Montego Bay and Ocho Rios are two of, if not the most popular tourist areas in Jamaica. These island hotspots have a lot in common that makes them lucrative vacation destinations. There are, however, some differences and unique things about each area that you should consider when planning a trip to Jamaica.
Montego Bay vs Ocho Rios: Location
Both Montego Bay and Ocho Rios are on Jamaica’s north coast. The scenery in both areas is quite similar, as it is in most of Jamaica. White-sand beaches, clear blue water, and rainforest-clad hills paint the picture of the island.
Montego Bay (“Mobay”, for short) is more city-like and its landscape is less “rough”, so to speak. Ocho Rios, or “Ochi”, is a smaller town surrounded by waterfalls, cliffs, and more densely forested areas.
The north coast of Jamaica is slightly cooler and rainier than places on the south coast. Nevertheless, the water all around the island is always a good temperature for swimming and water-based activities!
How Far is Ocho Rios from Montego Bay?
The drive from Ocho Rios to Montego Bay takes between 1.5 and 2 hours. Regardless of which town you decide to stay in, the distance isn’t too bad for a day trip to either spot.
Sangster International Airport is located right outside of Montego Bay. Keep the distance in mind if you’re going to be staying in Ocho Rios. The distance from the other airport on the island (Norman Manley International Airport) to Ocho Rios is roughly the same.
Montego Bay vs Ocho Rios: Beaches
Mobay and Ochi are both home to gorgeous, white-sand beaches. Objectively, however, Montego Bay has nicer beaches and more options to choose from.
Most of the fun in Montego Bay is concentrated in the beaches. The bay features long stretches of beachfront that are perfect for strolling, lounging, and partying. The water is deep and thus great for watersports, and the coral reefs in the area are in amazing condition.
Popular beaches include Montego Beach and Aquasol Beach. Montego Beach is always busy but manages to be a perfect relaxation spot nonetheless. Aquasol Beach is very family-friendly, as it houses a mini amusement park for kids, complete with waterslides and go-karts.
Mobay is also home to luxurious beach clubs such as Doctor’s Cave Bathing Club and Pineapple Beach. Either of these locations will have you feeling like you’re truly on a five-star vacation.
If beach-hopping is what you’re into, you’ll probably appreciate Montego Bay more.
Ocho Rios doesn’t have many expansive or opulent beaches like Montego Bay has. You won’t find many beach clubs here either.
Rather, there are smaller beaches dotted in and around the town, offering an intimate and cozy vibe. Standouts include Reggae Beach and Mahogany Beach, both located east of the town.
The premier beach in Ocho Rios and one of the most expansive is Ocho Rios Bay Beach, also known as Turtle Beach. The premises are pristine and it’s a great spot for sunbathing, swimming, and watersports.
Montego Bay vs Ocho Rios: Attractions
When planning a vacation, the potential things to do in the area are a big point to consider. Montego Bay has better beaches but it can’t beat Ocho Rios when it comes to attractions.
Though Montego Bay is the busiest resort town in Jamaica, there are surprisingly not that many attractions to draw tourists in. Nonetheless, here are a few of the top things to do here.
1. Montego Bay Marine Park
The Montego Bay Marine Park is dedicated to protecting Mobay’s marine ecosystem as well as allowing visitors to experience its full glory. There are several relaxing tours offered, including a glass bottom boat tour and a sunset lagoon tour.
2. Rose Hall Great House
Though many former plantation estates are still standing around the island, few are as opulent and notorious as Rose Hall Great House. Legends are told of a former owner who was a murderous witch. The grounds are home to a golf course and an equestrian center.
3. The Hip Strip
Though not an “attraction” per se, duty-free shopping is a major advantage Montego Bay has over other tourist areas in Jamaica. Gloucester Avenue (the “Hip Strip”), with its shops lined up opposite the waterfront, is the best place to make use of the policy.
