Sunset on Jamaican Beach
Gary / Flickr

The Best Day Tours in Jamaica: Frommer's Picks

By Jo Cooke

Jamaica is an island nation bursting with culture, charisma, natural wonders, manmade attractions, and fabulous beaches. The more you see, the more you will want to see. Exploring this Caribbean destination is enormously rewarding, but it can be a little challenging if you try to tackle everything on your own. That's why we've assembled this collection of the country's best day tours—some guided, some not—so that you can see Jamaica the smart way.

Rafting guide taking guests down the scenic tour of the picturesque river.
Barney Bishop/Flickr
River Rafting on the Rio Grande

There’s no denying the Rio Grande Rafting Tour is an unusual way to travel—a local boatman propels you by bamboo pole on a bamboo raft along the winding path of this picturesque river. On a typical journey, you can expect to see wading birds, fishermen, women washing clothes on the bank, and children swimming—all against a backdrop of changing scenery, from swaying grasses to limestone cliffs. The 13-kilometer (8-mile) voyage takes between two and three hours from the starting point at Berridale to Rafters’ Restwhere the Rio Grande joins the sea. It's a laid-back experience for passengers, but quite a workout for the raft captains, so remember to tip them generously for their efforts. 

Chukka Caribbean Adventures can take you and your family down a boisterous and exciting tour.
Tubing on the Great River

In contrast to the serenity of bamboo rafting, tubing is a boisterous experience organized by Chukka Caribbean Adventures. The company’s tour guides serenade, push, spin, and splash you as the current sweeps your inflatable inner tube along a cool body of water near Montego Bay.

You'll get up close and personal with these friendly but fierce crocodiles.
Jan Hazevoet / Flickr
Black River Safari
This is Jamaica’s second longest river. It runs 71 kilometers (44 mi) from the Cockpit Country in Trelawny to the charming seaside town of Black River in the south. In the 18th century, the river was used to transport sugar and rum. Now it's a haven for marine birds, hiding between the bulrushes and lavender-colored water hyacinths. Take a Black River Safari boat ride for a morning or afternoon trip along the waterway's 30 navigable kilometers (18.5 mi). The dark, mysterious waters are home to some 300 crocodiles. You’ll see them sunning themselves on the banks of the river, partly shaded by contorted mangroves. You might get a closer look if the safari captain driving your pontoon calls them to the side of the boat. At just under a meter (3 feet) deep, the water is warm for swimming and passengers are encouraged to get in despite the crocodiles. Supposedly, they're much less aggressive than other members of their species. 
The bioluminescent waters are straight out of The Little Mermaid.
Jed / Wikimedia Commons
The Luminous Lagoon
A boat trip leaves the quay at Montego Bay's Glistening Waters Marina around dusk and heads across the bay to provide passengers a look at the rare phosphorescent micro-organisms that inhabit the lagoon’s waters. They store sunlight by day and shimmer in bursts of electric green-blue light when disturbed at night. Trail your hand in the dark water to activate an instant twinkling glow. Or jump in for a swim and be surrounded by natural fairy lights.
The chairlift takes you above the lush rainforest.
Mystic Mountain
Rainforest Bobsled Jamaica at Mystic Mountain, located just a five-minute drive west of Ocho Rios, is one of the country's most scenic attractions. A path beside rock pools and streams leads through rainforest to a chair lift. You’ll then take a journey high above the trees to a hilltop station. From here there are breathtaking panoramic views and a fun museum that tells tales of Jamaica’s sporting heroes and its legendary bobsled team. A zipline can take you back downhill. The main attraction, however, is the rollercoaster-style bobsled ride that hurtles you around the hilltop at speed—or more slowly if you grip hold of the brake.
The statue of Coward looks out over the stunning view.
Banjoman1 / Wikimedia Commons
Nöel Coward's beloved Jamaican retreat sits high on a clifftop 32 kilometers (20 miles) east of Ocho Rios. Views of the headland stretch to Port Maria and beyond. In his later years, Coward lived in Jamaica year round, writing and entertaining at this modest, single-story house. Take the tour to see photographs, ornaments, bedding, books, and even sheet music that belonged to the actor, singer, and writer. Renowned for his sparkling wit, Coward held regular cocktail parties here for such luminaries as Sean Connery, Elizabeth Taylor, and Marlene Dietrich. The Queen Mother and Princess Margaret both dropped by, too. Coward died at Firefly in 1973 and is buried on the grounds. A statue honoring him (pictured) faces the view from the pretty garden at the front of the house.
A worker stands with the coffee beans of the estate.
Paul Dober / Wikimedia Common
Craighton Estate
This 32-hectare (80-acre) coffee estate, 792 meters (2,600 ft) above Kingston, was established over 200 years ago. Tours start at the gabled, strawberry-pink clapboard Great House, which dates from the turn of the 19th century. The coffee-growing and production processes are detailed in a short talk while visitors sample some of the estate's output in bone china cups. This is followed by a walk through the plantation, where the berries are hand-picked from bushes lining terraces etched into the steep slopes. Coffee can be purchased at the end of the visit for a reasonable price.
A tour of this masnion is sure to leave you in awe.
KatieThebeau / Flickr
Devon House
Don't miss this beautifully restored Kingston mansion, which is set back from the road amid stately gardens with a central fountain. Built in 1881 for Jamaica’s first black millionaire, George Stiebel, Devon House features rooms furnished with exquisite antiques and reproduction furniture to recreate the style of late 19th-century living for Jamaica’s rich and well-to-do. In the courtyard to the rear of the house you’ll find a selection of eateries, an ice cream parlor, and specialty shops.
The looming bamboo seem surreal on this walking tour.
Gavin Anderson / Flickr
Bamboo Avenue
On Jamaica's most scenic drive, Bamboo Avenue on the South Coast between Lacovia and Middle Quarters, bamboo rises to the sky on both sides of the road, meeting in the middle to form a green tunnel of shimmering leaves and dappled light. Originally planted in the 19th century to provide a shady respite for plantation workers from the midday heat, it now makes for a soothing drive or cycle ride. There is space to pull off the road at any point to snap a photograph.
Enjoy walking through this picturesque town to a tour across the bay.
Patrick Nouhailler / Flickr
Belmont and Bluefields
Be sure to visit the laid-back, charming fishing community of Belmont, an hour's drive southeast of Negril. Walk beyond the functional huts and prefab cabins to the multicolored fishing boats moored by the pier or pulled up onto the sand. Fishermen sit cleaning their catches, mending nets, or preparing to head out to sea on the largely calm waters of Bluefields Bay. This is also the base for Reliable Adventures Jamaica, a company that arranges boat trips across the bay to see bird life or set out on hiking trips into the hills.