Jamaica is a near-perfect family vacation destination. Hotels and all-inclusive resorts have extensive facilities to enchant and entertain the entire family. We've reviewed several Jamaican resorts, including Beaches Negril, Hotel Rui Palace Tropical Bay and the Grand Palladium. With their sparkling swimming pools and glorious beaches, it’s easy to see why many vacationers never leave their resort’s cushy confines.
But Jamaica is a lot more than beautiful beaches. Pull yourself out of the salty sea and venture outside of the hotel’s gates, because this intriguing country merits exploration. Jamaica is a land full of history and culture, as well as tons of active vacation activities.
As many family travelers utilize the tourist towns of Negril, Montego Bay and Ocho Rios as a base, our guide will focus on these areas. Most hotels will gladly help you arrange off-site transportation. Here’s our list of the best activities worth shaking the sand off for. Let’s go!
Activities Near Negril
Ride a Horse in the Ocean
Rhodes Hall Plantation is an unparalleled location for horseback riding. The 550-acres include many types of terrain, from coconut groves to coral coastline. You’ll ride up vegetation-rich mountains, affording excellent views of Negril from the summit. The best part is when you and your horse ride into the turquoise sea. The guided ride lasts for several hours and is suitable for all levels of riders who are at least six years of age.
Watch the Cliff Divers
Rick’s Café is the place to watch the sunset with a rum punch in hand. While kids can’t partake in this particular Jamaican ritual, they can watch the cliff divers jump into the water from a height of 35-feet. It is quite a spectacle to watch locals and brave tourists dive off the cliffs into the sea.
Kool Runnings Adventure Park
This water park’s 10 slides should keep tween and teen adrenaline junkies satisfied. There is also a wave pool, lazy river, kayaking, paintball and go-karts. If you get hungry, snacks and light meals are served on the premises.
Ocho Rios Attractions
Climb a Waterfall
Dunn’s River Falls are breathtaking. Visitors climb slippery rocks up the slope of this 600-foot waterfall by making a human chain, holding onto dozens of strangers. It’s amazing how tightly you may grab onto someone whose name you don’t know when you’re trying not to fall on your face. It is very popular, so expect crowds and wear a bathing suit, because you will get soaked.
Ride a Bobsled or Zip Line at Mystic Mountain
Mystic Mountain is the place to ride in a Jamaican bobsled or partake in a zip-line excursion. The five zip-lines are hair-raising, but the scenery is so stunning, you may momentarily forget your vertigo. Zip-lining is recommended for children age eight and older. If you want to try bobsledding in the Caribbean, climb into a custom designed sled and plunge 3,280 feet. You control the speed with a handbrake as you navigate the twists and turns of the track. Younger children may ride with an adult.
Montego Bay Area Activities
Visit a Great House
Visiting great house is a key towards understanding Jamaica’s complex Colonial history. Plantation owners lived in opulent homes, called great houses. To affirm their cultural allegiance to their native Britain, sugar barons adapted the architectural motifs of their homeland to the tropics, creating a distinct and ornate style. The lavish lifestyle of the landowners was supported by the profits of slave labor. Looking at the expansive fields with a mansion in the middle shines a light on this complicated legacy. Several great houses near Montego Bay give informative tours.
Rose Hall is probably the best known. It sits on over 6,000 acres that once were tended to by 2,000 slaves. Kids can learn history while touring a haunted house. Legend has it that its former owner murdered several of her husbands here. Her spirit is said to haunt the house, so the tour has a spooky edge.
Greenwood Great House is owned by descendants of the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, so there’s a strong literary association. A visit here gives an excellent window into what planation life was like. Don’t miss the collection of rare musical instruments.
Rocklands Bird Sanctuary and Feeding Station
Rocklands Bird Sanctuary is nestled in the hills above Montego Bay. It is home to thousands of colorful local and migratory birds. Feeding a hummingbird out of your hand is an experience you may never forget. Loud or unexpected noises may scare the birds, so use discretion when bringing very young children.
Go to a Music Festival
Reggae rhythms are as commonplace as dreadlocks in Jamaica. Music is ubiquitous on this island, and music festivals are often family affairs. The acclaimed Reggae Sumfest brings the crowds to Montego Bay each summer, but adventurous families might want to try a music festival that is not so packed. The Soul in the Sun Music Festival is your ticket. This new festival is held each October in Rose Hall and features local and international acts. Soul music takes center stage, but expect a variety of sounds.
Eat Authentic Jamaican Food
Jamaican cuisine inventively blends indigenous ingredients with the culinary contributions of the different peoples who have inhabited the island. This delicious fusion has evolved from predominately African, Spanish, English, East Indian and Arawak Indian traditions. These influences add irresistible gusto to the exotic fruits, pungent spices and seafood that thrive here. It would be a shame not to sample some of the tasty offerings that have emerged from the island’s rich history.
Sky Beach Bar & Seafood Grill is a locally owned eatery a few miles outside of Montego Bay on the road towards Lucea. Set in a seaside tropical garden with exotic flowers and fruit trees, the manicured lawns are the perfect place for kids to romp while waiting for their meal. You select your fish from the daily catch and the cook prepares everything to order. Finicky kids should be satisfied with the children’s menu standards like chicken and fish sticks. From fresh tropical fruit purchased at a stand to a fancy seafood supper, do try and explore this country's local cuisine.
Swim With a Dolphin
Swimming with a dolphin is a magical experience and Dolphin Cove is an excellent facility. It has locations near Montego Bay, Negril and Ocho Rios. Even non-swimmers can participate in a dolphin experience. Read a detailed description of a dolphin swim experience by clicking here.
Pet a Crocodile
One of the most unique things we did in Jamaica was the Black River Safari Tour. It's about an hour from Montego Bay, but really worth it for a special experience. The Black River Safari takes you down a beautiful river to visit wild crocodiles, birds and a visit to a mangrove forest. Your guide will stop to show you crocodiles up close and you can even feed and touch them. Back at the base you can hold a baby crocodile and learn more about crocodiles.
Nearby is also YS Falls. Similar to Dunn's River Falls, at YS Falls you can climb the waterfall as well as go zip-lining over them. It's really fun. Several tours will take you to both attractions in one day.
For more information on Jamaica, go to Visit Jamaica.