A scenic drive south of Ocho Rios along Route A3 will take you inland through Fern Gully, a lush gorge. This was originally a riverbed, but now the main road winds up some 210m (700 ft.) among a profusion of wild ferns, a tall rainforest, hardwood trees, and lianas. There are hundreds of varieties of ferns, and roadside stands offer fruits and vegetables, carved-wood souvenirs, and basketwork. The road runs for about 6km (3 3/4 miles). At Moneague, a small town, the A1 continues south into the interior of Jamaica, but the same route number (A1) also heads back north along a different route from the A3 you just took south. This A1 northerly road lies to the west of the A1 southern route to Moneague. If you take this A1 north, you'll come to the coast on the north shore again.
Heading up A1 north, you'll pass the ruins of Edinburgh Castle lying 13km (8 miles) southwest of Claremont, the major town on the route back (but of no tourist interest). These ruins -- not worth a detour but of passing interest if you're driving by -- are a local curiosity.
This 1763 lair was the former abode of one of Jamaica's most famous murderers, a Scot named Lewis Hutchinson, who used to shoot passersby and toss their bodies into a deep pit. At his so-called "castle," really a two-story house, Hutchinson invited his victims inside to wine and dine them before murdering and then robbing them.
The authorities got wind of his activities. Although he tried to escape by canoe, Hutchinson was captured and hanged at Spanish Town on March 16, 1773. Evidently proud of his achievements (evidence of at least 43 bodies was found), he left 100 British pounds and instructions for a memorial to be built in his honor. It never was.
These castle ruins can be viewed on the northern outskirts of the village of Bensonton, near the Bensonton Health Club.
Back on the A1 northern route again, you can drive to the coast, coming to it at St. Ann's Bay, the site of the first Spanish settlement on the island, where you can see the statue of Christopher Columbus, cast in his hometown of Genoa and erected near St. Ann's Hospital on the west side of town, close to the coast road. There are a number of Georgian buildings in the town -- the Court House near the parish church, built in 1866, is the most interesting.
An Homage to Reggae
Looking for ways to deepen your appreciation of Jamaica's pre-eminent musical form? Consider a tour through what might be the grooviest museum in the world: Reggae Explosion (aka the Reggae Hall of Fame), which functions as a subdivision of the Island Village Shopping Center, Turtle River Road (tel. 876/675-8902). Owned and operated by Christopher Blackwell, the hotel/film/music mogul who's credited with having originally discovered reggae superstar Bob Marley, it's a combination museum/public relations tool for Marley and the Jamaican music industry as a whole -- a party-colored temple to the greatness of the art form. Within a high-ceilinged decor that's mostly black but highlighted with Day-Glo colors, you'll follow on a route designated by captions that outline the history of Jamaican music. (According to the wall charts, it started with mento in the 1940s; moved on to ska after the independence of Jamaica from Britain in 1962; and evolved after 1966 into movements that included RockSteady, Roots, and several other groups that eventually led to reggae.)
Once you get used to the shadows and immediate sense of chaos reigning here, the place can be a lot of fun. There's a replica of a party-colored Jamaican rum shack near the entrance, a 1950s-era jukebox, lots of portraits and illustrations of reggae greats, and a bevy of what might be the hippest tour guides in Jamaica. By all means, head upstairs to the second floor of this museum, marveling at the pictorial history of the evolution of Jamaican music as you ascend, past tributes to stars such as Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Alton Ellis, and Lee "Scratch" Perry (a music producer who won a Grammy award in 2003). There are also replicas from Abyssinian Coptic churches portraying Haile Selassie, videos of the 1996 cult movie Dance Hall Queen, and -- highly unusual -- a dancing platform where hearing-impaired people can feel the amplified vibrations of reggae music. The museum is open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm, Saturday from 9am to 10pm. Admission costs US$8 per person.