Little Dunn’s River in Ocho Rios is the last remaining span of free north coast between Portland & St. Ann’s Bay in Jamaica. Attempts have been made in the past by the government to shut it down, citing that the property was a safety hazard to patrons but really with the motive of handing over the property to private developers. In 2013, the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) posted guards at the site, erected a fence with a locked gate, placed no trespassing signs on the property and mounted no parking signs on the adjacent strip of road on which patrons would park.
Thankfully, the residents have succeeded in retaining community ownership to date unlike many other jewels around Jamaica which end up becoming privatized and excluding locals with prices far outside of the reach of ordinary citizens. This success story allowed me the opportunity of enjoying yet another free beach which has the added pleasure of a river. This beach is rather unique too because not only does the Dunn’s River flow into its sea but it does so in dramatic fashion via a waterfall.
Coming from the North-South highway, you’ll pass Dolphin’s Cove, the entrance to its heavily commercialized but more stunning sister Dunn’s River Falls and eventually Mystic Mountain. Immediately after passing Mystic Mountain on the left side of the road you’ll notice a fenced-up area with a strip of road adjacent to it. You may already see quite a few cars parked along this strip. Simply join the queue and park. If you’re coming from the end of Ocho Rios, it’ll be on your right instead and you’ll reach it just before the Mystic Mountain sign. If you accidentally pass it, cautiously turn around or pull over on the right side of the road anyway once the way is clear then gingerly manoeuvre your way to the parking strip. If you missed it from the introduction, admission is free but as with nearly all uncommercialized Jamaican beaches, wear your swimsuit and don’t come expecting restrooms or changing rooms. One has to pay for such “luxuries.” Deck chairs and locker facilities can be rented from the residents who manage the beach, as well as refreshments like beers etc. purchased on site.
The way down to the tiny sandy strip is not ideal but once you’re in an average state of health, you shouldn’t have any trouble. There are quite a few steps down this staircase then eventually over some tree roots and down a slope. Once you make the short 3-minute or so trek down, you’ll be rewarded with:
The Beach & Falls
If you had wanted a large white sandy strip on which to recline and admire the view, this place isn’t for you. In fact the sand was very rocky and a bit sharp in some places. All that was going through my mind initially was how I really should get my tetanus booster for the tiny cuts I’m likely going to get on the soles of my feet and likely will get in other off-the-beaten-path places in this country. Off-the-beaten-path Jamaican places are raw, unaltered and no one is going to take up the coarser sand and seaweed which naturally exists along the coast. However, what Little Dunn’s lacks in sand it makes up in sea. Warm crystal clear brackish water since its salt content is reduced by the fresh water inflow from the mouth of Dunn’s River. It has quite an extensive shallow portion too making it perfect for swimmers & non-swimmers alike.
When you’re finished admiring the view, make your way over to one of the three cascades, provided of course they’re not occupied by another family or group of friends. In fact one patron who it seems may live in the house above the falls was taking his shower and shampooing his locks underneath one of the falls rather carefreely and singing rather loudly too. I feel as if Little Dunn’s River embodied authentic Jamaica, the side of rural Jamaicans bathing in rivers, the side I’d want to see if I were a visitor rather than the carefully orchestrated tourist product which gathers mass appeal. However, that’s just me. Not everyone is into cultural tourism and prefers to swim, eat and enjoy Jamaica the way we Jamaicans do, but that’s perfectly fine.
There’s nothing like the cold invigorating shower which only Mother Nature herself can provide. There were 2 waterfalls under which to get that feeling and I enjoyed them both immensely. The 3rd cascade (pictured above) can be climbed just like at Dunn’s River Falls but be cautious as the rocks were rather slippery.
It’s great to see an uncommercialized jewel remaining in the hands of locals for locals & foreigners alike to enjoy, even if the place is a little rough around the edges. For example, the place could do well with less litter and as with all public beaches, it could do well with restrooms and changing rooms. Nonetheless, I had a great time at Little Dunn’s River and would certainly revisit. For that reason it gets 4 stars ☆☆☆☆ and I get to say I’ve finally visited this spot of which I’ve always heard yet never knew it would be so easy to find.
Psst! About that tetanus booster, you’re due one every 10 years. Most young Jamaicans would have gotten their last one at age 12 due to our exemplary local vaccination programme but by age 22 you’re not usually reminded nor fully protected anymore. Tetanus is an awful disease, expensive to treat & potentially fatal. You’ll get the booster once you present to any A&E with a tetanus-prone wound but why wait? P.S. I didn’t get the booster just for the tiny cut on my heel but since I had the thought on my mind then, I couldn’t help myself from sharing this advice now 😅 (don’t take med students anywhere).
‘Til next time. ✌