Exploring Montego Bay, Jamaica

Formerly a sugarcane port and now the modern-day tourist capital of Jamaica — Montego Bay is the place for a tropical vacation.

Known colloquially as “Mobay“, this city has a bit of everything you could want out of a vacation. Luxury is the name of the game (resorts and restaurants and golf courses, oh my!).

Jamaica Sunset

The gorgeous beaches tie it all together. Whether your heart’s already set on Mobay or you’re trying to decide if it’s right for you, here’s a Montego Bay travel guide to make your job easier.

How to Get to Montego Bay

Montego Bay’s airport, Sangster International Airport, receives daily flights from most gateway cities in Europe, the UK, and North America. The number of direct flights to Montego Bay has steadily increased over the years.

With a boom of tourism throughout the spring and summer of ’22, even more, direct flights to Montego Bay have rapidly been added to airlines’ rosters. During this summer, American Airlines added a nonstop flight from Austin, to go along with the multitude of other nonstop flights coming from American cities.

Recently, the announcement of a direct flight service from Zurich to Montego Bay made waves in both Switzerland and Jamaica.

Where to Stay in Montego Bay

Three of the most popular resorts in the area are Sandals, SeaGarden, and Half Moon. 

For those looking for a romantic getaway, Sandals Montego Bay is a couples-only all-inclusive resort. It’s also a trusted destination, being part of one of the biggest resort chains on the island.

Jamaica Overwater Bungalow

SeaGarden Beach Resort is very similar to Sandals — luxurious and all-inclusive — but is family-friendly! Half Moon Montego Bay is another family-friendly resort but is unique in that it is home to the largest resort spa in the country. It also boasts the title of Jamaica’s highest-rated resort. Satisfaction is pretty much guaranteed!

First-time vacationers will likely find it most comfortable to stay at a resort. Adept travelers, on the other hand, may find one of the city’s many villas and hostels to be better suited for them.

The options are practically endless but Mobay Kotch and Cedar Ridge Lodging are two affordable yet highly-rated hostels to make note of. If you decide to go the villa route, Airbnb is a great starting point for your search.

Things to Do in Montego Bay

1. Take the cure at Doctor’s Cave Beach.

There are many wonderful beaches in Jamaica. One of the most popular beaches in Montego Bay is Doctor’s Cave Beach. This world-famous beach is known for its clear turquoise waters and white sand beaches. Supposedly the waters here are fed by mineral springs and have restorative effects—or at least, that’s what a famous British doctor claimed in the 1920s, making this a tourist hotpot and popular with cruise ship passengers.

2. Watch planes fly from the sand.

Dead End Beach is a lovely free beach close to Doctor’s Cove Beach; here you can watch planes coming into the nearby airport, right over you. This is also a great spot for the sunset.

3. Hang out at Dump Up Beach.

Dump Up Beach is in the downtown area of Montego Bay and popular with locals. It’s free, beautiful, and has great facilities.

4. Enjoy water sports like parasailing, jet-skiing, and boat rides.

Water sports in Montego Bay are popular among visitors, due to the stunningly clear and calm waters.

There are a number of companies that offer parasailing, jet skiing, and banana boat rides. You can also take a glass-bottom boat tour to get a glimpse of the vibrant marine life that inhabits the waters around Montego Bay.

Some water sports are included in all-inclusive resorts, Sandals resorts include them for sure. Make sure you check when booking your accommodations.

5. Get up close and personal with marine life.

You can snorkel right off the beach in Montego Bay along thriving coral reefs that are just offshore. Or visit the Montego Bay Marine Park, which allows snorkeling and scuba diving in its protected waters that are home to a wide variety of marine life.

6. Go on safari.

If you’re looking for something a little more adventurous, why not head out on one of Montego Bay’s many jungle safari tours? These tours will take you deep into the heart of Jamaica’s lush rainforests, where you’ll get to see some of the island’s abundant wildlife. You might even spot a few crocodiles!

7. Play golf.

Montego Bay is home to a number of excellent and beautiful golf courses, including the White Witch Golf Course and Cinnamon Hill Golf Course.

8. Go horseback riding.

Horseback riding is a popular activity in the Jamaican countryside, and many companies offer tours.

9. Enjoy Jamaica’s natural beauty.

Hiking is a great way to enjoy the island’s natural beauty, with plenty of trails that wind through the mountains and forests of Jamaica and are easily reached from Montego Bay.

10. Explore the many cultural and historic sites in Montego Bay.

Cultural and historic sites in Montego Bay and nearby include Rose Hall Great House, Greenwood Great House, Sam Sharpe Square, Green Grotto Caves, and St. Mary’s Anglican Church. The Rose Hall Great House is a former sugar plantation built in 1770 that has been restored and is now open to the public as a museum.

