The third largest island in the Caribbean, Jamaica was an exciting and thrilling place to take the family. In addition to our 2 kids and brother, this trip we took an aunt and uncle along with us! If you wonder if Jamaica is a safe or good place to bring your family on vacation, the answer is yes. Stick to the tourist spots, have your excursions pre-arranged if you don’t feel comfortable driving, and it’s a good plan.
We opted to rent a van and a villa and did our own touring of the island! Marvin, already with experience driving on the left side from living in England, didn’t have any trouble driving here. Some drivers in Jamaica can be a bit reckless though, especially in passing on a 2-way road. We did all our touring in the northern part of the island between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios. We flew into Montego Bay and the villa we stayed in was about an hour east in the village of Duncans. We were about an hour from Ocho Rios as well so being between the two allowed us to easily check out the attractions in both locations.
I spent a lot of time looking up places to stay in Jamaica, whether we should do an all-inclusive resort, hotel, or a villa. In the end I found a villa on VRBO and it’s common for villas to include staff. Ours even had a cook included, and she made us some really delicious Jamaican food. This was a new way of travel for us, and it was really nice. The villa was in a gated community with 24 hour guards to monitor. We had the option to rent a golf cart and the estates had a private beach access, tennis courts and a bar/cafe on the beach. A private pool was at the house too. With us traveling as a group of 7, going in and renting a big house made the most sense for what kind of vacation we wanted.
The 5-day itinerary is a very casual schedule with plenty of time for relaxing and leisure at the villa. We had 5 full days in Jamaica and 1 of those days was just spent hanging around the grounds at the villa mostly. If you plan for about 1 activity a day, I think that gives a good balance of going but some relaxing too.
Green Grotto Caves
Green Grotto Caves is located between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios and was only about 5 minutes from where we stayed. A tour guide takes you through the caves and gives some history of Jamaica and how the caves had been used throughout time. Our guide was knowledgeable and funny, and willing to take group photos. Tennis shoes are recommended. There are some steps involved. Kids younger than 4 are free.
Konoko Falls was on a hill and overlooks Ocho Rios with a view of the water. We started with a guide taking us through the beautiful gardens and explaining some of the tropical plants of the area. The macaw and iguana were a hit and being able to hold and touch them! Lastly we saw the falls with a pool of water that we got to play in from the top. There is an option to go down and climb the falls with a guide. Since we had the little ones and my brother, we opted just to stay swimming in the top. It was still fun for everyone.
After a morning at Konoko Falls we stopped in Ocho Rios and bought souvenirs at the Taj Mahal shopping center which is a perfect place for browsing.
Dunn’s River Falls
Just right outside of Ocho Rios, Dunn’s River Falls is one of the top Jamaica attractions, and I’m glad we didn’t pass. If you are able, you can do a human chain climb up the falls with a tour guide starting from the beach all the way up. This is one of the few waterfalls that empties directly into the sea. It was bizarre seeing this natural phenomena. Even if you don’t climb the falls, there are steps that go along beside it with pools of water that you can enter to swim in! It was perfect.
Besides the falls, there’s a garden to stroll through, and we got to drink some fresh coconut water straight from the coconut, a splash pad for the young kids, and markets. The salesmen can be really annoying and pushy trying to sell their products in the markets. There was a wooden turtle with Jamaica colors on it and he asked what Isabel’s name was. He used a knife and carved her name into the turtle in 5 seconds before we could tell him no. Then we felt obligated to buy it. Others would put things in your hand and tell you to have it, then ask for whatever we could give. But I am glad we got the turtle with her name carved in it!
Doctor’s Cave Beach
Unfortunately we did not make it to Negril to see the Seven Mile Beach, but Doctor’s Cave Beach in Montego Bay was the prettiest water and white sand we saw while there. I’d definitely recommend it. It’s a private beach and it’s paid access ($6) to enter and extra for a chair or umbrella. The weather was perfect when we went and the water was just the right temperature, and the sand was so clean. There were clean restrooms and showers too, which helped to rinse off the sand and salt before driving the hour back to the villa. There’s a place for ordering drinks and food as well. You can see the planes coming in since the beach is near the airport.
After leaving the beach, we stopped at Scotchies in Montego Bay for a light snack. I had read about this place and it was a recommendation of the staff from the villa so we knew it would be a good place to try some Jamaican food. It was a very relaxed atmosphere with seating outside, and a great place to bring the kids. I got a Jamaican soda, and the festival which is like a sweet fried dumpling bread. Also we tried the Jerk Pork and fries.
In the Luminous Lagoon, a rare phenomenon that only occurs in 4 places in the world where the waters glow at night when the water is disturbed. There are a few different places along the Luminous Lagoon that you can book tours but we chose Falmouth Mystic to have dinner and an evening boat tour to see the glowing waters. The boat took us out and anyone who wanted could jump in the water and swim. The more people that were swimming, the more the water would glow with the movement. Marvin was the only one from our group that decided to get in. I kind of forced him to not miss out on the opportunity! He was happy he did. It was dark and getting in the water at night is creepy to me though, so I’m glad I had to sit with the girls! What was really nice was one of the guides dipped some water in a bucket and we could test out the glow ourselves with our hand! Besides Amelia not wanting to wear her life vest and on the verge of crying because of it, it was nice!
At the end there is a limbo and fire dance performance. It was a fun safe night out in Jamaica with everyone!
There’s two night tours, one at 6:45pm and the other at 7:45pm. I asked the place before what time we should arrive to do dinner and first tour and I was told about 4:30 to come for dinner to give enough time to order and eat. It worked out well that we had time to eat and not miss the boat.
An alternate option for one of the days would be Mystic Mountain or Dolphin Cove Ocho Rios.
If I make it back to Jamaica again, I’d like to do a tour of the whole country for a longer time. But for 5 days it was adventure filled yet built in time for resting too. Having a cook at the villa that made us local food was one of the best parts of the experience, and getting to know them. I miss ending the day in the villa with family and getting to drink Jamaican coffee and spice bun at night to reflect on the days activities. For the first Caribbean country that we have visited together, it left a special place in our hearts.
Tipping is expected in the tourist parts of Jamaica, so it’s a good idea to always keep small bills on hand. In one location, while trying to park in Montego Bay, we had someone wanting a tip because they were “helping” find the place to buy a parking pass. He also quietly offered drugs, but told him no thanks and with a couple of bucks for his “help” we were able to get rid of him and he didn’t bother us anymore. If Marvin wasn’t used to that in Brazil already, it would have been a bit of a shock maybe.
Jamaica has Jamaican dollars but everywhere we went we could pay in American dollars too – just be aware of the conversion rate they offer you when taking US dollars. We never even exchanged any cash for Jamaican dollars and got along fine. We could use our credit card in most of the places we went too. It’s good to have a credit card with no foreign transaction fees.
Cruise Ship Schedules
Prior to the trip I checked the cruise ship schedules on cruisedig.com so we could arrange our days based on when a ship was not in town to avoid the crowds. So that would be one suggestion when planning out your days there, besides also checking the weather!
Leave your comments and let us know your favorites in Jamaica!