Dunn’s River Falls is one of the most beautiful natural attractions that you’ll find in Jamaica. Located on the north of the island, near the beach resort of Ocho Rios, the terraced like, stair-case falls stand about 55m high and 180m long. The falls are special as it one of the few falls in the world that displace directly into the sea – who knew…
The last time I was lucky enough to climb the falls was in 1997, on a massive family holiday to Jamaica, on an excursion from a hotel. This time, I just rocked up in the car. The entrance to the park is along the main road across the north of the island, and climbs up into the hills.
You’re met by a guard on the gate who takes your car registration number and your name. Top tip number one is get changed before you enter the park, at one of the various restrooms / changing rooms to maximise your time in the park, and not to keep your guide / rest of your group waiting.
You walk down into the park, where the theme park style entrance awaits you with visitor booths and turnstiles. The cost of entry is $23 USD for adults. What I like is that there is a special rate of $1000 JAD for Jamaican nationals (on the provision of valid ID). Once you pay, you get a wristband, and have the option to either join a group or do a self-climb.
When you enter the park, there’ll be lots of of different activities, places to eat and things to do. This include a play area for the kids, a place where you can get jelly coconuts, or a patty. Most people just want to get on with the falls. I figured that I’d stick with tour group 45, which seemed to comprise holiday makers on a cruise. They were ready to go, and I wanted to follow a group up the falls.
As I hadn’t changed into my swimming stuff, I’d had to take some time out and go and get changed. This meant that group 45 was well and truly on their climb before I could get my first leg into my swimming shorts.
From the changing rooms you can hear the buzz of people climbing the falls. Alongside the Falls is a boardwalk which follows route from top to bottom, where family and friends can watch and wait if they don’t want to climb.
Annoyingly, near the bottom of the falls, a road / bridge goes over the falls. His means that you need to go underneath it on your climb up. After climbing down for what seemed like forever, the last step was bathed in white sand, which meant that I’d finally reached the beach, the bottom of the falls, and could then start of my climb.
I joined the back of tour group 19, which was a mixed group of families, solo travellers, couples, and those who were on cruise ships. There were people from all Canada, Philippines, Germany, Japan, and some lovely English folk too.
As well as the tour guide, there was an enthusiastic videographer. His job was simply to ensure that every person on the tour was on the film, so we could be tempted to buy it at the end. We travelled up as one group, stopping where the waterfall plateaus for pictures, videos, and games in the mini plunge pools. This is where the guide became invaluable as on my own, I wouldn’t have been able to find these.
There was a great sense of camaraderie within the group, with everyone helping those who were less able to climb up, as well as making sure no man was left behind…. onward and upwards…
My five top tips:
Arrive in your swim wear and your towel – this way, you won’t waste time after you’ve got your entry wristband to get down to climb the falls. There are restrooms and changing rooms before you reach the turnstiles. Probably best to use them!
Take waterproof shoes – the waterfall can get really slippery in places, and the rocks that look slightly brown or green are usually covered with slimy moss-type stuff which is pretty slippery. The Falls don’t advise climbing in flip flops, because they are a terrible form of footwear and have no grip! If you Didn’t bring yours, you can pick up a pair for $13 USD.
Don’t forget your waterproof camera or waterproof cover – you’ll want to take snaps and videos as you climb this amazing feat of nature. There were people with GoPros, waterproof iPhone covers, little point and shoot digital cameras, and plastic cases with a roll down top for their smartphone. I was clearly envious of the GoPro folks, as I picked up the case without the waterproof back cover – dumb move.
If you DON’T have waterproof camera or a cover, but have a friend, never fear. As you climb up, get your friend on the boardwalk to hold your phone as you climb up. They’ll be able to pass it over to you / walk over to them on the plateaus.
Small amount of money to tip your guide – if it wasn’t for your tour guide, you probably wouldn’t have made it up the Falls at all. During the tour, the guide was effectively the “hype man” for the climb – keeping us entertained, blowing little tunes on his whistle and horn, holding hats and sunglasses when we jumped in the plunge pools, and led us in sing alongs to “One Love” (other Bob Marley songs are available). There are signs all over the park stating that tipping is entirely option, but if you think the service was worth it then you probably should give your guide a tip.
Don’t get ripped off in the craft market – as an official tourist spot on the island, there is an official craft market as you exit the park. Selling t-shirts, items made from wood, leather and other natural materials, the traders will be eager to sell you their wares. Personally, the tactics were a little too aggressive and not what I wanted to be experiencing after a relaxing time climbing the falls. As a black man, there was lot of assumed solidarity, and that I should be spending my hard earned money on an “I climbed Dunn’s River Falls” t-shirt, and that I’d save each vendor from destitution.
There were some really unique pieces there, but if you do want to buy something from the the craft market, have a look around first at the whole market, and see if you can haggle too.
The falls are suitable for people with all ages, and there are a list of health advisories on entrance. But with a number of different exit points along the route, if you’re a bit tired or if you’ve just had enough of that amazing scenery, you can come back on to dry land.
As there is no time limit to your visit, you can just jump back into the Falls when your ready. The Falls are one of the most beautiful tourist attractions on the island and if you want to challenge your sense of adventure, experience something pretty amidst white rum and jerk chicken, then the Falls are the place for you.
For my video about climbing the Falls, visit: https://youtu.be/OxWQ8lMMehw