Vacation Rentals by the Sea We are local - here for you every day!

Turtle River Falls and Gardens in  Ocho Rios, Jamaica

Ocho Rios might be best known for its stretches of white sand beaches and the tourist-filled attractions of Dolphin Cove and Dunn’s River Falls, but today we’re headed somewhere new, to an attraction I’ve never heard of before, despite having visited Jamaica for the past 15 years. Driving past the familiar stretch of minibuses and street vendors, we take a right turn away from the North coast, and when we arrive at our destination about five minutes later, it feels miles away from the bustle of Ocho Rios. 

With a lot of relatives in tow, we’re a mixed group today aged from 3 years, to 63. When we first step out of our bus into the empty parking lot, we all feel a bit confused. Apart from the security guard who let us through the gate, there’s no one in sight, so after sorting out what belongings we feel we need to take with us, we head to the large building before us. Here, we’re greeted by staff who give us all wristbands quickly, and we pay US$10 each. Standing awkwardly in the reception area, we meet our guide for the day who gives us a brief overview of what we’re going to be doing, gives us the opportunity to use the restroom, and introduces us to his colleague who will also be going around the falls with us as a photographer. 

Unfortunately at this point we aren’t given any prices for these photos, and only told about physical prints we can purchase, and given experiences at attractions such as Dolphin Cove, our group is quick to assume they’ll be similarly overpriced, and think to ourselves that we’re content with taking our own pictures. It’s not until after our adventure that we learn you can also buy a CD of all the photos for just $10 - which definitely turns out to be a worthwhile investment given the high number and quality of the photos. Sadly, our previous assumption meant that we didn’t spend much time posing for Turtle River Fall’s official photographer, just for each others cameras, so our CD is more full of candid shots than anything else, but these are still very nicely taken. 

Once we emerge out of the building, we are all immediately struck by the beauty that surrounds us. Tall green tree canopies and beautiful flowers surround the gardens that stretch out around us. 
lawns and tall trees

We follow a path past a swimming pool of school children excitedly playing, and begin walking up steps to the sound of the hidden waterfall, until we reach our first viewpoint. The fresh water rushes over a shallow pool where we get the first opportunity to dip our feet. As we climb further up the steps adjacent to the waterfall our guide explains to us how the falls got their name from the smooth, spherical nature of the rocks, that resemble a turtles back. 

group at waterfall
Our next spot is a more open area where the children in our group can paddle in the pool, while the rest of us cool off up to our knees. Not just the waterfall itself, but the vegetation that surrounds it is breathtaking. We then reach a spot where a bridge stretches over the waterfall. Our guide tells us of the sweet-spot halfway across the bridge where the rushing waters act as nature’s air conditioning. We all take a moment to enjoy this, but luckily most our walk up the waterfall has been covered by overtop tree canopies so we are not suffering from the sun’s effects too much! 

trees over river

ginger lilies
Our last stop on the waterfall’s climb is naturally the most impressive, as we reach an open space with climbable rocks, and plenty of waters to enjoy. However for the less adventurous there is decking and a bench to sit, relax, and watch others play. Most of our group, including the youngest children even take the opportunity to get in the water and climb up the rocks before us. At the very top is an opportunity to scramble underneath a cave and watch the water rush down over the rock in front of you. 
 kids and adults in river
After climbing to the top of the falls and back, we return to land to finish our tour. We retrace our route back down the steps beside the waterfall and are taken through the sites gardens. On our way we pass a bunch of schoolchildren, and one of them turns to my boyfriend to say “you have pretty eye”, then to my brother “you have pretty eye too”, before carrying on their way. She didn’t pass the compliment on to my father though, who was standing with us, much to his dismay. 
lily pond

We pass a lake of beautifully coloured fish which the children in our group get an opportunity to feed, and carry on to a bird aviary. An unexpected feature of the day, we are all excited when we’re given the option to feed the birds, and a little surprised when at the sight of food they immediately fly in and start landing on us! Surrounded by beautifully coloured birds on our hands and heads, this is unsurprisingly a great photo opportunity! 
koi pond

lal feeding the birds Tej feeding the birds Phil feeding the birds
Once the bird’s appetites were satisfied, and our camera memories equally full, we continue walking through the spacious gardens to the end of our tour. Here, we ask our guide if we can go back to the top spot of the waterfall independently as we’re not finished enjoying the water and beautiful surroundings. This is where the second part of our day begins! When we return to the highest waterfall opening we spot a set of rocks within the waterfall leading away from the Turtle River Falls pathway, and the most adventurous in our group decide to follow it. Climbing up against the rushing waters was a nerve wrecking task for me but luckily my family was there to lend a literal helping hand. 
turtle in pond kids by waterfall with mom
After climbing steeply upwards for a few minutes, we emerge to a whole new set of beautiful gardens. School children run across the fields playing in the sunshine, and we walk past, following the route of the falls, until we spot the mouth of the waterfall. We find our way through the park until we are standing above the mouth itself, at the very highest point of the waterfall. The view is breathtaking. By this point we’re wondering why our guide didn’t take us to this part of the gardens, until my brother notices that everyone around us is wearing a different coloured attraction-wristband. Curious as to what’s going on, we carry on further through the gardens and my dad asks a security guard what attraction we’re in. We soon realise we’ve accidentally entered another attraction! Furthermore, the guard doesn’t seem keen on us sticking around any more to enjoy it. So we say goodbye to our beautiful surroundings, head back down to the part of the falls we originally came out of. We retrace our steps down the waterfall and back into official Turtle River Falls territory, only to find other groups following in our misplaced footsteps! 
feeding parrots in palms kids feeding parrots

When we make our way down the steps of the falls, satisfied with our day and ready to head off, we spot our tour guide and ask him about our accidental extra-adventure. He tells us it in fact happens quite often, and both ways. We towel off and change in the basic changing-room sheds, then head through the entrance building. It is here that we find out about the option to purchase the photos taken of our group on a CD, and decide to take it. At home we discover this was the right decision as the photographer was quite talented, unlike those at other tourist attractions. After our packed morning of excitement and activities, we drive just a couple minutes down the road to Evita’s, a fantastic Italian-Jamaican fusion restaurant, for a well-deserved lunch. 
turtle river falls - ginger lilies big waterfall at turtle river falls Asha at waterfalls

I’ve always believed Jamaica’s rivers and waterfalls to be its best kept secret and Turtle River Falls further satisfies this theory.

(By Asha Chadeesingh)