As one of the most popular destinations for tourists in Jamaica, there are so many things to do in Montego Bay that it can be overwhelming.
Unfortunately, many tourists stay inside their all-inclusive resorts. And while these hotels in Montego Bay offer lots of activities to keep you occupied between sipping colourful Bob Marley cocktails, it doesn’t compare to getting out and seeing the country.
I had planned to just spend my days touring Jamaica through its food. But my host, the Jamaica Tourism Board, had other plans for me. In between meals they scheduled several activities that I may never have done on my own.
Fortunately they knew I’m a “soft adventurer” which means no ziplining, cliff jumping or basically where I might fear death.
I’ve kept this list short with some of the more interesting things to do that really surprised me and are unique Montego Bay excursions. Yes you can absolutely snorkel, zipline, and do many other adventure related activities in Jamaica. But let’s face it, your hotel can better share all of those options with you.
About Montego Bay
Montego Bay, often called MoBay is the second largest city (next to the economic capital of Kingston) with a population just over 110,000. While it seems like a small city, the population swells in tourist season with over 4.3 million visitors to Jamaica in 2017 alone and that number is expected to climb.
Mid-November through New Years is the best time to visit and you’ll also avoid heavy rain and hurricanes. But weather is great through April when it begins to get too hot and humid.
I visited toward the end of April and midday was pretty hot so if you choose to go later in the year wake up early and take a siesta after lunch to avoid the heat.
The Best Things to Do in Montego Bay
Activities in Montego Bay: Browse the Hip Strip
The Hip Strip is an interesting location as it feels like the souvenir strip that you see in so many cities. Every shop offers a deal and most of the prices are 50% off.
Walking along the sidewalk you will be asked many times to come in and look around. But shop owners aren’t too aggressive and often treat the exchange with a bit of humour. If you’re looking for souvenirs this is a good place to get a great deal.
CHECK OUT: Where to Eat in Montego Bay
Aside from the souvenirs. Locals do visit the Hip Strip. It’s home to a lot of local bars and restaurants and if you walk down past the Pelican there is a free beach you can visit.
It’s also home to the first Starbucks in Jamaica. There was a lot of fear with Starbucks entering the Strip, which is full of independent businesses – aside from Margaritaville and Harley Davidson. But at least they sell local Blue Mountain Jamaican coffee at this location.
However, as much as I appreciate their efforts my preference is to keep it local and support the small, independent businesses.
Doctor’s Cave Beach
Doctor’s Cave beach is located on the Hip Strip. Aside from the souvenirs, bars and restaurants the Hip Strip is also home to hotels, condos and apartment rentals.
Doctor’s Cave beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in Jamaica with the kind of turquoise water and white sands that every instagrammer craves. It’s one of the most beautiful and relaxing things to do in Montego Bay.
It’s also great for children and inexperienced swimmers as it’s sheltered with calm waters.
Cost: $7.50 for adults and $3.75 for children, you can also rent umbrellas, chairs, beach floats and snorkeling gear. If you want a free beach just walk past the Pelican and you’ll find one.
Montego Bay Excursions: Visit Croydon Plantation
If you want to see more than Jamaican beaches or a resort pool this is the place to go. Okay I know I said this post wasn’t about eating in Jamaica but you do actually get to try a lot of food on the Croydon Plantation.
But…you also learn a lot about the history and geography of Jamaica. The plantation was once the birthplace of Samuel Sharpe, a national hero in Jamaica who lead the resistance, and eventually gave his life, against slavery. So it’s one of the best things to do if you want to eat, but also learn a lot about how Jamaica was formed.
To this day it remains a working plantation with 17 types of pineapples, coffee plants and citrus fruit. An easy walk through the plantation you learn about local fruit and are able to sample many along with fresh juice and end with a lunch of traditional Jamaican food and Blue Mouhtain coffee.
Cost: Tours are available Tuesday through Friday. Ticket prices vary depending on where you purchase them but are usually under $65 for round-trip pick-up (it’s about an hour away from Montego Bay) drinks and all food including lunch.
Open Monday to Friday 10:30am-2pm
Get Spooky at the Rose Hall Great House
One of the more quirky things to do in Jamaica is to visit this historic plantation home. Featured in Ghost Hunters International, it’s considered to be one of the most haunted places on earth.
While I’m not usually one to visit haunted homes OR historical homes I really enjoyed this tour. Unlike other historical tours, our guide was able to keep us captivated with the story of the Annie Palmer, the White Witch of Rose Hall, her role in the slave trade and the mysterious murders of three of her husbands.
