Something we can’t wait to mix into family travel is river rafting. I’ve rafted plenty of rivers, from the Wenatchee in Leavenworth, Washington to Six Mile in Hope, Alaska, the Kenai and the Flathead: all kinds of rivers. And I’ve kayaked. I love kayaking and the challenge it sometimes gives. It’s rare though that we just relax and float. Floating the White River in Ocho Rios, Jamaica was an exception and it was ideal.
We always hear about taking things slow and enjoying the more subtle side of travel, but when you’re always on the go with kids, it’s sometimes not so easy. Doing a river float is kind of perfect for making you take your time. In a place like Jamaica where you’re torn between the beach, hiking, and jumping off waterfalls, floating the White River was the most mellow option for a fun afternoon. Does it sound boring? Totally not!
What you'll find...
Locale of the White River
A lot of people visit Jamaica via cruise ship, like we did when the Oasis of the Seas made port in Falmouth. My little group exited the ship and headed through the cruise port area, which is mostly tourist shops and beverage places, and boarded our tiny bus with Chukka Tours and headed right out of town.
After a little more than an hour of driving along the coast and admiring the perfectly blue water and centuries old bridges, we headed up into the hills when we got to Ocho Rios.
The jungle station we started at was a colorful collection of Caribbean architecture and tropical plants. It actually would’ve been a great place to relax all day, but that wasn’t our purpose.
Tip: when you’re on a bus or just being a passenger on any Jamaican highway, don’t freak out when they drive on the left side of the road. It’s trippy if you’re not used to it and if you’re really anxious when traveling, it’ll just escalate that. Oh, and the mountain roads you go on to get to the White River are pretty treacherous too.
What to expect when floating the White River
After you’re set up with a helmet and life jacket, you get to launch into the river. Floating the White River in Jamaica isn’t scary at all because the water just flows calmly. Even in its most rapid areas, you’re still just gingerly floating along. If you’re expecting big thrills and crazy rapids… um, that’s not here.
The reason for floating the White River is to appreciate the jungle and Jamaican atmosphere. It’s gorgeous!! Birds were singing the whole way, roots and vines dripped into the White River at every corner, and the bamboo grew to towering heights as we floated underneath. Really, it was relaxing and unlike any sort of river activity I’d ever tried.
Was the water cold? Um, no. Hello, it’s a river in the Caribbean. I suppose that if you’re thinking it’s going to be as warm as the tropical cove waters down the hill, you might be surprised when you first jump in the river, but really, it’s not cold at all. It’s actually really refreshing and if you’ve been baking in the Caribbean sun for several days, it’s the most welcome experience.
And if you are curious so see just how beautiful and relaxing it was…
Incredible Jamaican vegetation
Gosh, I am no botanist but I can tell you that being immersed in the river/jungle environment was botanical overload. So many beautiful plants growing on the riverbanks and dangling inches above us as we were floating the White River. Jamaica has so many plant species that I’ve never seen in conservatories in the USA.
Fun story: our guide as we were floating the White River pulled some pimento leaves for us to smell and taught us a bunch about allspice and the many herbs that go into making Jamaican jerk. So cool.
In addition to the beautiful Jamaican vegetation growing along the White River of Ocho Rios there are ample varieties to admire at the home base for the float trip. When you’re from the Pacific Northwest and you’re used to having evergreens and dandelions everywhere, being surrounded by vibrant plant life and gardens that you could only dream about is a highlight in itself.
Tip: if you’re into plants, ask what things are when you’re traveling. Often you’ll be able to find a variety that’s similar to what you’re seeing that is hardy for your home area.
Foul weather, amazing experience
After we’d been enjoying the relaxing experience of just floating the White River, we were treated to an extra special Jamaican surprise: an impromptu monsoon. Yep! We went from toasty on the humid river to covering our eyes as buckets of liquid sunshine poured down.
Now, for almost any traveler, rain like you only see in movies is a real… wait for it… damper on vacation. In this case, totally not. Until you’ve been caught in a Caribbean monsoon though, you’ll think I’m crazy. Truly, the amount of water, the warm air, the birds frantically trying to get to some shelter, it was all enchanting. Actually, it was magical (because that’s my favorite word).
The icing on the cake was the thunder. In the Pacific Northwest we rarely get thunder and lightning, so experiencing it in the mountains of Jamaica made it even more exciting. The thunder was echoing off the rock and trees. When we were back at the camp (home base for floating the White River) the rain and thunder boomed off the tin roof (rusted). Really amazing sounds. Again: magical.
Note: we also experienced an incredible monsoon in Venice. Adverse weather conditions sometimes make the most memorable experiences!
We got to enjoy rum punch, jerk chicken and French fries while the monsoon went wild. I took the opportunity to just stand in the rain and it felt amazing. Even though floating the White River was amazing, the best part was truly being immersed in the crazy Jamaican monsoon. So cool.
Okay, I’m done ranting and gushing about how much I loved the rainstorm. Sometime’s it’s too clear that we live in Washington State.
Proper planning for floating the White River
Like with most tours in a popular place, such as Ocho Rios, Jamaica, you’ll want to book in advance. My day floating the White River was set up through Chukka Tours via Royal Caribbean. Two weeks out I was able to secure it. Perfect.
The next step is being sure that you’ve got proper gear for floating the White River. Here are the basics you need:
Swim towel (if you’re cruising, get one before you depart the ship)
Change of clothes
Cash (for tip or souvenirs)
That should do it. 90% of floating the White River is under the jungle canopy, so there’s not a ton of sunburn risk. Be wise for your own skin though, right? Also, we didn’t have any issues with mosquitoes or other nibbly bugs, but that’s not to say you won’t. Not a single bite for me though!
It’s tough to say what was the best part. Was it the plants and trees of the jungle? Was it the monsoon that hit us? Perhaps the rum and jerk chicken? No, it was for sure the monsoon. I would for sure do it again, or try a float on another river someplace just as amazing.
Note to LGBT travelers: remember, there are laws in place discriminating against gay people. Be wise if you’re visiting, as a mistake in your behavior and actual enforcement of the laws could land you in jail for up to 14 years. Had I not been traveling for work, I would never have visited Jamaica at all. I look forward to the laws changing and returning to Jamaica with my family. Like the waterfall jumping at the Blue Hole, floating the White River is an experience I want to share with my husband and kids. Someday…
If you have any questions or ideas for other great destinations to do a similar activity, leave a comment below. We love adventuring on the water and are always up for visiting new places!
Rob Taylor is the founder of 2TravelDads, the original LGBT Family Travel blog. Focusing on ecotourism and education, 2TravelDads inspires LGBT families (and traditional families also) to go beyond their usual getaways and use travel to learn about and be part of a bigger world. “Traveling the globe and giving the kids a broad worldview.”