Home to beautiful beaches and an active reggae culture, Jamaica draws visitors with its mellow atmosphere, delicious cuisine, and fascinating history. The third-largest island in the Caribbean, Jamaica isn’t easily explored in one trip, which is why it’s important to understand the differences between its best beach towns before booking your flight. Follow our guide to the best beach towns in Jamaica to help you find the best one for you.
Quintessential Jamaica in all its Rastafarian glory, Negril is a ganja-induced daydream come to life. Seven Mile Beach is a beautiful spot for sunbathing and swimming, while the West End Cliffs offer the best sunset views on the entire island. Tiny boutique hotels and palapa-roofed jerk shacks line the beach, where hawkers sell everything from Red Stripe to weed. Travelers should note that Negril is a whopping 90-minute drive from the nearest international airport in Montego Bay.
Where to Stay in Negril
Hotels in Negril boil down to two main options: on the beach or on the cliffs. For those who want direct access to the soft sands of Seven Mile Beach, properties like Negril Palms Hotel and Coco LaPalm Sea Side Resort offer great value for money. Meanwhile, travelers who would prefer to stay on the West End Cliffs (where lodging is slightly more upscale) can head to perennial favorites like Tensing Pen Resort and the Rockhouse Hotel. Negril isn’t much of an all-inclusive town — its charms lie in its anti-resort atmosphere — but if an all-inclusive is what you’re after, Sandals Negril Beach Resort & Spa is a sweet spot on the beach, about five minutes north of town. The Caves is another romantic all-inclusive option, with a dramatic cliffside setting.
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2. Montego Bay
Home to Jamaica’s busiest international airport, Montego Bay is an all-inclusive resort paradise. There aren’t many charms to this industrial town — it’s more of a get picked up at the airport and dropped off at your resort kind of destination. Travelers looking for a little off-campus excitement can head to the touristy Hip Strip, a bustling thoroughfare of shops and restaurants lining Doctor’s Cave Beach, a beloved stretch of sand frequented by locals and visitors.
Where to Stay in Montego Bay
Montego Bay has no shortage of all-inclusive resorts. Travelers who want to stay near the Hip Strip will have to contend with less-than-ideal beaches and lots of airport noise. Secrets Wild Orchid is our top pick for an upscale, adults-only stay in Montego Bay, while Breathless Montego Bay Resort & Spa is the clear front-runner for those in search of a hip party vibe (though it’s not on the beach). About 15 minutes north of Montego Bay, the resort area of Rose Hall feels quieter and a bit more high-end. Check out the neighboring Hyatt Ziva (kid-friendly) and Hyatt Zilara (adults-only), both of which are all-inclusives with a pretty beachfront setting.
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3. Ocho Rios
A former fishing village-turned-resort town, Ocho Rios is best known for its off-beach attractions, including Dunn’s River Falls (terraced waterfalls where visitors can swim between natural pools) and Mystic Mountain (an eco-park with thrilling attractions like the Jamaican bobsled course, rainforest zip lines, and a 700-foot chairlift). Ocho Rios, referred to as Ochi by most locals, is also home to one of Jamaica’s busiest cruise terminals. If you aren’t arriving by cruise ship, the nearest airports in Montego Bay and Kingston are both about 90 minutes away by car.
Where to Stay in Ocho Rios
Ocho Rios is home to a mix of tiny boutique hotels and all-inclusive resorts. For those interested in an intimate boutique experience, Jamaica Inn is a picture-perfect example of understated Caribbean elegance, with traditional decor and a swath of beautifully maintained beachfront. Meanwhile, folks who prefer the comfort and convenience of an amenity-packed resort should head to Sandals Royal Plantation, also located on a pretty beach.
While it’s certainly one of Jamaica’s prettiest coastal towns, Oracabessa isn’t a place you should go out of your way to visit if you’re not staying nearby. The sole attraction here is GoldenEye, a historic 52-acre property where Ian Fleming wrote the James Bond novels. GoldenEye is pure luxury, with 21 Jamaican-style villas scattered across palm-fringed mangroves and a pristine beach. It’s a place where travelers come to escape the real world, and insert themselves into a James Bond fantasy. The Fleming Villa, formerly owned by the author himself, is where the better half of the 14-part spy series was written.
5. Port Antonio
Tucked into the lush foothills of Jamaica’s Blue Mountains, Port Antonio is world’s away from the island’s touristy north coast. Here, herds of goats cause traffic jams on barely-passable roads and shirtless Rastafarians sell ackee and saltfish from sidewalk shanties. Port Antonio is blissfully rural, with no tourist crowds and nary a cruise ship in sight. The tiny town isn’t much of a looker, but it serves as a gateway to the rest of Portland Parish, the lushest (and rainiest) part of Jamaica, where some of its greatest natural wonders can be found. Aside from wonderfully secluded beaches and the aforementioned Blue Mountains, Portland Parish is also home to the Rio Grande Valley and the Blue Lagoon. One reason the region remains practically untouched by tourism? The nearest airport is two-and-a-half hours away in Kingston.
Where to Stay in Port Antonio
Geejam is a seven-room hideaway that puts guests in touch with Port Antonio’s simple pleasures. Thanks to an on-site recording studio, Geejam has welcomed the likes of John Legend and Rihanna, but it also regularly hosts couples and families seeking solitude. Though it doesn’t have a spa or communal pool, the property is usually most appreciated for what it lacks: crowds. The hotel’s ultra-private rooms feature minimalist decor with vibrant island accents and eclectic touches, like original Banksy wall murals.
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