Exploring Jamaica: 8 Experiences to Have Around Montego Bay
Whether it’s the refreshing taste of an ice-cold Red Stripe while you’re on a bamboo raft lazily sailing down the Martha Brae River, the anticipation of chasing ghosts at night in centuries-old Jamaican plantation houses, or that first bite of flavorful jerk chicken at one of countless roadside food stands, Montego Bay (locally referred to as "Mo Bay"), a popular resort town on Jamaica’s north coast, offers memorable travel experiences unlike anywhere else in the Caribbean.
Here are eight must-have experiences you can find in and around the city.
#1. go spelunking in the Green Grotto Caves
Located halfway between Ocho Rios and Montego Bay, the Green Grotto Caves, a largely unexplored complex of underground caverns surrounded by the lush vegetation of the jungle, are not only naturally enchanting but also deeply intertwined with Jamaica's rich history. Tours last just under an hour and each group has their own guide. Informative, witty, and highly knowledgeable, the guides truly make the tour through the caves a memorable experience for all ages.
#2. hang out at The Beach and relax in the Ocean
Jamaica is home to some of the finest beaches in the Caribbean, from standard oceanfront resorts to more hidden gems where you’ll find locals, reggae, and delicious food. There are countless waterfront treasures waiting to be discovered by travelers.
If relaxing on the beach isn’t really your thing, there are plenty of other options: go on a horseback ride along a white-sand beach where you can ride bareback into the sea with the horses; take a scuba diving or snorkeling tour to get up close to the colorful fish in Jamaica’s clear waters; rent a motorboat to explore the coastline or sail along it on a catamaran.
#3. Savor a cup of Blue Mountain Coffee
Grown in a small region in the mountains north of Kingston, Blue Mountain coffee is considered to be some of the world’s finest java. Of the island’s 23,000 acres of coffee trees, only 10,000 produce Blue Mountain coffee, which legally must be planted at a certain altitude to certify the designation. The mix of high altitude and volcanic soil conditions in this area yields a one-of-a-kind bean that is blue-green in color and takes about 10 months before it is ready to be harvested.
With small annual yields and high international demand, Blue Mountain farmers can’t seem to grow the coffee fast enough, and purchasing this coffee abroad is often expensive. In Jamaica however, you can usually buy a pound of the beans for approximately $15.
#4. Visit Columbus Park in Discovery Bay
Located on the outskirts of the little community of Discovery Bay, Columbus Park contains numerous artifacts that were recovered in the process of excavating in and around the town. The artifacts on display include a section of a sugar estate aqueduct, 18th century cannons, sugar boiling coppers, and a lime mill.
Discovery Bay was once thought to be the first place that Christopher Columbus landed in Jamaica. Although this has been disputed by historians, it still remains the town’s claim to fame.
Looking for somewhere to stay in Montego Bay?
#5. Search for the white witch in the rose hall
Located high on a hillside over looking the turquoise Caribbean Sea, the Rose Hall, a former sugar plantation house, is said to have been the one time home of a Jamaican witch, Annie Palmer.
There are many versions of the legend surrounding Annie Palmer, also known as the White Witch, and they generally involve her practicing voodoo to keep control over the plantation slaves with whom she regularly had love affairs. Supposedly she conducted human sacrifices and was also said to have murdered three husbands because they were not to her liking.
Although there is no historic evidence of an Annie Palmer who lived in the Rose Hall, the White Witch legend has fascinated generations, and even today, there are those who claim to see her passing through the Great House. An eerie candle-lit evening tour of the Rose Hall is a must for visitors to Montego Bay.
#6. Stay for a while (or an afternoon) at Richmond Hill Inn
Beautiful Richmond Hill Inn is a unique hotel overlooking Montego Bay with stunning views of the surrounding hills and ocean. Formerly an 18th century plantation house, today this inn is a quiet retreat with an excellent restaurant and pool with a view.
Even if you’re not looking to overnight at Richmond Hill Inn, you can still swing by for an afternoon visit to enjoy the views and browse the historic artifacts on display throughout the hotel.
#7. Enjoy authentic jerk chicken & savor a red stripe
Is it just me or is jerk chicken one of the first things that comes to mind when someone mentions Jamaica? A visit to this island nation isn’t complete without trying some jerk meat, which is prepared over a barbecue or wood fire. The seasoning is typically a fiery mix of as many as 20 spices, including Scotch bonnet peppers, pimento, and scallions.
The result is a spicy, savory meal that should be washed down with an ice-cold Red Stripe beer, another Jamaican staple. If you want some of the best jerk chicken, try one of the roadside stands.
#8. Go Bamboo Rafting on the Martha Brae
Legend has it that Martha Brae, an Arawak girl, once used magic to divert the flow of the river that today bears her name to drown her Spanish captors. Today, the river calmly snakes through a lush jungle full of Jamaican flora and fauna.
Visitors can view the jungle from the river itself by hitching a ride on a 30-foot long bamboo raft, which is navigated by a local guide with long poles who stands on the raft, explaining a bit about Jamaica, or even stopping along the way to pick up a bite to eat or drink from one of the vendors on the riverbank.
Although most of us travel with a smartphone in our pocket, having a guidebook in your backpack never hurts! These are some useful ones when it comes to traveling in Jamaica: