Travel to the middle of Jamaica’s northern coast and you’ll find Ochos Rios, the island’s stunning “adventure capital.” The town is about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from both Montego Bay and Kingston and just a 10-minute drive from Ian Fleming International Airport—named after the creator of the James Bond series, who fell in love with the area and penned his famous books here. Today, Ocho Rios is one of Jamaica’s most popular tourist destinations, drawing visitors from all over the world to experience its many natural wonders (including Dunn’s River and Island Gully Falls), beautiful beaches, award-winning resorts and unparalleled local cuisine. This past summer, I was invited to spend a few days exploring the mountainous area with Sandal’s Dunn River Resort and the Jamaica Tourist Board, so I got to discover what makes this region so special.


From the moment I arrived at the new Sandals Dunn’s River Resort (which opened in May) and was warmly greeted by the staff, I knew my every need would be taken care of during my stay. Located just outside Ocho Rios, this luxurious adults-only all-inclusive is a little slice of paradise. The resort offers several different room types to cater to all kinds of budgets, and I stayed in one of the Skypool Suites, which boast a private balcony pool overlooking the beach, butler service, a stocked bar and all the amenities you could ask for during a worry-free vacay.

As lovely as all the suite features are, it’s the beach—with its soft white sand and clear turquoise waters—that’s the true showstopper. If the open sea is not for you, head to one of the resort’s five spacious pools to cool off as the afternoon heat sets in. And once you’ve worked up an appetite, there’s no shortage of options for eating and drinking thanks to the 12 on-site restaurants, which are open throughout the day and night, plus a number of bars where you can grab a thirst-quenching drink. For adventurous types who want to paddle, snorkel, sail or water-ski their way along the coastline, there are many friendly qualified staff members who can offer expertise. And if a spa day is more your speed, the resort’s chic Red Lane Spa will melt any tension away with its exclusive massage therapies, facials and specialty treatments designed to scrub, smooth and tighten.


Though lounging around a resort is the perfect way to unwind, there is so much more to explore beyond the property. Get your adrenalin pumping at the absolutely gorgeous—and a bit intimidating—Island Gully Falls, a group of bright-blue mineral pools, streams and rushing waterfalls that are a 20-minute drive up into the mountains. Clad in water shoes and a life jacket, I was led by a skilful guide along the lush cliffs as we jumped in and across the water pools. The whole experience—including one very high jump and swinging into the river on a Tarzan rope—was exhilarating.


Although the fresh mountain water makes for the ideal morning pick-me-up, I could not leave Jamaica without a taste of its famous Blue Mountain coffee. Due to the peaks’ high altitude, the mountainside-grown beans are denser than usual, producing a richer coffee. We made our way to Island Village, a small shopping complex with specialty boutiques in the heart of Ocho Rios, where the lovely staff at Jablum prepared a fresh cup of this smooth and velvety brew. After my caffeine hit, I popped into the Appleton Rum tasting room next door and sampled three of the local brand’s offerings, including the Appleton Estate Signature and a more aged rum, the 12-year-old Rare Casks, which is ideal for sipping. Last but certainly not least was Pure Chocolate Jamaica, where the owners of the award-winning farm-to-bar company let me sample some of their best treats (my personal faves were a divine dark chocolate with cinnamon and the sweet and spicy dark chocolate with jerk seasoning), which come in packages designed by local artists.

Summerhouse Restaurant


No trip to Jamaica is complete without some indulgence in the country’s most iconic dishes. Start at Scotchies Jerk, a two-minute drive from the Sandals resort. This very relaxed, convivial outdoor restaurant offers shade from the sun with its scattered tables under thatched-roof huts. “Jerk” refers to a style of cooking in which the main ingredient—typically chicken, pork or goat—is coated in seasoning that includes allspice and Scotch bonnet peppers and then slow-cooked on a grill over green pimento wood. There are also the essential sides: festival (a sweet fried dough), roast breadfruit (a starch-rich fruit that’s like a cross between bread and potatoes) and rice and peas. I’m a huge fan of jerk, and there is no comparison to having it here, where the entire meal, washed down with an ice-cold Red Stripe beer, was smoky, spicy and out of this world.

Another Jamaican favourite is the patty, a baked half-moon suet-dough pie filled with seasoned ground meat. It’s a perfect hand-held snack to eat on the go, and there are several famous Jamaican brands, including Juici, Mother’s and Tastee. Everyone seems to have their favourite, but I opted for Tastee’s beef and jerk-chicken versions. Packed with flavour and the perfect amount of spicy filling and encased in a flaky and soft but ever-so-crisp pastry, these patties were perfection.



One of Jamaica’s most popular restaurants, Miss T’s Kitchen, is located in the centre of Ocho Rios, but I met the spot’s award-winning chef and owner, Anna-Kay Tomlinson, at the picturesque Laughing Waters. In this stunning beach setting, where waterfalls flow into the ocean, Tomlinson whipped up an incredible outdoor meal. Her love of Jamaican ingredients, food and culture shone through with every bite, whether it was a delicately spiced fish with citrus and sliced Scotch bonnets or her finessed jerk-chicken salad, sumptuous oxtail and—not to be overlooked—the best rice and peas I’ve ever tasted. A force in the Jamaican culinary scene, Tomlinson is a natural talent and a true ambassador for women entrepreneurs and local cuisine.

Harmony Hall, a 15-minute drive from Ocho Rios, is where you’ll find the Rousseau sisters, Michelle and Suzanne. This powerful duo have combined their love of food, fashion, art and culture under one roof—a colonial-style heritage building surrounded by a pristine landscaped garden. Venture upstairs and you’ll find their boutique, Island Magnolia, for which they’ve curated some of the most exquisite Caribbean- and Latin American-sourced clothing, accessories and home decor, all with a focus on quality and slow fashion. On the main floor is Summerhouse, a restaurant that offers contemporary reinterpretations of Caribbean classics with fresh seasonal and local ingredients. Seated in the space’s covered patio, I enjoyed a meal that included curried-ackee wontons, kale salad with quinoa, local mango and feta, East Indian chicken skewers with green and red curries and lobster frites. The sisters are well known in Jamaica, both for their previous retail, hospitality and lifestyle establishments and for their love of food and cooking—they have two internationally bestselling cookbooks and even a television show. Their unique perspective on Jamaican life, culture and hospitality celebrates the diversity and artistry of their country.

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