Discover Ocho Rios
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 Ocho Rios
Excerpted from the book, Tour Jamaica, by Margaret Morris

OCHO RIOS, or "Ochee" as it is known locally, has experienced such explosive growth over the last decade that few people can recall the sleepy fishing village, bauxite port and stream-laced nirvana that once existed. Today it is a high density town of concrete hotels, condominium complexes, office blocks, multiple shopping centres and extreme traffic congestion but still one of the favourite cruise ship ports in the Caribbean. The economy of the town is based almost entirely on tourism. The Urban Development Corporation, a government company responsible for much of the development still plays a central role, assisted by the St. Ann Development Company, directors of which include prominent local citizens sympathetic to the incumbent government. The vigorous St. Ann Chamber of Commerce, representing a wide cross section of business and tourism entities attempts to monitor and guide development of the town. The government owns 3000 acres of land on the west of the town near Dunns River and an incomparable beach at Laughing Waters. This area is slated for development and there is talk of another resort town, a twin for Ocho Rios. Squatters on government land, lured by the promise of tourism employment are one of several environmental problems here.

Ocho Rios and its environs offer a wide variety of visitor accommodation. Two adjacent multi-storey hotels on Ocho Rios bay were cleverly "married" to produce the Jamaica Grande: with 720 rooms it is the island's largest hotel, while extensive conference facilities, state of the art "Jamaica'n Me Crazy" disco, clover-shaped pool fed by a 26 foot artificial waterfall, etc. make it one of the most impressive.

The all-inclusive genre is represented by Sandals Dunns River, Couples and Ciboney; small inns include Mantalent Inn and Almond Tree; Shaw Park Beach Hotel is popular and versatile, and the range of self-catering condominiums includes Turtle Towers, Fisherman's Point, Sandcastles, Sombra and Columbus Heights. Two unique properties are Enchanted Gardens (with icy natural waterfalls and steaming open air jacuzzis) and posh Jamaica Inn situated on what is arguably the best beach on the north coast and so small and successful that it does not need to advertise.

Ocho Rios welcomes over a thousand cruise ship passengers every week. Most of these are whisked away to various attractions on pre-booked tours or taken shopping at plazas like Soni or Taj Mahal, the last being an architectural parody of Indiaís matchless tomb strategically placed opposite the exit from the pier. Plaza owners pay bus and taxi drivers "a money" for each tourist delivered inside one of these plazas - a fact that infuriates shopkeepers in less affluent locations. There are four official craft markets in Ocho Rios and an illegal one along Fern Gulley, which, by the time of printing, may well have been displaced by The Ocho Rios Clean-up campaign instigated in June 1995.


Eating options range from elegant gourmet restaurants through fast food outlets (Kentucky Fried, Burger King, Shakey's) to jerked snacks at Jerk Village. A cross section of well established restaurants include Evita's and Almond Tree, The Ruins where you dine by waterfall, Glennís Place (with a bonus of piano bar or jazz), Trade Winds and Blue Cantina (2 locations). Bill's Place is a very popular watering hole, while the local version of nouvelle cuisine offered by Rastafarian brethren Javies and Muggy at Jungle Lobster House under the old White River bridge is highly rated. Most all-inclusives sell day or night passes which cover all you can eat or drink plus entertainment and sports facilities.

Ochee swings at night with discos and bars, live bands and floor shows at most hotels. Top class artistes are frequently presented in concert at showman Keith Foote's Little Pub on main street.


River Garden and Museum above Shaw Park Gardens lives up to its name Coyaba being the Arawak word for para-dise. The garden is small but refreshing. The small museum deftly and authentically summarizes, with the help of a video, the story of an island "Where three worlds met". Among the treasures here are a Spanish water jar, sixteenth century maps, slave shackles and a bill of sale, and rarest of all, a Zemi stone. Each Arawak possessed at least one Zemi a small idol in which his personal god resided, and each Zemi was given a name by its owner. Their religion, heretical by Spanish standards, did not prevent Peter Martyr of Anghiera from describing the Arawaks as "a people so full of love and without greed that I believe there is no better race or better land in the world." The Coyaba gallery displays works of Jamaican artists and the gift shop has choice craft items. Fruit drinks and Blue Mountain coffee are served on the paved terrace and a bar is strategically located mid-garden.

SHAW PARK GARDENS, high on the hill overlooking the town can be a beautiful and relaxing experience. Acres of lawns and terraces tumble down the hillside and are enhanced by an interesting variety of native and imported trees, decorative shrubs and roses (to Jamaicans garden flowers are "roses" and wild flowers are "bush"). There is a bar if you are thirsty, a cascading stream to splash in if you are hot, and even a tame hummingbird that enjoys hamming it up for photographers.

