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Climbing Dunn’s River Falls in Ocho Rios Jamaica

Climbing Dunn’s River Falls in Ocho Rios Jamaica

On a Panama Canal cruise, we made an unscheduled stop in Jamaica. On this unexpected port day, we climbed Dunn’s River Falls in Ocho Rios, followed by a visit to the Bamboo Beach Club.

If you’re considering taking a shore excursion to Dunn’s River, Bamboo Beach Club, or the combo tour, this is my honest opinion of both experiences – the good, the not-so-great, and what made me very grumpy!

An unexpected change of plans

Our first port of call on our Panama Canal cruise was supposed to be at Princess Cays, Princess Cruise Lines’ private beach on the island of Eleuthera, Bahamas. I was looking forward to lazing by the shore for a day, especially since I had been talked out of a beach-focused cruise and into a Panama Canal transit by my family (I ended up loving our Panama Canal adventure, don’t worry).

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Read more: BABY SLOTHS MADE ME TAKE A PANAMA CANAL CRUISE

We had a sea day on day two, and the weather was perfect and sunny. Imagine our surprise when the captain announced that bad weather in the Bahamas was forcing us to cancel our stop at Princess Cays!

As the passengers around us groaned, the captain continued. We were replacing our stop with a stop at Ocho Rios, Jamaica! I was thrilled. I knew exactly what I wanted to do: climb Dunn’s River Falls.

Rule #1: Mom is always right.

I like to research destinations. Whether or not I’m planning to visit a place in the near future, I’m always googling interesting places to see what there is to do there. So of course I had read hundreds of reviews and articles about Dunn’s River Falls.

The captain made his announcement, and Mr. SBC and my daughter turned to look at me. “So what are we going to do now?” they said.

“Dunn’s River Falls! I’m so excited,” I replied.

“Is it a hike to see a waterfall?” asked my daughter.

“No,” I answered, “It’s even better. You hike UP a waterfall.”

She gave me the stink eye. Convinced I was wrong, she went on to explain that we couldn’t hike up a waterfall. She was sure that we’d be hiking beside it, or to it, or around it, but certainly not UP it.

“Believe whatever you want,” I said. “But be prepared to get really wet!”

We plan our day in Ocho Rios

I had downloaded the Princess at Sea app on my phone, so I was able to check what shore excursions were available in Ocho Rios without using any expensive internet minutes. I liked the idea of doing the Dunn’s River Falls Adventure & Bamboo Beach Club VIP Experience, for $109.95 per person.

They also offered the same excursion without the VIP part for $89.95 per person, but the VIP experience included seating in a VIP area with a private bar, unlimited drinks, tapas, and grilled lobster. I never say no to lobster.

Wanting to make sure that we would be credited back for all of the equipment we had paid for at Princess Cays, we made our way to the shore excursions desk, which was understandably mobbed.

We waited in a very long line, but when we reached the desk we were told that everyone was automatically credited for the cancellation. Even more exciting, there was still room available on the Dunn’s River Falls tour! Yippee!

A little bit about Ocho Rios and the falls

Ocho Rios is a town of fewer than 10,000 people on the north coast of Jamaica. Originally a fishing village, it’s now primarily a tourist destination. Recently, cruise ships have made more than 150 stops per year at its port, bringing over 450,000 tourists to the town annually.

Despite its name, there are not eight rivers near Ocho Rios. Historians theorize that the name is derived from a corruption of the original name for the town, Las Chorreras. “The Waterfalls” in Spanish, Las Chorreras undoubtedly was a reference to the nearby Dunn’s River Falls.

The Falls, which rise over 600 feet (183 meters) are close to the site of the 1657 Battle of Chorreras, where the English defeated Spanish forces sent over from Cuba. The land containing the falls were more recently privately owned until it was purchased by the Jamaican government in 1972. Today the property is run by the Urban Development Corporation.

Not any ordinary waterfall, Dunn’s River Falls is actually a set of tufa terraces. In a nutshell, when rainwater causes underground limestone to dissolve, it carries the limestone in solution. When the water reaches the air, the limestone precipitates, creating tufa.

This tufa creates a series of basins and waterfalls, which will continue to form as long as the underground springs are active!

A cloudy arrival in Ocho Rios

The next morning, we arrived in the harbor at Ocho Rios. The weather looked a bit ominous, with overcast skies and a gray dreariness surrounding us. I knew a little rain wouldn’t bother us at the falls, but I was nervous about the beach part of our tour being rained out.

The weather forecast called for clearing by late morning, but a chance of rain in the afternoon. We added our packable rain jackets to our shore excursion bags, along with the sunscreen, towels, bottled water, and the water shoes I knew were necessary to climb the falls.

