Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Ocho Rios, Jamaica is a Lovely, Natural Paradise With Lots to Do and See

If you want a vacation in a lush, tropical location; try the town of Ocho Rios in Jamaica. On the coast, the town has much to do and see. From big resorts, to smaller, privately-owned garden styled hotels, it has something for everyone from souvenir hunters to scuba divers. The crystal-clear, vividly turquoise water of the Caribbean Sea is breathtaking. Or hire a driver and go inland to see the deep jungles and gorgeous countryside. Jamaica is pure paradise. Here are some ideas on where to go on your trip.
Dunn's River Falls

Every day, tourists climb a natural rock formation whose river empties into the sea, called Dunn's River Falls. It is a great way to cool off in the hot sun. For those who don't want to climb, there is a path along the falls to walk up to the top. Nature is all around, and hear the tropical birds squawk in the trees as you walk through this lovely site.
Shaw Park Gardens
If you love flowers, go to this large botanical garden on a hill overlooking Ocho Rios. There you will see huge Banyan trees, with multiple trunks spread out everywhere. Colorful flowers such as towering bougainvillea vines surround you along with other breathtaking scenery such as waterfalls and lush jungle meadows. Look down on the coastline, and take photos of the sea from way up high. It is a nature photographer's paradise.
The market
Get your dickering skills in order and go over to the public market. Here, you are expected to talk the vendors down in price for everything from hair braiding to t-shirts. Buy a rum-filled coconut that is cut open with a machete right in front of you. Watching this is interesting all in itself. If you have new items you want to barter, take them with you and see if you can strike a deal with the dealers who sell in various outside booths. It is a lively and fun place. Expect many people to ask if they can braid your hair into cornrows. I had them do a French braid on me, for hardly any money. American money goes very far as of this writing, in Jamaica. Check out the hand-carved wooden sculptures by local artisans. The craftsmanship and elegance is amazing, of subjects such as fish, flowers, birds and more. My suitcase was filled with them by the end of my trip. Prices are reasonable, and even moreso if you are a good bargain-negotiator.
Take a snorkeling or scuba tour
Go to a dive store or inquire at your hotel where to find a good snorkeling tour. There are reefs everywhere down in Jamaica, full of tropical fish of all sizes, colors and shapes. It's like swimming in an aquarium. The skilled divers know where the best coral sites are, and will take you in their boat to them. It is amazing to see the majestic "gardens" of coral all around you, growing as if they were flowers. Bring a disposable underwater camera to capture memories of this exotic venture. The experience is surreal and fun. Just make sure to wear strong sunscreen or you will get a lobster-red sunburn very easily.
Shopping and dining in the shop district
In Ocho Rios, there are a variety of stores from high-end to low-budget. They are all interesting and offer great souvenirs. If you love coffee, buy the Jamaican Blue-Mountain coffee there, which is much cheaper than it is in the U.S., where it can cost $50 per pound, easily. Buy spices at local stores, such as curry powder or jerk seasoning. Jerk chicken is a spicy dish found all over Jamaica. It is delicious, just make to eat it with a pitcher of water by your side.
Some of the best restaurants are understated and out-of-the-way. Ten years ago, when I was there, there was a small place called Blue Cantina near the Hibiscus Lodge (the garden-style hotel I stayed at.) The Blue Cantina has great food for cheap prices. Try the fried plantains, served as a side-dish, they are to die for. They make wonderful tacos. The restaurant in the Hibiscus Lodge is a good place for breakfast, too. It is terraced, and overlooks the ocean, with amond trees branching over your head. I always ate outside there. The wait staff are professional and serve great fruit and pastries.
In general, going to Ocho Rios, Jamaica is great if you want to get away from regular city life and try something more natural. If you have time, have a taxi take you to other towns and cities as well. There is much to see in the country island of Jamaica. Have a Pina Colada, sit back and soak in that glorious Caribbean sunshine. It truly is paradise.
Carolyn McFann is a scientific and nature illustrator, who owns Two Purring Cats Design Studio, which can be seen at: http://www.zazzle.com/twopurringcats. Educated at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, Carolyn is a seasoned, well-traveled artist, writer and photographer. She has lived and worked in Cancun, Mexico, among other interesting professional assignments in other countries. Clients include nature parks, museums, scientists, corporations and private owners. She has been the subject of tv interviews, articles for newspapers and other popular media venues.
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