PROSPECT PLANTATION: Tour the estate of the late Sir Harold Mitchell, British author, industrialist and politician for an introduction to local flora and crops such as banana, cassava, pimento (allspice), coconuts and limes. The tractor-drawn jitney will pause at spectacular views like the White River gorge where Jamaica's first hydro-electric plant was built, or Sir Harold's Viewpoint - from where, on a clear day you can see 90 miles across the sea to Cuba. The tour is conducted by a cadet from the Prospect Cadet Training Centre, a school founded by Sir Harold for the sons of less privileged Jamaicans. The curriculum includes music, first aid, riding, swimming and self-reliance skills along with academic subjects. The tour ends at the beautiful Prospect Chapel, which is non-denominational and built with stone and wood from the estate. In the grounds are trees planted by many famous visitors: Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill, Pierre Trudeau and Henry Kissinger to name a few. Also sited at Prospect is the St John's Ambulance Brigade, a non-profit organization which provides ambulance service. St Johnís able supervisor Mrs Audrey Whitehorne also organizes First Aid and Home Nursing courses for schools and hotel staff.

HARMONY HALL originally the great house of a small pimento plantation was restored and embellished to provide a showcase for Jamaican art and craft. Catalyst for the project was Annabella Proudlock, assisted by a group of friends and friendly business firms. Works of internationally acclaimed artists can be seen here including pieces by Jamaican Primitives nowadays called Intuitives among them Albert Artwell, Brother Everald Brown and the late Kapo. There are shows every month during the tourist season and craft fairs at Easter and on Independence Day (August 1st). Laminated Annabella Boxes a popular gift item that originated here. A moderately priced pub-style restaurant and bar is an added attraction.

DUNNS RIVER is the island's premier attraction, visited by almost a million persons annually. It is a place of unique beauty where the river dances down a giant limestone staircase to a white sand beach and warm blue sea. Climbing the falls with a guide is easier than it looks but there are ordinary steps with hand rails and wooden observation decks for the non-athletic. Guides will offer to carry your cameras and take snaps as you frolic in the foam. In the river there are pools to swim in, caves behind falls, and mini-whirlpools. Colourful shrubs, ferns, palms and huge shade trees grow above, beside and even in the river. There are also a beach, changing rooms and lockers. In the sea, the mixture of icy river water and warm salt water makes for exhilarating swimming. On cruise ship days you may have to queue to climb the falls.

RAFTING ON THE WHITE RIVER: turn south into the hills at the White River Bridge and follow the signs to Calypso Rafting. The trip on a bam-boo raft takes about 45 minutes to the mouth of the river with the option of a dip at a swimming hole.

JAZZ FESTIVAL: For two weeks in June the Ocho Rios Jazz festival presents outstanding local and international jazz artist at different venues.

GOLF: At Sandals Golf & Country Club in the hills nearby - turn inland at the bridge over the White River. The 18 hole par 71 course and clubhouse have recently been revamped and a gourmet restaurant added. Sandals guests play free but other visitors are welcome and pay a green fee.

Super Clubs Golf Club at Runaway Bay is an 18 hole par 72 championship course. Visitors welcome and pay a green fee. Driving range and practice greens. Resident Pro Seymour Rose is considered one of the longest hitters in the world.


Few people now recall that Jamaica's bauxite/alumina industry was launched in the hills just north of Ocho Rios and that it was this that started the metamorphosis of the tiny fishing village. At Phoenix Park near Moneague the genesis of the bauxite industry is commemorated by a roadside plaque made from the first aluminum cast from Jamaican ore. The story goes that the alumina content of St Ann's 'red dirt' was discovered when the original owner, Sir Alfred d'Costa became distressed with the poor condition of his cattle and sent abroad samples of the soil for analysis and the high bauxite content was revealed. Thus according to the plaque "giving to Jamaica a new industry and to the countries of the free world a new resource against aggression a reference, perhaps to the extensive use of aluminium in fighter planes and missiles" By law, mined out bauxite land must be restored. In the process the open pits left after mining are bulldozed, filled, graded and covered with at least 6 inches of the top soil scraped off when mining started.

The pier at the west of town is the only reminder of Reynolds Jamaica Mines once the economic base of Ocho Rios. Construction of their deep water pier began in the late '40s and the first shipment of Jamaican bauxite to be exported left here in 1952. The Reynolds mines, plant and office were situated in the hills south of Ocho Rios. The ore was mined in open pits, dried and then transported to the coast by an overhead conveyor belt 6.3 miles long. Reynolds undertook extensive agricultural research to determine the most productive use for restored land. After numerous experiments with livestock, forestry, orchards etc the verdict was that the land was best suited to its traditional use - raising beef cattle. On Reynolds farms, the planting of high protein grasses, the feedlot system and the introduction of the Santa Gertrud's cattle produced results that impressed even Fidel Castro.

In 1980, after lengthy negotiations, the Jamaican government acquired all the land owned by Reynolds, plus 50% of the company's mining assets to create a partnership with Reynolds continuing to manage the operation. Early in 1984 Reynolds announced their intention of pulling out of Jamaica and by mid-1984 they were gone, an abrupt end to an important chapter of local history. To date the Jamaican government has been unable to find another joint venture partner or foreign investor to re-open the mines. The Reynolds pier is still used to ship sugar and more frequently by cruise ships when there are more than two of these in port.

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