For many, Ocho Rios with its relatively aggressive vendors provides an introduction to Jamaica-style shopping. After surviving the ordeal, some visitors may vow never to go shopping again. Literally hundreds of Jamaicans pour into Ocho Rios to peddle items to cruise ship passengers and other visitors. Police presence has done a lot to suppress too-aggressive behavior from shopkeepers, but in the past, something approaching pandemonium has greeted many an unwary shopper, who must also be prepared for some fierce haggling and some often unwelcome breaches of privacy. Every vendor asks too much at first, which gives them the leeway to "negotiate" until the price reaches a more realistic level. Is shopping fun in Ocho Rios? A resounding no. Do cruise ship passengers and land visitors indulge in it anyway? A decided yes.
In general, the shopping is better in Montego Bay, and crafts items tend to be just a bit cheaper. But if you're not going there, wander the Ocho Rios crafts markets, knowing in advance that much of the merchandise is repetitive.
Shopping Centers & Malls
There are a number of shopping plazas in Ocho Rios. We've listed them because they're here, not because we heartily recommend them. Newer ones include the New Ocho Rios Plaza, in the center of town, with some 60 shops; opposite is the Taj Mahal Mall, with 26 duty-free stores. Island Plaza is another major shopping complex, as is the Mutual Security Plaza with some 30 shops.
Ocean Village Shopping Centre (tel. 876/974-2683) is one of the originals, with numerous boutiques, food stores, a bank, sundries purveyors, travel agencies, service facilities, and what have you. The Ocho Rios Pharmacy (tel. 876/974-2398) sells most proprietary brands, perfumes, and suntan lotions, among its many wares. Nearby is the major competitor of Ocean Village, the Coconut Grove Shopping Plaza, which is linked by walkways and shrubs. The merchandise here consists mainly of local craft items, and this center is often overrun with cruise ship passengers. Ocean Village is slightly bigger and more upscale, and we prefer it.
Just east of Ocho Rios, the Pineapple Place Shopping Centre is a collection of shops in cedar-shingle-roofed cottages set amid tropical flowers.
The Ocho Rios Craft Park has 135 stalls. A vendor will weave a hat or a basket while you wait, or you can buy a ready-made hat, hamper, handbag, place mats, or lampshade. Other stands stock hand-embroidered goods and will make small items while you wait. Woodcarvers work on bowls, ashtrays, statues, and cups.
Island Plaza, right in the heart of Ocho Rios, has some of the best Jamaican art, all paintings by local artists. You can also purchase local handmade crafts (be prepared to haggle), carvings, ceramics, kitchenware, and the inevitable T-shirts.
Swiss Stores, in the Ocean Village Shopping Centre (tel. 876/974-2519), sells jewelry and all the big names in Swiss watches. The Rolex watches here are real, not those fakes touted by hustlers on the streets.
One of the best bets for shopping is Soni's Plaza, 50 Main St., the address of all the shops recommended below. Casa de Oro (tel. 876/974-5392) specializes in duty-free watches, fine jewelry, and classic perfumes. Gem Palace (tel. 876/974-2850) is the place to go for diamond solitaires, tennis bracelets, and 14-karat gold chains. Mohan's (tel. 876/974-9270) offers one of the best selections of 14-karat and 18-karat gold chains, rings, bracelets, and earrings. Soni's (tel. 876/974-2303) focuses strictly on souvenirs from coffee mugs to T-shirts. Taj Gift Centre (tel. 876/974-9268) has a little bit of everything: Blue Mountain coffee, film, cigars, and hand-embroidered linen tablecloths. For something different, look for Jamaican jewelry made from hematite, a mountain stone. Diamonds Duty Free Fine Jewelry (tel. 876/974-6455) beats most competition with its name-brand watches and jewelry.
The Coffee Café lies immediately upstairs from the Ocean's 11 Watering Hole, Lot #6, Fisherman's Point Row (tel. 876/974-6896). This is the closest thing to a Seattle-style coffee shop in Ocho Rios. Surprisingly well-accessorized, with a theme that involves the production, processing, and marketing of Jamaican coffee, it's airy, bright, and divided into sections devoted to a cafe, a gift shop, and a museum. In the cafe, bagels cost US$2.50, sandwiches US$5.50 to US$6, and steaming cups of espresso go for US$3 each. Main courses cost US$10 to US$28. The gift shop sells coffee mugs, coffee memorabilia, and vacuum-packed foil bags filled with Jamaica's finest coffee. The cafe is open daily 8:30am until between 8 and 10pm, depending on business. This shop contains five Internet stations, which anyone is free to use.
We're always on the lookout for art galleries, so in lieu of schlepping out to Harmony Hall (where the selection of Jamaican paintings is broader and better), Tallawah Arts, in the Island Village Shopping Center (tel. 876/675-8789), offers a small-scale collection of work by relatively minor artists that might suffice your gift-giving needs. Paintings, depending on their size, range from US$15 to US$140. The shop is open daily from 8am to 6pm.
After visiting virtually every shop within this bustling shopping center, our considered opinion is that Hemp Heaven, in the Island Village Shopping Center (tel. 876/675-8969), is its most creative shop. It only stocks items made from or related to hemp, which -- in case you didn't know -- is the fibrous stalk of the marijuana plant. Most of the objects were made in Jamaica, and manage to include hemp in some way that's beneficial to the object's texture, longevity, or healing powers. Inventories include bags; hats; T-shirts (45% cotton, 55% hemp) that, contrary to what you might have thought, are soft and not at all scratchy; hair oil; lotions; candles; massage creams; gift items that usually relate to Jamaica; and more. Garments here are durable, pre-shrunk, and despite their funky designs, they're sold and promoted with a sense of Jamaican nationalism and good fun.
The Potter's Art
The largest and most visible art pottery in Jamaica is found at Wassi Art, Bougainvillea Drive, Great Pond (tel. 876/974-5044; www.wassiart.com). This enterprise is often cited for its entrepreneurial courage by the country's growing core of independent business owners. Established in 1990, it developed from a personal hobby of one of its owners, Theresa Lee, an amateur potter. Today, with her husband Robert, she employs at least 50 artisans and workers in a small-scale beehive of energy about 4km (2 1/2 miles) north of the center of Ocho Rios. They turn out wonderful pottery. You'll reach the place via a winding and impossibly rutted road.
Tours of the factory (Mon-Sat 9am-5pm) are free, last about 15 minutes, and include a brief session trying to throw a pot on an electric potter's wheel. Don't expect a high-tech operation here, as virtually every aspect of the manufacturing process, including the digging, hauling, and processing of the Blue Mountain clay, is done the old-fashioned way -- by hand. All glazes used in the process are nontoxic and FDA approved.
The finished pottery comes in colors that range from the earth- and forest-toned to the bright iridescent patterns reminiscent of Jamaican music and spice. There's a cafe on the premises (try their meat-stuffed patties for an insight into what a Jamaican worker's lunch might include). Part of your experience here includes dialogues with talented artisans hailing from both Jamaica and Cuba.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.