The calm azure waters off Jamaica's coasts will certainly transform your spirit, but this island is also filled with riotous greenery. The lush plants, verdant trees and colorful tropical flowers frame any visit to the island. Don’t cheat yourself by spending all your time at the beach, go out and explore Jamaica’s alluring parks.

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Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park

Just an hour from the big city life of Kingston is the country’s only national park. Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park is more than 101,000 acres and boasts Jamaica’s highest point, the 7,401-ft Blue Mountain Peak. 

Hikers will love the nearly 10 miles of trails. The park’s countless waterfalls and some of the largest butterflies in the western hemisphere means you’re in for a treat from Mother Nature.

The backstory is cool too. This is where the Windward Maroons (descendants of run away enslaved people)  stood their ground in their resistance to British colonialism. In 2015, the Blue and John Crow Mountains were named a Unesco World Heritage Site for its natural and cultural heritage.

There are three recreational areas at this national park – Holywell, Portland Gap and the Blue Mountain Peak Trail

The Blue Mountain Trail, which leads to Jamaica’s highest point, is an intense four-hour trek to the summit, so definitely not for rookies. Along the way enjoy some of the 200 bird species that call the area home.

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A woman wearing a green top holds a cup of coffee while looking out over the mountains in Jamaica. There is a glass coffee pot on a stone ledge.
Take a coffee tour to learn about Jamaica's history with one of its most well-known exports © Monty Rakusen/Getty Images/Image Source

Midway on the Blue Mountain Peak trail is the Portland Gap rest stop and lodging. Cabins are available for rent for parties of all sizes ($58USD a night for a room with bunk beds or $38 a night for a room with 10 floor mattresses). Bring your own supplies.

The Holywell recreational area is the perfect place for a picnic. There are gazebos and BBQ grills, as well as, campsites with water, shower and toilet facilities. If you're not feeling up to hiking to the summit of Blue Mountain peak, consider one of Holywell’s five walking trails. The family-friendly nature walks which range from 195ft to just under a mile (60m to 1.3km) are filled with a plethora of tropical plants, including Jamaica’s national tree, the Blue Mahoe, and one even has a waterfall.

Get schooled on coffee cultivation by taking the Holywell Coffee Tour. The four-hour tour begins at Holywell and travels through Twyman’s coffee farm. The tour ends at the Twyman’s Coffee packaging plant where visitors can enjoy a nice cup of coffee (perhaps the best you’ve ever tasted) while high in the mountains.  

Visiting Blue and John Crow Mountain National Park: Admission to Holywell: Adults $10; Children $5; $50 guided tours (1-10 people). All walks are included in the price of admission. 

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Turtle River Falls and Gardens

This 15-acre tropical garden located in Ocho Rios encompasses the Turtle River as it spills into 14 cascading waterfalls. But, the show doesn’t end there, the garden boasts more than 100 types of plants, including indigenous and endangered ones, exotic birds in a walk-in-aviary and a Japanese Koi pond.

Take the tour that’s a little over an hour and venture through the rainforest to the waterfalls. The cascading falls mean you can’t really swim in them, but you can walk under them and get a good shower. There is however, a manmade pool that you can swim in. There’s a lawn and garden with seating areas to hang out and enjoy the good vibe.

Visiting Turtle River Falls and Gardens: Adults: $10; children 3-11 $5. Under 3 free. 

A blue, black and green hummingbird eats from a large pink flower in Jamaica.
Keep an eye out for the wonderful wildlife found in the lush parks in Jamaica © Rajan Sabanathan / Lonely Planet

Ahhh Ras Natango Gallery and Garden

This tropical retreat in Montego Bay is a twofer. You get a gallery and a botanical garden, and sweeter still, a fantastic view of Montego Bay. The gallery’s artwork features local artists like Ras Natango, whose work is showcased at RIU hotels around Jamaica and in private collections in 17 countries. 

