There was a time in the not too distant past when a visitor proudly went home wearing a tee shirt bearing the phrase: “I survived the road to Negril.” Although this resort town on the northwest tip of Jamaica is only 40 miles from the airport at Montego Bay, the trip by vehicle took nearly two hours, winding and scraping along the bumpy road through savannahs, gullies, forests and coastal towns. With the new highway, the trip is faster and less harrowing, but the stunning vistas remain intact.
Negril is probably the most “laid back” resort destination in all of the Caribbean, a come-as-you-are, go-as-you-please, stay-'til-you're-done kind of place. In the late 1960s, the undeveloped community served as a haven for hippies, wanderers and the disaffected, who formed communities along the beach and in the caves of the West End. Some remnants of that free-wheeling counterculture remain today, in the “live and let live” attitude of the locals and the visitors.
The town is divided into two sections, with Seven Mile Beach at the eastern end and the cliffs and caves to the west. Between the two is the business center of Negril, a small downtown with grocery stores, municipal buildings, and one lone launderette. There are no highrises in Negril. With the exception of the 100-foot lighthouse at the end of West End Road, no building can be higher than the tallest palm tree.
The resorts along Seven Mile Beach tend to be luxurious, although there are several smaller hotels that offer excellent value for a beachfront location. More typical are the all-inclusives, ranging from family-friendly to resorts that advertise debauchery as a virtue. Rimming Bloody Bay - so named for the whaling that took place in these waters, the color of the sea as the sun sets, or the pirate battles fought here, depending on your source of information - the beach expanse is long and deep with soft white sand and warm, calm water. Since the beaches are public, one can walk along the ocean's edge from one end to the other, stopping at the various resorts to enjoy a beer, music, or a meal.
The road leading to the lodging in the West End is narrow, rutted and usually muddy. Although there are a few spectacular cliffside properties, it is here that one typically finds the less expensive hotels, inns and guesthouses. There is no beach at this end of Negril, which stretches from the town to the lighthouse at the tip of the island. Accommodations are perched on the coral cliffs with sweeping views of the Caribbean, or modestly tucked into gardens on the other side of the road. There is access to the sea via stairways carved out of the cliffs in several spots, and brave souls can dive into deep coves from rock outcroppings that have been worn to a sheen by years of bare feet preparing for the leap. The attraction here is the nightlife, the sense of camaraderie, the glorious views, and - of course - the budget lodging options.
The Negril lifestyle is not for everyone. Even the most elegant and upscale resorts have a level of permissiveness that might offend some, including clothing optional sections that are not entirely hidden from view. The area's loose culture leads some to think that partaking of the freely offered “ganja” (marijuana) is acceptable. It most definitely is not, with severe penalties -including jail time- imposed on those found with the substance.
For vacationers who love the idyllic Caribbean of lazy days and reggae nights, who seek an environment with little structure and regulation, who revel in breathtaking landscapes, stunning sunsets, the joy of new-found friends and impish fun, Negril may be the perfect destination.
THINGS TO DO:
Most of the all-inclusive resorts along Seven Mile Beach offer romance packages for honeymoons and anniversaries, so that's one option for accommodation. The benefit is that everything - food, liquor, non-motorized watersports and entertainment - is included so there are no worries about running out of money or not having enough to really enjoy yourself. The cliffside hotels are smaller, more secluded and terribly romantic, affording privacy and views that you won't find in any other location or on any other island.
Sooner or later everyone who visits Negril ends up at Rick's Café to watch the sun go down. It's almost written in stone, you gotta do it. For romantic escapes, find a secluded cove and bring a bottle of wine. The “A-h-h-h” factor is extremely high for Negril sunsets.
All-inclusive family resorts (there are couple of them in Negril) allow rare freedom for parents. Children's clubs keep the young ones occupied while Mom and Dad pursue more adult activities, and all meals, entertainment and activities are included. There are some condo and villa resorts along the beach as well, with kitchens and separate sleeping areas, and some modest, small, family-oriented hotels. The cliffside areas are not really suitable for families with young children.
Anancy Park is a great spot to bring the kids during the day. There are nature trails, fishing holes, miniature golf, go-karts and paddle boats. It's located along the beach near the big resorts.
YS Falls is a wilderness area with 20 natural pools and three waterfalls. It's an ideal spot for a family day; trips can be arranged via the tourism centers or through the hotel tour desks.
Rick's Café for sunset is a fun excursion for everyone. Get there early so you can enjoy the jugglers and fire-eaters. Most hotels have buses that make the trip; there might be a small charge. The road to Rick's and the area surrounding the entrance is crammed with these buses before sunset. If you have younger children, taking a cab so you can leave when you want to (or need to) might be a better option.