On our Panama Canal cruise we made an unscheduled stop in Jamaica. We got to climb Dunn's River Falls in Ocho Rios and visit the Bamboo Bay Beach Club.
The view of our approach to Ocho Rios from our balcony.

Is anyone in charge here?

Out on the pier, it was absolute chaos. I’m not sure if that was because Ocho Rios was not our original stop, or if it’s always like that. We were given badges specifying our excursion as usual. This usually makes the process of finding the right group and guide fairly easy. This time, we were told to wait in different areas by different tour representatives at least three times within five minutes. Everyone was confused.

One of the tour guides stepped up and herded several of us onto her coach. We all had different shore excursion packages, but all of us were starting with the Dunn’s River Falls climb. She reassured us that we’d all meet up with the correct group after we climbed the falls.

One family on our coach left at this point, convinced that they needed to be with the correct excursion group. I was also worried about being with the wrong group, but I liked this guide’s take-charge attitude. We knew at least we’d make it to our first stop on time if we stayed on her coach. I never did see that family again at the falls.

(Note: I usually use the names of our guides when I write reviews, whether the experience was positive or negative. For this review, I’m leaving out names altogether. There were so many things that happened during this excursion that could have been the fault of the tour company or the vendors, not the individual guides, so to be fair I’m not mentioning them by name.)

The coach departed the pier to make the short ten-minute drive to the falls. Our guide went over some of the basics of visiting the falls. She also let us know that there would be a videographer climbing with us, and that we could purchase a DVD of our climb at the end of the tour.

“Do not, and I repeat, do not give him your money before you get the DVD in your hand. You’ll never get your video if he leaves with your money.” She made us all promise to follow her advice.

We made our way to the entrance to the falls, where locker and water shoe rentals were available.

Tip: The water shoe rental at Dunn’s River Falls is $10 (cash) per pair. Since you can purchase your own water shoes for around that price, I recommend buying your own before you go.

We rented a large locker that fit all three of our tote bags for $10 plus a $3 deposit for the key. We left our camera and phones in the locker, except for my daughter. She secured her phone in a clear waterproof pouch that she wore around her neck. Her plan was to take pictures all the way up. I didn’t bother telling her she probably wouldn’t have a chance.

Now she believes me!

Our guide introduced us to a young man who would help us climb the falls, as well as the videographer who would be accompanying us. With our guide’s warning repeating in my head, I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, even though she had us convinced he would try to pull some kind of scam!

The videographer really tried to pump us up, getting us excited for our adventure to come. He made sure to interact with each of us, encouraging us to repeat his enthusastic cries of “Yeah, mon!” to his camera.

Making our way to the base of the falls, our new guide instructed us to hold hands and form a chain as we climbed the slippery, rocky passage. We looked up at the water cascading down from above, wondering how we’d be able to scale this terrain.

My daughter turned to me, a sheepish look on her face.

“OK, Mom. You were right,” she conceded.

We make our way up the falls

We all held hands to make sure no one slipped or was left behind

Admittedly, the thirty-or-so of us who assembled to make the climb were quite a ragtag bunch. Ranging in age from about nine years old to late sixties, some were dressed in just bikinis or swim trunks, and some were wearing street clothes: one of our group members chose to do the climb in a Hawaiian shirt and heavy khaki cargo shorts.

I had read that the climb is best done in just a swimsuit, so I wore my suit, but with the addition of a super light mesh cover-up on top. I didn’t want to have to worry about constantly adjusting my suit as we climbed, and I think I made the right decision!

The climb itself wasn’t strenuous; the path that we took up the falls isn’t a very steep climb. There are a few steep parts, punctuated by flat areas with pools of water that we could stop and float in. The way up the falls can be very slippery, and I was glad that our guide encouraged us to hold hands on the way!

Tip: If a member of your party is under five years old (you must be at least five to climb), or has mobility challenges, there is a wooden walkway on the side of the falls.

It took us about an hour to get to the top, with several stops to make sure our videographer captured footage of each of us sliding into pools of water and ducking into cascades.

On our Panama Canal cruise we made an unscheduled stop in Jamaica. We got to climb Dunn's River Falls in Ocho Rios and visit the Bamboo Beach Club.
You might get a little wet on this excursion…

If you’re planning on bringing a waterproof camera (or putting your phone in a waterproof pouch), I can tell you that the group moves too quickly to stop and take many shots. One of our tour group members wore his GoPro on a chest harness, which was a smart idea.

We did it!

On our Panama Canal cruise we made an unscheduled stop in Jamaica. We got to climb Dunn's River Falls in Ocho Rios and visit the Bamboo Beach Club.

We made it to the top of the falls, and then we had a few minutes to thank (and tip) our climbing guide, buy our DVD, and retrieve our bags from our lockers.

