You can use the following itinerary to make the most out of a week in Jamaica, but feel free to drop a place or two to save a day to relax on the beach. One week provides just enough time, although barely, to introduce yourself to some of the best of the grand resorts on the island, especially Montego Bay and Port Antonio.
Days 1 & 2: Arrival in Montego Bay
Fly to Jamaica and use Montego Bay as your gateway. It is Jamaica's premier resort with good airline connections from North America. You can pick up your rental car (advance arrangements are best) at the airport. Arm yourself with a good map and drive to your hotel. We don't suggest you launch the driving tour on your first day in Jamaica. The drive in from the airport will give you a good preview of driving conditions on the island. Perhaps after getting to your hotel of choice, you can relax and recuperate around the pool, sipping a rum punch. And then during your first evening, you can enjoy some live reggae music and a bountiful buffet of Jamaican specialties before turning in early after an exhausting day of departure and arrival hassles.
On the morning of Day 2, begin your road adventure of the island setting out for Rose Hall Great House, formal locale of the "White Witch," which lies 15km (9 1/4 miles) east of the center of Montego Bay. Take the A1 highway east until you see the signposted turnoff near the community of Little River. After a 2-hour visit, get back on the A1 and continue east until you see the turnoff from A1 leading to Greenwood Great House, former residence of the literary Barrett family. After a visit, you still have time to drive to Falmouth for lunch. The port town of Falmouth lies 37km (23 miles) east of Montego Bay. Before setting out to explore the town, stop first at the Glistening Waters Restaurant and Marina for a seafood lunch on the veranda overlooking the lagoon. After lunch, continue to Falmouth and take our walking tour of this historic seaport.
After a day spent exploring the eastern coastline of Montego Bay, drive back to the center of the resort for the night.
Days 3, 4 & 5: Exploring East & West of Ocho Rios
To keep from checking in and out of hotels frequently, you can use the North Coast of Ocho Rios as a base for all of the following excursions.
After checking out of your hotel, head east along A1 in the direction of Falmouth. Beyond Falmouth, the A1 dips inland away from the sea until it reaches the little hamlet of Duncans, about 11km (7 miles) east of Falmouth and huddled under the hills of the Cockpit Country.
You'll find little here to detain you, except for a few local food joints and bars touting rum drinks. No one remembers when the clock tower last worked. Calypso fans know that the great singer, Harry Belafonte, once lived here in relative poverty. If you want to get out and stretch your legs, seek out the Kettering Baptist Church if it's open. Constructed in 1893, it honors William Knibb, a Baptist missionary. He is fabled in Jamaican history as an abolitionist. In 1840 he founded an emancipation village where runaway slaves enjoyed freedom.
Continue east beyond Duncans along the A1 to the little town of Rio Bueno, 51km (32 miles) east of Montego Bay. Rio Bueno is a fishing community that was the setting for the 1964 movie A High Wind in Jamaica (a classic you may find on the late show).
Rio Bueno was the place where Columbus first set foot in Jamaica on May 4, 1494 (or so it is believed). Offshore were anchored his caravels, the Cardera, Nina, and San Juan.
If you'd like a break, take time out to look at the 18th-century ruins of Fort Dundas behind the local school. It was named for Henry Dundas, the British secretary of war in the late 1700s. You can also walk over to St. Mark's Anglican Church, constructed on the water by the British in 1833. It has known greater days.
After Rio Bueno, the A1 runs along the sea until it reaches Columbus Park, which is a good place to stop for a picnic. You can secure the makings for a noon-day respite at Montego Bay or at little joints in Rio Bueno. If you didn't prepare and bring along a picnic, you'll find a snack bar and a little tavern serving hot food. There's also a craft shop if you want a souvenir. Check out the museum here before continuing on your way.
Immediately to the east, reached along the A1, Discovery Bay comes into view. Opening onto a wide flask-shaped bay, Discovery Bay lies 8km (5 miles) east of Rio Bueno and 8km (5 miles) west of our next stopover at Runaway Bay. Locals make the claim that it was here that Columbus first landed in 1494, although some historians believe that Rio Bueno, as mentioned above, has a better claim.
You needn't spend a lot of time at Discovery Bay. The town is dominated by the Kaiser Jamaica Bauxite Company, and you can see large freighters loaded with the bauxite at the pier on the west side of the bay. Most of these freighters are headed for Russia. This so-called "red gold" is also shipped to refineries in the United States.
If you'd like an hour or so on the beach, take your trunks and head for Puerto Seco Beach, the best in the area. Its name, meaning "dry harbor," is said to have come from the reluctance of Columbus to land on a bay with no fresh water. There are full facilities and a snack bar here.
Continue east to Runaway Bay, which makes a more tranquil alternative choice for a hotel if you'd like to lodge here to explore the rest of the coast. Ocho Rios is larger and more bustling, however, with more activities going on.
Runaway Bay is for the escapist vacationers who want to flee the cruise-ship passengers arriving constantly at Ocho Rios. There's not a lot here. It's virtually a one-street village stretching for 3km (2 miles) along the A1. The name Runaway comes from the legend that the Spaniards fled from Jamaica to this point in 1655. Another legend suggests that the name comes from African slaves making a getaway from Cuba by canoe.
At this point in the tour you can dip south along the B3, following the signs past the little hamlet of Orange Valley to Brown's Town, a large, bustling market town lying 11km (7 miles) south of Runaway Bay. For some motorists, this will be their first look at the "real Jamaica." Hopefully you'll arrive on one of the market days: Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Stroll through the tin-roofed, cast-iron Victorian market and be prepared for some powerful hawkers peddling their wares.
