Jamaica is one of the most popular international destinations for U.S. tourists, so I wanted to wrap up my series of posts on the trip by telling you about some of the great places I visited just in case, like many people, you happen to find yourself in Negril in the near future (check out my Reggae Half Marathon race report here and my visit to Rhodes Hall High School here)! But first, some basic geography.
I visited the city of Negril, which is located allllllll the way at the very western tip of the island, on this trip. We flew into Montego Bay (I had a direct flight from Charlotte!), and it took about 1.5 hours to drive to Negril from the city. If you don’t mind windy roads and the feeling that your driver may strike a pedestrian at any time (I obviously do not mind either of these things), the drive will not bother you. If you get motion sick or worry about humanity, then I recommend taking some type of Dramamine and/or Xanax situation.
We stayed at the Westender Inn which, as the name would suggest, is all the way on the western tip of the island. It was about a 10 minute drive into the town of Negril, and it had a private beach, excellent restaurant and bar, and awesome ocean view rooms, most of which came with their own hammocks! This place was great because it was small and quiet. It’s definitely not an all inclusive resort, but if you’re looking to relax and not hear thousands of people running around and screaming all the time, it’s right up your alley.
Although we ate at our hotel restaurant a few times, we also had some great eats elsewhere on the island. Jamaican food is pretty famous – everyone knows about jerk chicken and Jamaican beef patties – and the seafood was pretty incredible! I forced myself not to eat just the giant fresh shrimp everywhere we went and branch out a little. We hit up Cosmo’s, a casual, beach front restaurant with great views and strong drinks, on our second day.
One of the places to go when you visit Jamaica is one of the top 10 bars in the world as dubbed by Travel and Leisure magazine, Rick’s Cafe! Located on the westernmost point of the entire island, Rick’s is the place to watch the sunset, and it’s no secret! Tour buses will bring you from any of the resorts in Negril, and it can be tough to get a table, so come early! Whether you sit or stand, the drinks are strong and the sun is breathtaking. Even though it might be cliche, it’s a must visit while you’re in Negril!
I long ago stopped purchasing a ton of souvenirs from all the places I go in a failed effort to avoid even more clutter in my house, but one thing I buy everywhere is Christmas ornaments. Sometimes, you have to get creative – not every country celebrates Christmas, of course, and not everywhere thinks to sell ornaments in the first place. When I heard about a local craft market just outside the town center in Negril (you can’t miss it, it’s right off the main road), I knew that would be my best place to find one. Although I didn’t find any ornaments, I did find a guy carving incredible objects out of wood by hand. He didn’t have any ornaments, but I told him what I was looking for, and he said he could make me one if I came back the next day.
And sure enough, when I got back the next day, there was the ornament I had requested! He carved me a blowfish by hand and then painted and lacquered it, all within about 24 hours. Suffice to say, I was beside myself with excitement.
If you’re looking for local fare (and you should be, if you’re in Jamaica), Pushcart Restaurant and Rum Bar cannot be beat for views and cuisine. You can try fantastic jerk chicken, of course, in addition to curried goat (goats are everywhere in Jamaica!), oxtail, and a huge bounty of seafood. I had an incredible stew over rice and peas, the strongest drink I’ve ever had (called “The Pushcart,” of course) and the view wasn’t bad, either…
If you’re looking for a little local refreshment, look no further than one of the many carts you’ll find near the beaches, along the side of the road, and at any craft market or attraction. You can buy a fresh coconut and drink the juice right out of it! I did not do this because I am convinced I am allergic to coconut despite little (if any) evidence to support this, but the other girls I was with did and said it was to die for! You should expect to pay around $1.50 – 2 for a fresh coconut.
And finally, those looking for a little more adventure in Negril should head to JamWest Adventure Park! We visited the park on my last day in Negril, so I wasn’t able to experience everything it has to offer, but the list is huge – zip lining, mineral baths, safari, ATV rides, and a local food and drink festival! The park started out as the JamWest Speedway, which is one of the premier motorsports race tracks in the Caribbean. The speedway is only used a few times throughout the year, however, and visitors to the speedway noticed the beautiful surroundings and suggested that the owners do tours of the area.
There’s something for everyone at this park – seriously. If you’re on the adventurous side, try the ziplines – the longest in Jamaica! – or an ATV ride on the course that winds through the property and onto a private beach. Those who are looking to enjoy the environment without the wild ride should sign up for the safari tour, which takes visitors to tour the different ecosystems around the park and provides a guided tour of the plants and animals native to Jamaica.
Our guide, “Safari Dwayne,” did an awesome job telling us about all of the plants and animals, including the injured animals that call the park home. The wildlife sanctuary is a unique aspect of the park, and many animals are nursed back to health here until they are able to be returned to the wild.
The safari tour features a boardwalk section where you can get up close and personal with some of the animals in the park – great for kids! One of my favorites was this tortoise, who I call Cliff but who probably has another name.
We finished up our tour at the mineral baths, which are fed by a natural spring on the property. Visitors can soak in the bath, and a new tour that has just been added offers visitors the chance to eat and drink local fare while relaxing near a waterfall, soaking their feet, and enjoying the sounds of the nearby ocean! Like I said, there’s something for everyone.
So as you can see, Negril is a pretty fantastic destination and offers a great deal to visitors outside of the traditional all-inclusive resorts. I challenge you to head off the beaten path if you get the chance to visit and try some real Jamaican food, explore the beautiful environment, and meet the locals! It’s definitely an experience I won’t soon forget.
I’m collecting donations of gently used running shoes, clothing, and gear for the track and field athletes at Rhodes Hall High School in Hanover, Jamaica. Donations can be mailed to: Danielle Cemprola, PO Box 26101, Greenville, SC 29616. If you would prefer to donate online, please visit my GoFundMe page! All funds raised will go directly to the team. You can read more about the kids and their incredible stories here.
SPECIAL OFFER: I have 2 Team T-Rex shirts left ( 2 unisex large in lime green). Donations of over $20 on GoFundMe will receive a shirt – first come, first served! Act fast!
LEAVE A COMMENT: What do you like to do when you visit a new place? Do you collect anything on your travels?