A far cry from its days as an humble fishing village, the town of Ocho Rios is now one of Jamaica's tourism centers. Despite its name, Ocho Rios does not have eight rivers, but it is home to posh resorts, pristine beaches and surrounding jungle terrain. Before visiting, you should become familiar with some local customs, laws and security concerns to have a safe, healthy stay.
By air, most travelers get to Ocho Rios by flying to Montego Bay's Donald Sangster Airport, which is served by Air Jamaica and several international carriers. From there, you can book a shuttle bus or, if you want to pay more for privacy, a taxi for the trip to Montego Bay, which takes 90 minutes to two hours. Your resort in Ocho Rios might arrange transfers from Montego Bay, so ask if you do not see information on the hotel website.
Ocho Rios itself has an airport, Ian Fleming International Airport, but it is small and serves mainly domestic flights and chartered flights. Only small planes can access the Ocho Rios airport, and it caters more to high-end tourists. Ocho Rios also is one of Jamaica's major ports of call for cruises, which keeps it busy with transient guests.
U.S. citizens and Canadian travelers do not need visas to visit Jamaica, so a passport is sufficient to visit Ocho Rios.
Packing for Ocho Rios Beaches and Beyond
For travel to Ocho Rios, you might assume you won't need much more than beachwear. However, while the beaches are among the area's prime draws, you will need a bit more for your wardrobe.
Many Ocho Rios restaurants and resorts have strict dress codes, especially at night. You don't need to bring a suit and a tie or cocktail dress, but you should at least bring a few collared shirts, long pants and closed-toed shoes so you can eat without causing a stir. You also should invest in a pair of water shoes. These will be helpful when climbing and exploring the waterfalls near Ocho Rios, such as Blue Hole and Dunn's River Falls, which are among Ocho Rios' top attractions.
Jamaica's crime rate often makes headlines, thought the country's tourism officials say the overall crime rate does not reflect a proportional level of crime against tourists. Ocho Rios is one of the relatively safer parts of Jamaica. While the U.S. State Department maintains a Level 2 warning against Jamaica as a whole, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution, its severest warnings are for travelers to Montego Bay and the capital city, Kingston.
Even so, take extra care to avoid crime when traveling to Ocho Rios. Don't walk or drive at night, stay off public buses, and avoid secluded areas or traveling alone. Don't have a false sense of security even when within "safe" areas in gated resorts, as there have been reports of sexual assaults of guests while on hotel properties in Ocho Rios.
Before traveling to Ocho Rios, enroll in the State Department's Smart Travel Enrollment Program via the State Department's website. By enrolling, you receive alerts on safety concerns specific to Jamaica and can be more easily found by government officials or friends and family during an emergency.
Tap water within resorts in Ocho Rios is generally safe to drink, and in fact, travelers should be more concerned with staying hydrated in the hot Caribbean sun. Similarly, travelers should regularly apply sunscreen when outdoors. Food also is safe to eat within resorts. When traveling off resort properties, avoid uncooked fruits or vegetables and dairy products. Wear insect repellent when near water to prevent bites by midges, tiny insects also known as "no see ums." The bites are not dangerous but can be irritatingly itchy.
If you need medical attention while in Ocho Rios, ask management at your hotel to recommend a good local doctor. You might be asked to pay for treatment upfront even if you have insurance.
As much as pop culture stereotypes link Jamaica and marijuana use, buying marijuana – call ganja, locally – still remains largely illegal in most cases in Jamaica. Ocho Rios, however, provides one exception.
Jamaica legalized the medical use of marijuana in 2015, and the law allows recommendations signed by doctors outside of Jamaica to carry weight within Jamaica. The nation's first medical marijuana complex, Kaya Farms, later opened a few miles to the west of Ocho Rios. There, visitors can legally buy marijuana products with their doctor's permission and even partake in "smoking rooms" onsite. The complex also is not far from Bob Marley's resting place, if you want to stop by to pay tribute.
Outside of that, keep in mind that possession of marijuana without a doctor's permission remains illegal, even though the penalties are mild. Penalties for harder drugs and trafficking are more severe, so certainly do not bring your own marijuana into the country.