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To be honest, laying on the beach with a drink in my hand while watching my kids prance around the shore of the Caribbean is my kind of vacation. I could sit quite content for hours reading, Instagramming the turquoise blue water and occasionally rising to cool my legs in the ocean.
But, I also have an active and adventurous family who isn’t content to sit with me very long. So, if you or yours have an adventurous streak that can’t be grounded to a shoreline for long, here are the top 10 things to do in Jamaica.
Top 10 things to do in Jamaica (with kids!)
1. Climb the Waterfall and Rocks at Dunn’s River Falls
Named the #1 activity by many tourists (and nearly all of my family), Dunn’s River Falls is a must-do in Jamaica.
Located in Ocho Rios along the north shore of the island, Dunn’s River Falls is part natural wonder (600 feet of naturally terraced rock formations and falls) part adventure park. The park is gated off with entrance fees, locker rentals, food, and activities onsite.
From bottom (the river enters the ocean at its end) to top, the climb takes over an hour to complete. There are plenty of rest stops, gorgeous views, waterfalls to play in, and rocks to slide down along the way up. Families can take as much time as they want to experience the falls.
The whole excursion was a beautiful family team building activity that had us holding hands, helping each other, and working together while having fun.
Age requirement: Although there is no set age requirement, the minimum height is 36 inches due to the depth of some of the small pools. The climb can be strenuous and challenging (both mentally and physically at times). Having a good sense of adventure might trump actual age recommendations. My 9-year-old daughter started out hesitant but ended up loving it while my 14-year-old “indoorsy girl” remained fearful the entire time.
Guides: Guides are available to help your family navigate the rocks with ease. Hiring a guide can be done onsite and in true Jamaica fashion, the cost is negotiable. We visited on a cruise dock day, so there were plenty of guides around and we watched their recommendations from afar.
Cost: Tours start at about $70 USD per person (including transfer) from many north shore resorts. We hired a driver to drop us off and pick us up for $10 USD per person and then paid the $25 USD per person entrance fee at Dunn’s River Falls, saving us quite a bit for our entire family.
Entrances: Three separate entrances into the falls are offered at various spots on the way down from the entrance. I don’t recommend that families with very young ones try the sea-level entrance (dubbed the “tornado entrance”) as the rocks are steepest and most challenging at this point. The “whirlpool entrance” (second from the bottom) seems to be a good starting point for families with young children, offering plenty of challenges with less stress of the highest climb.
Bring: The park sells most everything you would need to make your excursion an amazing one, but prices tend to be quite high once you are on the property. Lockers are available to rent to store your valuables. Be sure to bring:
- Water shoes. Flip flops and/or bare feet are not allowed.
- Waterproof camera. Consider a lanyard style case or attachment so your hands are free. A waterproof phone case is a good option as well.
- Bathing suit. You will get quite wet during the adventure. Everyone wandering the park is in bathing suits.
- US dollars. You can pay for the entire experience and extras (including hiring a guide) in US dollars.
Getting There: Dunn’s River Falls is located in Ocho Rios, along the northern shore of Jamaica. Tours typically include transportation to and from the park. We opted to skip the tour and got a $10 taxi from our hotel.
2. Take a Horseback Ride in the Caribbean Sea
The most unique experience I’ve ever done on an island vacation- hands down- is riding horses through the Caribbean in Jamaica. Horseback adventures take place both on-land and in-water. You’ll never forget the feeling of your horse beginning to swim in the ocean; it is a magical, must-do experience.
Age requirement: Age requirements vary by company. In general, children must be at least 3-feet tall and able to hold themselves on the horse during the ride.
Guides: There are plenty of guides on the trail and in the water portions of these excursions. They will keep you safe, snap pictures of your family, and tell you about Jamaican history & traditions. Be ready to tip.
Cost: Prices vary by company. We rode with the tour operator, Chukka, which was fabulous. The Horseback Ride N’ Swim tour is $89 per person.
Bring: Water shoes are helpful as most companies don’t allow you to ride barefoot on the horses. Sunblock, bathing suits, and waterproof cameras are a must.
Getting There: Tours operators are mostly on the northern stretch of Jamaica from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios. Packages typically include hotel pickup.
3. Swim with Dolphins
Swimming with dolphins in the Caribbean Sea is a must for any animal lover. There are plenty of dolphin swimming opportunities on the island, including many Dolphin Cove branded locations in both Ocho Rios and Montego Bay. Moon Palace Jamaica boasts its own Dolphin Cove, with discounts available exclusively for hotel guests. In addition to dolphins, programs are also available to swim with sharks and stingrays at all Dolphin Cove locations.
Age requirement: Kids hoping to get into the water with the dolphins must be at least 8 years old. Dolphin Discovery programs are offered for kids of any age as long as their parents are with them as paying guests. The Discovery program doesn’t involve swimming but does get little ones up close to the amazing animals.
Guides: Numerous guides and animal trainers keep you and your family safe and happy during the experience. Be sure to bring cash for tips.
