The Caribbean island nation of Jamaica is famous for being a laid-back destination – it’s the home of Rastafarianism, after all. The culture of Jamaica has influenced music worldwide, too, with reggae, dub, dancehall, and ska – to name a few – affecting the global music scene. The capital of Kingston is a busy, cosmopolitan city, where you can get to grips with that modern culture that Jamaica is so famous for.
But rewind a few hundred years, well after Christopher Columbus himself landed here in 1494, and Jamaica was famous for pirates. The town of Port Royal was notorious for playing host to the swashbucklers. The beaches where the Buccaneers would often turn up are the very same beaches where tourists sun themselves and splash around in the turquoise water.
Map of Jamaica
Click to enlarge
The former British colony, which gained independence in 1962 but is still a member of the Commonwealth, is also famous for its fantastic food, African spices mixing with British staples like pasties; think jerk chicken and other fiery dishes for a delicious culinary scene.
When it comes to where to stay in Jamaica, there’s more than just all-inclusive resorts and spa hotels to choose from, and many places to soak up the real culture of this island nation. So, strap in and get ready to “ride the riddim” – here are the best places to stay in Jamaica.
Set in western Jamaica, the area of Negril draws crowds with its beautiful white sand beaches and tantalizingly turquoise waters. This is the location of Seven Mile Beach, a popular holiday spot with many bars, restaurants, and hotels to choose from – the lively Rick’s Cafe is particularly famous. There’s also Long Bay, where you will find a lagoon that’s perfect for snorkeling thanks to its coral reefs.
You could go for a horse ride along the beach or embark on a catamaran cruise on the sparkling water.
Negril comes complete with a friendly, hospitable atmosphere and is often up there as one of the best beach resorts in the world. The beach itself is spread along two bays, Bloody Bay – where you’ll find the all-inclusive resorts – and Long Bay, which is more about smaller, low-key hotels.
The famous Montego Bay is a popular destination for cruise ships that dock at the terminal here. Located on the north coast, and affectionately known as MoBay by locals, here is where you will find plenty of hotels, fine dining, and duty-free shopping. The airport – the English-speaking Caribbean’s busiest – is not too far away.
There are popular beaches in the area, too. For example, Doctor’s Cave Beach is backed by trees for shade and boasts facilities like showers and changing rooms, as well as places to eat nearby. There’s also Walter Fletcher Beach, complete with dive shops. Back in town, you’ll find the Montego Bay Cultural Centre, set in a former colonial-era ballroom and courthouse.
When it comes to accommodation, Montego Bay is not short of places to stay. These range from homely inns to family-friendly hotel stays and even high-end spa resorts.
Formerly a fishing village, and located on Jamaica’s northern coast, Ocho Rios – which means “Eight Rivers” in Spanish – is allegedly the first spot where Christopher Columbus made landfall all the way back in 1494.
Long gone are its days as a humble fishing village. Ocho Rios is now a popular port of call, not just for cruise ships but also cargo ships, too. Away from that, this town was used in not just one but two James Bond films – Dr. No and Live and Let Die.
The popular beach at Ocho Rios features a selection of hotels. Many of these are very much of the premium variety and cater to adults only, particularly couples. However, there is a selection of more relaxed beachfront accommodations to choose from, too.
The capital of the island nation of Jamaica, Kingston is situated on the southeast coast. The city is surrounded by the Blue Mountains and sits in a large natural harbor, partly the reason it developed into the bustling metropolis it is today. It’s the economic and cultural center of Jamaica and is an incredible mix of natural beauty, colonial history, and electric energy.
The downtown area jostles with historic buildings, while the uptown part of the city, New Kingston, is where you will find modern hotels, tall buildings, and restaurants. New Kingston is also where visitors will discover Emancipation Park; here, public events are held, people go jogging, or simply enjoy the peace and quiet of the park. The Bob Marley Museum is housed inside a 19th-century building and gives an insight into the life of the iconic musician.
There are all sorts of places to stay in Kingston, ranging from no-frills hostels and guesthouses to shiny chain hotels.
Port Antonio is a port town situated on Jamaica’s northeast coast. This place is surrounded by tropical jungles and waterfalls in the nearby mountains of Portland Parish. It lacks the hectic vibrancy of Kingston and is a laid-back place to get in touch with local life. You will find markets, street vendors near the port, and a lot of historic Georgian architecture to admire as well.
Tourists initially arrived during the first part of the 20th century, with visitors including Rudyard Kipling, Bette Davis, and Errol Flynn. It became a favorite place to enjoy the tropical climate and seas of Jamaica for the early jet setters. The tourist crowds have since moved on, leaving Port Antonio a relatively quiet town offering a more realistic view into Jamaican life.
The glitz and glamour of the old days still remains, with some 5-star options on offer. However, much of the accommodation is decidedly mid-range, with small apartments and guesthouses to choose from.
Treasure Beach, situated on the southeast coast, became a tourist-friendly destination over the past 25 years. The once sleepy but still community-minded fishing village has given way to travelers drawn to the area for its laid back and somewhat bohemian atmosphere. Since then, Treasure Beach has grown into a big resort destination, with luxury spa resorts and all-inclusive hotels for visitors to choose from.
Despite its popularity, there are still some deliciously deserted beaches to discover, all situated around the four coves – Billy’s Bay, Frenchman’s Bay, Calabash Bay, and Great Bay. It’s the perfect place to come if you feel like lounging around on a beautiful beach all day and eating fresh seafood every night. Treasure Beach is also home to Great Pond, Jamaica’s largest body of still water.
Even though there are many upscale resorts and hotels, there are still lots of authentic local sights to soak up and some villas and guesthouses to choose from.
Set on the north coast to the east of Ocho Rios, Runaway Bay is a resort town that’s known for its stunning offshore coral reef and beautiful beaches. These include Cardiff Hall Beach and Fisherman’s Beach – both wonderfully sheltered spots for swimming, and great for families.
Interestingly, the name derives from its use as an escape route for runaway slaves back in the early colonial era. Today, the hills are filled with Western expats who have made Jamaica their new home; there’s even a golf course. Staying here, you’ll be able to choose from resorts, spa hotels, bed-and-breakfasts and guesthouses for a good choice of lodgings.
The beaches are beautiful, yes, but there are other natural wonders here, such as the Pearl Tree River and the Green Grotto Caves, which are around half a million years old and filled with interesting stalagmites and stalactites, as well as an underground lake.
Just west of Montego Bay is the town of Falmouth. It may be a cruise ship port, but this town is all about its heritage. There are some beautiful examples of crumbling Georgian architecture in its historic district, while slightly out of town is the 18th century Good Hope Estate – a former sugar plantation where you can now learn all about what went on here.
There are numerous old churches around the area, such as St Peter’s Anglican Church. There is even a Jewish cemetery located in Falmouth. But it’s not all about the history; there are some fantastic beaches in the vicinity, such as Burwood Public Beach – complete with a children’s play area – and Silver Sands Public Beach, suitable for snorkeling and swimming.
If this delightful town sounds like your sort of place, you will be able to choose from low-key guesthouses, hostels, and a few seafront hotels.