Negril, on Jamaica's west coast, has morphed from a sparsely populated fishing village to the island's most popular fun-in-the-sun city. The laid-back vibe harkens back to the hippie era of the 1970s, and today Negril maintains its reputation as the most chilled-out corner of Jamaica.
The 50-mi/80-km drive southwest from Montego Bay to Negril takes about an hour along the renovated A1 Highway. The road snakes past emerald-green pastures and charming fishing villages that are nestled into coves and bounded by mangroves. Boasting the island's longest stretch of powdery white beach, Negril also lays claim to some of the finest chefs in the Caribbean, lively nightlife, spectacular underwater life and a do-as-you-dare attitude.
The famed Seven Mile Beach is home to an array of hotels and resorts, and farther down, the rocky bluffs overlooking the sea provide grandstand seats to awesome sunsets.
Negril lies in the parish of Westmoreland, at the western tip of Jamaica. The town runs from the lighthouse in West End to Bloody Bay in Hanover. At the West End, there are caves and cliffs unlike anything found elsewhere in Jamaica.
The distinctive coral reef off the coast of Negril is a protected area, and the large swamp called the Great Morass is one of the island's natural treasures.
In the center of town are the shopping plazas and craft markets. The town consists of one main road, Norman Manley Boulevard, that meanders along the coastline past hotel properties. A handful of small properties stud the dramatic cliffs east of the lighthouse.
The Spanish named the bay in Negril "Punta Negrilla," referring to the ink-black conger eels that used to live in the rivers. Pirates once favored Negril's two bays for the safe shelter they offered.
Negril was but a dot on Jamaica's west coast in 1702 when British admiral John Benbow regrouped his squadron there after a disastrous run-in with the French. A little more than 100 years later, in 1814, 50 warships sailed from Negril to fight the Americans in the Battle of New Orleans.
Before it became such a popular destination (especially for spring-breakers), Negril was a quaint, laid-back village. Hippies popularized the town after discovering it in the 1960s, and development has continued ever since. Those who first traveled to Negril often stayed with locals in their homes.
Then, in the 1970s, significant road work was done between Montego Bay and Negril, which made access easier for tourists and locals alike. Although this helped the local economy, the increasing numbers of tourists and their impact created the need for environmental agencies, including the Negril Coral Reef Preservation Society.
Negril has come a long way in its development since those early days. Upscale, all-inclusive resorts ring the northern beaches before giving way to more modest hotels and quaint guest houses, along with an array of restaurants and bars that cater to tourists' needs.
There are a variety of things to see and do in Negril. For natural attractions such as the Great Morass swamplands, arrange tours directly with tour companies or through your travel agent or hotel concierge. Also, excursions to areas farther afield should be planned through tour companies and resorts.
Negril's West End features several clubs, and nightlife is active, particularly during spring break. Some do have a cover charge, and most also serve food. Day passes can be purchased for access to hotel nightclubs.
There is a variety of places for dining in Negril, including small establishments that specialize in local fare. Most are located along Norman Manley Boulevard and cater to both locals and visitors. Many bars also provide food for customers.
The higher-end properties, located at the northern end of Seven Mile Beach, often feature fine dining as an option. Many international restaurants are located inside the all-inclusive properties and can be accessed by nonguests. Seafood is a regular part of the dining experience in Negril.
Expect to pay within these guidelines for a meal for one, not including drinks, tax or tip: $ = less than US$10; $$ = US$10-$20; $$$ = US$21-$30; and $$$$ = more than US$30.
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