By Bob Curley
Negril may not be Jamaica’s hippy hangout like it was back in the 1970s, but it still retains a mellow vibe that’s a nice departure from the more in-your-face tourism towns of Montego Bay and Ocho Rios. And while it’s true that luxury and all-inclusive resorts have become a fixture along Seven Mile Beach and Bloody Bay, there’s still a place for free spirits to enjoy a budget vacation in Negril — and perhaps embrace the “free love” spirit that first drew people to the west coast of Jamaica decades ago.
Whatever your vacation tastes run to, there’s a way for you to do Negril right:
New: The Royalton Negril Resort & Spa, opened in March 2017, is the biggest thing to hit the beach in Negril in several years. This 407-suite all-inclusive resort is a luxury hideaway with free-flowing premium drinks and seven restaurants, four pools, a kids’ club, tennis courts, and a daily bill of entertainment. The Royalton offers three distinctive vacation experiences: standard service, the butler-served Diamond Club, and the adults-only Hideaway.
Nude: Nowhere is Negril’s no-judgment attitude more apparent than at Hedonism II, arguably the best-known (and best, period) nude beach resort in the world. Spilt into “nude” and “prude” sections, this Seven Mile Beach resort appeals to a broad range of prurient interests, attracting everyone from couples looking to spice up their relationship with a little nude beach time to “lifestyle” groups. Equally open to newcomers, nudists, and swingers, “Hedo” is “home” to a passionate base of open-minded travelers from around the world. If you’re interested in shedding a few inhibitions or just your clothes for a few days, Hedo is the place to be in Negril. The Grand Lido Negril is another clothing-optional resort with a somewhat tamer reputation.
Luxury: Negril isn’t automatically associated with pampering, but in fact is home to some of Jamaica’s best small luxury resorts. The 22-suite Cliff Hotel enjoys a parrot’s-eye perch atop Negril’s famous cliffs and a reputation for casual elegance and Jamaican fusion dining at the resort’s waterfront restaurant, Zest. The adults-only Spa Retreat Boutique Hotel stresses holistic health with men’s and women’s spa packages, organic dining, and 18 stone-sided cottages with on-call concierge service. Even more intimate is the Tensing Pen with its romantic, thatch-roofed cottages arrayed along the clifftop; and sister property Rockhouse, a beautiful chic boutique once famed as a hangout for Bob Marley and today acclaimed as one of the top small hotels in the world. The Caves has private dining in your choice of two clifftop caves along with the Blackwell Rum Bar, located in a secret cave just above the crashing waves of the Caribbean Sea. Each of the 12 clifftop rooms is individually decorated.
Low Key Budget: West End Road is where modern Negril really began, and this coastal drive is still home to a nice collection of small and affordable hotels and inns, some with oceanfront, some not. Among the best loved are Catcha Falling Star Gardens, where prices for the 10 villas and a single apartment start at just $69 per night; guests can lounge in the hotel swimming pool, cross the street to the LTU Pub for a Red Stripe and some beach time, or head down the road to Rick’s Cafe for cliff-diving and live nightly reggae music. The Negril Yoga Centre on Norman Manley Boulevard has 13 rooms starting at $51 nightly, daily yoga classes and no bars or people splashing in a pool to disturb the serene setting (but there are resorts and Coral Beach just across the road, and downtown Negril is a short walk away).
Small All-Inclusive: The upscale and adults-only Sunset at the Palms resort has spacious elevated villas in a lush garden setting with Bali-style flair, with a private beach club across the road from the rooms and restaurant. Merril’s Beach Resort has 44 rooms and is directly on Seven Mile Beach, the per-person rates start at about $100 and include all food and drinks — it’s definitely worth considering if you’re looking for a beachfront all-inclusive and aren’t too fussy about food and drinks.
Large All-Inclusive: Many of the big all-inclusive chains have Negril resorts, including Jamaica’s own Sandals, Couples, Riu, and Karisma. The Sandals Negril has a remarkable variety of room types arrayed along Seven Mile Beach, including butler-served suites with private pools, swim-up rooms on the resort lagoon, and two-story “Love Nest” suites with soaking tubs on the balconies. The most intimate of the adults-only Couples resorts, Couples Negril has 234 rooms and suites, four main dining options, the highly praised Oasis Spa offering beach and treehouse treatments, and a variety of included watersports, classes, a small nude beach, and a popular nightly beach bonfire. The ClubHotel Riu Negril and the Hotel Riu Palace Tropical Bay share a stretch of sand on Bloody Bay Beach, a less populated alternative to Seven Mile Beach, while the family friendly Azul Beach Resort Sensatori boasts gourmet cuisine and five-star accommodations as part of its luxury all-inclusive package.