Cost: Prices range based on your chosen experience starting at about $100/person and up. Professional photography is available for purchase.
Bring: You will be provided life vests, but you should bring reef-safe sunblock and a swimsuit. Be sure to secure your valuables or rent a locker onsite.
Getting There: Most tour operators pick guests up at their hotels. Three Dolphin Cove locations are located in Jamaica: Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, and Moon Palace Ocho Rios.
4. Watch the Cliff Jumpers at Rick’s Cafe
One of the most famous bars in the world, this extremely touristy eatery is a must while visiting Jamaica, even if you just check it off your bucket list. Since 1974, Rick’s Cafe has been home to some of the best sunset views on the Caribbean. Onsite, you’ll also watch dozens of tourists jump off the 35-foot cliff into the ocean below. There are also a few smaller cliff jump access points if you can’t summon the nerve for the big jump.
Age requirement: The bar is a family-friendly mostly outdoor environment that serves up plenty of kid-friendly food and drinks in addition to tasty adult libations.
Tip: Arrive well before the sunset to get a good seat. You’ll want to be able to see the gorgeous sunset and the cliff jumpers, so plan accordingly.
Getting There: Rick’s Cafe is located in Negril, just south of the famous seven-mile beach. You can reach Rick’s Cafe by taxi, hotel shuttle, or water shuttle (our chosen option) that takes you on a beautiful ride to your destination.
5. Explore the Ocean Depths while Snorkeling, Scuba Diving, or Riding in a Glass-Bottom Boat.
Just under the turquoise waters of the Caribbean is a world of amazing beauty. Families can explore miles of reefs and underwater paradises by snorkeling, snuba, scuba diving, or even riding in a glass-bottom boat.
- Families of all ages and stages can enjoy the comfort and ease of a glass-bottom boat.
- A modified version of snorkeling can be done by even the youngest of children, especially if you are close to shore in a sandy cove.
- Snuba (snorkeling with a motor) participants must be 8-years-old and good swimmers.
- Kids need to be at least 10 years old to begin their PADI certification classes for scuba diving. These classes are offered all over the island and through many tour operators.
Cost: Glass-bottom boat tour prices range dramatically and can often be negotiated. We paid $20/person for ours. Snorkeling gear is readily available and often included at many resorts. Snuba tours start at $50 per person while scuba diving prices range dramatically depending on what types of certifications are necessary.
6. Paddle (or charter) a Small Boat
In addition to chartering a small glass-bottom boat for fish exploration or for use as a water taxi, numerous boating options can get your family on and in the water in fun ways. From a small, private boat ride and all-inclusive catamarans to windsurfing and double kayaks, there is a water vessel for every level of experience, interest, and enjoyment. Check with your hotel for their recommendations.
Bonus: Most all-inclusive resorts include unlimited access to non-motorized water vehicles.
Cost: Pricing ranges dramatically. Families should budget for $50 per person per hour when planning a motorized boat activity, but bundled packages that combine attractions, snorkeling, and meals can save quite a bit of cash.
Discover our picks for the best All-Inclusive Resort in Jamaica for Families.
7. Float Down a River or Swing Over the Blue Hole
Although the lure of the Caribbean’s warm ocean is strong, families shouldn’t miss the opportunity to explore the cool, crisp rivers that flow through Jamaica’s mountains.
In addition to climbing Dunn’s River Falls (our #1), there are other river trips that are well worth exploration including the Instagram-famous Blue Hole, located high in the mountains above Ocho Rios. In addition to rock climbing, the Blue Hole has cliff jumping, a rope swing, cave exploration, tubing, and swimming in the stunning blue.
At Chukka Good Hope, families can float leisurely down the Martha Brae River past scenic ruins of the old plantation while listening to their guide describe life in Jamaica today and 300 years ago. There’s enough white water to provide a bit of a thrill, but not nearly enough to knock a child out of the tube and into the river.
The included pool at Chukka Good Hope is certainly one of a kind, with a long water slide and a series of climbable waterfalls. Yes, they’re man-made. However, it’s still a thrill to climb from pool to pool. Parents of tots will be happy to know that there are some zero-entry points to the various pools so little ones can splash and play too.
For a relaxing and unique experience, consider bamboo rafting on the Martha Brae River. This authentically Jamaican experience, led by a personal guide, can be custom-tailored to your family.
If you are looking for a bit more adrenaline during your river tour, consider a guided trek on the Rio Bueno River. Here families can tube, raft, kayak, or even boogie board through various portions of the river’s class one and class two rapids.
- Blue Hole- no specific requirement, but strong swimming skills and physical ability (about 10 and up) is recommended.
- Chukka Good Hope tubing- Ages 5 and up
- Bamboo River Raft- Ages 5 and up
- Rio Bueno River tubing and rafting- Ages 6 and up
- Blue Hole- Entrance fees are $15 per person; this price is often bundled into tour packages for a deeper discount.
