Rosheda Stephenson calls NYC and the Caribbean home. Her travel articles are meant to inspire passion, adventure and curiosity.
Research shows that people have almost as much fun planning a vacation as going on the actual trip. While I have no doubt this is true, it is also equally true that choosing a resort town in an island far away can seem quite a task. What if after spending big bucks, the town you chose is a big miss? Or, worse, if you have kids, what if they end up complaining the whole time because the area you end up choosing has little to no children's activities? This article will put all these worries and more to rest if you are planning a trip to Jamaica. The major resort areas on the island are Ocho Rios, Negril and Montego Bay. While the three areas are within short driving distances from each other, they each have a different personality that will be a big hit, or a big miss, depending on what you are looking for in a resort town. This article delves into the pros and cons of the three towns with the aim of making your choice easier. But first a caveat.
All the resort towns of Jamaica have all inclusive hotels. Since the towns are all coastal, they all have beaches too. And if you've been doing any research on accommodations in Jamaica, you would know that all the inclusive hotels have their own stretch of private beach. It may seem like I am stating the obvious but you'll soon see where I'm heading.
Because many visitors to the island stay in these all inclusive resorts, and never leave the grounds of the hotel, it really doesn't matter what town these visitors choose. If you plan on staying in an all inclusive and never venturing out, then you can be sure of a private stretch of beach, night entertainment, organized kids activities, water sports, multiple onsite restaurants and everything else you need to have a memorable vacation. Because of this, the town you choose won't matter. You will have the tropical vacation you want without having to do much planning.
If you don't plan on going the all inclusive route, or you still wan to explore the island, here is an in depth look at what to expect in Negril,Ocho Rios and Montego Bay.
Way back in the 1960's, Negril gained a reputation as the place to be and let be. At the time the hippies and flower children flocked to the remote beach town to enjoy a beach that stretched for miles and miles and shimmered under the Caribbean sun. As there were no hotels, visitors would rent rooms in the homes or locals or pitch tents on the beach. Undiscovered by tourists, the beach was heaven for those who wanted to lay on a beach with a beer in hand, while life passed by slowly and reggae music played in the background.
Today, Negril is a popular destination in its own right, but the town has retained much of its laid back beach bum vibe. Negril is basically one long stretch of white sanded, turquoise hued beach spotted with hotels, restaurants and bars. While tourists now flock to the town in droves come fall and winter, the slow, laid back feel that attracted the hippies in the sixties is still present. On any given day, you will find people lounging on chairs or towels while they soak in the sun between lazy laps in the ocean. And if you get hungry you never need to leave the beach. A walk up the beach in any direction, will inevitably take you to some shack or more formal restaurant serving unbelievably delicious local foods and beer.
Because the town is all about the ocean, nobody goes there looking for anything but sea, sun and sand. At least, not in the daytime.
At night, Negril comes alive with live reggae bands or DJ music streaming in the air. If the day time is all about the slow life, night is about dancing on the sand.
You never have to go far to find a party in Negril. All the bars seem to ubiquitously come alive when dark descends and even the hotels on the beach have nightly parties. And to be completely honest, many of the bars seem to have day long parties as you can hear music on the beach at any time of day. As proof of Negril's bonafide party status, one only has to look to the world famous Rick Cafe Bar. The bar is Jamaica's hottest party spot and was awarded the accolade of Best Caribbean Live Reggae Bar in 2016 (awarded by Caribbean Travel and Life magazine) for its party atmosphere which includes cliff jumping and an infinity pool with a slide.
Speaking of cliff jumping, there is another side to Negril that will bear on the decision to stay there. Although the beach is king in the town, some visitors go for the largely unspoilt natural features of the area. The most lauded are the cliffs and the coral reefs.
Where the beach ends, Negril's cliffs begin. These cliffs, known as the West End of Negril, border the ocean and make for a study in the extremes in nature. Imagine black rocky cliffs extending up to 40 feet, with sharp edges in some areas and smooth tops in others. Now picture the blue ocean lapping at the bottom of these cliffs. This in a nutshell is Negril's West End. The whole area holds a beauty of its own that nature lovers will enjoy. And those into extreme adventures will love a taste of the cliff diving that has become popular in the area (Rick's Cafe offers some of the best cliff diving at heights of 30 feet).
The coral reef in Negril also draws a fair share of snorkelers and scuba divers to the area. Trips out to the reef are easy to organize, either from the hotels or from any of the many boats that show up on the beach early in the morning looking for clients.
