Practical Travel Tips: Negril, Jamaica

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Negril is about an hour and half away from Montego Bay. Worth the visit.

Prasanna, a Washington, D.C.-based photographer who last wrote about Quito, Mexico City and Patagonia from the site, imported from baltimore, visited recently; here are his practical tips for visiting Quito if you have 72 hours to spare.

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With its beautiful sunsets, an epic seven mile beach and some of the best jerk chicken in Jamaica, Negril is an ideal beach destination to spend a couple days or weeks. A beautiful town on the western coast, Negril offers a retreat from the hustle and bustle of Montego Bay, maintaining the charm from a slower pace of  island time.

Sunset in Negril, Jamaica – Photo: Prasanna Chandrasekhar of imported from _baltimore, All Rights Reserved

Getting in

Negril has always been a bit of a getaway compared to the rest of Jamaica, even in the time of the Jolly Roger. Bloody Bay, the northernmost bay in Negril, gets its name from being the haunt of the infamous ‘Calico’ Jack Rackham, a noted pirate who frequented the area until his capture in 1720 (Editor’s note: there seems to be additional explanations behind the name ‘Bloody Bay’ — this was once a whalers’ port and the blood in the water came from the disembowelment of the whales, hence the bloody bay). Although it was first settled in 1494, Negril remained relatively isolated well into the 20th century. Visitors were rare, even by native Jamaicans. It gained a reputation for a freewheeling, laid back spirit, attracting western tourists struck by wanderlust and seeking sunsets. The road connecting Negril to the rest of the island opened in 1959, bringing both commercial and tourist development.

Exploring caves in the cliffs on the West End – Photo: Prasanna Chandrasekhar of imported from _baltimore, All Rights Reserved

Today Negril is an international tourist destination, drawing visitors from all over the world to its world class beaches and culture, with less of the cramped tourist feel that you might find in the larger cities. Located between Westmoreland and Hanover parishes, on the westernmost tip of the island, Negril is an hour and a half drive away from Montego Bay, the most readily accessible airport. Travelers can get there by bus or taxi, the latter of which can be easily arranged by your hotel or online. The Kingston airport is a bit further out of the way, but those who are looking to tack on Negril as part of a longer Jamaica trip might find cheaper, more convenient flights there. The high season, which runs from November through April, can be maddening. Hotel rooms can be difficult to find and rates can be 40% higher. I especially recommend avoiding the spring break months of March and April, when the beaches are crowded with students and louder, more out-of-control parties.

Seven Mile Beach

Negril is broken up into two main areas: Seven Mile Beach and the West End. Seven Mile Beach, like its namesake, is a long beautiful stretch of ocean with hotels, restaurants and bars right off the water. It will serve those looking for an exclusive, luxury all-inclusive stay as well as those on more of a budget. High end resorts tend to book up early, while more modest accommodations tend to have availability a few days out. Regardless of your accommodations, the beach is a popular destination among travellers and locals of all stripes, and you will find it packed during all hours of the day. The clarity of the water and the relatively calm ocean make it ideal for water sports like swimming, snorkeling and standup paddle-boarding. Most gear can be rented from a local vendor or your hotel, but dive shops usually carry better equipment. Glass Bottom Boats, with a window in the middle of the actual boat, are a popular way to get around and explore the water. Local captains and their one man crew can take up to a half dozen people for about $40 to $50 dollars an hour, making it a relatively affordable way to get around. I met up with Captain Raymond and the Dream Catcher Glass Bottom Boat and cruised around during sunset. Flexible and knowledgeable about the area, they were able to show me some great vistas. They also offer a day-long getaway to a local reef and island about 20 minutes away, which includes rum punch and grilled seafood.

