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Ocho Rios: verdant mountain-backed shores, stunning waterfalls and running rivers

Fifty years ago, Ocho Rios was a small fishing village. There were a few upscale villas and hideaways like the ever-popular Jamaica Inn that welcomed the likes of Winston Churchill, Ian Fleming, Noel Coward and Marilyn Monroe, as well as Firefly, home of playwright Noel Coward, and now a museum. Search hotels in Ocho Rios >>

Happily, its city fathers and the Tourism stakeholders saw the potential of its verdant mountain-backed shores, stunning waterfalls and running rivers and began deepening the bay and building out its beaches to attract new development.

A planned resort: The result is a picture perfect bay with a cruise port located steps from the edge of town that welcomes between one and three liners almost every day. From here, it’s easy for visitors to head out on an ever-growing number of iconic adventures, while a growing array of resorts and villas offer plenty of reasons to stay. In fact, Ocho Rios, or “Ochi,” has become Jamaica’s second largest tourist center and its number one cruise port.

While less developed than Montego Bay, the coastline of Ocho Rios and neighboring Runaway Bay read like a who’s who of Jamaican all inclusives: Sandals Resorts, Couples, Breezes, and Riu are among those with properties here, along with family oriented brands such as Beaches and the Franklyn D. Resort & Spa. Other choices include private staffed villas and chic properties like Island Outposts’ Golden Eye Hotel, former home of author Ian Fleming, which is located just 30 minutes away in Oracabessa.

Waterfall and river adventures: Ocho Rios could describe the area’s many rivers, but most think its name comes from the Spanish “los chorreros”, which means waterfalls. The most visited of these, Dunn’s River Falls, with its 600-foot climb and cool pools along the way, is practically synonymous with Ocho Rios.

Waterfalls also set the scene for The Ruins Restaurant, and Coyaba River Garden and Museum, built on the grounds of former Shaw Park Plantation.

Another favorite activity is floating down the White River on inner tubes, stopping to swim along the way. For an adrenalin rush, clients go zip-lining through the forest.

Adventures in nature: Two unique experiences have been inspired by Jamaica’s Olympic bobsled and international dog-sled teams: a bobsleigh roller coaster through the jungle canopy and a sled-team pulled buggy ride through the countryside.

Adventurers can also explore the back country by ATV, dune buggy, and in a 4X4 or on horseback rides through jungle trails and into the surf, while Prospect Plantation, a working agricultural property dating back to the 18th century, can be explored on camel- or horse-back and in open-air carriages.

Catching the beat: Just a few miles from Ocho Rios are the rural mountain village of Nine Mile, reggae great Bob Marley’s birthplace. Here, clients can tour his boyhood home, often guided by his relatives, who share tales of his life and his music.

Back in Ocho Rios, clubs such as Margaritaville, Amnesia and Jamaic’N Me Crazy rock into the wee hours of the morning.

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