A Cruiser’s Guide to Montego Bay

Want to maximise your port time in Montego Bay?  Here’s my guide to the popular Jamaican port of call.

About Montego Bay

Montego Bay is a north Jamaican cruise port that is an alternative to Ocho Rios or Falmouth, which are two of the other nearby cruise ports.  Affectionately called MoBay, it is the second largest city in Jamaica by area and fourth biggest by population.

At the cruise terminal

Montego Bay’s cruise terminal is a large empty building and it’s here where you can meet for your day’s excursions.  From this building you can walk outside but just remember you will need to take your photo ID and cruise card in order to re-enter the building.  Outside the building you will find wooden kiosks selling souvenirs (at this point I purchased my obligatory Christmas decoration to add to my collection!).  A word of warning, be careful here, some of our friends came away with additional purchases after the market ladies put bracelets on them before they could say no.

You cannot get taxis inside this area, you need to go outside of the gates.  If you do decide to travel independently, ensure that you choose a government approved and licensed vehicle, which will have red licence plates with two letters and four digits.

For smokers, there is a designated smoking area on the grass, opposite the cruise terminal building.

Excursions

A lot of advice online suggests that you should book excursions for your visit to Montego Bay for your safety.  There are many options to choose from:

  • 4×4 Jeep safari
  • Catamaran trips
  • Zip lining
  • Horseback riding and swim
  • Rafting on the Martha Brae River
  • Rose Hall
  • River tubing
  • Beach trips

Martha Brae River Rafting

Based on my research before the cruise, I pre-booked the rafting on the Martha Brae River.  I discovered by booking this excursion directly with the Jamaica Rafting Company at $60 per person, it was cheaper than the same cruise-led excursion ($70pp), saving $20 in total for myself and Mr S.  What was even better was that we found we were still with the cruise ship excursion (small triumph, fist pump).  To contact the rafting company directly, you can email info@jamaicarafting.com.

The small bus we boarded to Martha Brae comfortably seated 21 passengers and we were introduced to our driver and tour guide who was able to point out landmarks and gave us a flavour of life on Jamaica, including teaching us some common Jamaican phrases such as “Ya man” and “No problems”.  It was this journey that reassured me that booking an excursion had been the right decision.  We drove past many homes without proper roofs, burnt out cars and people loitering on street corners.  These sights were punctuated by luxury, gated, all-inclusive resorts in juxtaposition to the real Jamaica going on outside the high walls of the complexes.

Arriving at the river rafting, we were greeted with a complimentary fruit juice and a life jacket and shown to our raft for the journey.  Each bamboo raft seats two passengers and is owned by its raft captain, who builds and maintains the raft.  These rafts have a lifespan of around four months.  They are the Jamaican equivalent of a Venetian gondola.

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The Martha Brae rafting was so tranquil and relaxing.  The light shone through the bamboo trees, which lined the river and creaked faintly in the breeze as we snaked our way along the river for an hour and a half.

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On the way we passed a few vendors on the river bank selling t-shirts, artwork, carvings, towels and beer.  Once we said “No thank you” they didn’t hassle us any further and wished us a good day.  There was only one vendor we bought from and we had to give him top marks for his sale technique.  This involved him throwing his miniature bamboo raft model into the water next to us.  We picked it up for closer inspection and he shouted “$5!”.  “But how do we pay?” I shouted back, still drifting down the river away from him and with that he waded into the waist-deep water to collect his money.  When we returned to the tour bus it was apparent that almost everyone had bought one of his miniature bamboo rafts!

The rafting was an excellent excursion choice, it certainly lived up to my expectations and I would definitely recommend this for a half day excursion whilst in port.

What else can I do?

On the return journey to the cruise port. the tour stopped at the Shoppes at Rose Hall – a lot of cruise excursions stop here.  There were a lot of souvenir and jewellery shops in a pleasant setting and if you want to grab some souvenirs quickly, this may not be the cheapest but it will save you time – our tour guide gave us 15 minutes to explore!  We opted for window shopping before discovering a guy fresh coconut water, served straight from the coconut, only a straw needed!

Once back at the cruise port there are a number of options available to maximise your time in Jamaica for the afternoon.  Why not try one of the following:

Food: Go for a late lunch at Margharitaville’s rooftop terrace and enjoy beautiful sea views, and remember it’s 5 o’clock somewhere!  Thrill-seekers can take the 120ft water slide from the terrace into the sea.  Margharitaville, Gloucester Ave (Hip Strip), Montego Bay is a 10 minute taxi ride from just outside the cruise terminal.

Top food recommendation: try a Jamaican Patty, which can be purchased from one of the kiosks immediately outside the cruise terminal building.  Delicious snack!

Beaches: Visit one of the stunning beaches near the cruise port such as Doctor’s Cave Beach.  It’s $4 per person by taxi and $6 entry, you can also rent chairs and umbrellas for $6 each.

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Other options

Although we chose the Martha Brae river rafting, our friends decided to visit Rose Hall and go horseback riding, which includes a sea swim on the horses.  Both groups of friends enjoyed their respective excursions so I would not hesitate to go with their recommendations for my next trip to Montego Bay.

Most importantly, make the most of your time in Montego Bay, whatever your plans may be.

 

 

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