Do you love ferns? There are more than 50 species here, one-of-a-kind floral plants and trees in the themed section. Explore the Fairy’s Village and the Dinosaur Era Garden with plants endemic to Jamaica. Birders can check out the 20 types of birds native to the country. 

And when you’re ready for a bite. No worries, enjoy ackee and saltfish (the national dish) and Jamaican staples like roasted breadfruit, that you can wash down with soursop (a citrus fruit native to the Caribbean) or guava natural juices.

Visiting Ahhh Ras Natango Gallery and Garden Admission: 12 and older $35; 3-11 $20; children 3 and under are free. 

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Hope Botanical Gardens

This 200-plus acre site in Kingston was once part of Major Richard Hope’s estate. Hope was an English officer who helped capture Jamaica from the Spanish in 1655 for which he was awarded this parcel of land. It became a public park in 1873. 

Hope Gardens is made up of three gardens – Sunken, Peace and Chinese.

Sunken Garden is a semi-enclosed garden and a popular wedding or posh cocktail party locale. Peace Garden opened in 2019 and is beloved for its waterfall, meditation labyrinth and gazebo. The space was designed to promote contemplation and relaxation.

But the star attraction of the three is the Chinese Gardens. Built on 11 acres of land on the Blue Mountain range, the gardens were a gift from China in 2012 in celebration of the country’s 50th anniversary of independence and to commemorate 40 years of diplomacy between the two nations. 

The architectural touches are reminiscent of the Chinese Forbidden City, The Spirit Wall at the entry gate symbolizes the countries’ friendship and "The Seat of Heaven", a replica of the one built by the Ming Dynasty in 1530 covers more than a quarter-of-a-mile and is 17-ft high.

Visiting Hope Botanical Gardens: Sunken and Peace gardens are free. The Chinese Gardens are $5; children under 3 are free.

A forest ground covered in leaves leads to a row of wooden steps. There are bright flowers on the left side of the image.
Cranbrook Flower Forest is 130 acres of botanic beauty © Narvikk / Getty Images / iStockphoto

Cranbrook Flower Forest

If you believe in the power of flowers, get your fill of hibiscus, begonias and birds of paradise at the Cranbrook Flower Forest. This piece of paradise in the hills of Laughlands, between Ocho Rios and Mammee Bay is the kind of place where you could spend most of your day and be glad about it. 

Cranbrook is 130-acres and includes a working nursery, botanical gardens, rainforest, hiking along a river path, blue hole, waterfalls, natural pools for swimming and heritage tours. If that’s not enough, play croquet, ride a horse or zipline the forest canopy, there are nine trails.

The entrance to the Flower Forest is the restored remains of a 200-year-old sugar mill that’s now a museum and gift shop. The peacocks here are stunning. Follow the path lined with royal palms to a pagoda overlooking the Little River. There are several gardens, one a replica of a traditional Arawak village. The Little River nature trail is nearly two miles long. It’s not too challenging, but wear comfy shoes and bring a swimsuit for the natural pools.

Visiting Cranbrook Flower Forest: Adults $10, children 11 and under $5.

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Konoko Falls and Park

Just outside Ocho Rios, Konoko Falls and Park is home to all manner of tropical flora fed by streams throughout the gardens. River water flows into the many ponds where you’ll spot koi carp and tilapia. 

Enter the falls at the Onikhan deck and start the climb. Along the way, stop at the MAJA swimming pool. Once you reach the top of the falls enjoy the NANA swimming pool. Water shoes are available for purchase.  

When hunger strikes, head to the Columbus Café where you can get Jamaican favorites like jerk chicken and pork. Stop in at the ground's museum to see exhibits that explore Jamaican history from the Taino Indians to the present. Sign up for an expert-led tour through the River Gardens where you’ll learn about the Taino Indians, indigenous birds and animals. 

Visiting Konoko Falls and Park: Adults is $20, children 3-12, $10; 3 and under are free.

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