Food and Drink in Falmouth
If you're looking to sample authentic Jamaican food, Falmouth makes up for what it lacks in quantity of restaurants with a few solid, authentic options. Don't miss the chance to sample the jerk style of cooking, a Jamaican staple. Meats or fish are marinated with dry or wet rubs made of a concoction of spices that might include allspice, sugar and scotch bonnet peppers, then cooked over wood coals. The Jamaican national dish -- saltfish and ackee -- is lesser known by non-locals, but is delicious. Salted cod is boiled and softened, then sauteed with ackee fruit, garlic, onions and spices.
While Falmouth has no central dining district, you'll find several snack stalls and restaurants within a 10-minute walk from the port. Stalls typically sell patties -- empanada-like pastries filled with sauced meats or vegetables. Quench your thirst with the Jamaican grapefruit-flavored soft drink, the zingily-named Ting.
Club Nazz: The best of downtown Falmouth is located in a historic tavern with wooden bar, comfy booth and a breezy rooftop terrace, offering views of the ships and town. Tuck into authentic Jamaican eats alongside locals. You won't go wrong with its saltfish ackee, curried goat, unleavened "bammy" bread (made from cassava fruit) and popular oxtail soup. The bar does strong cocktails, too. (23 Market Street; 876-617-5175; open daily from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.)
Pepper's Jerk Center: No frills but festive, Peppers serves flavorful jerk, washed down with Red Stripe. Try the pork or lobster jerk. (20 Duke Street; 876-385-7512; Monday through Thursday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 a.m. Friday, closed Sunday)
Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville: Yes, it's a chain, and yes, the food is not the star attraction. But this outpost yards from your cruise ship boasts a pool with swim-up bar, a mini version of Jamaica's Dunn's River Falls, and a green hot tub in the shape of the bowl of a margarita glass. Music blasts. Servers organize merriment. For many cruisers, it's a tropical excursion without the hassle, and cheaper, too. The Wi-Fi is free, if you can get on the network when it's crowded. And the "Volcano Nachos" plates are humongous. (Historic Falmouth Cruise Port; 876-631-1031; open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. when ships are in port)
Good Hope Great House: Meals at this former plantation house about eight miles from Falmouth might feature escovitched kingfish (marinated in vinegar and spices, then lightly fried), roast breadfruit, boiled yams and key lime pie for dessert. Non-Jamaican choices include salads and quesadillas. Your best bet is to book through CHUKKA Carribbean or your cruise line. (Trelawny, Jamaica; 877-424-8552; open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner)
Best Cocktail in Falmouth
Club Nazz, housed in a historic tavern at 23 Market Street just a 10-minute stroll from the port, makes one of the finest rum punches we've ever tasted. It combines Jamaican Appleton Estate rum with grenadine, bitters and pineapple juice. Prefer to tipple at the port? Try Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville drink special of the day or a frosty Jamaican Red Stripe beer.
Beaches in Falmouth
There are a few beautiful beaches (such as Red Stripe) within a short taxi ride of the Falmouth port, but the facilities are fairly simple. (Taxi fares may be in the $20 round-trip range.) Ask the port information desk for suggestions to meet your needs, or sign up onboard for a day on the sand, with lunch, at a nearby resort.
Best Secluded Beach: Burwood Beach, a few miles from Falmouth, has quiet stretches to spread your beach towel. It lacks public restrooms, but is within walking distance to hotel facilities.
Best Party Beach: The roughly 650-feet stretch of sand at Doctor's Cave Beach Club in Montego Bay can get crowded, but it's the best place to tip a few Red Stripes and relax on the sand in MoBay. The beach is on the "Hip Strip," and you'll pay an entry fee unless you've booked a tour that includes a stop here. There are showers, food, chairs, umbrellas and snorkel equipment for rent. Trampolines out in the water beckon kids of all ages for a bounce, and locals claim the waters here have healing powers. The Montego Bay Margaritaville is a short stroll away. If you go it alone, it's a 30-minute taxi ride from Falmouth.
