16 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Jamaica - The 2018 Guide
Known as the "birthplace of reggae," Jamaica boasts a treasure trove of natural jewels and a colorful African vibe. Golden beaches; lush, green mountains; turquoise seas; coral reefs; rainforests; and rivers are just some of the island's enviable assets. Nature lovers will find plenty of things to do, from hiking and birding in the jungle to diving or snorkeling the fringing reefs. Jamaica is also renowned for its many historic plantations, where you can sample tropical fruits and tour the grand great houses, and you'll also find some of the the Caribbean's most luxurious all-inclusive resorts here.
Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, Negril, and Port Antonio are the main tourist hubs. Lively Montego Bay is one of the most popular resort towns, Ocho Rios is the island's major port of call for cruise ships, and Negril is famous for its long and lazy beach lined with clear waters and coconut palms. Ecotourists love peaceful Port Antonio, thanks to its proximity to the spectacular Blue Mountains. In Kingston, Jamaica's edgy capital, you can tour reggae legend Bob Marley's former home and explore the city's museums and historic sites. Jam-packed with diverse attractions, no wonder Jamaica enjoys a reputation as a Caribbean hotspot.
1 Negril Beach & the Negril Cliffs
Also known as Seven Mile Beach, Negril Beach is one of Jamaica's most beautiful stretches of white sand and aqua sea and graces the list of the Caribbean's best beaches. The beach extends from Bloody Bay to Long Bay and the Negril Cliffs south of town. Tucked within groves of coconut palms, resorts fringe the shore here, from large all-inclusive resorts to smaller boutique properties. Water sports abound, and snorkelers will find schools of fish swimming in the clear waters. Be prepared for persistent hawkers prowling the beach.
South of the beach, the Negril Cliffs rise above the coral-fringed coast and provide a popular perch for sunset views and cliff jumping. Some of Negril's most luxurious resorts lie along the cliffs, including The Caves and The Cliff Hotel.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Negril
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2 Editor's Pick Rafting the Martha Brae River
Rafting the Martha Brae is one of the most popular things to do in Jamaica. At Martha Brae Rafter's Village, you can glide down a picturesque stretch of the river on bamboo rafts poled by local guides. This relaxing trip is a great way to soak up some of the tropical scenery, and some of the guides will entertain you along the way, singing or sharing information about the flora and fauna.
3 Dunn's River Falls
Encompassing 180 meters of gently terraced waterfalls, Dunn's River Falls is one of Jamaica's most famous natural attractions. The falls tumble over rocks and limestone ledges into the sea. You can climb the natural tiers to the top of the falls with the aid of a guide and cool off in the refreshing pools at the base. It's a good idea to wear water shoes and clothing that you don't mind getting wet. Also, try to plan your visit around the cruise ship crowds.
For a fun, full day outing, try a Jamaica Combo Tour: Dunn's River Falls and Bob Marley's Nine Mile. This tour stops by the village of Nine Mile, birthplace of Bob Marley, and then heads over to the Dunn's River Falls, for a guided hike up to the falls and a slide or swim in the natural pools. Hotel pickup and drop-off, entrance fees, lunch, and a guide are included.
Alternatively, take a Jamaica Catamaran Cruise to Dunn's River Falls from Ocho Rios or Montego Bay. Snorkel over coral reefs, enjoy an ocean cruise, and relax and play in the water at the falls. Hotel pickup and drop-off is included.
4 Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park
In 2015, the spectacular Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park was inscribed on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites for its rich natural and cultural heritage. Once a refuge for former slaves and the indigenous Taino, who fled here to escape slavery, this unspoiled preserve offers breathtaking scenery. Within its borders, you can explore jungle-clad mountains; waterfalls; lush rainforests; coffee plantations; and exotic plants and animals, including 800 species of endemic plants, more than 200 species of birds, and the world's second largest butterfly. The roads and tracks are rough - especially after rain - so 4WD vehicles and/or experienced guides are highly recommended. A highlight of a visit here is the hike (or mule ride) up Jamaica's highest peak, 2,256-meter-high Blue Mountain Peak. This two-day trip offers thrilling views, and on a clear day, you can see all the way to Cuba.
