Explore Negril, Jamaica’s Laid-Back Beach Town

Once a fishing village, Negril—Jamaica’s favorite laid-back beach town—is at once a party scene and a romantic escape. Go bar-hopping or beachcombing on Seven Mile Beach (also known as Negril Beach), dine seaside atop dramatic cliffs in the West End of town, swim in nearby waterfalls, explore the vibrant markets, or jam barefoot to live reggae. There’s no place in Jamaica quite like Negril.

West End Road, Negril
Rick’s is probably the most touristy spot in all of Jamaica, but there’s a reason it’s listed in 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, so don’t miss experiencing it at least once. Get there around 4 p.m. to avoid the crush of tour bus traffic that happens closer to sunset, then order a couple of cocktails—Rick’s serves up a myriad of options—and stake your claim on a prime viewing spot for the sunset and cliff-diving. Local divers swing from trees and drop into the surf or plummet from the surrounding cliffs, some of which rise more than 30 feet above the sea. Even the occasional tourist will brave the jump into the water below. A reggae band adds to the animated vibe. Lest you feel like just another tourist sheep at the sunset very-happy hour, console yourself in knowing that locals enjoy it almost as much as visitors do.

Negril, Jamaica
A signature experience in Negril is to go on a two-hour glass-bottom boat snorkel trip, toward the cliffside or to the nearby reef around Booby Cay. Truth be told, snorkeling isn’t a must if you’re not up for it—but floating on a small boat amid deep jade and turquoise waters and being able to see marine life 20 feet or more below through the glass is a memorable experience. If you do want to snorkel, the cliffside has stunning limestone formations and underwater caves, while the reef is filled with all sorts of marine life, from stingrays to barracuda. A glass-bottom boat ride shouldn’t cost you more than US$20 per person. Look out for Famous Vincent‘s boat—the best pick—or approach one you see resting along Seven Mile Beach, across any reputable resort. The boats—including Famous Vincent—occasionally ride along the cliffside resorts in the mornings or afternoons, looking for anyone interested in an impromptu adventure.
Take one evening to skip the usual beach sunset. Instead, hop on a guided glass-bottom boat and ride down the Negril River. You’ll start where the river meets the sea on the edge of Seven Mile beach, and cruise down its banks. Take in the gorgeous scenery of mangroves and birds flying against a yellow sky. The ride lasts about an hour and you’ll likely be the only one there, away from the clamor of tourists.
West End Road
Dining at one of Negril’s excellent cliffside restaurants is highly recommended, and the gorgeous setting of Ivan’s Bar & Restaurant at Catcha Falling Star makes it a very nice option. The longtime favorite has one of the best views along the coast and serves lobster dinners and classic Jamaican cuisine with a bit of a modern twist. Guests are seated under an open-sided thatched roof or out under the stars at private tables on a patio near the cliff’s edge. Another favorite choice for romantic cliffside dining is the restaurant at Rockhouse Hotel. (If you want more cocktails post-dinner, walk down to LTU Pub and mingle with the locals. Casual eateries and cliff bars along West End Road include 3 Dives and Sips & Bites.)

Swimming and snorkeling around Xtabi (pronounced “X-tah-bee”) Resort’s underwater caves are a unique experience and a well-kept secret from first-timers. While it’s a great place to stay, overshadowed by places like Rockhouse Hotel, you don’t have to be a guest to enjoy this “meeting place of the Gods” as the name describes. You’ll want to have lunch at the casual, outdoor restaurant first--choices are excellent and include club sandwiches to jerk chicken (even if a tad pricier than from the street grills). After lunch and a rest, change into your swimwear and make your way carefully down the steps until you reach a sandy cove entrance into the sea, beside caves and jutting rocks. Splash in and come out on the front side of the cliffs, where there are ladders to exit or enter as well, if you’re feeling a bit timid. A laid back environment, gorgeous waters--just a tad more jade-colored on this end, for some reason--and underground caves ideal for photo ops make Xtabi a great spot to spend the afternoon. When you tire, climb back up to sip on a Dirty Banana and sunbathe on one of the platforms beside splashing waves.
Negril, Jamaica
Negril, or the “Capital of Casual” as it’s known in Jamaica, is everyone’s favorite getaway, from locals to the visitors who return year after year. The buzz of activity on Seven Mile Beach’s powdery white sands is tempered by the breathtaking, serene views of the West End’s cliffs towering over the Caribbean. Lots of bars, hotels, and restaurants line Seven Mile Beach, and local eateries and smaller boutique resorts are perched up on the cliffs. While there’s more hustle and bustle and throngs of tourists on this end of Jamaica, the region still offers many secluded spots and unique experiences.

