Although Dunn's River Falls may be one of the most beautiful spots in Jamaica, it suffers from over tourism. Many cruise passengers visit Dunn's on day trips from both Ocho Rios and Montego Bay, it may very well be the #1 day trip from the resorts so I imagine there is always a crowd.
We visited Dunn's on our first trip to Jamaica in 2002 on an excursion with a mini bus full of people. We engaged in the obligatory hand holding up the falls, in our group was a woman who was not physically able to climb the falls (she got out at the first place she could), a man who climbed the falls in his blue jeans (imagine what they weighed at the end) and several people that had ill fitting shoes that were constantly floating back down the falls.
On our recent trip to Jamaica (Feb 2005), Dunn's River Falls was included with our resort package so we decided to go again. This time we were there on a non cruise ship day so we were the only group but we still had the obligatory hand holding which actually makes it much more difficult to climb, a lady who fell twice and much waiting for photo ops as there were 30-40 in our group.
Unique Suggestions: If you really want to see the falls, try and hire a private guide that should be able to get you to the falls on a day when there are no ships in port and perhaps even get you there before the herds arrive or go on your own if you are driving. If you go in a smaller group, the climb up the Falls is more enjoyable as you don't have as large of a human chain or have to wait for everyone to get their picture taken.
Fun Alternatives: There are several other nice falls to visit, see my tips for YS Falls and Mayfield Falls.
The ride from Kingston to "Ochi" through Fern Gully is well worth it, but the Ocho Rios Falls is kinda sketchy. It's a rock-laden waterfall in the woods that you can climb up and around. Gets very touristy in summer, filled with spring breakers also, and you can easily slip and fall on the rocks and you are far far away from any medical help. On that side of the island, however White River Reggae Bash is a major highlight. The exact location can be found on a web search.
These falls are one of the best known places in Jamaica (for good reason, they're beautiful)but because of that they are pretty much ALWAYS crowded. If you're seeing it, be prepared for the never ending streams of tourists.
Unique Suggestions: GO EARLY!
Unless you're into haggling the shopping can be tiring. Ubiquitous craft items include tropical clothing, wood carvings and straw baskets. I didn't find the vendors as troublesome as I had read. A smile and a friendly 'no thanks' was enough to keep them at bay. If you keep walking out of their territory they'll quickly leave you alone.
For world-class local products you can't go wrong with Blue Mountain Coffee and Sangster's Rum. Try the Cream Rum -- it's superb. For your reference the coffee was $29/pound at our hotel but we found it for $14/pound in town. For the Cream Rum, we paid $11 per 700ml bottle and $2.25 per 200ml bottle in Ocho Rios at a place called Gem Palace. At the airport it was $12 for the 700ml bottle and $2 for the 200ml bottle so next time I'd probably just wait and buy the alcohol at the airport. The coffee, however, was more expensive at the airport. By the way it was only later than I realized the smaller bottles of rum were actualy cheaper than the large ones. I could have got 4 small bottles (800ml) for $8!
*Prices are in Jamaican dollars
Fun Alternatives: Don't shop. ;)
As you get on the shuttle from MoBay enroute to Ocho Rios, the driver will stop at a place on the side of the road where there are restrooms, food, and drink. What he doesn't tell you is that there are a few shops there. When the bus stops, the locals gather around the door of the bus just waiting for you to get off. As you exit the bus, one of them will approach you and say, "Welcome to Jamaica! We have some pipes over here if you are interested in taking a look. Come! I will show you." (This happened to me, by the way). Just politely say, no thank you and walk off. They will be persistent, but DO NOT give in. Remember, these "pipes" are illegal in the US! There are other things there besides pipes, so use your discretion if you want to go and look. Try not to go alone.
Unique Suggestions: Like I said before, if you are not interested, just say "no thank you." and walk away. This goes not only for this particular place, but for ALL shops! You will find the locals to be very persistent to get their hands on American Money (which they will only take, by the way. You can pay by Jamaican Dollars at regular stores). I had a guy at Dunns River Falls try to reach in my pocket to get money out. Be sure you keep your money, wallet, and most of all, your passport in a safe non-accessible place.
Fun Alternatives: Just sit down at a table, get a bottled water and a pack of crackers. Hang out until it is time for the bus to leave.
You are not really encouraged to go out and explore on your own, so there are organised excursions for everything, including shopping...this trip visits about 3 areas, one of them is the craft market but to be honest...it's hard to tell the difference. Everyone is selling t-shirts, simple beaded jewellery, woodwork and offering to braid your hair, and are not always pleasant about you saying 'no thanks'.
Unique Suggestions: Visit the duty free shops, they're air conditioned and the staff are not too pushy or rude and do not physically grab you to look at their stock (even thought it's exactly the same as everyone elses and there's only so many t-shirts and wooden giraffes you can feign interest in!)
