Jamaica is a land of white sand, turquoise water, delicious food, good people, and even better times. I recently had the opportunity to escape the cold of Chicago for the warmer shores of Montego Bay, Jamaica after winning a trip from Sundance Vacations. I had seen the commercials (cue woman in bikini smiling and dancing on a pristine beach with her guy while ‘One Love’ plays in the background) and I had heard the tales (cue stories from friends and family who had gotten there before me), but nothing could truly prepare me for the beautiful island that I was about to encounter. I did not find a lack of activities for my stay and below I share a list of the top 10 things to do in Montego Bay (in no particular order).
1. Luminous Lagoon (or Glistening Waters)
When I was told that there was a glowing lagoon near Montego Bay (one of only four places in the world where this phenomenon happens), I was a bit skeptical. Before I left for my trip, I looked up pictures of this natural wonder and was incredibly intrigued to see it with my own eyes. Having been there now and seen it for myself, I can describe it in one word: magical!
Luminous Lagoon is the brightest of the four places (Puerto Rico, Indonesia, the Bahamas, and Jamaica) where this glowing water occurs due to its climate. Here, the fresh water of the Martha Brae river meets the ocean and creates the perfect environment for microorganisms to grow and live. When disturbed, these microorganisms emit a glowing light, known as bioluminescence.
Your tour captain will allow you to swim in the water, which I encourage you to do. It is amazing to see the water glowing all around you – I felt like an angel of sorts. The water is not deep (3 to 4 feet) but the bottom is silt and feels very strange under your feet (almost jello-like). Definitely a must see!
Cost: $25 US per person (includes complimentary rum punch from the bar)
Distance from Montego Bay: 45 minute drive
Insider Tip: Cameras do not do the glowing water justice. If you do try and take a pic, make sure your flash is off. Glistening Waters team does provide a photo service and you can purchase your pictures after the boat ride for $25 US. You don’t have to arrive in your bathing suit as they have changing rooms there for your convenience. The opposite is also true – bring a change of clothes to change into afterwards for the ride home.
2. Beach Day at Doctor’s Cave Beach
Jamaica is known for it’s beaches and Montego Bay has some of the best the island has to offer. On my visit I went to Doctor’s Cave Beach for my sun, sand, and surf fix. While you do have to pay a small fee for the beach, it is exceptionally clean and well kept. Doctor’s Cave Beach has lounge chairs and beach umbrellas to rent. They also have a restaurant that offers good food and drinks. If you are sunbathing on the beach, the waiters will come out and ask you if you would like anything and you can eat and drink right where you are!
The water in Jamaica is unbelievably blue and warm. At Doctor’s Cave Beach they have large water trampolines that you can swim out to and then jump off. I had a great time jumping around on it and then diving into the water! While the beach can get crowded at times with tourists, it is also a place where locals love to come and soak up the sun. Toward the end of my beach day, a group of local kids came down in their school uniforms and took turns racing out to the trampoline and back.
Cost: $6 US per person
Distance from Montego Bay: None! Located right on the ‘Hip Strip’
3. Eat like a Local
Aside from the sun and sand, the food is another part of Jamaica you must partake in! The Caribbean islands are home to unique fruits, recipes, and drinks that are enticing and give you a real sense of Jamaica. A few of my favorite places I ate are below:
- Juici Patties: Located in downtown Montego Bay, just a few minutes from the ‘Hip Strip,’ these patties are the real deal. They have several flavors including beef, chicken, shrimp, and even lobster. Make sure to order yours with cocoa bread and put your pattie in the middle like a sandwich. The placed was packed with people, most of them locals, but service was fast and, of course, the patties were amazing.
- Ultimate Jerk Centre: Stopped here on our way back from visiting Bob Marley’s Mausoleum in Nine Mile. Their specialty is, of course, jerk chicken. I ordered a plate of the chicken with rice and beans and devoured the entire plate. They have a bar and tables to eat after ordering at the take-out window.
- Chill Out Hut Beach Bar & Grill: Another great local spot, this restaurant is about 20 minutes from downtown Montego Bay. My hotel offered free shuttles here in the evening so I came several times. I loved the atmosphere and enjoyed watching the sunset while munching on delicious food. I tried the BBQ jerk chicken, rice and beans, curried goat, jerk chicken pizza, and jerk chicken wings. Everything was not only tasty but looked amazing. The second night I stopped there, it was karaoke night which was really a great time. Staff is friendly and attentive. Really a gem and highly recommended!
- Doctor’s Cave Beach: The best beach in Montego Bay also has a restaurant on site with many food and drink options. I had the coconut shrimp, which was very good, and washed it all down with a Red Stripe. If you are having a beach day, this is the place to come for refreshments and a couple bites.
4. Float Down the Martha Brae
Nothing, and mean nothing, is more relaxing than floating on a raft down a 3 miles stretch of the Martha Brae River. Located 20 minutes from Montego Bay, this one hour tour takes guests on a handmade bamboo raft skillfully handled by a licensed raft captain. The tour price includes a complimentary drink, three mile raft ride, and the chance to visit ‘Miss Martha’s Herb Garden,’ featuring famous Jamaican herbs known for their medicinal and healing properties.
Cost: $60 US per raft (not including tip)
Distance from Montego Bay: 45 minutes
Insider Tip: Bring your bathing suit! Once on the raft, captains can stop anywhere during the tour to allow riders the chance to jump in the river, stop at one of the floating bars, or pause for a picnic. The longer you are on the raft, the larger your tip should be (raft captains only do one trip a day).
5. Visit Bob Marley
Lovers of the legend Bob Marley can visit his mausoleum in the village where he was born and grew up, Nine Mile. Located in the mountains, the winding road that leads to Nine Mile will give you a great sense of local life in Jamaica as you pass through many villages and towns.
