For the kids who love soaring above rainforest canopies to the ones who will happily spend the day splashing in the waves, the island nation of Jamaica is not just a playground for adults.
This Caribbean country, also known as the “land of wood and water,” is a paradise packed with lush green rainforests, turquoise blue coastlines and the world-famous Blue Mountains. With wildlife at every turn, Jamaica is also an excellent place for kids to learn about native birds, coral reefs and various fruits and flora on nature walks.
In terms of family-friendly accommodations, there are plenty of all-inclusive resorts in Montego Bay, Negril and Ocho Rios that come complete with snorkeling, mini-water parks, large pools, kids clubs and supervised arts and crafts. Some resorts also have nannies available upon request, while others include nanny services in the room rate, so be sure to call ahead to find out. Don’t take the website at face value (unless it’s been recommended to you), especially if it doesn’t appear to have been recently updated.
Getting around is easy via private transfers and pre-arranged taxis. If you are traveling with a car seat and/or stroller, be sure to double-check that the vehicle picking you up from the airport or taking you on excursions is suitable.
So bring the kids and experience Jamaica in a whole new way with this list of the top things to do as a family.
Discover the world’s most intriguing experiences with our weekly newsletter delivered straight to your inbox. Build sandcastles for days at any one of Jamaica’s beaches © Kylie Sheridan / Lonely Planet
1. Splash in waterfalls at Turtle River Falls & Gardens
This oasis in Ocho Rios is the perfect place for freshwater fun and relaxation. Turtle River Falls and Garden has a total of 14 waterfalls for you and the young ones to climb and splash around. What makes the 15-acre tropical garden special is its relative obscurity, making for an intimate rather than touristy experience. The walk-in aviary on the property offers children the opportunity to feed gorgeous cobalt blue peacocks while admiring other species of birds. Budding biologists will get a kick out of searching for turtles and other wildlife on the grounds.
Planning tip: Pack a picnic for the family, as there is no restaurant on site.
From water parks to building sandcastles, Jamaica’s beaches have entertainment for all ages © Alison Wright / Getty Images
2. Spend time on Jamaica’s best beaches
Negril’s well-known Seven Mile Beach offers up the most tranquil waters, perfect for kids to snorkel, swim and line the shores with sandcastles. Many of Jamaica’s beaches in tourist beach towns like Ocho Rios and Negril have activities along the beach like paddleboarding, jet-skiing and glass-bottom boat tours. Beaches are also a great place for kids to get a crash course in Jamaican cuisine, as open-air cooking on a grill is the way it’s done by the seaside.
Check out Pirates Island Waterpark in Negril and Ocho Rios; the waterparks are complete with fantastic water slides for older kids and whirlpools and lazy rivers for the younger ones.
Planning tip: Booby Cay Island, off the coast of Negril, is the perfect place for a beach picnic.
3. Explore underground at Green Grotto Caves
Designated as a national landmark in Jamaica, Green Grotto Caves in Ocho Rios is a labyrinth of underground caverns filled with mystical history and an abundance of beauty. Said to be the home of the first inhabitants of Jamaica, the Tainos, who used these caves for rituals.
The caves have also been frequently used as hideouts: the Spanish hid here during the English takeover of Jamaica in 1655, runaway enslaved people took shelter here in the 18th century, and smugglers running arms to Cuba used the caves in the interwar period.
If you have mini explorers in tow, they will love the helmet and torch gear needed to trek down to the emerald-colored Grotto Lake. Entrance fees include tour guides who will point out the indigenous fruit bats that call the caves home as well as detail the rich history of the caves and the island as you journey through.
Planning tip: Children aged four and over can participate in the tour. Sturdy footwear such as sneakers is recommended.
Bring the kids for a hike (or bike ride) down the Blue Mountains © David Neil Madden / Getty Images
4. Hike or bike through Blue Mountain National Park
Famous for its world-renowned coffee and beauty, Jamaica’s Blue Mountain National Park is one of Jamaica’s top places to visit and is sure to elicit curiosity and glee. From hiking steep terrain to biking down rolling hills, exploring the sprawling Blue Mountains is a great way to spend the day with kids of all ages.
There are two hiking trails – the Blue Mountain Peak Trail, which takes about four hours to the mountain’s highest point at 2256m (7401ft), and the Holywell Nature Walk, which has five walking trails for all abilities.
Hikes begin at the mountain base outside of Kingston and can be arranged through your hotel. If you and the kiddies enjoy camping, it’s possible to do that here with the help of a guide. Sunrise tours are also available, beginning at 2am and with plenty of breaks for rest and pictures.
If hiking is not your kids’ jam, cycling through the mountains is a wonderful way to be in nature, taking in various flowers and hummingbirds that call these mountains home. The ride is mostly downhill, leading to a waterfall perfect for a swim.
Devon House is a hub of activity © Mladen Antonov / AFP via Getty Images
5. Stop for ice cream at Devon House
A national heritage site, Devon House is one of Jamaica’s most praised landmarks because of its rich history and cultural diversity. Built in 1881, it was the home of the first Black Jamaican millionaire – George Stiebel – who earned his riches from gold mining in South America.
Today, visitors may tour the mansion and pop into the shops, including Devon House Bakery, home to a delicious Jamaican beef patty, and Devon House I Scream, the spot for a cool treat with over 25 creamy flavors from cookies and cream to mango and guava. Take advantage of samples to experiment with new flavors and combinations. Kids can explore the bounty of space among the lush green gardens of the estate.
6. Have a day trip to Mystic Mountain
Since opening in 2008, Mystic Mountain has been the top spot for families. Located near the cruise pier in Ocho Rios, Mystic Mountain makes for the perfect day trip for cruise tourists.
If zip-lining is on the list of your kid’s must-do, they can do that here along with bobsledding, made famous by the country’s 1988 Olympic bobsledding team and the 1993 film Cool Runnings. Bobsled riders will zip more than a half-mile through the lush rainforest on gravity-powered bobsleds with the ability to stop using brakes to take in the panoramic views of the pristine coastline and hummingbirds indigenous to the island.
Planning tip: For zip-lining, children must be aged six or over, and for bobsledding, there is a minimum height requirement of 91.5cm (36 inches). After kiddies have used all their energy, they can recharge at the on-site restaurant.