Norman Manley Blvd, Negril, Jamaica
Looking for some peace and quiet? No need to stay in the heart of Seven Mile. Keep walking all the way north of the beach--or hop in a taxi--and end up at Long Bay Beach Park. Past the hotel belt, this stretch offers respite from the chaotic tourist scene. There are picnic benches and changing rooms on site. Adjacent is an excellent beach restaurant, Cosmo’s, in case you have the munchies. Few folks venture here and you’ll be relieved to know that vendors stick to the busier, crowded stretch of Seven Mile. If you’re looking for even more quiet, take a taxi ride to Half Moon Beach, just 10 minutes away--a private, stunning crescent shaped stretch where you can swim and spend the day as long as you’re buying lunch at their excellent, casual on site restaurant serving the fresh catch of the day.
Say “Jungle” and every Jamaican will have heard of this nightclub, one of Jamaica‘s longest-standing and best dance spots, located across Seven Mile Beach. The animal-themed indoor and outdoor club--with the slogan “Unleash the animal"--is a favorite among locals and tourists, and attracts its fair share of sports and music celebrities. The most popular night at Jungle is--you guessed it--ladies’ night, on Thursdays. Throngs of all-age women line up outside in their best club gear to party free and the men follow for a small fee. The laid back, unpretentious and security-tight club has multilevel floors--including a top outdoor deck with its very own bar, DJ and jerk corner. It can sometimes get unbearably crowded indoors after 2 a.m., and the easiest escape from the madness is to take one of two staircases to catch a breeze upstairs. There are pool tables on the ground level, though most seem interested mostly in the drinks, the people watching and the rotating tunes, from dancehall to house music. It’s always a good time at Jungle. The club also hosts live Reggae concerts and recording artists regularly--check for billboards outside the gate on Norman Manley Boulevard, known as the “beach road.”
Negril, Jamaica
Bourbon Beach, a popular beachfront music venue on Negril’s Seven Mile Beach, hosts local bands, reggae artists, or themed parties on an almost-nightly basis, to the delight of tourists and locals. People-watching at Bourbon Beach is great, the drinks stiff, and you get to dance in the sand to live reggae in Jamaica. The music starts up around 10 p.m. and continues until 2 a.m. Upstairs, a wide-open deck is open for stargazing or getting away from the crowd. Cover charges are only collected on nights when a recording artist performs. Alfred’s, nearby, is another longstanding option, offering live local acts three times a week for a US$5 cover.
Lighthouse Rd, Port Antonio, Jamaica
There’s a reason Blue Cave Castle (affectionately dubbed “BCC” by return visitors) has a following. Designed in the shape of a castle, it’s impossible to miss this dominating blue structure on Negril’s cliff side. Tower rooms offer dramatic views 50 feet above the sea, and yet surprisingly, rates start at $50 night and go up to only $120 for a stunning 2-floor “penthouse” suite on the top floor. Blue Cave is one of the West End’s best-kept secrets. Going to sleep in a castle to the immediate sound of crashing waves is a unique experience. Even if you don’t get to stay here, be sure to stop by the on-site Hideaway Eatery, owned and run by Chef Teddy, for a delicious lobster dinner.
Negril’s Kool Runnings Water Park is a nice addition to a town where the beach is otherwise the main attraction. Ten varied theme slides of up to 40 feet in height—try the “Bolt lightning”—keep everyone having fun in the water. There’s even a lazy river, ideal for the smaller kids, and three restaurants. It’s a fun place for everyone. Check their website and social media pages for group specials.
CRJQ+52C, Greenwich Park, Jamaica
Located in the town of Ocho Rios, Mammee Bay Beach is a sight for sore eyes—wide and spacious with powdery white sand and electric blue water. Even though half of this beach is private for guests of the gigantic RIU Resort, the other half is accessible to the public. Drive over to Bamboo Blu Restaurant (30 Beach Road), where you can park your car and enjoy the beach with a meal or some cocktails.
Negril, Jamaica
Hammond’s Bakery sells Jamaica‘s most popular and affordable snack: the patty. And not just any patty but Tastee patties, a brand many Jamaicans claim to be the best. Lines of customers stroll in and out of this bakery for the crusty, thin pastry filled with spiced beef, chicken, cheese, or vegetables. The bakery also sells coco bread and juices. Located in Negril Square, between the beach side and the cliffs, it’s the ideal pitstop while exploring Negril on foot.
West End Road
Located on the westernmost point of the island, and on the far end of Negril’s cliff side, the historic Negril Lighthouse is missed by many a visitor who don’t go beyond Rick’s Cafe during their stay. It was built in 1894 by French Company Bubbler & Bernard, on a water-filled tank 14 feet deep, to keep the tower secure even in the event of an earthquake. Initially powered by gas lamp, in 1985 it was replaced with solar energy. The tower stands 66 feet high and its light rises at 100 feet above sea level. Its light flashing automatically every two seconds. It’s worth walking down the West End and finding the superintendent so you can walk up the over 100 steps and take in the coastline view. - Image by Abir Anwar (https://flic.kr/p/GkzfR)
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