Food and Drink in Ocho Rios
Jamaican food tends to be on the spicy side, especially such iconic dishes as jerk chicken and beef patties. Seafood figures heavily into the diet but at local joints you will also find curried goat, oxtail and the national dish called ackee and saltfish -- a local fruit with a texture like avocado, sauteed with onions, hot peppers and salted codfish.
Rum, Blue Mountain coffee and coffee-flavored Tia Maria liqueur are all island-produced beverages with worldwide reputations for top quality. The Hummingbird is a Jamaican classic cocktail made with coffee liqueur, rum cream liqueur, milk, strawberry syrup and bananas and then blended with ice to a smooth, frozen consistency.
Ocho Rios Jerk Centre: With its lively atmosphere, the Jerk Centre is the epitome of fun, local dining. This open-air eatery is a great place to enjoy authentic island flavors; menu items include jerk chicken and pork, barbequed ribs and fresh fish. (14 DaCosta Drive; open daily, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.; 876-974-2549)
Juici-Beef Patties: This shop, between Main Street and DaCosta Drive, sells Jamaica's most signature finger food, spicy empanada-like patties. It's a pan-Jamaican franchise and you will hear locals debating its attributes over the Tastee franchise. It's a great place for a quick snack with a cold Red Stripe beer. (1 Newlin Street; open Monday to Saturday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.; 876-974-5444)
The Ruins at the Falls: Featuring two restaurants and a diner, The Ruins is a dining destination all centered on a 40-foot-tall limestone waterfall, surrounded by tropical gardens. Lunch is served buffet style. Asian fare dominates the dinner menu but Jamaican-style cuisine is available, too. (17 DaCosta Drive, 876-974-8888)
Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville: For something more familiar, head to Margaritaville at the Island Village shopping center. (876-675-8800)
Evita's: Set in an 1860's Victorian house on a hill overlooking Ocho Rios and the ocean, Evita's is a Northern Italian restaurant. (Owner Eva Myers hails from Venice.) It's considered a prime celebrity magnet and is only a 10-minute walk from the cruise port. (Eden Bower Road; open daily from 11 a.m.; 876-974-2333)
Toscanini's: This venue also brings authentic Italian cuisine to the Caribbean. Toscanini's has a great reputation and a convenient, historic location in the Harmony Hall Art Gallery. It's priced in the mid to high range but service is attentive and the atmosphere is charming -- especially for couples. (Tower Isle; open Tuesday to Sunday, 12:30 to 2:30 p.m.; 876-975-4785)
Beaches in Ocho Rios
Best Beach for a Half-Day Visit: Mahogany Beach, 10 minutes east of port, is a great place for a beach day. Parasailing, kayaking, water skiing and diving are just a few of the water sports offerings available, and with nearby shopping, beachside massages and a bar and grill, you're all set until your ship is ready to sail again.
Best Beach for the Dedicated Beach Bum: James Bond Beach, 20 to 30 minutes to the east in Oracabessa, occasionally features live reggae performances and has a couple of quiet coves in which to hide.
Best Beach for Active Types: Turtle Beach and the beach at Island Village are closest to port and will undoubtedly have the most people. But, action abounds there, with a host of water sports activities and places to eat and drink just a stone's throw away.
Don't Miss in Ocho Rios
Dunn's River Falls: The top attraction in Ocho Rios is the mighty Dunn's River Falls, where you can climb from the beach up the flowing, 600-foot waterfalls. Locals say that this is where "heaven spills into the sea," and on a first visit to Ocho Rios, giving the falls a climb is something that shouldn't be missed. If you're going to climb the falls, it's a good idea to bring water shoes or rent shoes onsite to keep from slipping on the tricky limestone rocks.
Mystic Mountain: This is a rainforest adventure park that's great for kids and adults alike and is home to some unique outdoor activities. The adventure begins with a ride on the Sky Explorer, a chairlift that soars 700 feet over the lush landscape below. Once at the top, travelers can opt to try the park's signature bobsled ride, the zipline canopy tour or a twisty slide that ends up in the mountaintop swimming pool. Have lunch and take in the view from lookout tower before making your way back down the mountain on the chairlift.
Nine Mile: Reggae roots run deep in Jamaica, its birthplace. Music-lovers shouldn't pass up the opportunity to tour the town of Nine Mile, the birthplace of Bob Marley. Situated in the mountains of St. Ann Parish, Nine Mile takes about 75 minutes to reach from Ocho Rios; tours can be purchased that include transportation. You'll visit Marley's family home and mausoleum.
Fern Gully: Take a drive through the lush rainforest of Fern Gully. This dense and often dark jungle of tropical foliage is set inland, where the winding road used to be a flowing river. It is said there are more than 200 different species of ferns in the area. The drive is about 3 miles long and a tour of Fern Gully is often included in excursions that highlight the best of Ocho Rios.
Shaw Park Gardens: For nature-lovers, a self-guided botanical garden tour is ideal. Shaw Park Gardens features 25 acres of tropical plants, flowers and trees, situated on a hill overlooking the Caribbean. Coyaba River Garden features a water garden with streams and waterfalls running throughout the grounds, as well as cultural attractions. And, Turtle River Park, a free public park close to port, is a good option for those trying to keep time spent ashore to a minimum.
Harmony Hall: Located about 10 miles outside Ocho Rios, it is a restored great house where arts, crafts and collectibles are now sold. You might also stumble onto a gallery showing of a local artist.
Prospect Plantation is one of the island's oldest 18th-century estates. Tour the lush grounds in an open-air jitney while experiencing gorgeous views over the White River; explore the property's agricultural crops, including cassava, bananas, sugarcane and coffee; feed the ostriches; view native Jamaican butterflies in the aviary; or saddle up for a leisurely horseback ride.
Golf: Nonguests are welcome to play golf at Breezes' golf club in Runaway Bay and Sandals Golf & Country Club. Both are PGA-quality championship courses and are some of the most interesting in the Caribbean, with fairways and greens laid out amid the rolling hills and picturesque backdrop.