Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
Natural landscaping, stunning views of the Caribbean, and a mellow, Jamaican vibe
With its colorful cliff-side grounds overlooking an uninterrupted 180-degree expanse of the Caribbean Sea, Samsara Cliff Resort & Spa has much in common with highly regarded West End Road resorts such as Rockhouse Hotel and Tensing Pen -- but with far more affordable rates. Rocky outcroppings and lush jungle make up much of the resort's setting, and bright pillar houses, sun beds, and lounge chairs have views of the sea. In fact, virtually everything at the resort seems to overlook the water, from the open-air spa pavilion with breezy white curtains flapping in the wind, to the bi-level restaurant with second-story picture windows that perfectly frame the vistas.
Of course, there is a reason for the extra-low rates. Despite the beautiful setting, Samsara is an older property, and it shows. The rooms in particular could use a makeover. While handmade with local cedar hardwood, furnishings look dated, and the tacky patterned textiles add to the passé feel of the space. All rooms do, at least, feature private balconies or terraces, and some received minimal bathroom makeovers that added new tiling and granite countertops in 2012.
Those who don’t care for the rocky terrain of Samsara’s waterfront can take the daily shuttle to the resort’s sister property, Legends Beach Resort, which sits right on Negril’s famed Seven Mile Beach. Samsara's guests can also access Legends' two pools and restaurant (optional all-inclusive rates cover eating and drinking here as well). So guests effectively get the best of both worlds -- quiet cliff-side contemplation and access to a lively beach -- in one ‘‘very’’ affordable resort.
For a setting this beautiful -- not to mention a location that is within walking distance of several of Negril’s best restaurants -- Samsara is one heck of a deal. It's a budget hotel, to be sure, but it's one of Negril's best in this price category.
Along popular West End Road in Negril, just south of famous Seven Mile Beach
West End Road has that winding quaintness one expects on a Caribbean Island, and yet it’s just down the road from hopping downtown Negril. Samsara is one of the first resorts after the turn-off from the main two-way highway that leads back to Montego Bay, and here, guests will find plenty within walking distance, with restaurants lining the land side and more resorts lining the ocean side. Must-see attractions include Rick’s Café, 3 Dives jerk restaurant, and, of course, Seven Mile Beach, all of which are a short cab ride away.
Basic and dated, but unique rooms such as cottages and pillar houses have a bit of personality
Most of the rooms at Samsara could use some major updating. Dated decor, low-quality floral bedspreads, and tiny bathrooms are the standard, though a few of the ocean-side units at least had bathroom upgrades in early 2012, including new tiling and granite countertops. A few unique room types have a bit more character, such as the garden cottages which feature lovely porches with hammocks, and the pillar houses, which are stilted beach units with hammocks and outdoor showers -- but their interiors aren’t much better.
Air conditioning units, however, can only be used for an additional steep nightly fee (they are operated by a key), which makes many guests feel nickel-and-dimed. While each room does have a ceiling fan, many will consider air conditioning a necessity in the Jamaican heat. Worse still, the hotel’s best rooms -- the cottages and pillar houses -- don’t have an air conditioning option at all.
Located on the West End's rocky cliffs, but there is a free daily shuttle Seven Mile Beach
While Samsara has no on-site beach, it has a beautiful, rugged cliff-side location on the sea. Platforms in the cliffs have sun beds and lounge chairs, and jumping from the cliffs into the water is a popular pastime (guests should proceed at their own risk.)
The resort’s daily shuttle goes to Samsara’s sister property, Legends Beach Resort, which is located on Seven Mile Beach. The lounge chairs tend to fill up quickly, and the vendors hawking jet ski tours, cigarettes, and other goods (including certain illegal products) are hard to ignore. Nonetheless, the beach itself is gorgeous, with powdery sand and crystal clear waters, and Samsara’s all-inclusive rates cover food and drink at the Legends’ beachfront restaurant.
A quiet ocean-view main pool, and a splash pool with a fountain
The pool at Samsara is adequately sized for the resort, and never gets crowded (many guests head to Legends’ beach during the day.) The pool has palm trees on one side and faces the sea on the other, and features padded lounge chairs and a grotto-like Jacuzzi lined in colorful tiles.
A second one is a plunge pool, and has shallow waters and spewing fountain. The placement right next to the open-air spa and the covered cabana beds might not be ideal for adults in search of quiet, but the area remained empty during my stay.
A beautiful open-air spa overlooking the Caribbean Sea
Even on the hottest of days in Negril, the spa at Samsara stays breezy and cool, with white linens blowing in the breeze and the sound of waves crashing on the cliffs below filling the room. Situated between the PADI dive center and the splash pool, this single open-air structure is partitioned into a couple of treatment rooms, which are divided by hanging white sheets. Treatments include Swedish and hot stone massages, body scrubs, facials, and manicures and pedicures. Night massages and in-room massages can also be arranged.
A kiddy pool, and several rooms with two queen beds
Samsara’s splash pool is a draw for kids with its shallow waters and fountain, as is the small game room, which features a pool table and ping-pong table. Several Superior Rooms feature two queen beds, and rollaway beds and cribs are available, allowing families of four or more to bunk together for extremely low rates.
An oceanfront two-story restaurant with gorgeous views, and a well-regarded Italian restaurant across the street
Ciao Jamaica is an unusual restaurant, serving the unlikely combination of Italian and Jamaican cuisine. Nonetheless, the restaurant has a reputation as one of the best dinner spots in Negril, and dishes up tasty pizza, pasta, seafood, and, of course, jerk chicken. The restaurant also delivers to resorts all over Negril.
The all-day restaurant serves buffets for all three meals, as well as a la carte options for guests not on the all-inclusive plans. For those that are on the plan, stringent meal times are a bit prohibitive. (Those hungry at 5:30 p.m. are forced to wait until the dinner buffet opens at 7 p.m., unless they want to pay more.) Samsara guests are also able to dine at the buffet restaurant at the resort’s sister property, Legends Beach Resort, but the menu is pretty similar.
Of note are the resort’s all-inclusive rates, which were $40 more per night than the room-only costs when I visited in 2012. Based on the quality of the main restaurant’s food, not to mention the off-site nearby restaurants featuring affordable dining, the all-in option may not be the best bet. Of course, those who want the convenience of not having to think about where their next meal is coming from may find the meal worth it.
A breezy bar with views of the ocean
Samsara has a full bar that serves rum punch and Red Stripe as well as any number of beachy cocktails. While the cost seems a bit steep compared to other local bars, those with the all-inclusive plan can imbibe freely between the hours of 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. to the sound of reggae beats. The resort’s restaurant across the street, Ciao Jamaica, also has a bar of its own, with a tiki hut vibe.
Various rates range from room-only to all-inclusive, with a few options in between
Samsara provides several rate options to guests, ranging from all-inclusive, which provides three meals per day and all beverages from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m.; to half board, which includes just breakfast and dinner; to breakfast-only plans. Some guests may find that room-only or breakfast-only is the way to go, given the fact that so many restaurants and bars are within close range of the resort. Increasing the value of the all-inclusive plan, though, is the added option of eating and drinking at Samsara's sister property Legends Beach Resort. All-inclusive guests should be prepared for fairly restrictive dining times -- their meals can only take place during buffets, and a la carte meals will cost extra.
Free parking and a free daily shuttle to the resort's sister property
A tennis court, a PADI dive center, and a game room
While there is no fitness center at Samsara, there are a few ways to get active on-property, including a tennis court, a PADI dive center, and a game room. The tennis court, however, is about as rough around the edges as it gets with a tattered net and a nearly destroyed playing surface. There is also a hitting wall for those who want to practice without a partner.
At the resort’s dive center, guests can take a number of courses in order to obtain certification, and experienced divers can even enroll in programs to become a professional. Deep diving and night diving are also offered.
A small game room next to the bar offers a pool table and ping-pong table as well as a small library.
Lush grounds and a romantic cliff provide a romantic backdrop for intimate destination weddings.
Like virtually every resort in Jamaica, Samsara is a prime destination wedding spot, boasting a lush tropical setting and stunning views of the Caribbean. It’s no surprise that most weddings take place in the early evenings, just as the sun begins to sink toward the horizon.
The resort offers a basic wedding package for about $600, which includes marriage license processing, an officiant, a wedding arch, a bouquet, a boutonnière, one bottle of champagne, a tropical fruit basket, and a wedding cake. Additional services can be added to this program, including full receptions, additional floral arrangements, entertainment, photography, and decorations.
Should the size of the wedding party exceed Samsara’s 50-room capacity, additional guests can stay at sister property Legends Beach Resort, with all rooms receiving a group discount.
Low-energy bulbs and solar water heaters
While there are not a ton of green efforts being made at Samsara, the resort does recycle cooking oils, and has installed low-energy bulbs, low-flow toilets and solar water heaters. The property has also maintained a large number of native plants and flowers, and has replanted many areas that were affected during construction. The lack of air conditioning in some units decreases the resort’s consumption of energy, and a lack of provided toiletries means guests bring their own, thus eliminating the need for small throwaway plastic bottles.
Opened in 1982, and showing its age
Samsara has been family-owned since opening in 1982, and might be older than some of its guests. Rooms, which have basic wood furniture and dated floral bedspreads, could use a thorough update, and a few public areas, such as the lobby and game room, are showing their age as well. In early 2012, granite counters and vanities were installed in some of the bathrooms, and a few old tube TVs were replaced with 22-inch flat-screens (again, in just “some” of the rooms). The Ciao Jamaica restaurant opened in 2010.
Very little accessibility for mobility-impaired guests
Samsara does not provide any ADA-compliant rooms, and stairs can be found in several locations (for instance, the two-story restaurant or the Pillar Houses, which are set on silts). However, guests with mobility impairments can access first-floor guestrooms as well as the remainder of the property via a ramp off the main entrance. No other concessions have been made.
24-hour security, a street patrolman, and safety deposit boxes at the front desk
Though the hotel’s front desk has limited hours of operation, Samsara does employ 24-hour security on its grounds. Additionally, a street patrolman stops traffic for guests crossing between the garden side and the main beach side of the property.
Despite safety measures, it is important to note that guests are urged not to leave anything on their balconies or porches overnight, as petty theft is common in the area. During my stay, I overheard a rather perturbed guest informing the front desk clerk that a bottle of wine left on her porch had gone missing overnight. While the clerk ensured the guest that she would be refunded, the incident serves as a warning to guests to keep their belongings secured. Those who wish to take additional safety measures can rent a safety deposit box from the front desk.
Located in a prime spot on Negril’s West End Road, this 50-room resort has an impressive offering of features for this budget-friendly price: two pools, an expansive waterfront, a breezy spa, two restaurants, and a PADI dive center. Though the rooms are bland and basic, with air conditioning provided only at an extra cost, the grounds themselves are beautifully maintained with plenty of flora and exceptional oceanfront vistas. Rates are extremely low for this area, and an all-inclusive option attempts to give guests an even better deal. Still, it may not prove to be the best option, given the number of restaurants and bars a short distance away.