Dunn’s River Falls and Park is a state-run tourist attraction featuring a naturally-occuring cascade which flows out to the Caribbean Sea along Jamaica’s north coast. It has been minimally modified with cement to create footholds, making it safer and easier for tourists to climb but that’s about it. If the tiers seem too perfect to believe they’re natural, that’s because Jamaica’s limestone richness and our abundant rivers create magic when they meet, carving out thousands of caves and dozens of perfectly tiered cascades throughout the whole island which are a sight to behold. They didn’t name Jamaica from the Arawakan word meaning ‘land of wood and water’ for nothing. April 2018 was my first visit to Dunn’s River Falls in Ocho Rios, Saint Ann.
Somehow or the other I just hadn’t visited my island’s most popular & world famous waterfall which holds a record for the world’s most certified tour guides. This could be due to not having a family vehicle during my growing up years or not coming from a family which prioritizes travel. After having the epiphany moment that travel doesn’t have to be for a distant future when I’m financially secure (because really, how many people ever feel truly money secure), I’ve been trying to pull my family around the island with me even though my trips are usually with friends. I’ve now accepted that I’ll never get my mother to visit off-the-beaten-path spots with me because in her words, the world is too dangerous a place. However, if commercialized spots make her feel safe, commercialized spots she’s going to get! It doesn’t get any safer than Dunn’s River Falls.
Initially I didn’t plan on writing about Dunn’s River because like I said, every Jamaican and visitor to Jamaica has already been here (right?). However, I changed my mind because:
- I’m trying to build a comprehensive collection of all the island’s treasures so it would be a pity for me to leave out its most visited spot.
- Despite being viewed as a heavily commercialized tourist trap, Dunn’s River Falls is a stunning example of lush breathtaking Jamaican landscape and the magic which can happen when tourist attractions are developed to preserve their natural beauty and allow locals and foreigners alike to coexist in harmony.
- Dunn’s River Falls & Park was one of my favourite trips in a long time, the reasons for which will continue unfolding throughout the article.
- Many people may enjoy reading about Dunn’s River and could potentially benefit from this sort of travel information.
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Dunn’s River Falls is the more stunning sister of Little Dunn’s River, also found along the north coast in Ocho Rios. Dunn’s River is less than ninety minutes’ drive from Kingston using the new North-South Highway, but be prepared for the hefty price tag of $2,600 toll roundtrip. The views from the highway are a treat and it’s impossible to get lost given how well-signed it is. Follow it until you get to the exit roundabout where you’re going right. After about 5 minutes’ more drive, you’ll see Dunn’s River’s entrance on your right. If you’re from or staying in Saint Ann, even better! A simple route taxi of $150 per person will drop you to the entrance and then you walk to the exit and flag down another taxi when you’re ready to leave. Admission is US$20 and US$12, adults (persons 12 years & older) and children respectively. The local rate equivalent is JM$600 and $300, but for adults over age 18, a valid local ID such as your drivers’ licence is required to obtain the locals’ discount. I know the difference in price is hotly contested and it’s understandable; many tourists are breaking the bank and using credit cards to afford a visit to Jamaica so the disparity may come across as unfair. However, a locals’ discount is an incentive by the government to allow us to visit the places we live next door to but majority wouldn’t see otherwise due to poverty.
They’re open everyday of the week from 8:30am–4pm and the amenities are endless. Souvenir stores, a mini craft market with sculptors on hand sculpting their wares, a helpdesk, refreshments on sale, numerous changing rooms, clean bathrooms, lifeguards, tour guides, locker rentals, loads of picnic benches, a mini water park and slide for children (recent addition), police post and massive car park– they don’t call Dunn’s River Falls a world-class tourist attraction for nothing. You’re allowed to bring your own food, but ensure you carry everything you need from the car since you aren’t allowed re-entry without re-paying once you exit the gates to fetch anything.
Dunn’s River Falls & Beach
The beauty of going out with my mother is that she forces me to live in the moment. You leave your phones in the bag and live for now in the experience, which wasn’t hard to do considering my phone isn’t waterproof and these cascades are stroooong. While I’m certainly not at the extreme in this photo-taking millennial era, it made me wonder how much sensory experience we lose from a place because we’re too focused on getting the perfect snaps rather than opening our eyes and other sense organs to fully immerse in now. I can’t say if unplugging is why I had so much fun, or maybe it’s also because I managed to convince my mom to climb the falls from the beach halfway up! She had told me a firm no every time I brought it up in the weeks we planned this trip but look what perseverance and coaxing and teasing can do! The vibe between going out with family vs. friends is always so different but I welcome the experiences of both. When next I go to Dunn’s River, I know I’ll need the company of friends to climb it to the very top but for now, this is still one item crossed off my bucket list. In addition to climbing the waterfall partway, I got more watery back massages than I could count and a lot of welcome sensory overload– the best way I know how to reward myself after a hard academic year’s work.
Anyway, enjoy the few photos I managed to take of the grounds without getting my phone wet:
There’s a lot more I didn’t capture but the beauty of Dunn’s River’s popularity is that Trip Advisor, Google Maps and everybody’s favourite go-to travel website can fill in the pieces I’m missing.
Dunn’s River welcomes several hundred visitors each day, so don’t go there expecting to get more than one corner of the place to yourself at a time unless you go before 10:00 am. Human chains of 100 people or more hold hands and climb this cascade several times a day. However, just like when I’d visited Green Grotto Caves for the first time last October, it warmed my heart to see my tiny third-world isle making colossal strides like this in tourism. I’d hate to see all our treasures become this commercialized because I love seeing nature untouched & free, but we do need attractions like this. That’s what vacation is all about– comfort. And trust me, if it’s not state-run nor privatized and doesn’t come at a cost, the safety, cleanliness and first-rate amenities which we take for granted at Dunn’s River Falls would not exist. I rate Dunn’s River Falls five stars, ☆☆☆☆☆.
‘Til next time. ✌🏽
** 2019 Update: New price increase effective May 25, 2018.
*** 2022 Update: New photos added from my second trip to Dunn’s River.