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by Kristin Young | Updated On: April 1, 2022 | Jamaica
Jamaica is one of the most famous Caribbean islands and is also known for being the birthplace of reggae music. The picturesque island is much more than just that though, it’s also filled with unique culture, breathtaking landscapes, and warm welcoming people. When you visit, you’ll be presented with a huge array of experiences, a kaleidoscope of colors, and music that makes the island the most precious jewel in the Caribbean.
With so much to do on this island, it’s crucial you have at least some knowledge of the best places to go in Jamaica and where to stay in Jamaica before traveling. To be honest, the best places to visit in Jamaica (and therefore the best places to stay in Jamaica) are scattered all across the island.
I’d recommend that you split your trip between a couple of regions to experience the island properly and find your personal best place to vacation in Jamaica. If you’re traveling with your family, we’ll even talk about some of the best places to stay in Jamaica for families – there are all-inclusive resorts all over the island that cater to families with children of all ages.
If you’re looking for the best place to stay in Jamaica for couples, perhaps even for your honeymoon, there are a number of resorts that are perfect for a romantic getaway. Spend a few minutes reading this in-depth guide and you will be all set to have the holiday of a lifetime on the glorious island of Jamaica.
Click on each of the spots on the map of Jamaica for more details on each then read below for more in depth information.
Jamaica is a paradise, home to beautiful beaches and good vibes all around. You might be familiar already with Kingston or Montego Bay as they are very popular and fast-growing areas, but there are other magnificent destinations in Jamaica that you won’t want to miss. Stay tuned to discover the best places to travel Jamaica and the best places to stay Jamaica has to offer.
Montego Bay, or “MoBay” as the locals call it, is the second-largest city on the island and is located in the northwest corner of Jamaica. It encompasses an abundance of hotels, restaurants, and a major cruise-ship port. It also boasts numerous beach resorts and golf courses outside its commercial core.
There are dozens of big all-inclusive resorts available in Montego Bay that cater to both families and adults. Some consider Montego Bay one of the best places to stay in Jamaica for couples as well as one of the best places to get married in Jamaica as it’s home to several popular destination wedding resorts.
Choosing to stay at a hotel in Montego Bay is ideal for those who want to explore several major attractions in opposite directions. It’s located right in the middle of Ocho Rios, St. Elizabeth, and Negril, meaning you can plan day trips to see and do it all. An endless number of amazing restaurants are to be found in Montego Bay. A little tip, if you are guided by a local tour guide, ask them to share their favorite eatery to sample some of the best homemade authentic Jamaican cooking.
Some of the popular beaches here are Doctor’s Cave Beach and Walter Fletcher Beach, home to an amusement park. The crystal clear water at the majority of MoBay’s beaches is what makes it a popular destination for a couples’ tropical honeymoon escape and anyone that’s looking for a beach vacation in the Caribbean. There’s also snorkeling and diving available at the coral reefs in the protected waters of Montego Bay Marine Park.
Visiting Jamaica would be incomplete without spending some time in Negril, a town located on the far western side of Jamaica that’s loved by most for its amazing beaches and family-friendly atmosphere. Negril is viewed by many as the best part of Jamaica – this is down to its miles of sandy beaches in shallow bays with calm, turquoise water. This makes it one of the most popular tourist hotspots in Jamaica (along with Montego Bay and Ocho Rios).
Negril’s Seven Mile Beach – particularly the portion overlooking Long Bay – is lined with bars, restaurants, and resorts, many of them international and all-inclusive. During the daytime, water activities are offered like cliff jumping or diving. The coral reef and abundant sea creatures can make for great diving for both experienced divers and beginners. You need not worry about sharks, because there isn’t a shark problem in Negril. You would have to venture a great distance beyond the reef to encounter any.
But don’t let yourself be fooled by the easy pace of life here. Aside from snorkeling and scuba diving, there are plenty of other activities and opportunities for adventure-seekers to get an adrenaline rush, whether it be by zip-line, atop an ATV, or in an exotic race car. All this makes Negril a firm contender for the best part of Jamaica to vacation, especially if you’re a first time visitor to the island.
Kingston is the capital of Jamaica – it’s the financial, cultural, economic, and industrial center of the island country. Sprawling along the southeastern coast of the island, it’s backed by the Blue Mountains. It faces a natural harbor protected by the Palisadoes – a long thin tombolo of sand that serves as a natural protector for the harbor and connects Port Royal, the center of shipping, to the rest of the island. Kingston is divided mainly into two areas, Uptown and Downtown.
For reggae lovers, Kingston might be the best part of Jamaica to visit. It’s widely thought of as the best city in Jamaica to vacation in for listening to reggae. Kingston was the home of a number of reggae stars, including Bob Marley. In the city center, you can find the Bob Marley Museum that’s housed in the singer’s former home. Nearby, Devon House is a colonial-era mansion with period furnishing. In the Western Hemisphere, Kingston is the largest predominantly English-speaking city south of the United States, so it’s perfect for all travelers who mainly speak English.
