Discovering Another Side of Negril, Jamaica
Between the cluster of all-inclusive resorts on Seven Mile Beach and the high-end boutique hotels on the West End cliffs of Negril is one of the last outposts of budget tourism left in the Caribbean, where it’s still possible to get a room at a beachfront hotel for under $100 and a fresh-cooked local meal for less than $20 — including the Red Stripe beer on the side.
First developed for tourism in the 1950s, Negril became a counterculture magnet in the 1960s and didn’t get its first big resort until 1977, when the Negril Beach Village opened (it’s now the Hedonism II resort). Today, the north end of Seven Mile Beach is home to big resorts with brand names like Riu, Royalton, Couples, and Sandals, but the southern half of the legendary beach — closer to the town of Negril — is still populated by the smaller, older hotels that predated the all-inclusive era.
These modest hotels aren’t likely to be found in slick social media campaigns, but properties like the Bourbon Beach Club, the Coco La Palm Beach Resort, Rondel Village, and Merril’s Beach Resort continue to attract budget travelers, particularly European tourists who are generally more comfortable with spending less per night for basic accommodations in order to extend their vacations for weeks or even months at a time.
On a recent visit to Negril we got a taste of this two- and three-star hotel experience with a stay at Rooms on the Beach, one of the last remnants of the SuperClubs resort chain that once included multiple resorts under the Breezes and Grand Lido brands. Branded as a 57-room “boutique hotel,”
Rooms is a great example of the good and bad that comes with a stay at this level of service. Our sub-$100 per night room included a rock-hard bed and a location where music from the neighboring Woodstock Bar & Grill shook the walls into the wee hours of the morning. But the price of our stay included a surprisingly good continental breakfast and a coupon for 2-for-1 drinks at the beach bar, the hotel pool was clean and inviting, and the hotel was right on Seven Mile Beach.
A chat with some British guests at the beach bar yielded some good advice about drinking and dining around this unpretentious part of Negril — having been at the resort for weeks, they had already gotten a good lay of the land and directed us across the street to Coletta’s Restaurant. A typical local Jamaican eatery, Coletta’s has a small screened-in dining room, picnic tables out front, and menu prices more in line with the area’s ‘70s vibe: two dinners of fried chicken, peas and rice, salad and a pair of beers set us back just $26.
Other walkable dining options along this stretch of Norman Manley Blvd. — the main road to Negril — ran from vegetarian food at Rasta Ade to typical beach bar fare at Woodstock (which, as we found out, has a huge stage for live music performances and DJs both day and night) and jerk chicken right off the grills set up by vendors alongside the highway.
This part of Negril isn’t entirely unknown to tourists staying at Negril’s higher-end resorts: Negril’s outpost of the Margaritaville restaurant is located in the neighborhood, and the nightlife at Woodstock, and Best in the West has a reputation for good jerk food that gets some visitors off their all-inclusive plans for a meal.
Overall, a stay in this budget-friendly part of Negril is more unpredictable, perhaps, than vacationing at a big brand-name resort — but also more quirky, unique, and authentically local. You can stay cheap, eat cheap, and drink cheap and still enjoy a great Jamaican beach vacation — whether your hotel is directly on the beach or just across the street.
Quality varies, of course, but some of Negril’s budget hotels are quite well regarded. Some favorites include:
Travellers Beach Resort: With rooms starting at $100 per night, this beachfront resort offers amenities more typical of a higher-end hotel including a pool with swim-up bar, a fitness center, nightly entertainment, and a well-regarding restaurant overlooking the Caribbean Sea.
Sunrise Club: Located across the street from the beach, Sunrise Club has 15 rooms tucked into lush grounds, a laid-back hippie vibe, and an on-site pizzeria.
Yellow Bird Hotel & Resort: Opened in the 1960s, this beach hotel has rooms and cottages and is home to the Last Mango Bar, known for its broad beer selection.
Roots Bamboo Beach: In addition to rooms ranging from budget to deluxe suites, this beachfront resort offers camping for just $32 per night. Plus a live reggae show three nights a week.