Ocho Rios and Montego Bay are both popular holiday destinations for a Jamaican vacation, a perfect Caribbean island for it, and lots of people look for information about Ocho Rios vs Montego Bay as a holiday destination when it is time to choose!
I have traveled around in Jamaica on my own for over a month and visited all the most popular places, including Ocho Rios and Montego Bay. Here is my best advice on the matter!
Both of them are situated along the northern shores of Jamaica facing the Atlantic Ocean and not the Caribbean tucked away down south, but that is about it when it comes to similarities. Read on to find out why!
My top recommendation for tours in the northern shores is that you one way or the other go to Dunns River Falls!
You can travel there both from Ocho Rios and Montego Bay. Climb the beautiful pools and terraces all the way from the beach to the top! It is a stunning climb!
Ocho Rios vs Montego Bay
Let us start with distances; the distance from Ocho Rios to Montego Bay, and vice versa, is around 100 km (62 miles), and it takes around two hours to drive along the Jamaican A1 highway’ish road along the northern shores.
The road is not really a highway, more like a countryside road along the sea. It is safe to drive.
You need to take into account that you will be driving on the left side of the road (like in the UK and Australia) if you are not used to that!
Your key takeaway from the information about distance is that whichever destination you choose, activities and fun things in the other destination are only a couple of hours, possibly a day trip, away!
In both Ocho Rios and Montego Bay, you will find evening entertainment, live music, bars, and restaurants.
Both destinations also have great resorts with pampering amenities like swim-up bars, pristine beaches with turquoise waters, scuba diving, and snorkeling.
And almost every destination in Jamaica has a variety of tourist attractions to offer, plenty of activities, and a “hip strip”, often with music, a bar & restaurant, and even a water park!
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Map of Jamaicas North Coast
As you see, the distances between Jamaica’s most iconic attractions are not very long!
Cruise Ship Village Ocho Rios
Ocho Rios is a small town with almost a villagy feel situated almost straight north of Kingston town, in a little bay, around three hours to drive by bus, less with a car or taxi.
What is special about Ocho Rios is not really the town, but that it has a large cruise port and that it is home to some spectacular nature experiences around the actual town area.
If you either dock in Ocho Rios with a cruise ship or choose to stay here for your holiday, you will be close to the Blue Hole and the iconic Dunn’s River Falls, as well as Mystic Mountain.
Tours In Ocho Rios
You will find that Ocho Rios is a great starting point for a lot of tours along the northern coast, including a variety of water sports and water activities, and jungle explorations a short drive away!
Starting with the latter experience, climbing the Dunns River Falls, you start from the beach and climb the levels and terraces of the waterfall step by step all the way to the top.
A wonderfully beautiful experience, although expect that you will not be alone climbing the waters!
You can visit the Dunns River Falls as a one-off tour, or you can do it as part of a catamaran day trip, or a multi-activity tour around Ocho Rios; this tour is often done as a combination of Dunns River Falls and The Blue Hole which has lots of top scores (I did that one, great fun, and value).
The Blue Hole is also a famous pond in the river where you get to jump from cliffs and throw yourself off with ropes and into the river below!
Both are fun, although a bit touristy experiences (because things are really regulated in Jamaica), as you do everything in a kind of a theme park, with guides all around.
Still, an organized tour is a great option for any solo travelers out there, like myself; the adrenaline really got the conversation going with other travelers in the small group tour!
Just a mile outside the town center is also the chair lift taking you up to Mystic Mountain! I did go there, and it probably is the best place for exceptional views of Ocho Rios, but it is also beyond touristy, so be prepared.
The chair lift ride up is really quiet and beautiful, but once up there, you enter the tourist machine.
The activities you can do are a pool slide, a bobsled, a zipline, a restaurant, spider web climbing, and lots of tourist shops.
If you choose to go here, I would suggest you do it as part of an organized multi-activity tour that takes you to several attractions in one day, where you have various options included, to make the most of your time and money.
You can go here on your own too (like I did), but it is not going to save you anything, rather the opposite – and you will be annoyed that every detail is “extra”.
Places To Eat Ocho Rios
The town center really is very small, but there are some great dining options, like charming Miss T’s Kitchen (I loved it there)!
Other options are Evitas (super reviews but CLOSED the Monday I went!), and Margaritaville Ocho Rios (high party vibe and nice food, too).
Where To Stay In Ocho Rios?
You will also find super nice hotel rooms holiday homes in Ocho Rios (some in the hills with great views), and a few all-inclusive resorts as well, sitting steps from the sandy city beach.
I stayed up in Columbus Heights in a super elegant apartment with a huge terrace with the magic views you can see below!
There are also a variety of apartment hotels, typical resort hotels, as holiday homes along the city beach in Ocho Rios with easy access to the sands.
Ocho Rios City Beach
The city beach in Ocho Rios is a gated and guarded beach where you need to pay a fee to get in, and that closes in the evening, like a lot of things all over Jamaica.
As the crime rate in Jamaica is among the highest in the region, you will experience that there are rarely things like beautiful beaches accessible 24/7.
The best beaches actually have opening and closing hours (apart from the 7 Mile Beach in Negril!).
Also, FYI, all along the coastline between Ocho Rios and Montego Bay are scattered dozens of 5-star holiday resorts!
So you don’t really need to stay in either-or, but you can choose to be pampered in between!
