Jamaica Road Trip to Bob Marley’s Birthplace

Photo by M. Timothy O'Keefe

Pay respects at Nine Mile, mausoleum of reggae's high priest in Jamaica

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In Jamaica, the best reason for going off the beaten path is to pay respects to Bob Marley. The reggae king, who died in 1981, is responsible for the dynamic sound that makes Jamaica so distinctive. Marley’s birthplace and mausoleum are located at the tiny village of Nine Mile, located inland between Claremont and Alexandria.

Nine Mile is not the easiest place to find. The driving time is about 1.5 hours from Ocho Rios and 2.5 hours from Montego Bay. Tours of all types are available including large buses and private taxi cabs. Those with rental cars can determine when to leave and how long to stay.

The Bob Marley Centre and Mausoleum at Nine Mile should not be confused with the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston. Kingston was Marley’s home at the time of his death but he is buried at Nine Mile, his birthplace.

The Road to Nine Mile

At Runaway Bay, turn off the A1 highway onto route B3, a secondary road leading into the countryside where visitors get a glimpse of everyday Jamaican life. The B3 leads to Browns Town, an agricultural community that holds a market three days each week: on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

Beyond Browns Town the B3 turns into “holy ground,” a well pot-holed road not unlike the surface of the moon that officially puts you off the beaten path. If you’re the person driving, be prepared to navigate carefully and go slowly around the potholes. Most drivers to Nine Mile find their way with no problem. However, damaging a hubcap or a tire in a pothole usually means having serious words with your rental car agency. Most Jamaican car insurance excludes tire and hubcap damage.

Nine Mile Village

The small country village of Nine Mile consists of only a handful of buildings. Look for flags carrying Rastafarian colors that designate the Bob Marley Centre and Mausoleum, hidden behind a tall compound wall surrounding the property. Expect to find people waiting outside the compound who want to sell you “baked goods,” marijuana joints or tours of a nearby ganja farm. If the locals are persistent, give them a final “No thanks!” and go inside the compound. The outsiders are not associated with it.

Once sheltered inside the Marley Centre and your entrance fee paid, a Rastafarian guide will take lead you uphill to Zion, Bob Marley’s birthplace and burial site. With luck, your guide will offer a singing tour where he occasionally sings some of Bob’s words as he tells Marley’s story. The songs frequently relate to Nine Mile and explain or describe some of the places you see here. A singing tour is an unusual but effective way to convey the local history. Sing along if you know the words.

Bob Marley Birthplace

Your first stop is the tiny two-room house where Marley was born. The bedroom still contains his modest bed. The walls are decorated with photographs and other memorabilia, bright Rastafarian colors of gold, green and red, and visitors’ hand-scrawled messages of love and admiration.

The guide explains Bob Marley’s heritage, which was not a happy one. Marley was born at Nine Mile on the farm of his maternal grandmother. His white father, a former British officer, was not present at his birth. His father, Norval Marley, broke his promise to marry Bob’s mother before their son was born. Bob Marley lived in Nine Mile until around the age of 13 and saw his father only rarely.

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Bob Marley Mausoleum

Outside Bob’s early house is a large rock painted with Rastafarian colors where Marley supposedly rested his head for inspiration. Across from the house is a small Ethiopian-style chapel containing the singer’s impressive 8.2-foot long marble mausoleum, the highlight of the tour. Like the house, the chapel’s stained glass windows are decorated in Rastafarian colors. Photos are allowed inside the house but not in the mausoleum. Marley is buried with his guitar and his half-brother. If you purchased a candle when you arrived, light it now, inside the chapel. A second mausoleum contains Bob’s mother, Cedella Marley Booker, or “Mamma Marley” as she sometimes was called.

The tour also includes a brief look at the herb garden where ganja has been known to grow. One plot of ground contains brightly painted rocks with the words “Bob Lives.” After the tour, on the way out, you pass a vegetarian restaurant and bar as well as a Bob Marley gift shop.

Guides and Ganja

Guides, incidentally, may offer to share a smoke with you as part of the tour. If you drove here and are not accustomed to driving on Jamaica’s challenging country roads, partaking of the Rastafarian sacred sacrament could be a hindrance on the drive back.

Early morning or mid-afternoon visits to Nine Mile usually are best. Big tour buses with cruise passengers may show up around 11:30. Call the Bob Marley Centre and Mausoleum at (876) 995-1763 for current hours.

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