Family-Friendly Jamaica

Jamaica is one of the most family-friendly destinations in the Caribbean, though many people don’t realize it. From water parks to waterfalls, the island has mastered the art of family-friendly fun. Jamaican resorts play their part too, offering plenty of on-site entertainment for children and older members of the family, as well as services such as babysitting.

Black River, Jamaica
If you’ve ever longed for a ride down a river to spot crocodiles—and who among us hasn’t? [editor’s note: me!]—you can do just that on the Black River in southern Jamaica. The river cruises are a popular tourist attraction, but they never feel overrun. Enjoy an hour-long cruise past tall mangroves and ferns, spotting tropical birds and stopping when the guides greet crocodiles. The enormous reptiles swim right up and even open their jaws while passengers cringe and wonder if the guide’s hand is about to disappear. Don’t miss this fun chance to see some of Jamaica’s wildest interior.
Whithorn, Jamaica
Aqua Nature Park, a well-maintained and verdant retreat 40 miles east of Negril, offers visitors a chance to take a dip and cool off in the Venture River. The river, which flows through a swimming hole on the property, has small, colorful fish and a cascade. Owner Steven delights in conducting walking tours of his family’s property, and can teach you quite a bit about the Jamaican plants and fruits he grows. (Don’t miss seeing the enormous cotton tree.) A casual restaurant and bar, with some reggae playing in the background, rounds this experience out into a lovely, low-key afternoon escape for couples, families, or anyone looking for a taste of real Jamaica.
Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Go tubing on the White River with Ocho Rios Jamaica Tours and cool off in one of Jamaica’s most picturesque bodies of water. The jade colors of White River, dotted with fishing boats along its banks, rocks, and leafy banks, make it an ideal choice for shutterbugs and nature lovers. Combine your tube float with a stop at Irie Blue Hole, for a fun leap into the river-fed sinkhole.
Belmont Road, Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Jamaica has mastered the art of family entertainment, particularly with its water parks. One of the most popular attractions with kids, away from the beach, is Dolphin Cove. Set across five acres, facing a lagoon, the Ocho Rios location is beautiful and allows kids to have a myriad of fun encounters and swims with dolphins, stingrays, and nurse sharks. There are also glass-bottom kayaks, jungle trails, and a beach, among other activities.
Negril’s Kool Runnings Water Park is a nice addition to a town where the beach is otherwise the main attraction. Ten varied theme slides of up to 40 feet in height—try the “Bolt lightning”—keep everyone having fun in the water. There’s even a lazy river, ideal for the smaller kids, and three restaurants. It’s a fun place for everyone. Check their website and social media pages for group specials.
Jamaica’s interior beauty includes several botanical gardens. Shaw Park, located in Ocho Rios’ surrounding hillside at up to 800 feet above sea level, is a great stop for families, with a large waterfall cascading through, gorgeous flower gardens and plenty of picnic space. When you want to get away from the heat and chaos of downtown Ocho Rios, head up to the hills and relax here. It’s a US$10 entrance fee and the park is open during regular business hours.
Gloucester Avenue
A Google search of beaches in Montego Bay will undoubtedly turn up Jamaica‘s most well-known beach: the often-crowded, white sand Doctor’s Cave Beach Club ($6 pp. entry fee). Although a small stretch, it is indeed hard to resist, with its multicolor umbrellas, clean water, and passing jumbo jets on their way to or from the nearby airport. Come here to mix and mingle or sit back and enjoy some people watching.
Rafting on the Martha Brae River—a float down a three-mile segment of the river on a 30-foot bamboo raft—provides a pleasant hour or so in one of Jamaica’s gorgeous ecosystems. Passengers can slip into the water and swim beside the raft, or look for birds in the lush trees along the river’s banks, or just sit back and be carried along. The staging area is 20 miles away from Montego Bay.
Mansfield Way
The north coast is home to a handful of beaches that are accessible for a fee and attract cruise ship day-trippers. One of these is the laidback Reggae Beach (US$6 pp.)–a spacious blond stretch that’s worth the short taxi ride. There are restroom facilities, along with a lively bar and grill. While it’s popular, it doesn’t feel cramped and makes for a fun day at the beach. (Image courtesy of Dub Dem Sound System)
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