Fun Alternatives: Actually, the airport shops are really good (but a little expensive!) and worth the extra money as the staff are not dragging you into their pitch to have a look.
Jamaicans are all about making money - but who isn't? Make deals everywhere you go. If you don't think they gave you a good offer on ANYTHING, then tell them that you will go next door and see what they will give you, and watch them come WAY down on the price. Usually, if you name your price, they will be happy with it. Sometimes they throw in free items just for shopping with them.
Now ladies...especially those with long hair, as I have long hair. You will constantly be yelled at "Gurl...let me braid your hair" - I went from 30 dollars all the way down to 5 dollars for someone to braid half of my hair. But still tipped the lady 20 dollars, only because she was so nice.
My advice is to bargain, bargain, bargain - no matter what you buy or where you go!!!
Be ware of the natives asking you to purchase "ganja" - if you don't know what it is...just know that it's ILEGAL in the United States...and just walk away from them.
Also...Beware of Taxi drivers...they will literally rip you to shreds with their prices...but like I said, bargain!!!!
Fun Alternatives: Interact with the locals, try to speak their language - they will be happy to help you out in that area...not to mention those that you get to know will tell you where to buy things and where to watch out.
The local craft markets.
All the booths carry almost the exact same crafts and goods.
Since this is regulated by the government there are only so many things the vendors can sell.
Unique Suggestions: be ready to be hassled to "have a look in here miss" after you just saw the exact same stuff in the last booth.
i wouldnt suggest going unless you know that you really want to buy something there
Fun Alternatives: walk down the beach in negril... you will see similar goods but alot more handmade crafts and good people.
If you are with a tour guide, especially at Dunns River Falls, DO NOT go the way he tells you...it is a trap to send you back into a section of shops with very questionable people. If you want to get a couple of souveniers, it's OK to go, but if you don't feel safe or like haggling, do not go. Please, DO NOT GO ALONE! It's not as safe as you may think, and they will take advantage of you any way they can.
Unique Suggestions: Stick to your guns..if you think it is worth $3, don't give in. Tell them it's $3 or you walk.
Fun Alternatives: NEVER go alone!
Don't be fooled - the staff is rude, the boat is old and falling apart - and the trip to the falls is at best "inconvenient"
Unique Suggestions: Don't go on this tour - take another route to the falls
Fun Alternatives: Take the cool-runnings boat or another party boat, or just take a cab
We thought we were going to be able to walk around where the locals shop but unforutnately they took us right to the tourist trap and we were bombarded with people asking us to buy stuff. It was stressful and we couldn't wait to leave!
Unique Suggestions: Take a limited amount of money. Learn how to say no and don't be pressured into buying something you don't need!
Fun Alternatives: Go somewhere and people watch. Bring water so you don't get dehydrated!
Dunn's River Falls and craft market is a "must-see" stop on every cruise and package tour. The Falls are definitely worth a visit, but be prepared to be harassed (and ripped off) by aggressive vendors in the craft market.
Fun Alternatives: Y/S Falls near Black River (southwest coast) is much more tranquil and less touristy. If you do buy crafts in Jamaica, buy them anywhere BUT Dunn's River.
The snorkel part is 5 min from where they moor the boat. coral is dead.
Dunns river is not that interesting. dolphincove is poorly run and laid out strangely.
Tour bus guide will try to take you shoppinglate in the day (6PM) even tho the hotel says its a non shopping tour
Fun Alternatives: stay at your all inclusive
The market we stopped by seemed very colorful and fun when we first saw it. Once we got in and started looking around, the vendors were VERY pushy, even going as far as offering illegal substances for sale! If you didn't buy their "stuff" whether legal or illegal....they would get mad and act very ugly. Scary!
Unique Suggestions: Make sure you don't go alone, and DON'T buy the illegal stuff!
Fun Alternatives: I think if you want to do some shopping here, go somewhere reputable....maybe the gift shop at Margaritaville or something similar.
Just as every 'perfect' place has a con hiding somewhere, so does Jamaica. Wide spread poverty on this island has driven folks to some amazing lengths. To all the salesmen with small gift shops on surf boards, we salute you. This takes balance, skill, I have never seen anything like it.
Unique Suggestions: But, hey, a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do, so at least be polite. They will not care you are on vacation, that you paid a lot of money for a slice of peace and quiet. They are at home, and have kids who gotta eat tonight. Give the locals some cash, some respect, and they will take good care of you too. They really do like tourist there, they are the meat and potatoes of this island.
Fun Alternatives: There is no way around the sales pitches, stay behind resort walls and miss the essence of the island if you are a chicken. (Speaking of chicken, do not leave this island without eating some jerk chicken)!!!
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