Jamaica for Beach Lovers

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Jamaica for Beach Lovers
Jamaica’s beaches are stunning and surrounded by a plethora of outdoor and cultural activities. From the pulsing shores of Negril and Montego Bay to the remote reaches of Treasure Beach, there’s a beach that’s right for everyone.
By Lebawit Lily Girma, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Lebawit Lily Girma
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    Jamaica’s West Coast: Montego Bay to Negril
    Montego Bay and Negril are the crown jewels of Jamaica’s tourism industry. And for good reason: airport proximity, cheap local eats, cultural sights, the island’s most lively beaches, and an abundance of hotels—from all-inclusive to budget beach shacks. As locals say, “the west is the best.” Montego Bay is Jamaica’s second city and is full of gated resorts, while casual Negril is a pedestrian-friendly beach town, home to scenic Seven Mile Beach, which is dotted with hotels and bars. Minutes away, Negril’s West End stuns visitors with limestone cliffs and cobalt blue seas.
    Photo by Lebawit Lily Girma
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    Ocho Rios and the North Coast
    The north is one of Jamaica’s most scenic coastlines. Traveling from Falmouth to Oracabessa, you’ll pass Columbus’s first landing spot, century-old churches, food shacks, colorful canoes resting ashore, and a tunnel of 30-foot fern trees. Aside from the cruise ship port of Ocho Rios (affectionately known as “Ochie”), the going is slow around here; fishing communities still surround the beach resorts that have taken hold. The birthplace of Bob Marley and Usain Bolt, the north hosts Jamaica’s top family attractions, such as Dunn's River Falls, and a host of outdoor parks. Luxury boutique resorts draw honeymooners, and little-known haunts like picturesque Duncans are an ideal base for those seeking more interaction.
    Photo by Christopher Thomas
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    The East Coast: Port Antonio to Long Bay
    The island’s rainy east side features vacant beaches surrounded by waterfalls, rivers, and mountains. Portland is still off the tourist path compared to the busier west. Yet a few accommodations line the coast between Boston Bay—the birthplace of jerk cuisine—and Long Bay (not to be confused with Long Bay in the south). The east attracts adventurers seeking a different side of Jamaica. The scenery is otherworldly, surprising at every turn. The highway winds through verdant hills; passes waterfalls, the Blue Lagoon, and the Rio Grande; and emerges onto cliffs that tower over golden sands. No sounds prevail except for waves lapping and jerk grills steaming. The backdrop is the misty Blue and John Crow Mountains.
    Photo by Lebawit Lily Girma
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    Jamaica’s South Coast: Treasure Beach
    The south coast is considered one of the least developed, and this may be the reason why it’s so stunning. The sea and black-sand beaches beckon, and more birds and wildlife flock to these parts than any other. Treasure Beach, the most popular retreat area, comprises a string of four fishing villages and a handful of accommodations. Nearby are natural wonders like Black River, and Lovers Leap. The south is home to the freshest catch in the country—supplying the island’s western restaurants. And a mile from shore is Floyd’s Pelican Bar, perched on a sandbar out at sea.
    Photo by Lebawit Lily Girma
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    Quieter Alternatives to Party Beaches
    Most beaches are public unless they face a gated resort; some do require a small entry fee. Every region has its hidden stretches; all it takes is driving a few miles from the tourist haunts. The heart of Negril’s Seven Mile Beach and Montego Bay’s Doctor Cave Beach may overflow with people, music, and water sports, but each has its quieter adjacent stretch, such as Cosmos Beach or Cornwall Beach. Near Ocho Rios, Silver Sands is breathtaking and worth the overnight stay at one of the villas required to access it. The eastern and south coasts claim some of Jamaica’s least crowded beaches, such as Treasure Beach, and Boston Bay Beach, a low key surfer's haven.
    Photo by Lebawit Lily Girma
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    Cool Off in Falls, Rivers, and Seas
    There are many options for fun on the water. The western and northern coasts offer snorkeling, diving, parasailing, and jet skiing, and the east is for surfers. Take a glass bottom boat or catamaran from Negril Beach to the nearby cliffs, and admire the turquoise sea. Or if you’re feeling more social, a reggae booze cruise at sunset is always a good time. Further inland, there are plenty of easy-to-reach waterfalls—Mayfield Falls is a top pick—and rafting on White River reveals more of the island’s rugged interior. Steven’s Aqua Nature Park, about 50 minutes east of Negril, is a little-known retreat where you can cool off in the clear streams of Venture River and learn about native trees and fruits.
    Photo by Lebawit Lily Girma
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    Beachside Eats
    Jamaica’s roadside eats are an integral part of the culture—from jerk grills to shacks selling rice and peas with tangy stews. Thanks to a thriving tourism industry, the beach towns offer the best local specialties. Order jerk meat or fish from one of the steaming grills—Negril’s Bourbon Beach and Boston Bay's Jerk Center serve up the best. Order by the pound then dig in with your fingers. Vendors make their daily rounds along the beaches selling homemade stuffed patties, fruits, and roasted peanuts that you can wash down with fresh coconut water. At night, soup and jerk stands line the beach roads to help partygoers sober up after all the reggae bashment (dance parties).
    Photo by Lebawit Lily Girma
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    Sunsets and Rum Cocktails
    Jamaicans tease that there are as many bars on the island as there are churches—more per capita than anywhere in the world. From two-story establishments to down-to-earth beach shacks, bar hopping is part of island life. It’s no surprise that Jamaica’s watering holes have topped peoples’ life lists—Rick’s Café in Negril appears in the book 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, and Floyd’s Pelican Bar, a thatched-roof hut out at sea, is popular. Montego Bay’s Pier 1 is a hot spot for its waterfront views, and the Seahorse Grill is a hit on weekdays at sunset, when more residents than tourists mingle for Red Stripes and cocktails with a view of the marina.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Live Reggae on the Beach
    Featuring local acts and renowned recording artists, the birthplace of reggae lives up to its legendary status. Music is part of daily life, and dancing is the norm—at the beach shack on the corner, inside restaurants, and at annual festivals. There’s no better sound in Jamaica than the famed genre live by the sea. Negril tops all options, with its weekly live shows on Seven Mile Beach—Bourbon Beach and Drifters Bar host local or well-known reggae artists every other night. Out east, Wickie Wackie Beach House in Bull Bay has live concerts with Jamaica’s best bands. Wherever you decide to stay, look out for highway billboards or posters plastered on poles around town. In Jamrock, the music is never far away.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Secluded Seaside Villages
    Jamaica’s small beach towns and seaside villages are the country’s best-kept secret. Far from the resorts, they are ideal for a getaway. South of Negril, Treasure Beach has public beaches and a local’s vibe. Rent an oceanfront home and customize your stay. The epitome of secluded escapes is on the east coast, in the parish of Portland. Guesthouses are adjacent to empty beaches–stick to calm waters such as Boston Bay Beach–and fresh ocean air encourages you to enjoy a longer stay.
    Photo by Bertrand Rieger/age fotostock