There are plenty of hotels in Kingston to choose from. In the heart of the city, you’ll find all several first-rate international hotel chains. Or, if you’re looking for more budget-friendly places, you’ll also have no problem finding many fabulous local options that offer the modern amenities of a cosmopolitan city served up with the mesmerizing Jamaican vibe. A handful of spectacular guest accommodations can also be found skirting the town, which offers the experience of staying on the waterfront in well-maintained neighborhoods or tucked away in the cool city hills. This can be the perfect solution to enjoy the bustling city and its quiet beauty simultaneously.
There’s no shortage of activities in Kingston – from golfing, beaches, fine art galleries, a bustling nightlife, colorful markets, and many more! You can see Kingston’s star attractions by starting in Downtown, at the heart of it all. Visit the National Gallery of Jamaica for the cultural exhibits show, then walk through the streets lined with sensational murals to dine at the local cafes. In the Uptown part of the city, you can visit Hope Botanical Gardens, home to gorgeous gardens located just up the road from the Bob Marley Museum where he lived and recorded many of his famous songs. In the gardens, you can also have alfresco dining, and enjoy an amphitheater that hosts regular reggae bands.
Port Antonio is the capital of Portland Parish located on the northeast coast of Jamaica, about 60 miles (100 km) northeast of Kingston. It’s the rainiest, greenish parish in Jamaica, known as a gateway to nearby tropical jungles, mountains, and its many rivers and waterfalls. In the John Crow Mountains, Reach Falls flows into a river pool.
Though it was once the cradle of Jamaican tourism, the region has since been eclipsed by Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, and Negril. However, it remains a preferred hideaway and is the best area to stay in Jamaica for travelers that enjoy a chic and elegant crowd. Here also lies some of the best places in Jamaica to stay as there are a handful of all-inclusive posh hotels.
When compared to the busier Ocho Rios or Montego Bay, Port Antonio is an elite small town retreat. One of the must-visit landmarks in Port Antonio is Blue Lagoon, the location is only a couple of miles to the west of the city, where it’s nestled in the lush jungle. The original name was “Blue Hole”, but people have unofficially renamed it “Blue Lagoon” ever since portions of the 1980 Hollywood movie The Blue Lagoon were shot here.
Fortunately, there are no admission charges, but it can be nice to rent a boat here and tour the entire lagoon. Don’t forget to swim and snorkel with the sea turtles in the emerald green/blue waters. In Port Antonio you can also wander through the lush green jungle trails, taking in the misty mountain sights, or even sail down a winding river on a bamboo raft.
Ocho Rios is a port town on the north coast of Jamaica, northwest of Kingston. The Spanish name, meaning “eight rivers”, refers to the number of rivers in the area. This is where you’ll find the famous 180-meter long collection of waterfalls that make up Dunn’s River Falls. The highest waterfall here is 50 meters, and together these falls make Ocho Rios a popular tourist spot and one of the most photographed spots in Jamaica.
Ocho Rios is arguably the best city to stay in Jamaica if you are looking for reasonably budget-friendly accommodation or some outdoor adventures beyond the ocean. There is a multitude of places to stay in Ocho Rios in the form of villas, guesthouses, apartments, or hotels.
If you are entering from the west highway, you’ll be greeted by some of the main attractions in Ocho Rios almost immediately. The Mystic Mountain Rainforest is the perfect way to end the day here by having food, drinks, and enjoying the beach or pool at Margaritaville. Just to the east of Ocho Rios, you can see attractions like the Rio Nuevo battle site, the Goldeneye estate of James Bond, and visit national heritage sites such as the Port Maria Courthouse and Fort Haldane dating back to 1759.
Runaway Bay is a town in Saint Ann Parish that sits on the north coast of Jamaica, just ten miles west of Ocho Rios and is considered one of the most naturally beautiful places on the island. Runaway Bay is mostly known for being the birthplace of Bob Marley. Although technically Bob Marley was born in the inland village of Nine Mile, for those who want to visit the site of Bob Marley’s birth, and final resting place, Runaway Bay is a great place to stay.
When coming with your family, Runaway Bay would be one of the best places to visit Jamaica as there are options for budget hotels, family-friendly hotels, mid-range hotels, and also affordable luxury hotels. The name Runaway Bay comes from the fact that it was once an escape route for slaves. It has a colorful history with pirates, rumrunners, revolutions, runaway slaves, and shipwrecks. Much of Runaway Bay’s charm lies in the fact that while the city itself is not a vibrant busy center, it’s conveniently located within easy reach of Ocho Rios in the east, Montego Bay in the west, and Brown’s Town in the south. Runaway Bay also has captivating environmental attractions including the Pear Tree River and the Green Grotto Caves.