I approached our videographer to let him know that we wanted to purchase the DVD. The cost was $40 USD, and he told us that it was cash up front. Remembering our warning, I pushed back. I told him that our tour guide had specifically told us not to pay cash until we had the DVD in hand.

He replied that they don’t make the DVD until they have the money, and that we could pick it up in just a few minutes at one of the nearby buildings.

I repeated that we were specifically told not to pay until we had the DVD. He repeated that they wouldn’t make the DVD until they had the money. It was a standoff.

Did I want to get scammed out of $40? Of course not. But more importantly, my camera was safely in the locker during our ascent. The only documentation of our climb was on that video. He assured me that we could pick it up at the video hut in about ten minutes. I reluctantly handed over the $40.

Scam or lack of communication?

We met back up with our guide, and I let her know what happened with the videographer. “Didn’t I tell you?” she chided in her lilting accent, “They just take your money.” She shook her head disapprovingly.

Feeling like a naughty child who hadn’t followed the instructions, I explained that the videographer said we could pick up the DVD at the video hut in a few minutes. She agreed that we could stop on the way out and see if they would give it to us.

It ended up that our guide was actually the correct guide for our entire excursion, so the rest of our bus-mates joined another group. It was just the three of us and another couple who would be going to the VIP experience at the beach club.

She led us through a tourist-trap maze of vendor stalls to return to the coach. The sellers called out to us, but she shut them each down with her sassy replies.

“Winston, don’t you be bothering us,” she’d call out, rolling her eyes. “We have places to be.”

I was thankful for her protective presence as we ran the gauntlet of shouting vendors.

Back on the coach, I expected us to stop at the video hut at some point before we exited. I didn’t quite know where it was located, but as we approached the exit, I knew we had gone too far. I called out to our guide.

Apparently the stop for the video had slipped her mind, so we turned around to pick it up. I hopped out of the coach, and our DVD was thankfully waiting for us inside.

My feeling? If the videographer was really running a scam, why would he bother recording the entire ascent and printing the DVDs? I think it was just a lack of communication between the tour company and the staff at the falls.

To the Bamboo Beach Club

It took about 20 minutes to reach the Bamboo Beach Club once we left the falls. We took the A3, which is the coastal route back past the cruise port and Malard’s Bay.

We were famished, and I was looking forward to a cocktail on the beach and the grilled lobster. Passing through the entrance to the beach club, I was a bit underwhelmed. The private beach is not very large, and the surroundings were not very luxurious.

A square bar area was on our left as we entered, flanked by a few tables manned by vendors. To the right of the bar were a couple of picnic tables and some padded wooden beach chairs. That was it.

We were supposed to be in a separate VIP section, but the beach was almost completely empty. Not having to worry about escaping the crowds to a cordoned-off area, we didn’t think anything of this at the time. Our guide led us over to a grouping of wooden chairs next to a covered area with a few picnic tables.

Wanting to get some beach relaxation in, we ignored the somewhat shabby surroundings and took our towels out of our tote bags. As the skies became overcast again, we hoped that the rain would hold off during our visit.

Bleccchy drinks and unexpected dancers

Our guide offered us the choice of a rum punch or Jamaica’s own Red Stripe beer. We all tried the rum punch, and it was truly awful.

I’m not an alcohol snob by any means. But I wonder what kind of rum they use (if it’s even rum at all) for these all-you-can-drink deals that are often included in Caribbean shore excursions. This wasn’t the first time we’ve been served a dodgy punch. The weirdest thing was that the punch itself seemed watered down. I can understand skimping on the alcohol, but it seemed like they put too much water in the fruit punch mix. Gross.

Mr. SBC switched to the Red Stripe, and I gave up on my cocktail. I was looking forward to eating our tapas and grilled lobster, and then taking a swim.

A trio of young people approached our little group and began a short dance performance, with one of them playing a drum. They were pretty good, but when they finished, they just stood staring at us for a moment after we applauded. Then I realized they wanted a tip.

That annoyed me a bit. I think that if a club provides entertainment for its paying guests, the club should pay the entertainers. Guests should be able to choose to leave a tip, or not. I didn’t ask for a private dance performance. I still gave them a tip, in case you’re wondering.

This is where I get grumpy.

Our guide returned and let us know that because it looked like it was going to rain, they had canceled the grilling. She said that we’d be given a partial refund because of that, and there was plenty of non-grilled food for us to eat.

We were disappointed, but we were hungry, and glad that our guide would bring us some sort of food. She went back and forth to the kitchen, bringing us each small servings of local specialties. I especially enjoyed the jerk chicken, a curried rice and vegetable dish, as well as the bread pudding. My daughter was a huge fan of the plantains, so she ate her portion as well as mine.

