Visiting Dunn’s River Falls, Jamaica—with small children

At Dunn's River Falls in Jamaica
Far and away, one of my favorite family travel moments of the past year was hiking up the world-famous Dunn’s River Falls in Jamaica. As you can see, by “hiking up” the falls I mean hiking in the falls—in the river itself. That my two daughters, at only 3.5 and 5.5 years old, and my mother (who’s age is respectfully withheld here), were able to participate in this magical journey up the 600-foot vertically cascading river alongside of me and my husband was something we hadn’t expected and will never forget.

To set the scene properly: Dunn’s River Falls is one of the most popular tourist destinations on the North Coast of Jamaica, near Ocho Rios. The “Jungle Book-esque” scene features great little swimming spots throughout the ascent, plus a couple of spots to stop and get a “back massage” with short water falls pulsing against you. Be sure to stop and try the natural waterslide—and be prepared for a good dunk!

The ritual is that each group holds hands in a chain and makes way up the falls behind their guide who knows the river—and best places to step. Owing to its popularity, this landmark can at times be nearly blotted out by chain after chain of bikini-clad tour groups. That’s why, from day one in Jamaica, I began asking questions, trying to figure out the best way for our large family—a group with 3 adults, 2 children, and 1 infant—to visit the falls.
It all paid off when we arrived Friday morning with our FDR Vacation Nannies along to help (they get in for a discounted rate, as noted below) and only one other group was present (from Sandals adults-only resort, as shown here for the final segment of the climb). We had opportunities aplenty for money shots of the falls—without people. We also had our chance to choose a personal guide recommended by our Vacation Nannies (a friend of the family in fact) to take just our family who, a moment after discussing with our 3-year-old Rozzie, turned to announce, “Yes, she’s comin’ up the falls.” And to our amazement, and with his marvelous assistance, she did.
Our Rosalyn couldn’t have been more proud of herself for making it the entire way, though she had to be carried through some of the deeper portions, of course (as did her big sister). After all, it was at the entrance that the ticket lady explained she wasn’t going to charge anything for her because of course she wouldn’t be climbing the falls anyway. We kept quiet on the way out, of course.

 

Here are my tips for those of you hoping to see Dunn’s River Falls in Jamaica with your own families:

– The best decision we made was to hire our own transportation for the trip, especially when I found out it would be an $80 flat-rate fee (not including admission), regardless of the number of people or hours, and that we could also include a stop at Dolphin Cove, just 3 minutes from the falls and normally an entirely separate excursion and fee. We traveled in our own small bus on our own schedule, Vacation Nannies, breastfed baby, and all, and made a great day trip of it. The transportation was booked through our resort, and other travel-savvy families who consider doing the same may also like to split the fee and share the fun with another family at the resort.

– The second best move was to go in the morning and on a day when there aren’t any cruise ships in port and most other groups have not yet arrived. For those staying on land, it can be well worth asking which days the ships are in port to help avoid the extra crowds. For the record, Friday morning was optimal, though schedules may change seasonally.

– The third best decision was to bring our Vacation Nannies who got in for a discounted rate, wore the baby in the infant carrier and watched as we climbed, carried towels for us, and even took pictures with our camera. (You’ve got to love the Vacation Nannies!)

– For those of you staying at Franklyn D. Resort & Spa: You can choose to visit Dunn’s River Falls with a group on a 2.5 – 3 hour excursion, including transportation, organized through FDR. Currently the excursions are offered Wednesdays & Sundays at $22 per child, $35 per adult, and $8 Vacation Nanny (you can of course opt to go without the kids and leave them with the Vacation Nanny at the resort if you prefer).

– Or arrive under your own steam, by rental car, taxi, or minibus, and pay entrance $12 per child 2+ years, $15 per adult (and $8 if you bring an FDR Vacation Nanny).

– C. Saunders (Carlton) was our personal guide, and was fantastic with the whole family. I think all the registered guides at the falls are probably quite good, but we definitely give Carlton the Rivoli family stamp of approval.

– Wear water shoes.

– Bring a waterproof camera, preferably one with a wrist strap. Guides are accustomed to carrying them and photographing you at great spots along the way (tip accordingly!).

– Lockers are available, plus restrooms, snacks, water shoes (which you will need) and tons of souvenirs.

– The first section is the most difficult, where the climb begins from the beach and passes under a bridge. If you or your children can do that without a problem, the rest should be fine.

– You will have a few opportunities where you can step out and onto stairs/walkway beside if you or your children have had enough.

– Tip your guide. Don’t forget to stick some dollars in your pocket (even soggy and wet and from the U.S. are welcome with much appreciation).

Safe journey,

Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning guide Travels with Baby
The Ultimate Guide for Planning Trips with Babies, Toddlers, and Preschool-Age Children
Visit http://www.travelswithbaby.com/

3 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    Thanks for the helpful information. I was wondering if my seven-year-old could do the climb!

  2. Shelly Rivoli

    If you're on your own and flexble with time, definitely plan some extra time to play on the beach and swim by the bottom of the falls before you climb. It was lovely! 😉

  3. Amy @ The Q Family

    Great tips! We visited Jamaica with the cruise so I didn't even consider visiting the Fall with my kids hearing so many stories about crowd and all. I guess it's a good thing because we will be going along with a bunch of people from our ship. I hope to visit the island again so maybe this time I can try it out. 🙂

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