Take a guided tour here and learn about its history, including the former owner “the White Witch of Rose Hall” Annie Palmer, who was said to have black magic powers. Rose Hall even offers candlelit tours at night for the chance to see her ghost.

The Greenwood Great House is another historic site in Montego Bay. You can tour the grounds and learn about the history of the plantation, which is one of the best-preserved such homes in Jamaica. This historic home is more than 200 years old and was once owned by the English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s family.

Sam Sharpe Square commemorates Sam Sharpe, a slave and Baptist deacon who was hanged here (then known as Charles Square) for his role in the Baptist War slave rebellion in 1831-32. This rebellion occurred after local planters refused slaves’ requests to be paid a working wage and given more freedom. Shortly after Sam Sharpe’s tragic death, Great Britain began working toward the end of slavery.

The square was renamed for him after Jamaica became independent and declared him a national hero. The church at which he was a deacon is nearby, and his remains are interred there (Burchell Memorial Church).

The Green Grotto Caves offer a fascinating glimpse into Jamaica’s rich history. This labyrinth of caves was first used by the native Tainos peoples, and fragments of their pottery have been found here. In the 17th century, Spaniards hid here from the invading English. The caves were also used as a hiding place for slaves. You can explore the caves and marvel at the underground Grotto Lake (which appeared in the James Bond movie “Live and Let Die”).

St. Mary’s Anglican Church is a beautiful stone church located on the Montpelier Estate. Built-in 1847, it was the site of a slave revolt against the owners of the estate, which was burned to the ground.

The great thing about staying in Mobay is that your escapades don’t have to be limited to the city itself; it’s a fantastic home base for vacationers who intend to visit other towns. It’s about a 1.5-hour drive to Negril and Ocho Rios, and only 30 minutes to Falmouth — great for a day trip to any of the three. Your pool of potential things to do has just quadrupled!

Where to Eat in Montego Bay

Though it may seem a bit basic, the resorts’ in-house restaurants honestly serve some of the best and most accessible food in the city. One such example is The Sugar Mill. Located at the Half Moon Resort, this highly rated restaurant serves contemporary Jamaican cuisine.

Unsurprisingly, given its location, Montego Bay is chock full of seafood restaurants. Marguerite is the premier seafood restaurant in the city. It’s located in the Ocean Front neighborhood which is home to several other top-class restaurants. Round Hill and The Houseboat Grill are two other fine dining seafood options.

If you want a more lowkey, less frilly experience, try out the sports bars and grills. Nyam and Jam Sports Bar in the Craft Market and Pelican Grill on the Hip Strip are two eateries that never disappoint. For a unique ambiance, try out the European pub-Esque Robbie’s Kitchen in the Half Moon Shopping Village. 

Though you’ll find some vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options at most places around the city, Mystic India takes the cake as arguably the most inclusive restaurant in Mobay. Despite the name, this restaurant in the Ironshore district also serves Chinese cuisine in addition to Indian.

Is Montego Bay Safe?

For all of the great things we hear about this beautiful island, we hear a lot of nasty stuff about Jamaica too. Jamaica, sadly, does have a high rate of crime, which is concentrated in areas of Kingston, Spanish Town, and Montego Bay. Shootings and gang violence are major issues in the country. Safety is absolutely something to take into account when planning a trip to Jamaica. 

Rest assured that tourist areas in Montego Bay such as Gloucester Avenue, Ocean Front, Rose Hall Road, and Ironside are generally very safe. Tourists are rarely ever targeted or end up in the crossfire. Crime is largely limited to inner-city neighborhoods — areas that you wouldn’t visit during your vacation anyways.

Montego Bay vs Negril

The decision of where to stay in Jamaica often comes down to Montego Bay, Negril, or Ocho Rios. All three destinations are resort areas but differ quite a bit.

Montego Bay is the most touristy of the three towns. This could be either a positive or a negative. It’s definitely a good thing for first-time vacationers. The city is tailored towards tourists, so very little know-how is needed to navigate the tourist scene here. For this reason, it’s also great for families, as there’s the very little hassle involved in organizing excursions. Golfers will also feel at home here, what with all the golf courses!

Negril is very relaxed and romantic with arguably the best beaches on the island. Add to that the multitude of water sports you can do, and you’ll find that it’s a haven for water lovers. The town has a free-spirited vibe and is great for parties and travelers who like to go against the grain.

Montego Bay vs Ocho Rios

Ocho Rios is the smallest and least touristy of the three resort areas. The town is surrounded by waterfalls, cliffs, rivers, and rainforest-clad mountains just waiting to be explored. It has beaches that are perfect for relaxing but it’s also great for adventure-seekers and people who love to get hands-on with nature.

If you find yourself torn between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, or Montego Bay and Negril, remember that Mobay is located smack dab between the other two towns — a roughly 1.5-hour drive from either one. This means that staying in Montego Bay can still afford you the chance to have a day trip to Negril or Ocho Rios.

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