Montego Bay vs Ocho Rios: Which is Better to Visit?

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When it comes to vacationing in Jamaica, the choice of which town to visit is a difficult one. Both Ocho Rios and Montego Bay are packed with hotels and resorts, bars, beaches and activities galore.

So how can you make the right choice between two seemingly similar destinations? You can’t go wrong either way; you’ll have a blast no matter what your preferences are.

This article aims to help you decide where to stay on your next trip to Jamaica: Montego Bay or Ocho Rios.

Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons to help you make the right choice as a vacationer.

Which Destination is Better?

Why You Should Visit Montego Bay

Montego Bay is a treat for luxury and convenience seekers. Close to the airport and a major cruise ship port, the city-like make of Mobay is a huge plus for families and first-time vacationers.

Enjoy countless beach resorts, golf courses and year-round access to water sports. Duty-free shopping is on the charts too.

If you don’t mind being surrounded by other tourists and are willing to shell out more for accommodation, this destination is a solid fit.

Montego Bay Jamaica
Montego Bay Photo by Evgenii

Why You Should Visit Ocho Rios

Ocho Rios offers a more authentic and outdoorsy stay. This resort area with a cruise ship harbor and busy bay beach managed to stay true to its fishing village roots.

Surrounded by rainforest, rivers and waterfalls, it encompasses the island’s most popular natural attractions. Young adults looking for thrill and budget stays would appreciate the free-spirit atmosphere; adult-only resorts and activities also cater to a more distinct crowd.

Oh, and don’t forgo more chances to mingle with the local community!

Beaches

Both Montego Bay and Ocho Rios are blessed with Jamaican-typical beaches and sparkling waves.

Beaches in Montego Bay

Montego Bay, being a tourist mecca, deals with frequent crowds along the main stretch of the bay. Luckily, every featured beach is expansive enough that you can find a comfortable spot.

The deep water build of Montego Bay makes it perfect for water sports such as kayaking, paddle boating, snorkeling and jet skiing.

Montego Beach and Aquasol Beach are popular names; the latter even houses a mini amusement park for kids, fitted with waterslides and go-karts.

For luxurious beach club experiences, Doctor’s Cave Beach and Pineapple Beach serve cocktails and chill. Montego Bay Marine Park is for underwater explorers, welcoming snorkeling and diving at protected coral reefs.

Dunns River Falls Park Ocho Rios Jamaica
Beach in Ocho Rios

Beaches in Ocho Rios

Ocho Rios beaches share the same quality, sugary sand but aren’t as grand as their Montego Bay counterparts. Small and intimate instead of opulent, these pockets of sand are scattered across the coastline. You won’t find many beach clubs here.

Along the east lies Reggae Beach and Mahogany Beach, two well-loved locales for sunny day fun. If you like space to roll around, the most expansive beach would be Ocho Rios Bay Beach.

Nicknamed Turtle Beach, it’s a pristine spot for sunbathing, swimming and water sports. Iconic Margaritaville serves your vitamin sea with a dose of tropical cocktails.

Montego Bay vs Ocho Rios: which has the better beaches?

If we factor in variety and number, Montego Bay simply has more beaches to enjoy. 

Most are knitted out with water sport facilities and amenities, so individuals, couples and families alike will have their needs met.

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Things to Do

Sharing the same north-facing Jamaican coast, the most popular things to do in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios are bound to overlap.

Still, Montego Bay’s touristy design and Ocho Rios’ more humble setting will divert your attention towards cultural goodies and inland adventures respectively.

Montego Bay

Montego Bay activities are clustered around the bay area, mostly within the hotel property. Water sports is major on the ‘things to do in Montego Bay’ list – try sailing, jet-skiing, snorkeling, and scuba diving to start.

Montego Bay Marine Park promises glass bottom boat tours and sunset lagoon tours; the protected marine sanctuary also reveals vivid diving scenery.

The general tourist appeals swing through the big resorts, museums, and golf courses.

  • Rose Hall Great House is a former plantation estate with opulent flair… and an even grander tale of its murderous, witchy owner. It’s also home to an equestrian center and golf course.
  •  The “Hip Strip” is a prime example of how hip and trendy can sometimes equate to duty-free shopping, a definite advantage that Montego Bay has over other Jamaican tourist areas. You’ll find plenty of international and local brands lining Gloucester Avenue.
  •  Sam Sharpe Square: a downtown, cobblestone plaza housing historical monuments and the Montego Bay Cultural Centre.
  •  Historical tours with Chukka’s Jungle Outpost or Bunker’s Hill Cultural Experience wind through preserved plantation estates or Montego Bay cave systems, highlighting the rich history of the region.
  •  Cinnamon Hill Golf Club is one of the best golf courses in the world. This 18-hole course looks out onto the Caribbean Sea and rolling hills.Wilderness tours and in-land adrenaline rushes are offered too.
  •  Rev up the motors on ATV tours!
  •  Or, take the Flight of the White Witch and zip-line like Tarzan.
  •  Cockpit Country Adventure Tours warn you to strap on your helmets and headlights; you’ll be exploring the caves where the Maroon warriors once hid.
  •  Martha Brae River sends your bamboo raft down gentle flowing streams and a bird-song surround.
  •  Rastafari Indigenous Village sits just outside of Montego Bay, a living cultural center that offers both half and full-day immersion into the lives of indigenous peoples.

