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Jamaica for Beach Lovers

Jamaica’s West Coast: Montego Bay to Negril
Jamaica for Beach Lovers
Jamaica’s beaches are stunning and offer lots of outdoor and cultural activities. From the busy shores of Negril and Montego Bay to the remote reaches of Treasure Beach, there’s a stretch of sand that’s right for every visitor.
By Lebawit Lily Girma, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Lebawit Lily Girma
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    Jamaica’s West Coast: Montego Bay to Negril
    Jamaica’s West Coast: Montego Bay to Negril
    Montego Bay and Negril are the crown jewels of Jamaica’s tourism industry for good reasons: proximity to airports, 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, Jamaica’s second city, has a coast lined with gated resorts, while Negril, a pedestrian-friendly beach town, is where you'll find scenic Seven Mile Beach, dotted with hotels and bars. 
    Photo by Lebawit Lily Girma
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    Ocho Rios and the North Coast
    Ocho Rios and the North Coast
    Traveling along Jamaica's scenic north coast from Falmouth to Oracabessa, you’ll pass Columbus’s first landing spot, century-old churches, food shacks, colorful canoes resting ashore, and drive through 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 exist alongside the beach hotels and luxury resorts that have taken hold. The north coast hosts Jamaica’s top family attractions, such as Dunn's River Falls, and a host of outdoor parks.
    Photo by Christopher Thomas
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    The East Coast: Port Antonio to Long Bay
    The East Coast: Port Antonio to Long Bay
    The island’s rainy east side features unsullied beaches backed by waterfalls, rivers, and mountains, much of it still off the tourist path. Yet a few accommodations line the coast between Boston Bay—the birthplace of jerk cuisine—and Long Bay (not to be confused with the other Long Bay in the south). Those seeking a different side of Jamaica come here for the otherworldly scenery. The highway winds through verdant hills, past waterfalls, the Blue Lagoon, and the Rio Grande, and along cliffs that tower above golden sands. The misty Blue and John Crow mountains provide the moody backdrop.
    Photo by Lebawit Lily Girma
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    Jamaica’s South Coast: Treasure Beach
    Jamaica’s South Coast: Treasure Beach
    The south coast, one of the least developed stretches of coastline, is also among the most stunning with black-sand beaches and even more birds and wildlife than elsewhere. Treasure Beach is made up of a string of four fishing villages and a handful of accommodations. Nearby are natural wonders like Black River, and Lovers Leap. And, among the less-than-natural wonders: A mile offshore, reachable only by water, the remarkable Floyd’s Pelican Bar perches on a sandbar.
    Photo by Lebawit Lily Girma
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    Quieter Alternatives to Party Beaches
    Quieter Alternatives to Party Beaches
    Usually all it takes to find a hidden stretch of beach is getting a few miles away 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 so breathtaking that it's worth the overnight stay at one of the villas required to access it. The eastern and southern coasts claim some of Jamaica’s least crowded beaches, such as Treasure Beach, and Boston Bay Beach, a low-key surfer's haven. (Most beaches in the country are public unless they are within a gated resort; others require a small entry fee.)
    Photo by Lebawit Lily Girma
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    Cool Off in Falls, Rivers, and Seas
    Cool Off in Falls, Rivers, and Seas
    For fun in and on the water, visitors can partake in snorkeling, diving, parasailing, and jet skiing, and, along the east coast, surfing. For serene sightseeing along the cliffs of Negril, hop a glass-bottomed boat or catamaran. If you’re feeling more social, sign on for a reggae sunset booze cruise instead. Hiking to easy-to-reach waterfalls—Mayfield Falls is a top pick—or rafting on the island's rivers can reveals the charms of the rugged interior. The little-known Steven’s Aqua Nature Park, about 50 minutes east of Negril, is great for cooling off in clear streams of the Venture River and learning a little about native trees and fruits.
    Photo by Lebawit Lily Girma
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    Beachside Eats
    Beachside Eats
    Jamaica’s roadside food vendors provide a great (and tasty) way to understand the culture. Order jerk meat or fish from one of the steaming grills at the beachfront shacks—Negril’s Bourbon Beach and Boston Bay's Jerk Center serve up the best. Vendors make rounds along the beaches selling homemade stuffed patties, fruits, and roasted peanuts to be washed down with fresh coconut water. At night, the offerings at soup and jerk stands on the beach roads help partygoers sober up after reggae bashment (dance parties).

    Photo by Lebawit Lily Girma
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    Sunsets and Rum Cocktails
    Sunsets and Rum Cocktails
    Jamaicans tease that there are as many bars on the island as there are churches. From deluxe resort establishments to down-to-earth beach shacks, opportunities for bar-hopping abound. Rick’s Café is so special that it made the list of 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, and photos of Floyd’s Pelican Bar, a picturesque thatched-roof hut out at sea, have appeared in lots of travel magazines. For more waterfront views, belly up to the bar at Montego Bay’s Pier One or Seahorse Grill.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Live Reggae on the Beach
    Live Reggae on the Beach
    The birthplace of reggae lives up to its legendary status. Music is part of daily life and for music by the shore, Negril should be on your list. Weekly live shows on Seven Mile Beach—venues like 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.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Secluded Seaside Villages
    Secluded Seaside Villages
    Jamaica’s small beach towns and seaside villages, far from gated resorts, are ideal for a getaway. South of Negril, Treasure Beach has public beaches and a local vibe. Rent an oceanfront home and customize your stay. The epitome of secluded escapes, Portland Parish on the east coast, has a smattering of guesthouses adjacent to empty beaches where fresh ocean air will encourage a longer stay.
    Photo by Bertrand Rieger/age fotostock