The first thing you should do at Runaway Bay is get on a catamaran sailing ship. You can also go cycling – this is suitable for children, couples, and friends who want to tour the Blue Mountains, taking in the stunning landscape and history. Instead of cycling, you can also try horseback riding with the family. This can even be done on the beautiful white-sand beaches in the area.
Treasure Beach located in St. Elizabeth lives up to its name as a gem on Jamaica’s south coast. If you travel by car from Montego Bay’s Sir Donald Sangster International Airport, it will take about 2 hours and 25 minutes to get here. But it’s completely worth it as soon as you see the idyllic scenery including a six mile long stretch of golden sand, and most importantly, its authentic Jamaican vibe.
If you’re looking for an authentic, distinctly Jamaican beach experience there is none quite like Treasure Beach, home to many of the artists and poets on the island. There are no crowds of tourists or flashing lights here. Treasure beach is all about the relaxed Jamaica “no problem” vibe, more so than anywhere else on the island. So don’t expect easily available jet skis and other water sports activities. Here is a paradise for swimming, snorkeling, and body surfing.
If you’re a traveler looking for budget-friendly holidaying and the experience of living like a local in Jamaica, Treasure Beach will definitely be one of the best places to vacation in Jamaica for you. There are few locally run restaurants dotted through the villages that serve lovely home-cooked Jamaican classics such as goat curry with rice and peas, jerked meat, or pumpkin soup.
There is so much to explore in the Treasure Beach area. Treasure beach’s area encompasses Billy’s Bay, Calabash Bay, Great Pedro Bay, and Frenchman’s Bay. In Calabash Bay, it’s not uncommon to meet local villagers wandering the beach selling handicrafts and snacks.
Falmouth is the capital city of Jamaica’s Trelawny Parish. It’s a busy cruise-ship port that’s located between Ocho Rios and Montego Bay on the island’s north shore. Its ideal location makes it your entryway to exploring the surrounding area and all its beautiful sights. The town was named after Falmouth in Cornwall, England, which was the birthplace of Sir William Trewlany.
There are tons of activities to be done here, from horseback riding through the water to relaxing on the white-sand beaches, to exploring historic sites and natural wonders such as Dunn’s River Falls. Make sure to visit Good Hope Coach House to experience river tubing, zip-lining, dune buggying, and ATV riding in Falmouth. Good Hope is also known for serving mouth-watering jerk chicken and pork, so try them out when your hunger starts to kick in!
There are many options to explore in Falmouth – you can go by foot, taxis, tour shuttle services, or if you are keen, you can hire a private driver during your visit to take you on a more customized experience of the countryside, local meals, and historic sites.
One of the most popular activities in Falmouth is shopping. The port itself has many shops and vendors in the open-air marketplace. A little tip for travelers on a budget – try to negotiate with these vendors, especially the ones in the open-air market, as most of the time the price they give you at first is just to test the waters and you get it down a fair bit if your bartering skills are good enough.
Make sure your visit to Falmouth is safe and secure. Any busy port destination in Jamaica should be treated with caution, and Falmouth is no different than the others. Just like any place in the world, there are good people and there are bad. Those that aren’t so good may be looking to catch you off guard and take your possessions or your money. There’s no need to be frightened, but do remain aware as you visit the city. Be wary of tourist scams and pickpockets.
Jamaica is a safe destination for tourists – this is of course if you take the usual precautions. Although there is no precise answer on the safest place to stay in Jamaica, Runaway Bay has everything you need to enjoy a holiday, with less worry over crime statistics compared to other areas on the island.
No matter where you are, keep your possessions safe – don’t keep valuables in your back pockets or in unsecured backpack compartments. And remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
What are the best months to visit Jamaica?
The island experiences two rainy seasons – the first starts in May and ends in June and the second one lasts from September to November. The best time to visit Jamaica is from November to early December as the hurricane season has ended, and all the hotels and restaurants are open. You get to enjoy sunny skies as the rainy season tapers off and warm but not scorching temperatures. The island is mostly less busy in mid-December. No matter which time you visit, you’ll experience warm to hot temperatures.
Which side of Jamaica has the best beaches?
Go to the North West coast for Jamaica’s best beaches. Montego Bay is incredible for snorkeling with its white sandy shore and lots to see and do.
Where is the clearest water in Jamaica?
To experience crystal clear oceans, try the Seven Mile Beach in Negril. The vibe there is family fun and laid back.
Half Moon Beach is another contender for the clearest water – this beach is a little more secluded than many other beaches on the island with strikingly blue water. Here, you’ll still find some basic amenities like beach bars and sun loungers, but often without the crowds.
What part of Jamaica is best for couples?
For couples, