Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
"Welcome to Tensing Pen ... Where life is simple ..." reads the heading of Tensing Pen's information packet. Opened in the '70s as a tiny hippie hangout, this modest-size property has since grown into one of Negril's top-rated resorts. The 17 cottages (divided into 22 rooms), restaurant, bar, pool, and small yoga studio and spa hut are built into the cliffs of Negril's West End. The hotel adheres to an ethos of simple, back-to-nature living.
I spoke with a couple visiting from Newfoundland who mused, "It's just so ... casually perfect." Cottages that come with modern plumbing, fans, hot showers, and clean rooms pull guests back into the cocoon of civilization. There are no TVs, phones, or Internet connections in the rooms, so guests bring along stacks of books, and a beach towel.
Cottages are spread out over the large property, so even though the hotel was at almost full occupancy during my visit, it never felt crowded. At the same time, it was no ghost town -- guests mingle in the common areas, lending to a friendly, relaxed vibe. During my stay, a woman jumped from the bridge into the sea wearing her wedding gown. By evening, the entire resort heard all about it.
The cliffs can be a bit dangerous for young children, which is why neighboring hotels like the Rockhouse hotel don't allow kids under 14, and the pricier Caves allows only adults (over 18) on site. But Tensing Pen welcomes children to the resort, and I spotted some 8-year-olds having loads of fun jumping into the water from the bridge. But the waters along the cliffs are a bit rougher, and only meant for strong swimmers.
The small staff here easily gets to know their guests and creates a friendly, intimate atmosphere.
The moment I stepped into the small front-desk room, the woman working there gave me a friendly and professional welcome to Tensing Pen. She invited me to sit down and retrieved a cool, lemony washcloth for me to clean my hands, and called the bar to order my fresh welcome drink. She proceeded to check me in efficiently, tell me a bit about the resort, and give me a packet of information and keys to my room. As she wrapped up her explanation of the restaurants and available services, Razor, the bartender, arrived in the lobby to give me my complimentary drink. I took a sip and she wished me a wonderful stay before the bellboy walked my luggage to my room with me.
The rest of my experience was similarly warm and intimate. I had the feeling I'd met most of the staff by my second day, and they were even familiar with my food and drink preferences. Questions were met with knowledgeable responses and special requests were catered to with care.
Though it feels private and secluded, guests only have to ascend the short driveway and take a few steps to find jerk stands along the road. It's just a short walk from must-see attractions like Rick's Café, other resorts, and tasty jerk restaurants including 3 Dives Jerk Center. Negril's downtown, nightlife, and Seven Mile Beach are a short cab ride away.
Set in the cliffs of Negril's West End, Tensing Pen faces the ocean but doesn't have a traditional sandy beach. High, rocky cliffs descend to the tumultuous but pure blue water below -- it's the clearest water in Jamaica. Guests can climb down the cliffs and swim from a handful of ladders that have been built into the cliffs, but the general consensus is that you can't finish your stay without jumping from the long, skinny bridge about 20 feet or so above the water.
I stayed in Garden Room A, but Tensing Pen's rooms are hardly uniform. Several types of bungalows, rooms, studios, and "tree houses" are available, so the room and furniture configurations differ widely.
Garden Room A is small but stately. Its small porch rises from the ground a few steps, and glass French doors open into the room. The dark wooden four-post bed frame gives the bed a sense of grandeur with its a colonial-style carved pineapple-and-palm motif headboard and high rise. The pure white bedding immediately makes the room seem chic and clean. The bed is extremely comfortable
The furnishings are otherwise simple and easily fade into the background. A small green wicker chair, dresser, wardrobe, and shelving unit for the refrigerator are sufficient and fit comfortably into the periphery of the room. Dell from Newfoundland told me to specifically mention the linens: They're so good she wanted to buy a set to bring home with her, she told me. They are luxurious, smooth, simple, white, clean.
The mini-fridge is empty. Guests are free to bring in beverages or food from outside to stock it, but nothing is provided by the hotel.
A safe is provided in the bathroom. The key is available at the front desk free of charge, but if guests lose it, a $50 fee will be charged at check-out.
The tiled floors and white painted walls are clean but not pristine. Small marks on their surfaces kept it from feeling five-star squeaky clean or brand-new, but they didn't make the room seem dirty, either. Paintings of local geography, history, and Caribbean motifs in simple frames decorate the walls.
The bathroom is sizeable. The terra-cotta colored floor tiles that extend from the room and the wood and marble furnishings make it warm and welcoming. The shower is standing, but has a long, depressed floor so it feels spacious. A simple toiletry set of Starfish Oils brand shampoo, conditioner, aloe gel, and bar soap is provided.
A small, but beautiful pool is set below the restaurant and reception area, atop a steep drop-off on one of the cliffs. It has a beautiful view over the ocean and over the rest of the property. A few chairs and loungers surround the pool, but it never feels crowded or loud -- unlike most Jamaican resorts.
Yoga classes are held on the open-air yoga studio every Tuesday and Thursday morning at 11 a.m., for $20 per person. Private lessons may be arranged through the front desk, and are $60 for one or two people, and $20 for each additional person.
Spa services may be arranged through the front desk. A small menu of massages and skin treatments is available at reasonable rates. Couples enjoy massages outside, on the cliffs, hidden from the rest of the resort. Guests rave about the services.
The cliffs aren't ideal for young swimmers, which is why neighboring resorts don't allow children. Tensing Pen allows kids, but doesn't cater to them.
There are no specific features for kids, but families who like to unplug and eat authentic Jamaica fare -- not mac and cheese -- will have a great time.
Kids who are addicted to television and need constant entertainment should move on -- this is a rustic resort and there are no televisions, video games, or kids' activities to keep them occupied. But unlike the nearby Rockhouse or Caves hotels, kids are welcome at Tensing Pen. I saw several families here during my stay, most with children about 8 years old or above. The pool and cliffs are unsupervised (several cheery signs warn guests to swim at their own risk), but most families I saw stayed together and the kids were old enough to skip through the cliffs and swim in the pool on their own.
My cottage was very clean and odor-free. Nothing was musty or damp like other rustic resorts. Overall, it seemed very well-maintained.
The restaurant is filled with tables and couches that overlook the pool and cliffs. Guests lounge with their laptops, linger over cocktails, and dine formally side-by-side here. The environment is part-lobby lounge and part-restaurant (though they don't allow outside food here). The food is excellent: A mostly Jamaican menu is offered for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But it helps to think of the menu as more of a general reference, as the kitchen roughly adheres to the described dishes, based on what they happen to have in stock.
A basic, free continental breakfast is served every morning. Heartier Jamaican and American breakfasts are also available to order.
Though the food here is very good and service is great, many guests opt to eat elsewhere for several meals. Much cheaper food is available at food stalls around West End, and restaurants at other resorts offer different dining experiences.
Exceptional, yet reasonably priced food and drinks, above-and-beyond service, and a gorgeous, intimate-feeling location -- one of the best choices for small weddings
Honeymoon Suite: Each of the guest rooms is unique, though many honeymooning couples prefer upgrading to a private cottage, such as the more isolated Seagrape suites.
Airport Transportation: The hotel does not provide transportation from the airport, a two-hour taxi from Montego Bay International Airport costs about $80 per person.
With an intimate collection of 17 cottages (22 rooms), Tensing Pen is where guests come to unplug -- no TVs, phones, or radios in the rooms -- and enjoy the breathtaking cliffs of Negril's west end. The pool, spa, and restaurant are a little smaller and less popular than at the similarly priced, similarly styled Rockhouse boutique, but most guests prefer the quiet exclusivity found here.