5 Port Antonio
Set between mountains and a double harbor, Port Antonio exudes the relaxed charm of a sleepy fishing village. Once a center for banana export, the area is distinctly less commercial than the other resort towns. Popular things to do here include hiking jungle trails, rafting the Rio Grande, taking a tour to Reach Falls, and snorkeling and diving the coral reefs. A favorite swimming spot is the beautiful 60-meter-deep Blue Lagoon, fed by freshwater springs.
Other highlights of the area include the 18th-century British stronghold of Fort George and beautiful Frenchman's Cove, where a fish-filled river flows into the sea. The beaches here are a wonderful mix of white sand, shallow waters, and lush outcroppings of land. Nearby, Daniel's River plunges through a gorge of natural rock in a series of cascades and pools known as Somerset Falls.
Set between Port Antonio's two harbors and reached by ferry, Navy Island was once owned by movie swashbuckler Errol Flynn. Today, the island is a favorite for picnics and day trips.
Jamaica's spicy "jerk-style" of cooking originated in the region and some of the best can be found at Boston Beach east of Port Antonio.
6 Doctor's Cave Beach, Montego Bay
One of the best beaches in Montego Bay, Doctor's Cave Beach is an alluring strip of white sand fringed by clear waters that helped shape the fate of this popular tourist town. In the early 1920s, a famous British osteopath declared that the water had curative powers after swimming here, a claim which began to lure visitors from around the world. Hotels sprouted up, and the area became a popular tourist destination. The cave for which the beach is named was destroyed by a hurricane in 1932, but the beach is as popular as ever and is often crowded with cruise ship passengers.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Montego Bay
7 Blue Hole, Ocho Rios
High in the rainforest-cloaked mountains outside Ocho Rios, the Blue Hole (also called Island Gully Falls or the Irie Blue Hole) is a series of picturesque waterholes fed by gushing cascades. Guides lead you around the area where you can explore the falls and jump off cliffs into the refreshing pools below. The adventure involves clambering over slippery rocks, so appropriate water shoes are recommended.
8 Rose Hall Great House, Montego Bay
Built in 1770, Rose Hall is a restored plantation house with beautiful ocean views. Legendary Annie Palmer (the White Witch) ruled here with cruelty and met a violent death. Today, her home is adorned with period furniture, and you can choose between a day tour or a spooky candlelit evening tour topped off with tales of ghost sightings.
9 Rio Grande River
Expert guides pole bamboo rafts through an impressive stretch of tropical rainforest along the Rio Grande River during a two-and-a-half-hour tour. Rafting here dates back to around 1911, when banana farmers in the Rio Grande Valley used to transport their bananas along the river. The Rio Grande tends to be less crowded than the Martha Brae River and offers beautiful scenery and gentle rapids.
10 Black River Safari Boat Tour and YS Falls
Crocodiles and more than 100 species of birds, including herons and snowy egrets, are among the critters that make their home along the mangrove-fringed Black River - the longest in Jamaica. You can tour the river on guided boats and enjoy a running commentary on the area's ecology and history.
A short drive away and often combined with the Black River for tours, the beautiful YS Falls are Jamaica's largest and least commercial cascades. Some of the seven waterfalls flow into peaceful natural pools, which are lovely for a dip on a hot day. You can also play Tarzan on the rope swing and plunge into a wading pool below fed by natural springs. Ziplining and river tubing are also available.
11 Reach Falls
Tucked in the Montane Forest of the John Crow Mountain Range, Reach Falls are among Jamaica's prettiest and most peaceful falls. A gentle hike through tropical rainforest takes you to the top of the falls where a lifeguard patrols. You can stand under the streaming cascades, explore underwater caves, and swim in the fern-fringed waters surrounded by rainforest. Water shoes are recommended.