Glass Bottom Boat ride at sunset – Photo: Prasanna Chandrasekhar of imported from _baltimore, All Rights Reserved

The West End

As wonderful as the beach is – the real place to be is the West End, among the Negril cliffs. It might seem strange that the highlight of a beach town isn’t the actual beach, but a sunset will have you convinced otherwise. The West End is located southwest of the beach and is noted by large indentations in rock formations cut into the side of the island. There is no beach, and the only way into the water is usually a steep drop from an outcropping. A warm afternoon will have plenty of revellers jumping off the cliffs to cool off, especially at Rick’s Cafe, one of the most popular destinations in town. Cliffs can be high as 80 feet, but you can occasionally find a daring soul willing to take the leap! Check with your hotel or somebody knowledgeable before you try it yourself, as the rocks below can be dangerous.

The Cliffs at sunset – Photo: Prasanna Chandrasekhar of imported from _baltimore, All Rights Reserved

Away from the water – the twists and turns along the West End Road reveal great places to drink, eat, swim and sleep. Most of the locales along West End Road tend to have more of a local feel, not exclusively catering to a western audience while the family-owned hotels and resorts, like the Negril Escape Resort, have a more personal touch. The staff was friendly, courteous and more than helpful in sorting out my Negril adventure. Having a local point you in the right direction is always a good way to get the most out of your stay. If it wasn’t for them – I would have not found the 3 Dives Jerk Centre, where I came back again and again regardless of how much I had already eaten that day. From the goat curry to the jerk conch, it’s all fantastic, usually served with traditional Jamaican fare of rice and beans, washed down with some cold Red Stripe.

Nightlife

The sunsets, however, might be the most spectacular part of a visit to Negril. Facing west with no obstructions and a calm ocean, the beach or the cliffs on the west end make for a magical experience on most days. If you can swing it, watching the sun go down from a glass bottom boat affords some great vistas of the colors of the sunset dancing off the cliffs and the water. The party keeps going well after the sun goes down. Clubs, bars and restaurants run along the water and stay open well into the night. Bourbon Beach, a restaurant and concert venue on the beach, readily identifiable by the open air grill is usually belting out both reggae and dance music. Try the jerk chicken and wash down some good eats with Red Stripe before heading on over to the Jungle, the area’s hottest nightclub.

Bourbon Beach – Photo: Prasanna Chandrasekhar of imported from _baltimore, All Rights Reserved

Partying in Jamaica is a serious business and the Jungle is where the board meetings happen. The energy changes from a laid back atmosphere to a high energy dance party as the night goes on. It’s almost impossible to keep track of the many floors and seemingly endless stream of revelers. Keep an eye on your watch, though – time seems to pass pretty quickly on the dance floor.

Logistics

Jamaica uses the Jamaican dollar, which has an exchange rate of 128 local to USD at the time of writing. Prices on the island can vary dramatically, from thousands of dollars a night at the high end resorts to about $40 dollars a night at more budget accommodations. Food and alcohol vary similarly. Crime is a consideration, especially outside of the more heavily trafficked areas. Practice street smarts, take a cab at night, avoid traveling by yourself and try not be too conspicuous. Regardless of where you end up, you may encounter some aggressive salesmen peddling wares. A firm ‘no’ usually gets you on your way. Although marijuana is tied closely with the popular view of Jamaican culture, it is illegal and has been so for decades. Recent decriminalization and a general lax attitude make it prevalent among locals and tourists, but healthy caution is warranted. Healthcare in Jamaica is adequate to take care of most illnesses you might encounter. Health insurance is advised and travelers should practice the same amount of caution you would in a new place. Tap water and food are safe at hotels and reputable restaurants, but it is safer to drink boiled or bottled water in more rural areas. The Zika virus is a concern and it is best to use insect repellent while outside. For those with chronic conditions or medications, ensure that you will be able to bring what you need by checking with local laws or with your embassy. If you do feel sick, check with your hotel or tour agency about seeking appropriate medical attention. Cell phone service is ubiquitous, but internet service can be spotty. Expect your bandwidth to vary, depending on usage and time of day. It’s good enough for email and basic web services, but don’t expect to stream movies.

Sunset at the Cliffs, Negril – Photo: Prasanna Chandrasekhar of imported from _baltimore, All Rights Reserved

About the Author:

Prasanna Chandrasekhar is a photographer who lives and works out of the Washington, D.C. area. He enjoys exploring new landscapes and capturing vivid images. You can see his work at imported from_baltimore.

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