    Observe traditional drum-making, tour homegrown gardens and share a meal with the community.
Dunns River Falls Ocho Rios Jamaica
Dunn's River Falls Ocho Rios Jamaica

Ocho Rios

Ocho Rios scatters its various outdoor stations, bringing more forest-based things to do. Beyond the usual beachside surfing, kayaking, and cultivating that tan – turn your attention to land excursions.

It’s tough narrowing down the top attractions in Ocho Rios, but it reads like this:

    • Dunn’s River Falls is a must. This 180-meter mountain waterfall with terraced lagoon pools is an Ocho Rios landmark. Bask on the beach at its base or climb the falls and zip your way down. There’s also a hanging bridge for amazing photos.
    •  The Ocho Rios Blue Hole is possibly the top-rated attraction on Ocho Rios. This series of sinkholes, caverns and waterfalls is a marvel, letting you dimension-hop into another reality.
    •  Dolphin Cove Ocho Rios welcomes interactions with stingrays, dolphins, and sharks. You may also spot land animals like snakes and birds along the Jungle Trail Walk.
    •  White River is a popular bamboo rafting site lined with colorful fishing boats. Nearby Island Gully Falls invite you with turquoise hues and spiraling waves you can tube down.
    •  Mystic Mountain Jamaica Adventure Park brings all the rainforest adventures one can ask for. Bobsledding and zip-lining are two popular asks.
    •  Turtle River Park is a relaxing area for families where kids can climb around swings and playhouses or watch turtles.
    •  Horseback riding along the coast is for the romantics. And cowboy wannabes.
    •  Join ATV tours and delve deep into the mountains of Ocho Rios.Check out the few but representative cultural sites:
    • · Rio Nuevo revisits the 1600s; it’s a battle site where the Spanish and English clashed.
    •  Seville Great House Plantation and Heritage Park showers you with picnics and horse riding galore! It’s also home to Taino, African, and European artifacts.

Of course, you’re welcome to throw away the schedules and relax with typical holiday resort activities like spa and souvenir shopping; maybe visit a golf course or two.

Nightlife

It’s not quite a Montego Bay vs Ocho Rios situation when it comes to nightlife. Depending on your preferences, both may be viable nightlife destinations.

Montego Bay

Montego Bay nightlife is concentrated on Gloucester Avenue (a.k.a Hip Strip) and with great variety. You’ll find upscale martini bars like Blue Beat Ultra Lounge to restaurant-and-bar combos like Pier One.

For Irish pub deals, try Tilted Kilt. Hit up Margaritaville for four open-air bars. If you’re around Negril, Rick’s Café shows up with mouth-dropping cliff dives and local bands as BGM.

Several restaurants also offer DJ nights and karaoke nights; others host weekly events. But the downside to this hustle and bustle? Locations tend to be packed with tourists.

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Ocho Rios

Nightlife in Ocho Rios features more partying with the locals, a more authentic Jamaican experience if you will. We’re talking Jamaican tunes and free-for-all dancing. You’ll be swinging between outdoors and indoors, rallying your fellow diners at restaurant-turned-bars.

While there are fewer choices overall in Ocho Rios, some popular spots include Noir Nightclub and Amnesia Nightclub.

The former goes for hours on end at the Moon Palace Jamaica Resort; the latter specializes in dancehall and reggae sounds.

For something different, sign up for the Cool Runnings’ Catamaran and Rum Punch Party. Just imagine: coastline cruises with free-flow drinks and music.

Does Montego Bay or Ocho Rios have better nightlife?

Both Jamaican destinations come to life at night!

Montego Bay delivers an intense, urban party experience where everyone spills onto the main street. 

For a more laidback night out, Ocho Rios is the better choice, with everyone dancing to natural rhythms and the outdoors.

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Where to Stay

Montego Bay

Montego Bay accommodations lean mostly toward all-inclusive resorts, all decked out with a lot of options for dining and nightlife. The closer you are to downtown, however, the more variety you’re given.

The best area to stay in Montego Bay for first-time visitors would be Freeport.

Offering a range of waterfront B&Bs, exclusive resorts and budget hotels, it’s within walking distance to Montego Bay’s cruise port – the starting point for various water sports and boat tours.

Alongside these main attractions are varied bars, restaurants and Freeport Shopping Center.

Montego Bay Resort Rooftop Pool and swim up bar
Montego Bay Resort Rooftop Pool and swim up bar Photo by Breathless Resorts

Ocho Rios

Ocho Rios features more boutique hotels and budget accommodations, embracing a local atmosphere and fewer tourists. Generally, visitor’s book stays right by the coastline.

