Montego Bay is Jamaica's top tourist destination, welcoming visitors arriving by air (via Sangster International Airport) and sea (mostly from the ships docked at the huge cruise port downtown). The capital of St. James Parish, Montego Bay 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.
Bathe in the Healing Waters at the Beach
In the 1920s, a British osteopath claimed that the turquoise waters of Doctor's Cave Beach had curative properties, and practically overnight the cove transformed into one of Jamaica's most popular beaches. It's still a popular beach and can get overcrowded when cruise ships port at Montego Bay, but the proximity to downtown—just steps away from the hip Gloucester Avenue—and cerulean water keep it a favorite.
Since this is a private beach, travelers do have to pay to use it. However, your admission goes toward a beach with well-maintained bathrooms, restaurants, and places to rent snorkel equipment in case you forget to bring your own. With the crystal clear water and tropical fish swimming about, you'll definitely want to snorkel.
Hand Feed Birds and Get Ecological
Just the name of this Montego Bay bird sanctuary sounds like relaxation. The Ahhh...Ras Natango Gallery and Garden houses all kinds of local birds and tropical plants, with cliffside views overlooking the bay. This little slice of Eden is a great escape from the beach tourists or cruise passengers, who are less likely to make it up to the gardens. You do need a vehicle to reach them, since they're about 15 minutes away by car, but you can include roundtrip transportation from the center of Montego Bay with your admission ticket if you wish.
Apart from the sheer beauty of the park, one of the highlights is being able to hand feed the local wildlife, such as hummingbirds and lizards. Everything at the park is used intentionally and reused when possible, and the owners make a point to teach visitors about sustainability.
In addition to the flora and fauna, there's also a gift shop featuring pieces and crafts made by local artists.
Take the Inner Tubing and Blue Hole Tour
If you're looking for a leisurely way to spend the afternoon, take a four-hour excursion down the White River on an inner tube if you sign up for a tour with Island Routes Caribbean Adventures in Montego Bay.
The "Inner Tubing and Blue Hole Tour" features a tubing journey down three miles of the White River where you'll see everything from a 17th-century Spanish bridge to historic coconut plantations dating back to colonial times in Jamaica. Eventually, you'll make your way downriver to the Blue Hole, where you'll find a waterfall, underwater caves to explore, and a classic rope swing you can use to dive into the swimming hole.
This Island Routes tour also 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.
Explore the Good Hope Estate and Plantation
Tour company Chukka Caribbean Adventures has converted the grounds of historic Good Hope Estate (founded in 1774) into a playground for thrill-seekers while preserving the stately home for tours.
The tour package includes a house tour, rum tasting, and a chance to swim in the estate's pool as well as activities like zip-lining, ATV tours, river tubing, and a challenge course. Additionally, carriage rides are offered to the less thrill-inclined, making a visit to the Good Hope Estate a fun and relaxing day trip that's well worth the 45-minute drive to Falmouth, Jamaica, from Montego Bay.
Take a Nighttime Cruise to the Luminous Lagoon
Jamaica's famous bioluminescent bay is the only natural nighttime attraction on the island, and the Glistening Waters Hotel offers guests nightly opportunities to experience the beauty of the Luminous Lagoon in all its glory.
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. Meanwhile, your always-entertaining boat captain and guide will explain the science behind the display along with some interesting stories on Jamaican life and culture.
Tours are offered daily starting at sunset and last approximately 45 minutes (with options for longer swim times).
Sample Some Jerk Cuisine
Spicy Jamaican jerk cuisine is world-famous, and Montego Bay has two of the best purveyors on the planet: Scotchie's and the Pork Pit.
Scotchie's is a tumbledown roadside stand on Highway A1 (Falmouth Road) that serves jerk chicken, pork, and fish with sides of yam, breadfruit, rice and peas, and festivals (Jamaican dumplings). 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.
On the other hand, if you're in downtown Montego Bay, you should 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. The Pork Pit is just local enough that it's not overrun with tourists, plus the food is authentic and it's not too far of a walk from the rest of the downtown action.
