The town centre in Negril isn’t much to look at and there are no real sights, but you’re bound to find yourself here sooner or later, unless you really are determined not to leave for one moment the perceived safety of your all-inclusive! This is the place to come if you want to top up your funds from an ATM, change travellers’ cheques, buy stamps, shop for souvenirs or more basic necessities etc.
In truth, the centre of town is little more than a roundabout, with three roads leaving from it. One, Norman Manley Boulevard, heads north to follow the beach the length of the bay, lined with resorts, smaller hotels, restaurants and bars. Another, West End Road, heads west and south towards the cliffs where we were staying. And the third, Sheffield Road, heads inland through the parts of town where most of the locals live.
For cash, we found the ATM at the Scotia Bank to be reliable, although you’ll need to queue for the one machine that accepts foreign cards and supplies US$ in return. But even standing in the queue is a good people-watching experience as the machine is in front of the bank with a view of the busy roundabout. Nearby, at the start of West End Road, is the post office, and just before this is a small unpretentious bar, Seaview, where we enjoyed a cold beer and more people watching one morning after our errands were complete. Photo 4 was taken near here - the signs made us smile :)
Going the other way from the roundabout, towards the beach, you will almost immediately cross the South Negril River which we found to be a great spot for photos. Another good photo opportunity was our meeting with Leon, the drum-maker who has a shack near the start of Sheffield Road. Although we had no intention of buying a drum he was happy to chat to us and explain how they are made, as well as to pose for photos as you can see.
There are also quite a few souvenir shops in the several shopping plazas near the roundabout. Most sell very similar things (tax-deductible according to the signs, though we didn’t investigate) but we found one small gallery with more interesting items – see my separate shopping tip. We also bought a few postcards in one of the souvenir shops, and amused ourselves with one of our favourite holiday pastimes – spotting the most kitsch or ugliest knick-knack!
I’d read quite a bit about Negril before going there, and seen numerous references to the cliffs, but was still surprised when I saw them for myself – they were not at all what I was expecting! I’d envisaged high cliffs with sheer rocky faces, but instead Negril’s “cliffs” are in reality the rocky remains of dead coral reefs. In most places they are only a few metres high, but their uneven shapes and many inlets mean that the sea can crash over them at times as dramatically as it does over much larger cliffs elsewhere. We had several days of relatively rough weather during our stay – not so good for snorkelling, but great for enjoying the waves and spray from the well-positioned deck chairs at our hotel.
We also enjoyed taking a much closer look at the rocks. Everywhere you look you can spot the fossilised remains of the many different coral species that once made up these reefs – see photos for examples.
By the way, the cliffs even gave Negril its name – it was called Punta Negrilla by the Spanish after these dark rocks.
Negril is situated at the westernmost point of Jamaica, and has justifiably become famous for its spectacular sunsets. Of course these aren’t guaranteed every evening (we had two evenings when it was raining at sun down time), but you’ll get one most evenings and they do all seem to be pretty special. If like me you can’t resist reaching for your camera when the sky starts to turn red, make sure you have lots of memory space or bring plenty of film!
Among my favourite memories of Negril are the early evenings spent sipping a cocktail and watching the sun go down over the sea. We got probably our best photos from our own hotel, the Negril Escape, where the cliff-top seats and mock lighthouse provide interesting silhouettes, but the best views and cocktails were at the LTU Bar further up the road. You could also go to Rick’s Bar, the sunset spot if you believe all the hype, but we chose to give that a miss once we saw all the tour buses parked outside.
Head out of town on the West End Road, and you almost immediately start to see another side to Negril. As the road climbs away from the rather scruffy small fishing beach it starts to wind between small hotels half hidden by bougainvillea bushes and more laid-back bars and restaurants than those found nearer the town. Here and there are small shacks selling crafts – we found the sellers here to be as interested in a friendly chat as in making a sale, with none of the intensive selling techniques employed in some parts of the island.
For most of the route your only chance of seeing the sea is by visiting one of the several bars or restaurants on that side of the road, or by staying on one of the hotels, but after about five miles you reach Negril Lighthouse (see Things to Do tip) and beyond it a small park with excellent views. There are also some hammocks strung between the trees here, and a small (but when we visited unfriendly) bar.