- Chukka Good Hope- Entrance fees start at $50 per person depending on activities selected.
- Bamboo River Raft- $50 per person
- Rio Bueno River trips- $40 per person
Bring: Be sure to bring water shoes, sunblock, cash to tip guides, and a waterproof camera.
Getting There: Bundled tours typically include pickup from hotel locations along the north shore.
8. Sample the Jerk Chicken & Jamaican Rum
Take a break from the physical adventures to go on a culinary one. The most famous spot to try Jamaican Jerk Chicken is Scotchies, located along the road from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios. But there are plenty of Jerk chicken and Jerk pork opportunities; ask a local for their favorite and you are sure to get a good bite.
Appleton Estates has been making Jamaican rum for nearly 300 years. Families- yes, families- can tour the estate to learn about the process, watch it in action, and, of course, have a few samples of the rum. Kiddos will have to settle for sampling the pure sugar cane and molasses, but they won’t complain.
Yaaman Adventure Park, located just outside of Ocho Rios, offers a two-hour Jamaican culinary experience that is perfect for families. Families assist a chef in making a full Jamaican meal including grilled Jerk chicken, fried festival bread, steamed calalloo (greens), and a coconut sauce. It’s a memorable hands-on activity where kids can use their fingers to season their jerk chicken as much or as little as they’d like.
9. Zip Line or Bobsled Through the Forest
The stunning rainforests that fill the island of Jamaica beg to be explored. Two great ways to check out the island’s flora are by zip lining or bobsledding through the rainforest.
At Mystic Mountain Rainforest Adventures, located outside Ocho Rios, families take a ride on the Sky Explorer chairlift 700 feet up to the top of the mountain to view 360-degree views of the rainforest, Ocho Rios, and the sea.
The Mystic Pavilion features sports memorabilia from the nation of Jamaica including a uniform from Jamaica’s infamous bobsled team at the Calgary Olympics. Be sure to show your kids the inspirational Disney movie, Cool Runnings, before your trip. Everyone will then be so excited to speed through the forest on Mystic Mountain’s mountain coaster with bobsleds painted just like the ones in the movie.
Other fast-paced options include the island’s numerous zip lines, including one at Mystic Mountain Rainforest Adventures. Chukka Good Hope boasts a fairly tame zip line course and aerial adventure course that is perfect for families with small kiddos. Additional zipping options are available in Montego Bay and Negril.
Blue Mountain Coffee, grown and harvested on Jamaica, is another best bet; you’ll find it at most every duty-free shopping location, in hotels, and in the airport before you leave.
Age requirement: Bobsled minimum height is 46 inches. Age limits on zip lines vary but typically start around five and up.
Cost: $56 per person for bobsleds. Approximately $50 per person+ for zip lines. Combo deals with guided tours are available.
Bring: Closed-toe shoes are typically required. Don’t forget your cameras and bug spray.
10. Relax at the Beach
After all this adventuring, your family will be ready to relax.
Major resorts typically boast fabulous white-sand beaches meaning you won’t have to travel far to find your perfect piece of paradise. The beaches in Jamaica are absolutely lovely. Grab a book, a cold drink, and take it all in.
If you have an opportunity, venture away from your resort to explore Negril’s Seven Mile Beach. The waves here are perfect for families; you can walk for what seems like miles in the calm, clear waters that ever-so-gradually deepen. The beach’s prime west coast location and numerous restaurants and eateries overlooking the views mean sunsets will be fabulous.
Getting Around in Jamaica
It can be a bit challenging getting around in Jamaica. Public transportation is officially off-limits to tourists and taxis and ride-sharing apps don’t seem to work like they do in the United States. The island is bigger than you would think, so getting around is something you will want to consider in advance.
Airport transfers: With little exception, you should contact your hotel to see if they can set up a transfer to and from the airport to your hotel. If your hotel doesn’t offer a transfer, Jamaica Tours Limited offers some of the most reasonable prices for shared bus transportation. Expect transfers to run about $40-$50 per adult.
Rental cars: If you aren’t getting transfers with your hotel or you want to drive to multiple parts of the island, you might consider renting a car. Driving in Jamaica is a bit chaotic compared to US standards. Add in the fact that you are driving on the left-hand side of the road (Jamaica’s driving rules still connect them to England), and you might find that driving in Jamaica is a stress you don’t want to worry about.
Taxis: There are numerous official taxis in Jamaica that are licensed to take tourists. There are also many drivers who will try to give you a ride without paying the insurance to cover your ride. Ask your hotel for official recommendations; they seem to vary a bit by region.
Tip: Always negotiate your taxi fare before getting into the vehicle. Many non-metered taxis will charge you an arm and a leg if you don’t agree on a set fee before the ride. (We paid $40 USD for a 1-mile taxi ride after forgetting to negotiate; don’t make our mistake!)
Special thanks to Melissa Moore and Carrie Yu, whose original contributions to our Jamaica coverage were used to write this updated guide.