12 Mayfield Falls
Nestled in the mountains, about an hour's drive from Negril through rainforest villages, Mayfield Falls & Mineral Springs is a haven for nature lovers. Here, you'll find two beautiful waterfalls; 21 natural pools; and a profusion of ferns, tropical flowers, and other rainforest flora. Butterflies and birds flit through the lush foliage, and thatched riverside gazebos beckon for pit stops.
You can choose between a guided hike along the river or you can wade through the cool waters, clambering over slick boulders, jumping off cliffs, and relaxing under the cascades. Be sure to bring a camera and wear water shoes and swimwear.
Surrounded by sugar estates and cattle land, Falmouth is one of the Caribbean's best-preserved Georgian towns. Once a leading port, the town offers excellent examples of 19th-century Georgian architecture, including a faithful restoration of the courthouse. Greenwood Great House is a major tourist attraction in the area. Built in 1790 by Richard Barrett, a relative of poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the Great House is now a museum with period furniture and a rare collection of musical instruments and Wedgwood china.
Other popular things to do include exploring Good Hope Plantation, an old-established coconut and sugar plantation built in 1755, and basking on Red Stripe and Burwood Beach. East of Falmouth is the Luminous Lagoon, named for its marine phosphorescence.
Location: Falmouth, Trelawny Parish
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Falmouth
14 Rainforest Adventures Mystic Mountain, Ocho Rios
At Rainforest Adventures Mystic Mountain, you can enjoy panoramic views of the town and sea on the Sky Explorer, a chairlift ascending the mountain. The more adventurous can zoom down the mountain on Bobsled Jamaica, a single-person roller coaster ride through the forest, or glide through the treetops on ziplines. Other attractions here include guided nature walks, butterfly and hummingbird gardens, and an infinity pool and waterslide. Book a Bobsledding Tour at Mystic Mountain in advance. For visitors arriving by cruise ship, free pickup from the port is included with this tour.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Ocho Rios
15 Zipline Adventure Tours
Outdoor enthusiasts and adventurers can test their skills kayaking and ziplining as they explore the Great River. Two-hour guided tours take guests kayaking through rolling rapids and calm waters or ziplining above the river for a little adrenaline-infused adventure. A tour guide gives a safety and equipment briefing and offers insight into the wildlife and vegetation along the river. The Jamaica Zipline and Kayak Adventure Tour, which departs from hotels in Negril and Montego Bay, includes hotel pickup and drop-off, lunch, equipment, guide, and basic instruction. Participants must be at least six years of age.
At the foot of the Blue Mountains, Jamaica's busy capital city offers a cosmopolitan contrast to the island's relaxed pace. Gritty and rough around the edges, Kingston can be intimidating, but you can view some of the town's top tourist attractions on organized tours. The Bob Marley Museum, at the reggae superstar's former home, is one of Kingston's most-visited attractions, and reggae fans can also visit the Trench Town Culture Yard Museum in the ghetto where reggae music was born.
Tours will also take you to explore mansions like historic Devon House, as well as museums such as the excellent National Gallery and the Natural History Museum. Music concerts are often staged at Emancipation Park, a palm-studded green space in the middle of the city, and National Heroes Park features statues of leading players of Jamaican history and independence. At the tip of the peninsula surrounding Kingston Harbor lies the community of Port Royal, the focus of British fortification in the late 17th century.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Kingston
Must-See Destinations in Jamaica
For more information on the top tourist attractions and things to do near each of Jamaica's main resort towns, see our pages on Montego Bay and Ocho Rios. These towns offer easy access to lush mountains; waterfalls; plantations; and a host of exciting tropical adventures, from ziplining to rafting and river tubing. If you're looking for a more low-key Jamaican vacation, see our page on the relaxed resort town of Negril and find out about its stunning palm-lined beach, one of the best beaches in the Caribbean. Some of Jamaica's resorts also grace the list of top luxury all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean. For inspiration on the hottest beach vacation spots, see our page on the Best Tropical Vacations.