Ocho Rios, Jamaica, was our first port of call after leaving Fort Lauderdale on our long awaited Royal Caribbean cruise. My wife and I had heard that Ocho Rios was not a very nice stop to make; a friend of our’s actually made the comment that it would almost be worth not getting off the boat at all. But it couldn’t be that bad… surely not!
I guess it depends on the sort of traveler you are, as to whether or not you’d enjoy Ocho Rios. Maybe arriving by cruise-ship was our mistake; maybe it was our determination to not spend a lot of money; maybe something I’d eaten at the buffet was subtly bringing my mood down. Whatever the reason, I disliked Ocho Rios… intensely.
Our day only lasted until noon, when we power-walked back to the cruise-ship, having had enough of the town. We didn’t have big plans for the day – just a visit to nearby Dunn’s River Falls. I’ve spent the majority of my time abroad backpacking around Asia and South America, so I’m used to enjoying incredible experiences for only a few dollars at a time. I’m more than happy to pay a more substantial amount, if the experience warrants it. For example, a week after our stop in Ocho Rios, I happily handed over $170 so my wife and I could go canyoneering for three hours in Costa Rica. But the idea of paying a similarly large sum for…. what? A visit to a waterfall not five minutes up the road? A tour of somewhere Bob Marley went once? A couple of hours floating down a river in somebody’s borrowed inner-tube? Nothing seemed like good value to us.
So we set off on foot, toward the stormy cloud of taxi drivers looming at the port gates. I’d heard that Dunn’s River Falls was just a twenty minute walk away, to the west, along the main coastal road. We’d walk there, see the Falls, maybe walk up them, and all for perhaps $30. Total. Well, as soon as we were out of the port’s gate, we were absolutely mobbed by taxi drivers, tour operators, weed sellers, everybody. I consider myself to be a seasoned gringo, but I was shell-shocked by just how aggressively these guys were trying to rent themselves to us. I replied smiling, but like a broken record: “we’re just walkin’, just walkin'”. When they tried to argue with me about the merits of walking, I began avoiding eye-contact – hoping it would discourage them from pursuing us. But that only made things worse. “Who you think you are!” someone yelled. “You don’t like us?!?!” My mind was boggling! I turned my head to reply, “I just don’t want a taxi, that’s all”, and continued walking toward the falls. “If you walk, you’re gonna die!” someone else yelled. By now I was quite unsettled. People were running out from everywhere toward us. “Hey you!” they would yell as they zeroed in. A stoned man gestured toward me, asking if I wanted a joint. Another man thrust a palmful of bead necklaces into my wife’s face. “No thank you!” I said as I shuffled us along the path a little more quickly, a tint of panic in my voice. “You think you’re better than us???” came his reply.
Eventually we agreed to get into a safe-looking taxi with a safe-looking driver. I had finally caved in, but not to street-seller pressure. No, I had caved in to fear! The mob had done a good job of convincing me that unless I took one of them up on their offers of service, we would die. He drove us thirty seconds up the road to the entrance of Dunn’s River Falls, for an easy $10. “What is this, New York?” I muttered to my wife as we stepped out of the cab, ready to face the second wave of man-eaters.
Dunn’s River Falls
Now I have to admit, the falls themselves were beautiful. Paradisaic, even. Getting to them from the park entrance was somewhat less traumatic than what we’d been through, but even so, it seemed that everybody there was trying to rent us something: lockers, guides, rubber-slippers, etc. There were moments of tranquility as we traversed between crowds of tourists and their local service-providers, during which time we actually did enjoy ourselves, and felt our mood lift.
Probably our demoralizing experience before arriving had a part in this, but we decided not to climb the falls. Rather, we watched our fellow tourists link hands and carefully make their way up the cascades. The guides who took them seemed to do a good job of leading the group, and also film and take photos for their patrons. They were very agile, and enthusiastic. If I had my time again, I think I would walk up the falls also, but I would do it without a guide. While we were there in the park, we were given the very strong impression that climbing the falls without a guide wasn’t an option – that perhaps it was even prohibited. But I’ve been told since that while nobody who works there will recommend it, there are no laws prohibiting it…
… a bit like walking to the falls in the first place.
Once we’d gathered ourselves again, after enjoying those very pretty falls, we set our minds to our return trip. Against all the pressure from the taxi drivers waiting at the park gates, this time we confidently marched right down to the main road and began walking back toward our waiting cruise-ship. This article is proof that indeed, we did not die. It took us about twenty minutes to walk back to the port, along a very straight-forward path. The traffic drove fast, and so we were careful whenever we were forced to walk on the road itself, but for the most part it was an easy stroll. Ironically, when we arrived back into town, those same taxi drivers started heckling us again for a ride to the falls. “No thanks,” I replied, “we’re leaving.”
So what would be my advice to you? Well, if you want to save your pennies for other adventures, then do one better than we did and walk to the falls, and back. Ignore the threats. If you’re a confident traveler, then you’ll do fine walking along what is a major road with fairly regular police sightings. At the falls, pay your entrance, and then just charge on up those falls at your own speed, in your own way.
On the other hand, if money is no object, you will definitely enjoy your time more so in Ocho Rios. In that case, you would book an organized tour, and would avoid all that I mentioned above. In fact, if I could go back in time and give myself some advice, I think I would tell myself to just fork out that money and be done with it! It would hurt some to pay so much for so little, but I would view it as paying for my own happiness and sanity.
However, having experienced Ocho Rios for myself now, and had a taste of what it has to offer, I would have to say that in future, I will be doing whatever I can to avoid ever arriving at that port again, and if for some crazy reason I did end up there, I will be taking the advice of our friend mentioned at the outset, and stay right there on the ship’s pool-deck!