In Ocho Rios, the best area to stay for first-time visitors is Ocho Rios Bay. The sheltered arc is lined with an abundance of accommodations with amazing views.

Choose between laidback B&Bs and budget hostels, ocean-facing condos and luxury clifftop or beachside resorts. The neighborhood also encompasses the central port and most of the downtown shops.

Another popular area to stay in is Mallards Bay.

Safety for Tourists

Safety in Jamaica, or lack of, has made many rounds in tourist circles. Shootings and gang violence often make headlines, with high crime rates hitting inner-city areas of popular destinations like Montego Bay, Spanish Town and Kingston.

Truth is – tourists are almost never targeted. If you exercise caution and avoid dark, inner-city areas at night, you’ll find Jamaica a safe holiday destination.

While Montego Bay has a higher crime rate than Ocho Rios, it all boils down to being more developed and populated.

The main safety issue you’ll face in tourist-centric areas are petty crimes like pickpocketing, especially on the Hip Strip.

Likewise, Ocho Rios is safe for tourists. With a lower crime rate than Montego Bay, its main risk is also pickpocketing. Be smart about your belongings and don’t leave important items unattended.

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Cost & Budget

The 1-week average budget for two in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios isn’t too costly, as the budget is extremely flexible depending on your activity choices.

Flights and accommodation are also huge cost-deciding factors since all-inclusive packages will save you hundreds on food and entertainment.

Average Budget for 1 Week in Montego Bay

The average one-week Montego Bay trip budget for two is approximately $2,750. Here’s the breakdown:

Flight cost – Depending on departure location and time of the year, an economy round-trip flight costs around $340 per person.

Cheap tickets can be as low as $90, while peak season or international travels inflate the price to an average of $545. A reasonable price for two would be $700.

Public transport – Most tourists rely on minibuses supplied by hotels, though taxis are convenient for short trips. The cheapest option is renting a car; rates are relatively low at $35-40 per day.

 Accommodation – Budget rooms with basic amenities hover around $65 per night, though you can find cheaper hostel shares. A mid-tier hotel room in a convenient location range between $75 – $150 depending on the view and available facilities.

Generally, tourists opt for 4-star hotel or villa rentals, which cost anywhere between $150 and $300.Expect 5-star hotels and all-inclusive deals to be much more expensive. A week’s stay for two averages $1,400.

 Food – Standard meals cost $6 to $10, but fancy dinners will come at double or triple the cost.

Drinks in Mobay can get pricey (especially if you’re partying all night) but typically, you could spend $12 per day on alcohol.

If you spend an average $25 per person every day plus a dinner treat, expect your food budget to be approximately $400.The exception? If you signed up or an all-inclusive package.

Activities – It’s all about what you’d like to do! Beach admissions are either free entry or a couple of dollars.Snorkeling trips start at $20 per person, while a 1.5-hour horse-riding experience may cost $45.

Night cruises can run anywhere between $85 and $200. Assuming you’re mostly moseying in the sea and joining 2 pricier activities, expect around $200-300 of entertainment dues.

Cruise Ship at Montego Bay Jamaica
Cruise Ship at Montego Bay Jamaica

Average Budget for 1 Week in Ocho Rios

The average one-week Ocho Rios trip budget for two is approximately $2,500. Here’s the breakdown:

Flight cost – Depending on departure location and time of the year, an economy round-trip flight costs around $300 per person.

Cheap tickets can be as low as $80, while peak season or international travels inflate the price to an average of $625. A reasonable price for two would be $600.

Public transport – Most tourists rely on minibuses supplied by hotels, though taxis are convenient for short trips. The cheapest option is renting a car; rates are relatively low at $30 per day.

Accommodation – The cheapest rooms in Ocho Rios start as low as $20, with the most basic hotel stay averaging $60. A comfortable 3-star hotel charges anywhere between $70 – $150 per night, while 4-star hotels start at $150 to cost as much as $500.

Ocho Rios does have the cheapest all-inclusive resorts in Jamaica, however, where even 5-star hotels come at great value. A week’s stay for two averages $1,250.

Food – Breakfast is cheaper than lunch or dinner; starting at $3.50 compared to heavier meals between $5 – $15. Fancier meals can cost double or triple the regular dinner.

Alcohol is half of Mobay prices, averaging $6 a day. A week’s food budget averages $350.

Activities – Generally, beach-focused holidays don’t rack up expenses since you’re mostly enjoying the outdoors for free.

Save up by planning your own hikes or dedicating your days to swimming and strolling. Coyaba Gardens admissions costs $5.60, hiking and tubing tours from $10 up; food tours and cultural immersions are $70+.

Expect to pay an average $150-200 of entertainment dues.

Is Montego Bay or Ocho Rios Cheaper to Visit?

Falling in line with its small-town vibes, Ocho Rios is the cheaper Jamaican destination to visit. 

This is mostly due to slightly cheaper food and activity costs, and a wider variety of accommodations that veers on the budget scale.

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