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Family Fun in Jamaica

Waterslides and Marine Encounters
Family Fun in Jamaica
Jamaica has a lively coastline, a wild interior, kid-focused resorts, and an abundance of entertainment. And while families come here for beaches, resorts, and outdoor fun, they leave with a love for the island’s people and culture.
By Lebawit Lily Girma, AFAR Local Expert
Photo courtesy of Jamaica Tourist Board
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    Waterslides and Marine Encounters
    Waterslides and Marine Encounters
    Jamaica has mastered family entertainment with a few giant water parks that draw almost as many crowds as the beaches do. Take a ride down a waterslide at the Mystic Mountain recreational park near Ocho Rios—after some roller-coaster dips and turns in the track, you'll splash down in an infinity pool. Adrenaline-junkie teens can attempt the park's rain-forest bobsled ride—parents may even want to hop into a two-seater and scream their way along the winding tracks. Negril’s Kool Runnings Adventure Park, along a lazy river, boasts 10 themed slides (with names such as Bolt Lightning) and three restaurants.
    Photo courtesy of Jamaica Tourist Board
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    Jamaica’s Great Outdoors
    Jamaica’s Great Outdoors
    In addition to the usual beachside water sports, the island has plenty of outdoor activities ideal for families. For a lovely day trip with few crowds and lots of local flavor, take a hike around Mayfield Falls—adults and kids can go swimming and rock-hop across a gorgeous stream. Reach Falls, too, is worth the scenic ride through the verdant John Crow Mountains.
    Photo by Alvaro Leiva/age fotostock
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    Family Life on Local Beaches
    Family Life on Local Beaches
    Venture outside the gated resorts to find some Jamaican beaches where families—both local and visiting—can enjoy a day in the sun. Cornwall Beach, in Montego Bay, is popular with locals and has a good bar and restaurant. Negril's Seven Mile Beach offers a laid-back, fun atmosphere, inviting for couples as well as families who come for the wide beach and shallow water. On the south coast, Treasure Beach has black sand and long, nearly empty stretches along which to play. Kingston’s Hellshire Beach is as authentically Jamaican and local as it gets, with a variety of fish shacks and flocks of city-dwelling families on weekends. For a deserted island getaway, hop over to Lime Cay for snorkeling and sunbathing.
    Photo by Lebawit Lily Girma
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    A Rich History of Pirates and Pioneers
    A Rich History of Pirates and Pioneers
    Jamaica’s rich history—from the Arawak Indians to British colonists—compels visitors to want to learn a little about the destination. Stop at the Rose Hall Great House, said to be haunted, for a lesson about the dark days of slavery and plantation masters. On the island's eastern coast, the once-great pirate capital of Port Royal was a rollicking place of infamy until a 1692 earthquake tipped a big chunk of the town into the water. Today, the wrecked section—with crumbling forts, cannons, and slanted buildings—and the submerged streets just offshore provide a fascinating archaeological site at the edge of a thriving fishing village. In Kingston, tour the Bob Marley Museum, or stop in at the National Gallery of Jamaica for a view of local art and history, before ending your day at the historic Devon House for a stroll and a coneful of Jamaica’s best ice cream.
    Photo by Alvaro Leiva/age fotostock
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    Jamaica’s African and Rastafarian Roots
    Jamaica’s African and Rastafarian Roots
    As soon as visitors arrive at the airport in Jamaica, they'll hear the lilting patois language. Start your Afro-Caribbean tour of the island in Accompong Town, where Maroons—descendants of Africans who escaped from slavery—still dwell. It’s a long journey, but the scenery of rolling peaks and narrow roads is spectacular, and the museum and guided tours of the village reveal this little-known and important chapter in Jamaican history. Families eager to understand more about Rastafarian culture should visit the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston and the Peter Tosh Memorial in Belmont. Each make for a fun day of history, music, and food.
    Photo by Lebawit Lily Girma
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    Palms, Flowers, and Ponds
    Palms, Flowers, and Ponds
    Jamaica’s botanical gardens rarely make an appearance in tour books. Yet the island has some of the best spots in the Caribbean for walks or picnics amid native plants and fruit trees. In Montego Bay, Ahhh Ras Natango Gallery and Garden is a delightful escape in the hills and a chance to see endemic flora and fauna, with the added bonus of views over Montego Bay. Konoko Falls and Park, another oasis of greenery and calm, comprises a botanical garden, a small zoo, and a waterfall, all with breathtaking views over Ocho Rios. Also near Ocho Rios, the secluded Irie River Park is a beautifully manicured 103-acre property set around an emerald river and lush with tropical flora.
    Photo by Demetrio Carrasco/age fotostock
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    Cool, Clear Rivers
    Cool, Clear Rivers
    Jamaica's 65 rivers range from tumbling rapids to calming streams. Locals bathe and swim in freshwater rivers before heading to the beach on hot days. Because the water is believed by some to have healing powers, baptism ceremonies often take place along local rivers. Beyond swimming and ceremonial settings, rivers provide a route into Jamaica’s lush landscape of coconut plantations, bamboo, and bird life. Tubing (especially on the White River, arguably Jamaica’s most beautiful) or river-boarding are fun activities for everyone. For a slower ride, float down the Martha Brae River or the Rio Grande on a bamboo raft. Crocodiles, which live along the Black River in southern Jamaica, are best viewed from the safety of a boat.
    Photo by Lebawit Lily Girma
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    Family-Friendly Food
    Family-Friendly Food
    Jamaica’s laid-back eating culture is perfect for families, and prices are incredibly cheap. Jerk eateries serve up delicious chicken with fries—order by the quarter-, half-, or full pound—as well as fish, stews, soups, and other local specialties. Customers dine alfresco at picnic tables. Scotchies, a popular choice, has locations in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios. The Boston Bay Jerk Center, on the east coast, is known to serve up the tastiest jerk in the country from several beachside stands. Negril, rich with casual food vendors and snacks, has everything from carts selling peanuts or roasted breadfruit to places like Miss Sonia’s, a great choice for Jamaican patties.
    Photo by Lebawit Lily Girma
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    Blue Holes and Jade Lagoons
    Blue Holes and Jade Lagoons
    Resorts with pools and jumbo slides are ubiquitous, but the best swimming in Jamaica—aside from in rivers and falls—is in the island’s "blue holes." Cenotes, scattered around every parish on the island, come in every shade of blue. Port Antonio's Blue Lagoon, a stunning emerald and aquamarine hue, is good for rafting or for a swim. Near Ocho Rios, the Irie Blue Hole is a special spot with a waterfall, a turquoise pool, and underwater caves. Adventurous kids should plan for a night dip in the bioluminescent Glistening Waters, where each splash creates luminous blue lights in the ocean.
    Photo by Lebawit Lily Girma