Konoko Falls & Gardens - Ocho Rios' newest attraction
Janet Silvera, Hospitality Jamaica Coordinator
Believed to be a former Taino settlement, Ocho Rios' newest attraction, the Konoko Falls and Gardens, is poised to change the resort town's historic landscape.
The 600-foot cascading waterfalls and gardens located on the property, formerly known as Coyaba Gardens and Museum, reopened officially on Wednesday, April 1 after undergoing significant refurbishing.
"The refurbishing exercise which commenced last August has resulted in the development of additional amenities as well as the re-creation of our tour outlines," said the attraction's general manager, Laura Heron.
Konoko is an Arawak word meaning 'rainforest' or 'wooded area'.
"It has been determined that the indigenous peoples of Jamaica were the Tainos, whose native tongue is said to belong to the Arawakan language family tree," explained Heron, adding that Taino artefacts that have been found on the property leading her to believe that it was once a settlement.
According to her, the current tour has been developed with a host of information on the influence of the Tainos on Jamaica's present day culture.
"This is certainly accentuated in the portion of the tour centred around the Konoko Bar & Grill that features an updated jerk pit offering demonstrations on the method of the jerk cuisine, which has been influenced by the Tainos method of preparing meats and seafood as well as the use of specific seasonings such as pimento, which is an endemic plant," said Heron.
The tour, which can last up to two hours, is called the Rainforest Trek and includes a climb up the Konoko Falls, which cascades down a series of natural limestone rocks which can be climbed, and has three swimming pools along the climb. This climb takes approximately 30 minutes.
After climbing the falls, visitors have the option of visiting the Yssasi Lookout Point, which offers a spectacular view of the town of Ocho Rios and the former cruise ship capital Bay area. A walk through the Aviary Gardens is next. This offers a selection of exotic birds, and there is also a bird feeding station where you can enter the enclosure and hand-feed the birds.
The tour of the botanical gardens is guided by one of Konoko's knowledgeable guides, whose role it is to introduce the wide variety of tropical flora, while educating guests about the wide range of properties of the trees and flowers (medicinal, culinary, etc.).
"We are currently documenting the large variety of plant species found on the property and will continuously expand on the signage of the varieties, indicating their origin and genus," states Heron, beaming with pride as she walked the 12-acre property.
Opened to the public 365 days between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., supervisor André Lopez described the overall experience as a tropical rainforest.
"The gardens boast hundreds of various plants, including the torch ginger, the honeycomb ginger, lobster claw heliconias, pimento, bird of paradise," said Lopez, naming just a few, while explaining the garlic rose vine that can be found on the property can be used a substitute for garlic.
"We have the soursop which is an antioxidant, the leaves used to make tea; we have the cocoa plant, and most of the tourists are not accustomed to seeing the bean," he stated.
One of the most exciting aspects of this rainforest trek is the jerk, which allows visitors an insight into the method of jerking.
"They are able to see the process, which is explained to them. Then they are given an opportunity to taste or purchase if they want to," stated Lopez.
Operated by a group that is bent on preserving the environment, although Konoko has been doing extensive marketing through various media to the cruise and hotel markets, Heron says they are making significant progress in attaining their target daily capacity.
"We also want to increase our local business, and to this end, we offer very attractive discounted rates to Jamaican residents and special-interest groups, such as churches, educational institutions and charitable organisations," she said.
The attraction's operators have put in place their daily top capacity that they want to achieve.
"Already we have achieved 50 per cent of that. We are breaking ground quickly", said Heron, adding that they do not want to overcrowd the property, spoiling the experience for their guests.
"We have set certain numbers. We are huge on protecting the environment," Heron stated.
In addition to the variety of options, the property is ideally suited for events such as weddings, birthday parties, corporate fun days and anniversaries.
All bookings for events are done by reservation only and attract an event fee. There is also a beautiful one-bedroom cottage located in the gardens, which is ideally suited for the bride and her bridal party to relax and prepare for the wedding, but can also be an ideal honeymoon suite.
Already a hit with TripAdvisor contributors, Hospitality Jamaica went to the popular site last weekend and these are just some of the comments by guests who have tasted the sweetness called Konoko.
The attraction has been listed on TripAdvisor since September 2014.
"I visited Konoko Falls as part of a shore excursion. Our tour guide, David has great knowledge of the gardens and plants within. He was very patient with our group, answered all our questions and explained very well the different species of flowers - and even showed us some cool plant tricks (I didn't know any existed prior). Our tour only included the top part of the falls, but there was a great overlook of Ocho Rios," said one of many testimonials.
"This falls was fun to climb. It wasn't crowded or touristy. A lovely setting. The garden at the top is lovely with giant flowers! There is a cool little museum with some history of Jamaica. A nice couple of hours," said another.
Yet another: "The falls are easy to climb. They let you wear sneakers or sturdy sandals. Also, it is not crowded and busy. The climbs are small and personal. The gardens here are gorgeous. The tour was very informative. The birds are fun, especially the budgies who found my sandals irresistible! The jerk chicken was awesome!"