Which actually wasn’t so mysterious, she was a serial killer, everyone knew it. But people were terrified of her so she got away with it.
Why isn’t this story a movie?
You can also visit the Rose Hall Great House at night on a candlelit tour, which I think would add another level of creepiness that some people may enjoy…not me. I’m too afraid.
Cost: $25 for adults and $10 for children. You can save $2 by booking online.
Rose Hall Great House
Open Monday-Friday 9am-5pm, 6:30pm-9:30pm
Rose Hall Road, Rose Hall, Montego Bay
Visit the Luminous Lagoon at Glistening Waters
Photos don’t really do this attraction justice as it’s one of most unique things to do in Montego Bay.
The Glistening Waters tour takes you through a phosphorescent lagoon that lights up at night when thousands of bioluminescent microorganisms are disturbed.
A trail of bright blue florescent light trails the boat and envelopes those brave enough to swim at night – no need to be afraid as the water is no more than 8 feet deep.
There are few places in the world where this exists. Yet Jamaica is the brightest and most reliable place to experience this.
Cost: $25 per person includes complimentary rum punch from the bar. Guides will also take photos for you (it’s really hard for the average person to capture a good photo), which you can review and purchase afterwards. For groups of 4 or more guests you can book free transportation from your hotel in Montego Bay.
Rock, Falmouth, Jamaica
Bamboo Rafting the Martha Brae River
Normally the idea of a rafting tour would cause night terrors. I don’t think it’s enjoyable to plummet down a river, clinging to a raft hoping you won’t fall out, hit your head and drown.
Fortunately this isn’t that type of tour.
The Martha Brae river is one of the largest in Jamaica. I’d call it more of a lazy river surrounded by a lush forest. These are the best kinds of things to do in Montego Bay. I didn’t need any special kind of clothing. And they have little seats so you don’t get wet, in fact I went in a dress!
It’s just a bit short of a 5 kilometre (3 mile) trip down the river. It takes 45 minutes to an hour – depending on how fast the river is running that day. The guides are experienced and engaging often stopping to show you local plants or green almonds. Our raft captain had been doing this for 19 years and swore no one had ever fallen in, although you can also jump in and swim if you like.
The rafts themselves are fascinating, made with local bamboo they can take a captain up to two days to replace if he doesn’t have help.
It’s also worth stopping by ‘Miss Martha’s Herb Garden,’ which explains local herbs and their medicinal benefits – yes there is marijuana but some of the other herbs are a bit more interesting.
Cost: $65 per raft, which seats two people. Note, as this is close to Glistening Waters it is possible to get a combination tour.
Rafting on the Martha Brae
Open Daily 9am-5pm
Rafters Village, Martha Brae, Falmouth
Where I Stayed
I spent four nights at the Hotel RIU Palace Jamaica. I have not stayed at many all-inclusive resorts so I’m not qualified to comment on its quality compared to others. It seemed quite standard for an all-inclusive with friendly staff, daily activities and lots of cocktail options.
However, the absolute best reason to visit is the traditional Jamaican food options at the buffet. Apparently, this hotel group is a favourite for Jamaicans. So not only does there need to be lots of it, it needs to be good.
Aside from the Jamaican food I found lots of varied food over five days. I was able to start the day off right with green juice and healthy breakfasts.
How to Get Around and See the Best Things in Montego Bay and Beyond
While I’m sure it’s easy enough to rent a car in Jamaica I found a lot of the advice online for things to do in Montego Bay and other parts of Jamaica to be very touristy.
Because there are so many tour companies, restaurants and other businesses that rely on the cruise ship passenger business a lot of the posts that pop up for things to do in Montego Bay aren’t my style of travel at all.
I think it’s very easy to get caught in a tourist trap here. I saw this at the cruise terminal in Falmouth where they create an entire little village for passengers to shop in. so they don’t actually have to leave and walk 10 feet into downtown Falmouth.
This is fine for some but not me.
I really like to try to understand where locals go and you need local help for that. Willie, our driver with Paradise Travels in Jamaica totally understood the style of travel I liked and where I’d want to eat. He understands that some people want to feel comfortable in familiar Margaritaville and others prefer no frill options along the highway.
My next trip to Jamaica I’d want to do a food trip with him because he knows all the great places.
Disclosure: This post about things to do in Montego Bay is part of a paid series in partnership with the Jamaican Tourism Board. They flew me into the country to discover what I love most – food. However, they were great to work with as they did not dictate what I needed to write. They only asked me to share what I thought would be valuable and interesting to readers.