Attractions in Ocho Rios are plentiful and are generally much more rooted in nature. Its surrounding areas are perfect for outdoorsy travelers.
1. Dunn’s River Falls
Ocho Rios is home to the most popular attraction in Jamaica: the world-famous Dunn’s River Falls. Here you can climb the falls and zipline back to the base, as well as relax at the beach at the base of the waterfall.
2. Ocho Rios Blue Hole
Ocho Rios Blue Hole is the highest-rated attraction on the whole island. The site — made up of a series of waterfalls, sinkholes, and caverns — has visitors feeling like they’ve stepped into another dimension.
3. Excursions Galore
There are so many things to do in Ocho Rios; excursions help you experience the area to its fullest. You can bamboo raft down a river, go horseback riding on the coast, drive an ATV through the mountains, and go on a multitude of cultural tours.
Montego Bay vs Ocho Rios: Nightlife
Neither town has a definitive advantage over the other in terms of nightlife but they do each have their strong points. If you’d like to get just as much out of your night as your days, the differences are worth considering!
Mobay has plenty of places to choose from in terms of nightlife, mostly concentrated on Gloucester Avenue, the “Hip Strip”. Despite the variety, most venues tend to be a bit too packed, almost entirely with tourists.
1. Blue Beat Ultra Lounge
This upscale martini bar is one of many establishments on the Hip Strip. It stands out against the dancehall and techno-filled competition in that it’s a jazz and blues venue! It has live music and stand-up comedy throughout the week and DJ sets on Saturdays.
2. Pier One
Pier One is a combination seafood restaurant and bar. There’s no better place in town to watch the sunset over dinner and then drink into the night. Stop by for DJ nights on the weekend and karaoke nights on Mondays.
Compared to those in Mobay, bars and clubs in Ocho Rios tend to have a more even split of locals and tourists. To some, this taste of authentic Jamaican nightlife might be a worthy tradeoff for the fact that Ocho Rios offers fewer choices.
1. Margaritaville Ocho Rios
There are several bars bearing the name “Margaritaville” around the island, but the one in Ochi does it the best. It functions as a restaurant in the day and a super dynamic bar at night. It’s got a private beach and a swim-up bar.
This nightclub is on the premises of the Moon Palace Resort but its doors are open to outsiders, too. Noir is one of the most popular clubs in town — the DJ sets are incredibly lively and they never stop until dawn.
Montego Bay vs Ocho Rios: Safety
Jamaica gets a lot of bad press for its high crime rate. Shootings and gang violence are major issues on the island, mostly in inner-city areas of Kingston, Spanish Town, and Montego Bay.
Though Montego Bay does have a higher incidence of crime than Ocho Rios, it is mostly limited to areas that vacationers wouldn’t go to anyways. Tourists are almost never targeted. The main thing to be vigilant about in Montego Bay (particularly on the Hip Strip) is pickpocketing.
Ocho Rios, largely just by virtue of being a smaller town, has a lower crime rate than Montego Bay. Crime targeting tourists is practically unheard of. As with Mobay, take care to not put yourself at risk of being pickpocketed.
Regardless of which destination you choose, it would be smart to exercise reasonable caution at all times but especially at night.
Montego Bay vs Ocho Rios: Conclusion
Which destination is better for you largely comes down to your personal preferences, the kind of traveler you (or your group) are, and what you prioritise on vacation.
If you love beach-hopping, luxury, and duty-free shopping, Montego Bay is the town for you. Also, if you’re on a short trip or can’t be bothered with transfer times, Montego Bay’s proximity to the airport is a huge plus. The tourist-centrism of Mobay makes it a super easy area to navigate for families and first-time vacationers.
If you’re an outdoorsy person or you value adventure and authenticity on your vacation, you’ll probably appreciate Ocho Rios more. This town has slightly cheaper resorts and is home to the most popular natural attractions on the whole island. Ochi is great for nature lovers and thrill-seekers, especially young adults.