Go to Negril if all you want to do is lay on a beach with a drink in hand and take in an amazing sunset at the end of the day. Party lovers will also appreciate the party vibes on the beach. And those looking for good diving will enjoy the scuba diving or the extreme cliff diving.
Ocho Rios, spanish for eight rivers, was given its name when the Spanish occupied Jamaica from 1494 to 1655. As you may guess, the name is a clue to the many rivers that call the town home. This is of course, in addition to the gorgeous beaches scattered around the town. And because the town sits in a forested part of Jamaica, there is also greenery and tangled rainforests everywhere you look. This diverse geography makes Ocho Rios arguably the prettiest resort town in Jamaica.
The variety in nature is also responsible for the many activities the town offers. For beach lovers, there are pretty beaches with water spanning the whole spectrum of blues. For those who want to see waterfalls or raft down river rapids, there are numerous other waterbodies to explore. And those who want to hike or zipline through one of Jamaica’s forests, will also find much to please.
Ocho Rios is therefore the place to visit for those who want to feel like they are in a tropical paradise while having access to some of the best activities on the island. There will be hikes up waterfalls like the world famous, Dunn’s River Waterfalls. There will also be ziplining and hiking at outfits like Mystic Mountain. The adventurous types will love ATVing or horseback riding in the ocean and of course, beach lovers will enjoy the dozens of white sanded beaches that the area is known for.
Those with kids will also find that Ocho Rios is well equipped to keep boredom away. In addition to all the fun activities mentioned above, things to do in Ocho Rios for families include an excellent swim with the dolphin programs, tours of an ancient looking cave system, bobsledding and rope courses.
Because of Ocho Rios’ topography, one cannot just walk down the beach to find these activities. These and the other things to do are scattered around town and will take some driving to get to (don’t worry everything is within 10 to 20 minutes of each other). And who minds driving around a tropical paradise!
Ocho Rios is best for those looking for off beach activities that run the gamut from ziplining to waterfall climbing. Those with families will also enjoy the variety of adventures in the town. This is not to say that the town has no beaches. Ocho Rios is home to dozens of gorgeous beaches that will be a constant reminder that the town is indeed a tropical paradise.
Montego Bay is Jamaica's second largest city and it feels like it. In addition to housing one of Jamaica's two major airports, Montego Bay combines a beautiful coastal location with the intensity of a city. This means that those looking for action and shopping will never be far from the hip and the happening. In fact, Montego Bay's main thoroughfare is called the Hip Strip mainly because one can find anything one desires there. There are nightclubs, art galleries, bars, restaurants, jewelry shops, souvenirs, fast food, people hanging out until the wee hours of morning, and just about everything else to please those looking for the undeniable rush that city energy provides.
Combined with this adrenaline is the relaxing vibe that being next to the coast brings. One can easily alternate between a gorgeous beach and heady nightlife while in Montego Bay and never miss a beat. And the town is chock full of activities that can fill a day and make for a fun filled vacation.
Negril is for those looking for a pure beach and the laid back lifestyle that comes with it. Beach bums, those who want to lay on a beach with a drink in hand all day, and those who love to party at nights and take in the sun in the days will love Negril.
Ocho Rios has many pretty beaches scattered around the town, but unlike Negril, there is much more to the town than the beach. Because of the town's geography, there are out of this world waterfalls, rivers, greenery and forests that all provide opportunities for endless entertainment. For this reason Ocho Rios is best for those who want lots of activities both on and off the beach and for those who appreciate the tropical paradise feel of a naturally beautiful place. Families will also love Ocho Rios because of the variety of activities the town offers.
Montego is like Ocho Rios in that it offers quite a good offering of activities and nice beaches. However, being Jamaica's second largest city, it has a more city feel than Ocho Rios and will be best for those who want their vacation to include good nightlife and the high energy feel of a city.
Rosheda Stephenson (author) on May 16, 2021:
@Sukhdev Shukla. Thank you for the nice words. Hope this helps If you ever plan a trip to Jamaica.
Rosheda Stephenson (author) on May 15, 2021:
@LizWestwood. So glad you enjoyed this!
Liz Westwood from UK on May 14, 2021:
Before reading your article I had only heard of Montego Bay. I have learnt a lot and, if I ever get the chance to travel to Jamaica in the future, I now have a clearer picture about these resorts. This is an informative and helpful article.