An insider's guide to what to see and do in Jamaica with a family
As a first-generation American with two Jamaican-born and -raised parents, I grew up spending lots of summers in Jamaica. Now, as a mother of two, I bring my own children to visit their grandmother and immerse them in this part of their culture.
When visiting the island of Jamaica, most people stick to Ocho Rios, Montego Bay and Negril, but there is so much more this beautiful country has to offer. Here are some of our favorite things to do in Jamaica with kids.
Visit TPG’s Caribbean destination hub for more stories about traveling to the region on points and miles, where to stay and what to do while you’re there.
Portland is the most underrated parish in Jamaica. On the northeast coast of the island, three hours from Kingston, you won’t find the all-inclusive resorts here. What you will find is one of the most beautiful areas in all of Jamaica.
Rafting Down the Rio Grande
Rafting down the Rio Grande is a must when visiting Portland. My daughters loved sitting on the side of the raft with their feet dangling in the cool water as we glided down the river. There are plenty of opportunities for you to jump into the river for a little swim and life jackets are provided for everyone. Rates start at $80 per raft for a 90-minute round-trip ride.
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Frenchman’s Cove is a tropical oasis. It’s a private beach at Frenchman’s Cove Resort, but for a small fee of $12 for adults and $6 for kids, anyone can access the beach. My kids especially enjoyed playing in the river as there are swings and shallow and calm water. There is a restaurant right on the beach serving full meals, snacks and drinks but feel free to bring your own to reduce your costs as outside food is allowed.
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Reach Falls is the best waterfall in Jamaica for kids as you can enjoy it without climbing any rocks. Younger kids can wade in the water below the falls and watch the small fish swim back and forth. For those with older kids or if you're okay with carrying younger children, you can explore above the main fall. Along the way, you will come across many natural pools with crystal clear water where you can swim. Reach Falls is closed on Monday, but open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. the rest of the week. Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for kids 4 to 11, and free for kids 3 and under.
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Ocho Rios is roughly two hours from both Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston and Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, making it a hot spot for visitors.
Konoko Falls and Park
While Dunn’s River Falls is the most well-known waterfall in Ocho Rios and Jamaica, it isn’t the only one in this parish. Visit lesser-known Konoko Falls and you'll be in for a grand surprise. With fewer crowds and calmer flow of water coming down the falls, it’s a much better choice for families -- especially those with younger kids. Besides the falls, Konoko Park has a botanical garden and mini zoo. Kids can see exotic birds, snakes, iguanas and more. The entrance fee is $20 for adults, $10 for children 3 to 12, and free for kids under 3.
Feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme, get on up; it’s bobsled time! If you or your kids have seen the movie "Cool Runnings" and enjoyed it, you’ll love spending time at Mystic Mountain. Here you can have your own Cool Runnings experience going down the bobsled track. Kids must be 46 inches tall for this experience, but those who are tall enough will have the time of their lives on this ride, twisting and turning down the mountains of Jamaica.
After a thrilling ride, you can relax in the infinity pool overlooking the ocean or get more thrills by going down the waterslide and splashing into the pool. A nature walk and zip-line are also offered. Bobsled rates start at $52 and include the Sky Lift Tour. You can also purchase packages that include zip-lining and bobsledding and even a visit to Dunn's River Falls.
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Blue Hole/Island Gully Falls
Another waterfall families love is Island Gully Falls, often referred to as Blue Hole. Here you can climb the falls, jump into it from a platform or swing into the beautiful blue hole. It’s open Sunday to Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Entry fees are $15 for adults and $10 for kids 12 and under. Be sure to bring cash as they often do not accept credit cards.
