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Cruising – Jamaica and Dunns River Falls
Although we love everything that Orlando and the theme parks have to offer, we sometimes complete a hectic trip to our beautiful villa with a cruise from Fort Lauderdale or Miami.
One of our favourite islands to visit is Jamaica, and we have dropped anchor at Ocho Rios several times. When visiting recently on a cruise on Carnival Glory, we decided to visit Dunn’s River Falls, a popular tourist attraction which has a beautiful beach at the foot of this amazing waterfall. Although there are many excursions available from the ship, we like to go it alone if we can, and it is very easy to do just that when the ship docks as there are licensed taxis available at the port itself. Do not be tempted to go with an unlicensed taxi, though, keep to those which are allowed in side the port gates. You can certainly haggle a bit – we did – and the first offer was eventually cut by half!
There are two different docks where the cruise ships land, but we were unfortunate enough to be at the worst of the two. The dockside at Ocho Rios is not very inspiring, situated as it is beneath a rugged cliff with ancient and crumbling rusty shacks lining the quayside. There are always plenty of people around to guide you to waiting taxis, and we were quickly ushered outside the dock gates where our taxi was waiting. Our driver said he would take us to the famous Dunn’s River Falls and pick us up at a suitable time. The drive is actually very short – it is walkable, but not in the heat, and we soon arrived at the huge car park at the foot of the breathtaking botanical gardens that surround the actual waterfall. Unfortunately for us there were numerous large cruise ships in that day and I have to say it really spoilt what was once an idyllic spot.
We left our taxi and walked to the entrance to pay our fees ($15), and then, in intense heat, we made our way past exotic trees and plants to the waterfall itself. We decided to pick up a couple of bottle of water, and again, the traders were happy to haggle – with the intense heat we were glad we had made these purchases. Our son had decided that he wanted to climb the falls so he went off to pay and collect the special shoes, aquasocks, which are necessary to make it safe and comfortable. The rental of these shoes is nearly as much as it would cost to buy a new pair, but you don’t really have a choice unless you have some strong rubber shoes with you. The rocks are pretty sharp and the climb is steep so these really are essential to make your footing safe.
We waited for him to join his party, with a guide at the front, and then we walked slowly down the waterfall, stopping at the various vantage points to admire the scenery. Well, it would have been beautiful had it not been for the continuous stream of visitors climbing up the rocky steps in front of us. The whole place was heaving and it was a far cry from how we remembered it from previous visits when it had been largely empty.
We stopped at the entry point to the falls, just before the tunnel and steps which lead down to the beautiful bay at the foot of the waterfall. Hundreds of people were making their way up the falls in front of us, in a human chain led by experienced Falls Guides. I took some photos as we waited for our son to appear from the base of the falls, which was not in view as it was at the end of the tunnel. We waited and waited, as group after group climbed up in front of us. The waterfall tumbles down huge rocky platforms carved out by the water into different shapes, and it is fast and strong. People were helped up from one level to another, with photo opportunities galore. Some were able to slide down slippery slopes into curved pools, scooped out by the torrential waterfall. Others climbed up rocky steps carved out of the rock by the water. We began to think we had missed him when suddenly there he was, climbing slowly up the waterfall.
We had waited nearly an hour and it was very hot and humid. We followed him, climbing up the steps and terraces which line the waterfall, and which provide excellent vantage points for photographs of these stunning falls. Unfortunately they were crowded with people, which rather spoilt the view. The waterfall is lined with lush tropical foliage and abundant flowers. There are ferns and bamboo, orchids, crotons, ginger lilies, palm trees and breadfruit trees. The water cascades over rocky ledges into deep pools, and there is the constant soothing sound of the water as it tumbles towards the beach below.
We waited as our son made his way up, and he decided that he would not climb right to the top which had become very crowded, so he climbed out and onto a terrace where we stood in the shade, taking photos. We decided to make our way down to the beach itself, to escape the frenetic atmosphere of the waterfall. Walking through the tunnel we emerged into the light to see the beautiful beach below us, just visible through the trees. The sea was a brilliant aquamarine, and the sand soft and golden. But as we walked along the beach it was sad to see that it was not pristine. Indeed, there were bits of rubbish and discarded cans littering the beach. We walked into the sea to swim, but it was not the immaculate and unspoiled beach we had visited for the first time ten years previously. The cruise ships had actually ruined it, spewing out thousands of eager tourists, and whilst obviously bringing in much needed revenue, overwhelming what was once a truly beautiful and spectacular place.
Sadly, we picked up our belongings and made the slow climb back to the top of the gardens. They are still beautiful but the thronging tourists made it one place we shall not return to. We walked through the craft market – you have no choice as this is the way out, and as usual we were bombarded with requests from traders to look at their wares and to buy the wooden souvenirs which they sell. We did not stop to buy. Many years previously we had been thrilled with the beautifully carved wooden fish and birds, but today it all seemed a little tawdry.
The taxi was waiting and we made our way swiftly back to the ship, without a backward glance. It was with some relief that we climbed up the gangplank and back into the comforting coolness of the ship.
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