Family Fun in Jamaica

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Family Fun in Jamaica
Jamaica has a lively coastline, a wild interior, kid-focused resorts, and an abundance of entertainment. And while families flock here for the beaches, resorts, and outdoors, what they leave with is a love for the island’s people and culture.
By Lebawit Lily Girma, AFAR Local Expert
Photo courtesy of Dolphin Cove Jamaica
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    Water Slides and Marine Encounters
    Jamaica has mastered the art of family entertainment. Its giant water parks are one of the most popular attractions away from the beach. About 10 minutes west of Ocho Rios, the steel water slide at the Mystic Mountain recreational park is like a roller coaster, and dumps you in an infinity pool. Negril’s Kool Runnings Park offers respite from the beach, and boasts 10 themed slides (with names such as Bolt Lightning), a lazy river, and three restaurants.
    Photo courtesy of Dolphin Cove Jamaica
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    Jamaica’s Great Outdoors
    As well as the usual beachside water sports, there are plenty of outdoor activities that are ideal for families. For a lovely day trip with fewer crowds and a local flavor, hike around Mayfield Falls—adults and kids can go swimming and rock-hop across a gorgeous stream. The eastern Reach Falls are worth the scenic ride in Portland, onto some of Jamaica’s most verdant interior hugged by the John Crow Mountains. Adrenaline junky teens should attempt the adventure at Mystic Mountain’s rain forest bobsled ride—parents too can hop in a two-seater and scream their way along the winding tracks. Finish off with the giant swimming pool slide with views of Ocho Rios ahead.
    Photo by Alvaro Leiva/age fotostock
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    Wilderness and Wildlife
    Wildlife enthusiasts who venture inland will spot crocodiles and more than 300 species of birds—28 of which are endemic—while marine lovers can enjoy an encounter with turtles. A unique experience is to go rafting on the Rio Grande River or the Martha Brae River, while spotting flora and birds along the quiet banks. Negril's river is a great spot for bird watching, especially around sunset, and the rugged cliff coastline is home to dolphins and colorful schools of fish—but you need to be a strong swimmer to enter the water. It's worth making the journey to the south of the island for a six-mile boat safari along Black River, where the bird life is plentiful and American crocodiles glide past red mangroves to greet visitors.
    Photo by Alvaro Leiva/age fotostock
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    Family Life on Local Beaches
    Outside the gated resorts are several beaches where families, both local and visiting, enjoy a more easy-going side to the island. Cornwall Beach in Montego Bay is a great pick for fewer tourists, and has a good bar and eatery. Negril’s Seven Mile Beach has a laid-back, fun atmosphere that’s inviting for families as well as couples; the beach is wide and the water is shallow. Treasure Beach on the south coast is the least visited, with its black sands, and yet one of the best beach towns in Jamaica, and you are bound to meet local families here. Kingston’s Hellshire Beach is as local as it gets, with its fish vendors and city dwelling families who flock here on weekends, while others hop over to Lime Cay for snorkeling.
    Photo by Lebawit Lily Girma
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    A Rich History of Pirates and Pioneers
    Jamaica’s rich history—from the Arawak Indians to British colonists—means there are plenty of educational opportunities. Stop at the Rose Hall Great House, said to be haunted, and learn about the dark days of slavery and plantation masters. On the east coast lies the once great pirate capital of Port Royal, a place of infamy until an earthquake submerged a big part of the city in 1692. Today, it’s a fascinating archeological site in the midst of a fishing village, with forts, canons, and slanted homes. Head to Kingston to tour the Bob Marley Museum, or stop in at the National Gallery of Jamaica for art and history, before ending your day at the historic Devon House for a stroll and a cone of Jamaica’s best ice cream.
    Photo by Alvaro Leiva/age fotostock
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    Jamaica’s African and Rastafarian Roots
    As soon as visitors step out of the airport in Jamaica they hear the rhythmic sounds of the patois language. Start your Afro-Caribbean tour in Accompong Town, Cockpit Country, 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 on-site museum and guided tours of the village reveal a little known and important side of Jamaican history. Families can learn about Rastafarian culture at the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston, or at 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
    Jamaica’s botanical gardens make little appearance in tourist brochures. 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, filled with endemic flora and fauna. The views over Montego Bay are an added bonus. Konoko Falls and Park is another oasis of greenery and calm, with a botanical garden, small zoo, and a waterfall. Views over Ocho Rios are equally breathtaking. Also near Ocho Rios is the secluded Irie River Park–a beautifully manicured 103-acre property set around an emerald river–fit for swimming–overflowing with flora, many of which are clearly labeled for visitors.
    Photo by Demetrio Carrasco/age fotostock
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    Cool, Clear Rivers
    Jamaica has more than 65 rivers, from tumbling rapids to calming streams. Fresh rivers are where locals bathe or swim on a hot day, well before heading to the beach. River water is often believed to have healing powers, and baptism ceremonies occasionally take place in rivers. Beyond swimming, rivers provide a route into Jamaica’s lush landscape of coconut plantations, bamboo, and bird life. Tubing on White River—arguably Jamaica’s most beautiful—or river boarding are fun activities for everyone. For a slower ride, float a bamboo raft down Martha Brae River or the Rio Grande. Crocodiles inhabit Black River in southern Jamaica, and are best viewed from the safety of a boat.
    Photo by Lebawit Lily Girma
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    Family-Friendly Food
    Jamaica’s laid-back eating culture is perfect for families, and prices are incredibly cheap. Jerk eateries are found throughout the island and serve up delicious chicken with fries—order by the quarter, half, or full pound—fish, stews, soups, and other local specialties. Dining is al fresco on roadside picnic tables, or on the go for those in a rush. Scotchies is a popular choice, with locations in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios. Up east, the Boston Bay Jerk Center is known to serve up the tastiest jerk in the country, from several open-air roadside stands, which you can enjoy at the adjacent Boston Bay Beach. Negril is the hub of mobile or casual food vendors and snacks; options range from the whistling peanut cart to those selling roasted breadfruit, and Jamaican patties at Miss Sonia's.
    Photo by Lebawit Lily Girma
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    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 are scattered around every parish on the island, and come in every mesmerizing shade of blue. East in Port Antonio, the Blue Lagoon is a stunning body of water with emerald and aquamarine hues, good for rafting to take in the gorgeous coastline, or for a dip close to shore. Near Ocho Rios, the Irie Blue Hole is a special spot with a waterfall, turquoise pool, and underwater caves. Adventurous kids should plan for a night dip in the bioluminescent Glistening Waters lagoon, where they’ll create blue streaks as they splash around.
    Photo by Lebawit Lily Girma