Climbing Dunn’s River Falls, Jamaica (Aka Being a Real-Life Lara Croft)

Aside from the beaches and Bob Marley’s gaff, Dunn’s River Falls is one of the most well-known attractions that people flock to every year in Jamaica. The falls are located in the North of the island near Ocho Rios and although that was quite a journey from Montego Bay where our ship docked, we were still very much up for doing something more than just simply sit on a beach every time we got to the glorious nation of Jamaica, so decided to venture over there one day in February.

The historical sciencey bit…what actually is Dunn’s River Falls?

Dunn’s River itself is actually rather in the short side, and is more of a stream if you want to get technical about it, however what makes this badboy special is that the water from the spring it originates from is full of calcium carbonate, and this calcium carbonate helps to very quickly form a type of limestone called travertine. (Ooh..scienctific words! At this stage I’d like to point out that although geology was my least favourite part of Science lessons at school, when I’m out and about in the world in places like this, actually seeing the strange rock formations in the rocky flesh, it becomes far more interesting as a concept)

The travertine has over time formed itself into what look like gigantic dome-like steps, interspersed with the odd pooling of a lagoon, right from the very top of the falls down the full 600ft length, depositing the crystal clear water directly into the Caribbean Sea. The extra crazy thing about Dunn’s River Falls is that it’s consistently changing and being rebuilt by the sediment in the spring water. What an amazing world we live in, you guys.

Back in the day (1657 to be precise), the Battle of Las Chorreros was fought here, which was basically a massive fight over who was in charge of Jamaica. Unfortunately the battle didn’t actually involve the native Arawak or Taíno people, who were eventually wiped out, but did instead involve the Spanish attempting to get the island back from the British, who had snatched it off of the Spanish just a few years prior to the battle in question. England won, and although there were some other attempts to wrestle Jamaica from the clutches of the English, to this day the country is part of the British Commonwealth- i.e. it’s been independent since 1962 but old Queen Liz is still technically Queen of Jamaica.

The journey (‘Are We Nearly There Yet?’)

Luckily we had made friends with an awesome taxi driver called Randy who met us every time we docked at Montego Bay, and who always gave us a pretty reasonable rate for wherever we wanted to go, be it just down the road to Doctor’s Cave, or further afield like the day in question. Whilst it’s true that Randy did clearly have rather a soft spot for our Dance Captain, it’s hard to say for sure whether that was the reason for the highly agreeable prices he charged us or whether there was more to it than that. Either way he seemed like a nice guy and generally in the Caribbean I realised it’s always better to have arranged your transport before you arrive. The second you leave the gates of the Montego Bay cruise port you will without a doubt be figuratively pounced upon by hundreds of taxi drivers offering up their driving skills and/or some marijuana. (True story; though I was surprised to discover possession of the drug is fully illegal. In Jamaica of all places, who knew!?)

Montego Bay, the second largest city in the country, was chock a-block at the time we were driving through, with reggae and dancehall music blaring out from every window, nook and cranny, and signs overhead featuring catchy rhymes like ‘Stay alive, don’t drink and drive!’ and ‘Protect Your Head, Don’t End up Dead!’ and alternatively more serious instructions like ‘Speed Kills. Don’t be in a Hurry to Enter Eternity!’ The use of exclamation marks added an air of lightheartedness to the humble road sign which I really did appreciate, and led me to believe that if only there were more exclamation marks in our general vicinities, maybe the world would be a happier place?(!)

The journey in total took around two hours, but once we were out of the traffic of the city and winding our way along past the rainbow-coloured roadside restaurants and the normal-coloured roadside goats strolling around, the time flew by. Even when twenty minutes into the journey one of our fellow fully adult passengers attempted to start up the ‘are we nearly there yet?’ conversation, the sunshine and turquoise sea helped to ease the pain of these many repeated questions…by the time ‘I’m starving,’ ‘I want to go to the beach’ and ‘this taxi is too hot,’ had also been bandied about by the said passenger several thousand times, I’m not gonna lie guys, I was almost on the verge. Almost. But not quite. The scenery going by outside was just too astonishing, and I was especially a fan of the hand-painted buildings with hand-painted signs and murals dotted upon them. What an awesome island Jamaica is. Nothing could bring me down!! And on top of that, it taught me a valuable life lesson: some people just really like to complain, and there is literally nothing you can do about it. (Also that if you’re going to spend two hours in a car with someone you should think very carefully about whether that person is an ‘are-we-nearly-there-yet’ style human being or more of an ‘appreciate-every-moment’ sort. It can really make the world of difference, especially to your eyes if you’re an ‘eye-roller’ like myself. Oh boy oh boy did my eyes get some rolling in in that journey)