Kool Runnings Adventure Park
Kool Runnings Adventure Park is the biggest waterpark in Jamaica. With seven waterslides, a lazy river, a wave pool and an area specifically for the youngest guests, Kool Runnings Adventure Park is a must visit. Besides the water activities, the park offers go-karts and paint-balling for anyone not interested in getting wet. There is even a relaxing option for rafting down the canal in a family raft that holds up to six people. General admission is $40 for guests 48 inches and above, $28 for those under 48 inches and free for kids 2 and under. Additional fees are charged for go-karts, paintball, kayaking and other activities. You can also buy a pass that includes everything offered, plus a meal for $80. The park is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. On the last Saturday of the month at 6 p.m., they offer a dive-in movie included in your park admission.
7 Mile Beach
Negril is known for its gorgeous beaches, and what kid doesn’t love the beach? 7 Mile Beach in Negril is the perfect beach for families with shallow, calm and warm water. Still, if you want some adventure, vendors are walking along the beach, offering glass-bottom boat rides, snorkeling trips, parasailing and even horseback riding on the beach. If you’re staying at a resort on 7 Mile Beach, you’ll have free access from there. If not, you will want to enjoy the beach from the public entrance at Long Bay Beach Park.
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Rick’s Cafe is the most famous bar in Jamaica. So why is it on my list for things to do in Jamaica with kids? For kids who are old enough, they can go cliff-jumping from three platforms, all with different heights. If they aren’t old enough, they may still enjoy watching everyone jump off -- as my kids did. There is also a pool kids can enjoy while listening to the live music being performed on stage. Rick’s Cafe is also the best place to watch the sunset in Negril, and kids of all ages can enjoy this beauty. Entry is free, and you’ll only pay for food or drinks ordered from the restaurant/bar.
St. Elizabeth Parish
St. Elizabeth is on the South Coast of the island, two and a half hours from Negril, Ocho Rios and Kingston. You’ll want to check out these activities with your family.
YS Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Jamaica. You can walk across them or swing into them from a platform. So many people come here for the pools. There is a warm water one and one filled with the cool natural water from the falls. YS Falls is peaceful, but you can also experience a little adventure if you’d like by completing the five lines of zip-lining. It’s open Tuesday to Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and costs $20 for adults, $12 for children 3 to 15, and free for kids under 3. They offer one of the lowest prices for zip-lining on the island at $49 for adults and $39 for children.
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Black River Safari/J. Charles Swaby
The Black River Safari takes you on a boat ride on the longest river in Jamaica. Here you’ll see crocodiles, cranes and other birds as you cruise down the river. The tour lasts anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes. Once you return to J. Charles Swaby, you can view the crocodile nursery where injured crocodiles are rehabilitated before being released back into the river. The Black River Safari can easily be paired with a trip to YS Falls as the two attractions are just 25 minutes from each other. The boat ride costs $20 for adults and $12 for children with tours every hour.
If you’re visiting St. Elizabeth and want to go to a beach, Treasure Beach is the best one in this parish. It’s perfect for families because it’s never crowded, so your kids will have the entire strip of sand to run up and down. Park in the parking lot for Jack Sprat and enter the beach that way.
All U.S. citizens 12 years or older must have a negative COVID-19 PCR or Antigen test result to check-in for a flight to Jamaica. Accepted tests include:
- Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction Test (RT-PCR)
- Nucleic Acid Amplification test (NAA)
- RNA or molecular test
- Antigen test
At-home test kits such as the Pixel by LabCorp test will not be accepted and neither will antibody tests.
Remember that you will now need to provide a negative COVID-19 test result taken within three days of departure when flying back to the U.S. Even if you’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19, you’ll need to provide a negative test before boarding.
If you need a test to fly back to the U.S., you might want to first check availability at your hotel or resort. The Hyatt Ziva and Hyatt Zilara properties offer COVID-19 testing, and the Visit Jamaica site has a list of resorts with on-site coronavirus testing.
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Jamaica is a beautiful island with plenty of things to do for families. Try to go beyond the traditional tourist spots and you'll be rewarded handsomely.
Story images courtesy of the author. Featured photo by Getty Images