Best Active Beach: About 10 minutes by taxi, east of the Falmouth port, the private beach at Bounty Bay is a popular kite-surfing spot; a small admission fee is charged if you spend the day there.
Best for a day visit: If you have at least eight hours onshore and wish to see a spectacular beach, Negril's the spot. This world-famous, 7-mile-long stretch of white sand is about two hours from the port by bus or taxi and features beach bars and cliff divers. Book an excursion or hire a driver.
Don't Miss in Falmouth
Falmouth Court House: One of the first buildings you're likely to see as you walk into town, Falmouth's courthouse dates to 1815, was destroyed by a fire in the 1920s, and has been rebuilt and renovated, putting a spotlight on well-preserved Georgian features like fanlights, shingled walls and jalousies. While tours aren't offered, architecture buffs will find it well worth walking past to admire from the outside.
St. Peter's Anglican Church: Built in 1795 with columns of thick mahogany and beautiful brick and stonework, this is the oldest public building in Falmouth. Visitors are welcome inside, and services are held on Sundays. The cemetery has graves dating back more than two centuries.
Rafting on the Martha Brae River: Near Falmouth, passengers can board a 30-foot-long bamboo raft for a three-mile float down one of Jamaica's prettiest rivers. The relaxing journey takes about 90 minutes, and your raft captain will let you try your hand at steering with the long bamboo pole if you're so inclined. Book a tour or hire a taxi to take you to the put-in spot, where there will be plenty of "captains" looking to chart your course.
Good Hope Great House and Estate Park: This well-preserved manse on a former sugar plantation was the home of planter John Tharp, who once owned much of Falmouth's waterfront. About 15 minutes from the port, in the lush interior, the Good Hope Great House dates to the 18th century and sits on 2,000 acres. In addition to estate tours and attractive lunch offerings, the property hosts activities that range from horse-and-buggy tours to dune buggy safaris and river-tubing along the Martha Brae River, which cuts through the property. There also are zip-line tours through the jungle canopy and ATV rides. You can book shore excursions on your ship, or plan a see-it-yourself tour by booking at a kiosk in the port. Alternatively, you can book a taxi on your own and then decide which activities you'd like to experience. Lunches and high tea, however, must be booked in advance through your ship's shore excursion department.
Dunn's River Falls: It takes about an hour by taxi or tour bus/van to get from Falmouth to these most famous of Jamaica's falls near Ocho Rios, where you can climb 600 feet up from the base or retreat to the beach where the rushing water exits into the ocean. Note: It can be slippery, so is not for the faint of heart.
Mystic Mountain: Also in Ocho Rios, Mystic Mountain is a rainforest adventure park that's great for kids and adults, and is home to some very unique outdoor activities. You've got to try the Bobsled Jamaica ride, the Canopy Zip Line 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 a chairlift.
Montego Bay's "Hip Strip": Hire a taxi for the 30-minute ride to Montego Bay, and enjoy a stroll along the Hip Strip (also known as Gloucester Avenue), past bars and shops in MoBay's tourist district, which fronts the beach. You can also do some duty-free shopping at City Centre, a shopping area that stretches along one block downtown; there, you'll find gold, timepieces, perfumes, crystal, leather goods, souvenirs and boutique clothing. Beach lovers headed to Montego will want to visit Doctor's Cave Beach Club near the Hip Strip.
Great Houses of Montego Bay: Tour the great houses near Montego Bay, including the magnificently restored 1760 Rose Hall Great House, Jamaica's most famed former plantation house. It's said to be haunted by the ghost of Annie Palmer, also known as "The White Witch."
Bob Marley Birthplace: A 5.5-hour bus tour will take you along Jamaica's coast and then inland to Nine Mile, where the reggae legend was born and is buried in a mausoleum. Stop for a lunch of jerk pork and chicken plus the traditional Jamaican side dish of rice and peas.