The tour at Nine Mile is led by eccentric, entertaining guides and starts at the house where Bob Marley was born. It then leads up to Mount Zion, where the original house Bob grew up in still stands. Guests are given the chance to go inside the house as well as sit on Bob’s meditation rock where he spent much of his time. The tour concludes with a stop at Bob Marley’s resting place, where guests can say show their respect for this great musician and legend.
Cost: $19 US per person
Distance from Montego Bay: 90 minutes
Insider Tip: For those who enjoy Ganja, it is not only welcome, but encouraged! Many guests lit up their spliffs during the tour. Before the tour starts, grab a drink at the bar. They offer beer, rum punch, and a ‘Bob Marley’ shot: red, yellow and green alcohol is layered in a shot glass, set on fire, and is sipped through a straw. They are very strong!
6. Zip Line Through the Jungle
It is not everyday you can fly through the canopy of a Caribbean jungle. The Jamaica Zip line Adventure Tours offers 5 different length zip lines including the longest zip line in the Caribbean. Tours typically last between 2 to 2.5 hours and will leave you breathless as you fly like a bird over some of the most beautiful views. Tours run twice daily, at 10:00 AM and 12:00 PM. Each tour includes an off-road ride in a military vehicle as well as a Flavors of Jamaica, in which guests are invited to sample fresh fruits such as banana, pineapple, sugar cane, and coconut.
Cost: $89 US per person (includes hotel pick up/drop off)
Distance from Montego Bay: 30 minutes from downtown
Insider Tip: Be sure to dress accordingly – t-shit, shorts, and closed toed shoes are your best options. Don’t forget the bug spray!! If you are not sure when you will want to visit, their Flex Pass option is best: allows you to buy your ticket in advance and call upon arrival in Jamaica to schedule your hotel pick up.
7. Cliff Dive
Rick’s Cafe is world famous for the cliff divers that flock to its steep cliffs over looking the Caribbean ocean. Located in Negril, West of Montego Bay, the beaches there are some of the most famous in Jamaica. After enjoying a day at the beach, stop at Rick’s in the afternoon for some food and drink and enjoy the views of the sunset. But the main attraction is watching the guests jump from the cliffs into the ocean below. The cliff diving is definitely not for the feint of heart (highest cliff is 35 feet above the water!), but is extremely exhilarating if you have the guts to try. Locals will sometimes perform dives, which are spectacular to see. If you are not into swimming in the ocean, they also have a very nice pool which is free for customers at the restaurant to enjoy.
Cost: Only what you pay for to eat or drink
Distance from Montego Bay: 90 minutes
Insider Tip: Rick’s Cafe is a very popular stop for many tourists, for obvious reasons. Be prepared during peak season to deal with a crowd.
8. Hike Up a Waterfall
There is something truly captivating about a waterfall. While it is not exactly located in Montego Bay, the Dunn’s River Falls is the most beautiful and famous waterfall in Jamaica. Tour guides lead visitors up the natural structures and crevices created by the cascading water while holding hands (for safety they claim). Take a minute to stop in one of the many pools to relax and really soak up the experience. Speaking of soaking – you will very very wet during the climb so make sure to dress accordingly! The entire experience takes between 45 minutes to an hour. Although this activity involves climbing, it can be done by most people and is not extremely physically demanding. When done climbing, visitors can relax on the beach and sunbathe.
Cost: $20 US (Adult), $12 US (Child)
Distance from Montego Bay: 90 minutes
Insider Tips: The rocks climbing up can be slippery; if you need them, water shoes are available for purchase ($17) or to rent ($7). This attraction is popular – to avoid crowds, plan to get there closer to opening time (8:30 AM). Also beware of the vendors on your way out – they are very aggressive in trying to get visitors to purchase something.
9. Horse Back Ride
While horse back riding is not something unique to Montego Bay, this specific excursion includes a ride through the warm Caribbean ocean. Guides lead you through the Jamaican terrain and a plantation, all the while providing interesting facts and history for guests. The ocean ride, while exciting, only lasts about 5 minutes due to the strain it puts on the horses. This unique adventures is perfect for those who love the outdoors and animals!
Cost: starting at $70 per person
Distance from Montego Bay: about 30 minutes
Insider Tip: No need to be an expert horse rider – the horses and guides are very well trained and will get you through the excursion safely. Make sure to wear a swimsuit! If you have valuables you do not want to get wet, they have lockers available to rent ($5).
10. Rose Hall Great House Tour
History buffs can can get their fix at a tour of the Great House at Rose Hall. The house has been transformed into a museum that shows the history of slavery in Jamaica as well as showcase the story of the ‘White Witch’ of Rose Hall, Annie Palmer. Legend has it, Annie possessed magical powers, which she used to get rid of her husband and countless lovers.
The house also offers candlelit night tours, including a stop in the dungeon, which is now a tavern known as Annie’s Pub. Tours last about 45 minutes. Afterwards, enjoy a stroll through the grounds and visit the gift shop. For those who loves mystery and host stories, this is one stop you cannot miss.
Cost: $20 (Adult), $10 (Child)
Distance from Montego Bay: Located right in Montego Bay, 5 minutes from the ‘Hip Strip’
Insider Tip: To save 10% on tickets, purchase online at rosehall.com.
11. Puff, Puff, Pass…
I included this last one as a freebie. As many people know, Jamaica is known for its marijuana smoking. Although it is not technically legal (yet…) you wouldn’t know based on how often and openly the locals smoke it. You will most definitely be offered some Ganja, as it is called in Jamaica, while you are vacationing. If you truly want a Jamaican experience, why not try it? Good Vibes!
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
Do you know of great spots to visit in Montego Bay, Jamaica? Share in the comments below!