Go on a Haunted Tour of Rose Hall Great House
Day and night tours of the majestic Rose Hall Great House are available, but the night tour is truly best in order to set the proper mood for the story of this haunted 1770 plantation house's dark history.
The former dungeon of the estate, where slaves were held for punishment by the cruel White Witch of Rose Hall, a plantation owner's wife, is now a pub that makes for a great nighttime destination at the estate. During the daylight hours, you can also play golf on one of the surrounding golf courses, which provide some of the best golfing in the Caribbean. Additionally, you can also tour the nearby Cinnamon Hill Great House where singer Johnny Cash and his wife, June Carter Cash, once lived.
Rose Hall is open for tours daily from 10 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. (until 5:15 p.m. on weekends) but also offers special haunted nighttime tours of the estate. You can sign up for a simple day or night tour in the lobby during normal business hours but Rose Hall also offers a special, more expensive package that includes a tour of the great house, championship golf at one or both courses, shopping, a Jamaican-style lunch, and access to a private beach and pool.
Climb Aboard the Big Bamboo With Martha Brae River Rafting
For a romantic excursion, you can take an expert-guided tour down the Martha Brae River. When you sign up for a Jamaica Rafting Tour, you'll get access to a round-trip transfer from your hotel, a three-mile guided tour of the river, a complimentary fruit drink upon arrival, and a visit to Miss Martha's Herb Garden.
During the tour, guides use long poles to steer flat rafts made from bamboo down the Martha Brae River, which makes for 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.
Located approximately three miles inland from the town of Falmouth, which is just 20 miles from Montego Bay, the Rafter's Village is a six-acre recreational facility that offers a souvenir shop, bar, lounge, restrooms, picnic area, and a swimming pool. The three-mile journey along the river passes through thick jungles and skirts quiet Jamaican towns, with a stop for buying handicrafts from local artisans.
Enjoy the Art of Jamaica at the Montego Bay Cultural Centre
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 the 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.
Located at Sam Sharpe Square in Montego Bay in the heart of the Montego Bay Craft Market, this cultural destination is open daily, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Savor the Flavor of an Appleton Estate Rum Tour
Jamaica and Barbados hotly compete 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.
To reach the Appleton Estate, you'll have to take a two-hour journey down the back roads from Montego Bay, but once you're there, you can tour the distillery and sample a wide variety of rums. The 21-year is pricey but smooth, and you can sleep off your buzz on the ride back to your hotel.
Renovated and reopened in 2018, the Joy Spence Appleton Estate Rum Experience includes complimentary welcome cocktails, a guided tasting led by local rum experts, a movie about the rum industry in an on-site state-of-the-art cinema, and an interactive tour through the Estate itself. Appleton Estate is open Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and tours have to be reserved in advance.
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 out the water slide) as well as other dance clubs.
For a classic Jamaican lunch, you can grab a cold Red Stripe and a crusty "pattie" filled with beef, chicken, vegetables or cheese at one of the city's many restaurants. While Juici Patties and Tastee Patties are great local chains that offer these dishes, the locals swear by Stanley's. You can take a couple to go and make a short walk to the famous Doctor's Cave Beach for a seaside snack.
Drive a Mini Cooper to Negril or Ocho Rios
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 an Island Routes' tour, where you'll drive your own Mini Cooper to a variety of attractions between Montego Bay and either Ocho Rios or Negril.
Island Routes offers visitors a chance to fully explore the island on their own terms and offers guests a variety of curated tours around Jamaica. Depending on which way you go, stops will include Dunn's River Falls and Fern Gully or the Negril Lighthouse and Seven Mile Beach.
Tour Cockpit Country
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 explore still-thriving Maroon communities.
Popular activities include hiking, biking, kayaking, and exploring the top caving destination in the Caribbean. Check with local tour companies like Island Routes and Chukka for available half- and full-day tours of Cockpit Country.