Introducing Negril: the west side of Jamaica you need to visit
Many first time visitors to Jamaica opt for the popular resorts towns of Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, but have you considered Negril? Fun, free-spirited, and daring to be different, this 'sunset Mecca' on Jamaica's west coast is where you need to visit next. Here's everything you need to know.
Negril: a bit about its history
Rewind a couple of thousand years and Negril was nothing more than uninhabited swamp land, which eventually became occupied by the native Arawaks or 'Taino' Indians in around 650 AD.
As with many parts of the Caribbean, Christopher Columbus was the first New World explorer to step foot here, in 1494. It's thought the name Negril came from Spanish settlers who nicknamed the area 'Negrillo' (or 'little black ones') referring to the dark-coloured cliffs you find here.
Fast forward to the 20th century and, by the time Jamaica had gained independence in 1962, Negril was becoming a bit of a 'hippie paradise' for the 'flower children' and draft dodgers from the States.
Today, Negril might not be the untouched retreat it was back then, but its dreamy sunsets, beautiful beach and carefree vibe are still alive and well.
Negril in the movies
Negril has had a pretty star-studded past thanks to its stunning scenery. Ever seen '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea'?
Ask a local and they'll happily direct you to the place in West End Negril where the 1950s classic was filmed. It also happens to be the spot where actor Steve McQueen famously leapt off the cliffs in the1970s film, Papillon.
Scenes from various James Bond movies have also featured Negril's picturesque cliffs, namely Thunderball and Dr No. After all, it was the island of Jamaica where writer Ian Fleming lived for many years and wrote all 14 of his spy novels.
How is Negril different to other parts of Jamaica?
Negril isn't as big as the popular holiday resorts of Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, but it certainly feels like it because it's so spread out. This sprawling town fringes 15 miles of the coastline and spreads across the two parishes of Hanover and Westmoreland.
As for its character, many parts of Negril have held onto the reputation as being Jamaica's 'hippie town'. You'll find many folk claim this is where you come to let your hair down, 'do as you please' and forget about your worries.
Where to stay in Negril
The type of accommodation you'll find in Negril all depends on which part of town you're in. The northern part of Seven Mile Beach and Bloody Bay for example, is where you'll find a whole range of hotels offering all inclusive holidays.
The southern end of Seven Mile Beach and Downtown Negril, meanwhile, play home to myriad independent hotels and guesthouses and perhaps give off the most 'hippie' feel of the town.
Head south of the Negril river and you'll arrive at the Cliffs of the West End. This is where you'll find the famous Rick's Café as well as a collection of gorgeous boutique hotels, boho-style restaurants, and cool cliff-top bars.
Top things to see and do in Negril
Hit the beach
While Seven Mile Beach may not actually be seven miles long, (it's more like 5.5 but hey, who's counting), it's a great place for both active types and those looking for a kick-back type of holiday.
Just walk up and down the beach and you'll find a ton of watersports companies offering everything from parasailing to paddleboarding.
Meanwhile, deep sea fishing and diving are also popular in Negril. Or why not try beach horse riding? It's a popular way to take in these long golden sands.
If you do fancy hitting the open water, there are plenty of catamaran trips here, ranging from the lively party boats to romantic sunset cruises. Some boat tours will take you to the tiny island of Booby Cay and serve you up a lobster lunch.
Meanwhile, consider heading to the lesser-known Half Moon Beach, just north of Negril in Green Island. A private tour here takes you to Calico Jack's - known as Negril's 'Pirate island'. Try the famous 'Coconut Pirates' Drink' and take your snorkel as it rests next to a coral reef.
Visit the 'koolest' water park
Families, and anyone looking for a bit of high-adrenaline fun on holiday, will love Kool Runnings, one of the Caribbean's most popular water parks.
You can easily fill a day here enjoying its water slides, water rafting, lazy rivers, and canoeing. This family-friendly park has a choice of land based activities too, such as paintballing, go-kart racing, and laser kombat.
Explore the natural wonders
Just south of Negril, you'll find the Negril Watershed Protection Area, a nature reserve that attracts hikers looking for a glimpse of the wetlands area known as the Great Morass (an important bird watching site).
If you fancy getting up close with Jamaica's national bird, head to Barney's Hummingbird Garden in West End Negril where you can feed these pint-sized creatures (call ahead to book).
If you want to get your fill of nature alongside a few high-speed thrills, don't miss a trip to Discovery Falls in the nearby town of Sheffield. You'll experience the beautiful flora and fauna of Jamaica as you whizz along a zip-line, 40 feet in the air.
Watch the sunset
There are endless places to watch the sun go down in Negril - you're in Jamaica's so-called sunset Mecca, after all. Pull up a chair at one of the dozens of bars that line Seven Mile Beach and watch the crimson skies over a chilled beer.
For the most famous sunset celebrations, don't miss out on Rick's Café, a legendary split-level restaurant and bar perched on the West End cliffs. If you've ever seen videos of the famous cliff-diving displays in Negril, this is where it all happens. When the sun dips into the horizon, it all ends in ceremonial applause.
Where to eat
There are so many places to eat and drink in Negril, it would be impossible to list them all. However, do seek out frills-free joints in the West End such as Sips and Bites, for the most authentic ackee and saltfish breakfast or succulent goat curry.
If you're after some fiery jerk chicken (or pork) and street food-style eats, try 3 Dives or Pushcart, also in the West End, or Juicy's, just steps from the beach. The Jamaican patties, sold by vendors along Seven Mile Beach, are also a hit.
For something more refined, check out Ivan's bar and restaurant or The Rockhouse restaurant. And for beachfront dining, make for Cosmos restaurant. You can't miss Ciao Jamaica either; it serves up some of the greatest 'Jitalian' fusion food on the island.
Where to party
From dancehall and reggae to live bands, there's always a party in Negril. Both chilled daytime cocktails and lively sundowners are up for grabs at Margaritaville - just one of the many ocean-facing bars that line Seven Mile Beach.
Meanwhile, Bourbon Beach is a lively beach bar, and a bit of an institution in Negril, where you'll find a great line-up of musicians (and occasionally, a famous reggae star or two). For serious partying, check out Negril's popular nightclub Jungle. It hosts a weekly 'One Love' concert and regular DJs.
How to get there
You can reach Negril in under two hours by car from Sir Donald Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, and the best way to get around is on foot or via a cab. Look out for the taxis with registered red number plates, and agree on a fare before your journey starts (always negotiate - they will often charge far higher for tourists).
If you're flying into Kingston, Negril is around four hours from Norman Manley International Airport. Don't forget, you can check out the latest deals on all inclusive holidays to Negril with First Choice. Holidays to Jamaica depart direct from numerous UK airports, including Glasgow, Newcastle, Bristol and London Gatwick, among others.
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