What I didn’t realize was because of the rain (it had begun to sprinkle lightly), the club canceled the VIP experience altogether, not just the grilling.

So, we were not able to sit in the “VIP” section of the beach, not allowed to have our choice of drinks from the private bar, and not able to have an actual meal along with the tapas we were served. They didn’t offer us any substitutions or try to accommodate us in any way.

Souvenirs and more souvenirs

My daughter and I strolled over to the small vending area that was just past the private bar (the one we weren’t allowed to use). A few tables were in a row with tee shirts, handmade cigars, and some other local souvenirs. The vendors were very courteous, and didn’t pressure us at all. She chose a little boy’s size tee for $20. I thought it was a little pricy, but maybe I was just grumpy.

We headed back to the coach to make our final stop at a souvenir shop before returning to the ship. It was a larger tourist shop, with the usual tees, keychains and tchotchkes at inflated prices. We browsed around and didn’t find anything we wanted, with the exception of a funny little pencil with a Rastaman pencil topper. I bought it for $2 as a joke gift for a friend who loves reggae.

Back to the ship

It was rush hour as we headed back to the cruise port, so it took us about 25 minutes to return. I actually enjoyed our slow crawl back to port, because it gave us the opportunity to get a better glimpse of the bustling little town of Ocho Rios, which we passed through on the way.

What’s the verdict?

  • We really enjoyed Dunn’s River Falls. For those who are a little bit adventurous and enjoy being active on shore excursions, a visit to the falls is a perfect fit. Our falls guide was friendly and made sure we were safe as we made the ascent. The videographer was a character, and kept us all smiling.
  • The Bamboo Beach Club was not worth the money, especially with the less-expensive package they switched us to. The $20 we were refunded was for the unlimited better cocktails, and the grilled lobster. I think those two things are worth more than $20! If you’re looking for a day or half-day beach resort option, with a beautiful beach and a bit of luxury, this is not the place for you.
  • Our guide was lovely, and I appreciated her protecting us from the aggressive vendors and serving us our food and drinks. I don’t think she was the cause of the confusion at the beginning of the tour and the miscommunication with the DVD vendor at the falls. I place the blame on the tour company itself for lack of organization and training.

Read about another of our Panama Canal cruise shore excursions: UP CLOSE WITH RESCUED BABY SLOTHS IN COSTA RICA

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Have you visited Dunn’s River Falls or the Bamboo Beach Club? Or have you found a better beach club experience in Ocho Rios? Let us know in the comments below!


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Amrita

Monday 15th of June 2020

Wow, this looks like some adventure. I have never heard of Dunns River Falls, but I will be definitely looking up for it now. I really enjoyed the way you narrated your experience. And yes, mums are always right! I hope your daughter enjoyed her time there. Its a sorry that the Beach Club did not turn out as expected. Definitely not VIP standard. But is great that you got your DVD, a great guide and lovely experience at the Falls!

Carrie Ann

Wednesday 17th of June 2020

Thanks, Amrita! I'm happy you liked the post :D We enjoyed our day even with the disappointment at the end.

Larch

Sunday 14th of June 2020

Jamaica is on my list of Caribbean Islands to visit. I will definitely try to hike up Dunns Falls, but might give the Beach Club a miss.

Carrie Ann

Wednesday 17th of June 2020

Larch, I hope you get to climb the falls! It's such a refreshing activity for a hot day!

Sandy N Vyjay

Saturday 13th of June 2020

This is indeed a thrilling adventure and the excitement is more as the stop at Jamaica was unplanned. The climb up to the Dunns River falls sounds really exciting, I never knew that one could actually climb up a waterfall. Nice to know that you did get your DVD that captured your adventure in the end.

Carrie Ann

Wednesday 17th of June 2020

Sandy, I was so glad to get that DVD! It was such a unique experience, and it's nice to have a record of it :D

Kelly Francois

Saturday 13th of June 2020

I did the Dunn River Falls many years ago on a cruise stop with Princess. Thankfully I didn't also do the beach stop. I wouldn't have been very happy. I did a cave tour which was great. I would love to go back and do the Falls again.

Carrie Ann

Wednesday 17th of June 2020

Kelly, a cave tour sounds like fun! I'll keep that in mind the next time I stop in Ocho Rios :D

Freya

Saturday 13th of June 2020

Climbing Dunn’s River Falls looks like a fun adventure, I'm glad you got your DVD in the end. The Beach Club sounds like a bit of a letdown, I'd definitely expect more than $20 back! Do you know if it's possible to climb Dunn’s River Falls without a guide?

Carrie Ann

Wednesday 17th of June 2020

Freya, I've read that you can climb the falls without a guide, but I didn't see anyone doing that when I was there. I bet most people who climb on their own do it on the days when cruise ships aren't in port!