If you want to travel the full length of the road you could hire a bike in town, otherwise a route taxi will pick you up and drop you at any point for a few dollars. We spent an hour or so one morning walking the end furthest from town, i.e. from the Negril Escape to the lighthouse and beyond. This is the quietest stretch, but you still need to be careful as there are no pavements and locals drive fast round the tight bends. Despite this it made a pleasant walk and provided us with some good photo opportunities.
One of the main reasons people come to Negril is the beach, and you can see why it’s such a draw. Miles of sand, safe swimming and plenty of water-sports make it a beach-baby’s heaven, I imagine – but I’m not a person who likes to spend all day and every day on the beach, so just the one visit to check it out was enough for me. In fact, I prefer my beaches undeveloped, and that’s something you can’t say about Negril’s! But the sand is soft and white, and even with the development the sweep of the bay is still very attractive – it must once have been stunning.
Despite this, we did enjoy spending a few hours here. The Negril Escape runs a free shuttle service to its sister hotel, the Mariner, which is one of the older and smaller hotels on the bay. Nearer to town than the smarter all-inclusive resorts, this didn’t strike me as somewhere I would have wanted to stay, but it made a reasonable base for our beach time. We found a couple of loungers and spent our time reading, alternating with dips in the sea. The later was calm and shallow for quite a long way out – great for small children and more nervous swimmers, but I’d have liked a few more waves to liven things up a bit – or some reef action so I could have snorkelled.
We also found a nice little bar for lunch, Errol’s Sunset Café, just next to the Mariners – an open-sided space with a few plastic tables, a limited menu (we had cheese toasties) and a great view of the sea and all the action. [see photos 3 and 4]
Wanting to check our emails one evening (and catch up on VT gossip, of course!) we stopped by this small shop not far from the Rockhouse Hotel, where we’d spotted a sign advertising internet access. It has just two PCs with a reasonably fast connection. We paid 100 Jamaican dollars for 25 minutes, the minimum time allowed. If you want more than this, even the more usual 30 min slot, you pay double.
As this is a shop it doesn’t seem to stay open as late as an internet café would – when we came past after dinner one evening it had already closed for the night.
On our last visit to Negril, a friend of ours introduced us to his longtime guide, Ian Perry. We got to be great friends and found him to be knowledgeable, reliable and resourceful. Once, after realizing I'd left my backpack at a jerk place 20 miles behind us (DOH!), Ian whipped out his cellphone, found the number, and made sure the manager had it safely tucked away. We returned & I fetched my wallet, camera, etc. He's a lifesaver and he never even broke a sweat.
Ian took care of everything, from a shopping trip downtown to a private mini-bus back to the airport. He set up beach trips, made sure we had what we needed, steered us away from bad bargains and even translated for us (Jamaican/English). He's a laid-back Rasta, but he instantly stepped in when a hustler made me for a mark, and sent the guy on his way.
Hiring a personal guide was surprisingly worthwhile, if a bit pricey. We paid him about $10(US)/hr or $100 for a full day, plus meals, drinks and other stuff. Ian Perry can be contacted by writing him at Little London P.O., Westmoreland, Jamaica, W.I. His last known local cell number is 876-439-3949.
I think the best was a motorcycle tour of the mountains, east of Negril to an area known as Roaring River, a village of about 1500 people, the Blue Hole Garden (Rastafarian owned) and lots of Rastafarians. The people were very friendly and open with everything, while the people in town were just as friendly, but very business like.
Fondest memory: The easy pace of things away from town. Thanks Stephen and Steve.
Ackee - national fruit of Jamaica
Breadfruit - a local fruit often used more like a vegetable
Salt Fish - like dried/salted codfish
Jerk - a spicy rub or sauce often used to marinate chicken, you can ask for varied levels of spiciness
Goat - raised locally, a substitute to more expensive beef
Bammy - like a cornmeal cake, often served with ginger soy sauce
Curry/Coconut - a seasoning combination often found on many chicken or fish dishes
Juici Patties - a beef, chicken, or shrimp filled pocket pastry, great fast food and made fresh daily
Favorite thing: Negril is located on the west coast of Jamaica approximately 55 miles from Montego Bay airport. The drive to Negril takes nearly two hours- depending on the speed with which your driver decides to navigate the not too well pave roads.