The Safety Equipment

Eventually the eight of us burst free of the taxi when we pulled into Dunn’s River Falls car park, and approached the entrance, stopping on the way to buy a few rather snazzy pairs of water shoes in the colours of Jamaica’s flag. Pretty cool, I’d say. Don’t get me wrong, water shoes (or any shoes at all), are not obligatory, but in the interest of safety when climbing the natural steps of a gigantic, rather powerful and slippery waterfall, I thought it’d be for the best. In terms of safety equipment that’s pretty much it. Finito.

Jamaican-themed water shoes now in our possession, we headed onwards past some of the most astonishing trees and flowers I’ve ever seen, brightly coloured and stretching upwards to the sky, and also past the largest spider I have ever met in my entire life, chillaxing on its web which hung across a sign showing us the way. I didn’t stop to introduce myself but it’s leg-span was probably roughly the size of my actual face. What a guy.

Conquering the falls

The climb itself starts directly from the pristine white sandy beach at the bottom, and I’ll tell you this for free, it is one full on beautiful beach, which was even featured in a James Bond movie (Dr No, take a look). Although you have to pay for entrance to the falls, you can spend as much time as you want there, so it’s fully worth having an explore and pretending to be James Bond or Ursula Andress if you’ve got the opportunity to. Behind the beach in the speckled shade of the trees, is the downright stunning waterfall, a bulbous white staircase with water pouring over it all the way down the hill.

I’ll be honest, when we first arrived and saw how incredibly steep and incredibly slippery parts of the climb are, with the added feature of having gushing water attempting to propel you in the opposite direction of your upwards climb, two of us announced that we’d start from halfway up. But having mulled this decision over for a bit we realised that it would be a bit stupid to come all the way to Dunn’s River Falls and only do half of the climb- especially when upon closer inspection we could see that there didn’t appear to be anybody falling to their deaths, so why on earth would we? Also, as it was a day when there were a whole load of cruise ship passengers visiting, the falls were actually rather busy, with all manner of old and young people clambering up them like nobodies business. If they could do it then so could we.

There are guides from the falls who take groups of people up in long lines, all holding hands in a slow-moving human chain, but let me tell you I was not about that Guide Life, oh no siree. Once I’d got the hang of searching for a good footing in water that was moving so fast you can’t see what you’re stepping on, I was off! And so were the rest of my gang, grabbing hold of rounded rock edges and pulling ourselves up and over into the lagoons, before searching out narrow pathways through the cascades that took us around the human chains and up onto little cliffs and crevasses away from the hordes. Don’t get me wrong, we all slipped and slid every now and then, or misjudged the depth of the water and suddenly plunged into a shoulders-deep pool, but that was all part of the fun of it to be honest and I couldn’t help but do a little dance every time I reached the next level, Rayman style. Joyous!

So pals, don’t get me wrong- Dunn’s River Falls is by no means one of those quirky, off-the-beaten-track places you might just happen to stumble upon- it is Tourist Central Station, Please mind the gap. But without a shadow of a doubt it was the most fun I’d had in ages, and probably one of the most hilariously fun activities I did during my entire three months in the Caribbean, although I’m sure part of that was down to the fact that we refused to climb the falls with a guide, going for the more Lara Croft style option instead. What. A. Laugh.

LOGISTICAL STATISTICALS

  • Normal entrance fee is $23 USD for adults and $15 USD for children, although we got a discount for cruise ship crew and there’s also a lower charge for Jamaican residents.
  • This is the type of situation where a GoPro would really come in handy if you’re keen on documenting the whole thing; obviously the fact that you’ll be in an actual waterfall means that your humble camera will just not suffice, alas.
  • Normal opening hours are 8.30am-4pm or on cruise ship days 7am-4pm.
  • Jamaican themed water shoes cost $10 USD a pair if you’re up for a snazzy pair of your own. (I highly recommend them in all seriousness)

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