If you are looking for a vacation with a difference and you happen to choose Jamaica, you may want to consider staying in Ocho Rios, on the island’s north coast. There is a lot more than the usual sun, sea and sand; the former fishing village sets itself apart with nature and adventure.
We were introduced to the area via the scenic Fern Gully, a winding stretch of road framed by lush green flora and fauna on either side. Highly regarded as one of Jamaica’s several natural wonders, Fern Gully is now a preservation site and is being maintained by the National Heritage Trust.
The first stop was Yaaman Adventure Park, where we were treated to a jitney tour – an open-air carriage drawn by tractor through the estate. Afterwards, our expert guides delivered a cooking master class where we prepared our own Jamaican lunch of jerk chicken, festivals and steamed callalloo which we ate with already prepared rice.
Later in the day, we saw another side of Ocho Rios, thanks to Rainforest Adventures which offers visitors a chance to experience the Mystic Mountains on board the Sky Explorer. As the name suggests, one gets a bird’s eye view of the surrounding beaches, as well as the Dunn’s River Falls at 700 feet above the rainforests.
I was looking forward to that particular tour from the night before, as it would be my first experience aboard a Sky Explorer. But the moment I got into the chairlift with my colleague Leah Sorias of the Trinidad Express, I discovered I had a fear of heights that I never knew existed. She tried her best to calm my nerves throughout the 20-minute journey, but much to her amusement I sat still the entire time, afraid that any movement would cause us to fall off. As we approached the camera for the souvenir photo, Leah warned me: “Doh spoil my picture.” It was only then I was able to relax and really take in the beauty of our environment from such heights.
On arrival at the peak of the mountain, visitors have a chance to learn more of the island’s culture through the various art and craft displays.
For the true adventurous souls, there is also the bobsled tour, which is described as the park’s main attraction. We overcame our initial trepidation and decided to give it a try.
Once again, Leah was my partner: she, the driver and I, the passenger. “Drive it like you stole it,” the guide advised us as he strapped us in. And boy, did she take the advice to heart! As we raced down the track our screams blended with that of the other visitors, and for a moment I wondered if that’s how Jamaica’s Olympics bobsled team felt when they competed for the first time.
From Mystic Mountain, it was on to the famous Dunn’s River Falls. The terraces of the waterfall are a sight to behold and a favourite among tourists. Local history has it that Dunn’s River Falls was the site of the battle of Las Chorreras in 1657, between the English and Spanish, for ownership of the island. However, visitors to the area are captivated by the sheer beauty of the waterfall cascading over the terraces of the mountainside even before they learn the history of the area.
Nature, adventure, and local cuisine. What more could one ask for? (MCW)