Jamaica’s Best Beaches
Jamaica’s best beaches are as varied as the island is beautiful. Many of these beaches are famous and grace the glossy pages of brochures, whereas others require more work, rewarding travelers willing to search for that quiet, postcard-perfect stretch of sand. Here are our favorites, popular ones as well as insider finds, spread all across Jamaica, from the white sand of the west coast to the tranquil black shores of the south and the secluded coves of the east.
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.
Duncans Main Rd, Duncans, Jamaica
Few visitors venture to Duncans Bay, a small town in northern Jamaica, halfway between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios. But its public beach, called Fisherman’s, is one of the best for a local vibe. The scenery is straight out of an old Caribbean postcard: kids play in the distance, colorful fishermen canoes rest on shore, and a ramshackle bar along the wide golden sands attracts the usual neighbors. Show up mid-afternoon, when the grill and some background music get started, while the waves splash and the sun prepares to set. The slow rhythm of this area, away from the resorts, vendors, and tourist trails, will make you want to stay for hours. No problem—there are local guesthouses a stone’s throw away.
Norman Manley Blvd.
When you tire of the people watching, loud music and hustle and bustle of Negril’s central Seven Mile Beach, walk or drive over to its northern stretch. The private Cosmos Beach section--with a minimal entrance fee, under US$5--faces the best seafood restaurant in town, Cosmo’s. The beach is a wide, endless white expanse with thatched bars, dispersed hammocks, and calm sea views. You’ll find a few fellow tourists, but you’ll hardly notice them.
New Hope, Jamaica
An often overlooked fishing village located just 10 miles south of Negril, Little Bay’s small, crescent-shaped shores and white sands will tug at your inner beach bum. There are a couple of local guesthouse options in these parts, and not much else happening within walking distance—except a slice of daily Jamaican life and some sea activities such as kayaking and snorkeling off the nearby reef. Bob Marley loved Little Bay so much, he had a house here and wrote lyrics from this beach. It’s an easy day trip from Negril and a nice spot for shutterbugs.
Just next door to crowded Doctor’s Cave Beach in Montego Bay is a quiet and spacious stretch known as Cornwall Beach. You won’t see more than a couple of people at a time here during the week. Late afternoons and weekends attract a few locals who come to relax and enjoy the restaurant and bar. A small entry fee—under US$5—covers the on-site facilities, including lounge chairs and snorkel gear. Cornwall Beach occasionally hosts a sunset beach party on Sunday afternoons with a “bottomless” Appleton mug option (that is, all-you-can-drink rum).
Port Antonio, Jamaica
This stunning white-sand stretch, just a five-minute drive east of Port Antonio, is the only beach in Jamaica with waves high enough to surf. Boston Bay is also one of the few remaining public strands on the island. It continues to attract more locals than tourists and as such is nearly vendor-free. You can watch kids splashing about on their boards, or you can rent your own for a Surfing 101 lesson. Be forewarned: As at many beaches, sometimes the waves are flat, but you can console yourself with a short stroll down the beach to the famous Boston Bay jerk chicken stands.
Treasure Beach, Jamaica
Along the southern coast, Treasure Beach is about as peaceful as Jamaican beaches get. A few well-known guesthouses and resorts are located in this fishing community, but you’ll probably see more locals than tourists around, especially when compared with the rest of the island. The black-sand beaches, teeming with shorebirds, are attractive, and happily there’s not much to do but catch the breeze, mingle with local families, and enjoy fresh seafood.
Frenchman's Cove beach, Jamaica
Frenchman’s Cove is more than a beach. It’s an idyllic escape. After paying a small entrance fee—used to preserve the grounds—you’ll hike about five minutes through verdant gardens flanked by an emerald river stream, before the views open onto a glorious beach and the Caribbean Sea. This cove was once a favorite romantic escape for Elizabeth Taylor and Burt Reynolds, and it’s not hard to see why. When you tire of the beach and waves, hop over to the river and swing from the vines into the fresh water. It’s an ideal spot to spend the day, for couples or for families.
A Google search of beaches in Montego Bay will undoubtedly turn up Jamaica‘s most well-known beach: the often-crowded, white sand Doctor’s Cave Beach Club ($6 pp. entry fee). Although a small stretch, it is indeed hard to resist, with its multicolor umbrellas, clean water, and passing jumbo jets on their way to or from the nearby airport. Come here to mix and mingle or sit back and enjoy some people watching.
The north coast is home to a handful of beaches that are accessible for a fee and attract cruise ship day-trippers. One of these is the laidback Reggae Beach (US$6 pp.)–a spacious blond stretch that’s worth the short taxi ride. There are restroom facilities, along with a lively bar and grill. While it’s popular, it doesn’t feel cramped and makes for a fun day at the beach. (Image courtesy of Dub Dem Sound System)
Hellshire Beach, Hellshire, Jamaica
Action-packed Hellshire Beach, the easy beach choice for many Kingston residents, is lined with dozens of wooden food shacks. Aunt May’s is a solid pick for a classic Jamaican beachside meal, serving fresh fish with festival (fried dumplings) or bammy (cassava flour flatbread), lobster, and other seafood. Hellshire is particularly busy on weekends, when locals take a break from their workweek, and sees relatively few tourists, so it has an authentic Jamaican vibe like few other beaches.
Lime Cay, an uninhabited island about two miles off of Port Royal, is a favorite destination of Kingstonians for white-sand beaches, sunbathing, and swim time. This is an ideal deserted escape on weekdays, and weekends are usually only a bit busier and bring a few vendors. Don’t count on the vendors, though: Bring your own food, water, sunscreen, and snorkeling gear. Wear water shoes, as there can be urchins. To arrange a trip over, ask at your hotel, or inquire at the bar on Morgan’s Harbour called the Y-Knot—they’ll help you find a boat ride or fisherman willing to take you to the island for no more than US$20.
Blue Hole Rd
You’ll more than likely gasp when you first glimpse this 180-foot-deep, jade- and sapphire-colored body of water surrounded by verdant rain forest. Though you can spot it from the road as you drive along Port Antonio’s east coast, the Blue Lagoon is best appreciated while gliding across it on a bamboo raft. The entire scene looks straight out of the movies, which is why locals would probably tell you that it was a location for the eponymous 1980 movie starring Brooke Shields (which, in fact, was filmed in Fiji). Even if you don’t hop on a raft for a float, at least get out of the car to take in the stunning view. (An on-site restaurant and deck were closed for renovation some years back and still haven’t reopened.)