City Vibes In Montego Bay
Around two hours to the west of Ocho Rios is Montego Bay, a city stretching out along the Jamaica Atlantic shoreline like a long city snake!
In Montego Bay, which is actually a city, there are lots of shopping and dining options; there is the open public beach park called Harmony, as well as gated private beach clubs.
In the beach clubs, you pay to get in (or you are a member) along the downtown city beach (which is actually quite stunning).
So if you like to surround yourself with the city ambiance (like myself), Montego Bay is a great place to explore both in the daytime and at night.
Also, FYI, there is a cruise port in Montego Bay as well (so if that is your pleasure, you can visit via the blue waves) – but as the city is bigger, the port is not so dominant.
Although it is a bit longer distance, you can also reach both the Dunns River Falls and Blue Hole from Montego Bay. Dunns River Falls is a major tourist destination in Jamaica.
It starts from the white sandy beaches (you can combine a visit here with a boat trip), from where you climb the beautiful waterfalls and terraces for a few hundred yards and some altitude meters!
Like I said, it really is only about two hours away! This tour also gets almost exclusively 5-star ratings, so it should be a safe bet!
I did this top-rated top-rated combo tour from Montego Bay, and I really enjoyed it!
Although I skipped the ATV part (my own choice), I LOVED horseback riding or, more like, horseback swimming from the beach!
I also loved the zip lining, and for anyone slightly worried about height and speed, there is nothing to worry about!
It is not that high, the security is first-class and a priority, and the guides are fun and super-skilled. YOLO, right?
Places To Eat Montego Bay
And like all Jamaican places with some level of self-respect, there is a Margaritaville Bar & Restaurant here as well.
Personally, I prefer the somewhat calmer ambiance, at least for a meal that is going to last a while and for a decent conversation.
Some of the beach clubs and hotels downtown are great for that zen ambiance, stunning views, and a more elegant vibe!
Places To Stay Montego Bay
In the high-end and adults-only segment, the Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall has tons of excellent reviews, an all-inclusive heaven for those who like to live well at the end of the day!
In the budget segment, but still with a gorgeous pool, wonderful views of the cruise port, and great reviews (and breakfast!) is the Polkerris Bed & Breakfast.
Wrap-Up Ocho Rios vs Montego Bay
The main difference between Ocho Rios and Montego Bay is that Montego Bay is actually a city, with a city vibe!
Meanwhile, Ocho Rios is more of a sleepy village, where not a lot is going on, neither in the daytime nor the evening; it is all very quiet.
The beach in Ocho Rios is closed off with security, and there is not a lot going on there either – unless you are staying in one of the hotels, you can not go find a beach bar by the beach, so you need to bring everything.
In Montego Bay, the city beach park is open through the day free of charge, and there are shops and cafes things going on, but the park still closes in the evening.
You can also choose to go for the day to a private beach club beach where you pay a fee to be, and where there is service and towels included and a bit of pampering!
You can reach the most famous places and activities from both places, so it comes down to whether you like the city or the village vibe!
Or simply the resort life, in which case there is a myriad to choose from in between!
FAQs Northern Shores Jamaica!
How Far Is Ocho Rios From Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay
Ocho Rios is around 100 km (62 miles) from Montego Bay Airport. However, the Ian Fleming International Airport is closer to Ocho Rios, only about ten miles to the west of the town. You can book airport transfers from either one
Ocho Rios vs Negril
The short answer is that Ocho Rios is a village by a bay with a cruise port, always one or two cruise ships docking here, and there are nice adventures close by.
Negril is a long village by the 7-mile beach (no city vibe here either), BUT Negril has the extra perk of the West End!
The West End is the famous part where you find steep high gorgeous cliffs that you can jump off, or just enjoy from a table with a mojito or lunch or something. I love the West End!
How To Travel From Kingston To Ocho Rios
Traveling from Kingston to Ocho Rios in 2023 is very easy; you can rent a car, take the bus (super cheap, too), book a private transfer, or join a tour! Travel time from Kingston to Ocho Rios with a rental car is around one hour.
Read all about how to do that journey in this article!
Montego Bay vs Negril
Negril is a village, while Montego Bay is a city!
Both places have rather a long beach, but the 7-Mile beach in Negril is on level STUNNING, while the beach in Montego Bay is on level nice – in my humble opinion.
Throw in the factor of the amazing West End cliffs in Negril, and say this is a competition, I will go for Negril every time.
Is It Safe To Drive From Montego Bay To Ocho Rios
Yes, it is safe to drive from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios; the traffic is not very heavy nor are there super high-speed areas.
However, remember the thing about driving on the left side of the road!
Ocho Rios To Negril
The distance from Ocho Rios to Negril, Jamaica is around 177 km, or 110 miles, probably just under 3 hours to drive.
Beaches Negril vs Beaches Ocho Rios
Well, the beach in Negril is ENDLESS, while the beach in Ocho Rios is not very long, very guarded, and a bit boring in comparison.
The 7-mile beach in Negril is STUNNING, white, and sandy, with lots of activities, restaurants, and bars, and hotels all along the sands.
Now, I know that I do not represent a statistically representative number, but the winner here (in fact, for the whole of Jamaica) – is Negril and the 7-mile beach.
And get a massage wherever you want, too, if that’s your thing!
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