Montego Bay is Jamaica's top tourist destination, welcoming visitors arriving by air (via Donald Sangster International Airport) and sea (mostly off the ships docked at the huge cruise port downtown). The capital of St. James Parish was founded in the 16th century by the Spanish and today is home to scores of resorts suiting every budget. When visitors aren't relaxing on MoBay's beaches, there are countless options for fun and entertainment: here are the activities and attractions we like the best!
Get in touch with your inner bumpkin as you settle into an oversized inner tube for a lazy river journey that includes a few surprises, such as a plunge down a stepped waterfall. Expert guides will steer you safely along. This Island Routes tour on the Martha Brae River includes a visit to the Jamaican Jerk Center, where you can hear live music, have a drink, and of course snack on jerk dishes and Jamaican patties.
Jamaican tour company Chukka Caribbean Adventures has converted the grounds of historic Good Hope Estate (founded in 1774) into a playground for thrillseekers while preserving the stately home for tours. Ziplining, ATV tours, river tubing, and a challenge course are part of the tour package, which also includes a house tour, rum tasting, and a chance to dip into the estate pool. Carriage rides are offered to the less thrill-inclined. It's a fun and relaxing day trip that's well worth the 45-minute drive from Montego Bay.
Jamaica's famous bioluminescent bay is a fun nighttime experience for the whole family -- the darker the night, the better. Tour boats depart from the Glistening Waters Hotel and cruise into a quiet corner of the lagoon inhabited by microscopic sea creatures that light up in response to movement. It's cool enough to see the effect when the boat moves through the water, but the real thrills happen when you jump in and see the glowing swirls and eddies created when you move your hands and feet. Your always entertaining boat captain and guide will explain the science behind the display along with some interesting stories on Jamaican life and culture.
Don't Jerk Around: Go to Scotchie's or the Port Pit
Spicy Jamaican jerk cuisine is world famous, and Montego Bay has two of the best purveyors on the planet. Scotchie's is a tumbledown roadside stand serving jerk chicken, pork, and fish with sides of yam, breadfruit, rice & peas, and festivals. The backyard flavor of the place is enhanced with an open bar where you can order Red Stripes and rum drinks to sip on chairs made from old beer kegs.
If you're in downtown Montego Bay, check out the Pork Pit on Gloucester Avenue: as with Scotchie's, the jerk food here is cooked over big open fires fed with pimento wood, with a dry rub for flavor, not sauce. We love it here because it's just local enough that it's not overrun with tourists, plus the food is authentic and it's not too far a walk from the rest of the downtown action.
Day and night tours of the majestic Rose Hall Great House are available, but we'd recommend the evening tour to set the proper mood for the story of this haunted 1770 plantation hour's dark history. The former dungeon, where slaves were held for punishment by the cruel White Witch of Rose Hall, a plantation owner's wife, is now a pub. Save the daylight hours for playing the golf courses surrounding the estate -- they're among the best in the Caribbean.
Singer Johnny Cash and his wife, June Carter Cash, once lived in the nearby Cinnamon Hill Great House, also open for tours.
Expert guides use long poles to steer long, flat rafts made from bamboo down the Martha Brae River -- one of the most relaxing activities you can enjoy in Jamaica despite the fact that the river was named for another of Jamaica's legendary witches.
The three-mile journey passes through thick jungles and skirts quiet Jamaican towns, with a stop for buying handicrafts from local artisans, with a tour of a local herb garden at the end.
The Montego Bay Cultural Centre is the fine-arts capital of western Jamaica and includes both a gallery and museum containing paintings, sculptures, and other works celebrating the island's rich culture.
Opened in 2014, the center features standing exhibits on ancient Jamaican arts and crafts as well as rotating displays focusing on such topics as Rastafarian culture. This is a great rainy day activity or a nice break from the beach to learn more about the island's rich heritage and artistic traditions.
Jamaica and Barbados hotly contest for the title of rum capital of the Caribbean, but when in Jamaica the clear rum champ is Appleton Estate, which produces fine mixing rums as well as sublime sippers. It's two hours on back roads from MoBay to the estate, but once you're there you can tour the distillery, sample a variety of rums. The 21-year is pricey but oh, so smooth. You can sleep it off on the ride back to your hotel.
Sip, Shop, and Snack in Downtown MoBay
This top Caribbean port of call offers duty-free shopping and the boozy temptations of the "Hip Strip," the downtown nightlife zone that includes the Montego Bay Margaritaville location (try the waterslide) and other dance clubs.
For a classic Jamaican lunch, grab a cold Red Stripe and a crusty "pattie" filled with beef, chicken, vegetables or cheese: Juici Patties and Tastee Patties are local chains, but the locals swear by Stanley's. Take a couple to go as a seaside snack -- the famous Doctor's Cave Beach is just a short walk away.
Driving in Jamaica has become a lot less death-defying since the country's coastal highway was completed a few years ago, but you'll still get some thrills with Island Routes' newest tour, where you'll drive your own Mini Cooper to a variety of attractions between Montego Bay and either Ocho Rios or Negril .
Depending on which way you go, stops will include Dunn's River Falls and Fern Gully or the Negril Lighthouse and Seven Mile Beach.
Cockpit Country is Jamaica's wildest outback, a land of steep hills and deep valleys that helped escaped slaves known as Maroons elude and outlast their former masters for centuries. Today, this is a top ecotourism destination where you can also tour still-thriving Maroon communities.