfing experience ever in Montego Bay.
Click here to read the beginning of my Jamaica blog as I enjoy three days of sun-soaked and alcohol-infused bliss at the all-inclusive Sandals Resort in Montego Bay.