The views from this town are panoramic, a real taste of Jamaica's best scenery. Little food joints and tacky bars line the main street, and loud blasts of reggae music pierce the air.
Bob Marley fans will want to continue along the B3 south to Alexandria, a little hamlet of no importance, but a point from where you head east following the signs to Nine Mile and the Bob Marley Centre & Mausoleum.
After paying your respects to the king of reggae, you can continue east from Nine Mile passing through the hamlet of Albion as you make your way to the town of Claremont, following the road signs. Once at Claremont you can hook up with the A1 north, leading to St. Ann's Bay. At this point you're back on the coast road, which is the A3 at this point. Follow it east into Ocho Rios if you have opted to make this resort your base for an exploration of the North Coast.
On the morning of Day 4 in Ocho Rios, you can set out to explore its immediate attractions, including Dunn's River Falls and the Coyaba Gardens and Museum and Mahoe Falls, which are located 2km (1 1/4 miles) south of the town center. You can also fit in Prospect Plantation, 5km (3 miles) east of Ocho Rios, returning to Ocho Rios in time to wander through the Island Village and the Island Village Shopping Centre. Overnight once again in Ocho Rios.
On the morning of Day 5, set out to drive to the attractions east of Ocho Rios. But start the day by taking in one of the most scenic drives in Jamaica, heading south along the A3 to Fern Gully, a lush gorge. For driving directions, After this detour and a stopover here and there, return to Ocho Rios for the continuation of the tour.
Drive east 26km (16 miles) on the A3 in the direction of Oracabessa. A one-street town centered around a fruit and vegetable market, Oracabessa is best viewed on a Friday or Saturday. Gone are the notorious rum bars and gambling houses that flourished here at the turn of the 20th century when this was a major port for sending bananas to the United States. Ian Fleming wrote many of his James Bond stories at the property he purchased at Goldeneye, now a hotel. Today you can visit the James Bond Beach Club Tuesday to Sunday from 9am to 6pm, just off Main Street along Old Wharf Road.
The A3 continues southwest until you reach Port Maria, which is 34km (21 miles) east of Ocho Rios and is one of the North Coast's most colorful towns, opening onto a crescent-shaped bay. Most visitors come here to see Firefly, just west of Port Maria. This was the Jamaican retreat of the playwright and actor, Nöel Coward. The world came to his doorstep, including celebrants of the Golden Age of Hollywood and even the Queen Mother of England.
While at Port Maria, you can also take a tour of the Brimmer Hall Estate, which resides in the hills 3km (1 3/4 miles) from Port Maria. You can also swim in the pool of this 1817 estate.
On the way back to Ocho Rios for the night, we suggest a stopover at Harmony Hall on the A3, 6km (3 1/4 miles) east of Ocho Rios. Once the main house for a sugar plantation, the hall today is one of the best shopping possibilities in the area, selling quality items, unlike the junk hawked on the streets. Return to Ocho Rios for the night.
Days 6 & 7: East to Port Antonio
For a final look at Jamaica, we head east once again, taking in our favorite destination on the island, historic Port Antonio, which is far removed from the hustle and bustle of either Montego Bay or Ocho Rios.
Leave Ocho Rios on the morning of Day 6, heading east along the A3, bypassing Oracabessa and Port Maria this time. Here, lush hills roll down to a coastline of white sandy beaches and the fabulous Blue Lagoon aquamarine pool. The A3 becomes the A4 at Annotto Bay, a battered old town, a one-street wonder, that is named after the red annatto dye once produced here. It's best to arrive at the main square on the market days of Friday and Saturday. Once it was a great banana shipping port in the 19th century, today seedy shanties line the waterfront. The place is like a time capsule of long ago, but it has its memories.
Sixteen kilometers (10 miles) to the east along the A4, Buff Bay comes into view. Farmers from the Blue Mountains come to market to sell their wares, often luscious fresh fruits and vegetables. The oldest building in town is the St. George Anglican Church, dating mostly from 1814, although some of the church has stood here since the late 17th century.
The other sights of interest, still to the east of Port Antonio, include Hope Bay, a 20-minute drive east of Buff Bay. Hope Bay is a fishing town filled with jerk stands, which is good to know if you're here at lunchtime.
A final stopover might be made at Somerset Falls to the immediate east of Hope Bay. Waters of the Daniels River pour down a deep gorge into a rainforest studded with waterfalls. This is one of the great beauty spots along the North Coast.
Continue east into Port Antonio where you can book a hotel for a 2-night stay.
On Day 7, go rafting on the Rio Grande before setting out on a drive. Rafting is experienced by nearly every visitor to Port Antonio. After that, head east along the A4, stopping first to look at the ruins of the Folly Great House on Folly Peninsula at East Harbour. Later, pass by the lavishly ornate Trident Castle at Turtle Crawl Bay.
The A4 continues down the coastline in eastern Jamaica to the town of Manchioneal, 11km (6 3/4 miles) from Long Bay. The small fishing village is one of the most typical in Jamaica, and little jerk shacks line the shoreline if you're hungry.
After Manchioneal, continue south along the A4 until you see the turnoff to Bath, an evocative old spa town that seems to exist in a time capsule. If you're here for lunch, visit the Bath Fountain Hotel and Spa.
At this point because of the bad roads, you'd be advised to return northwest to Port Antonio for the night.
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.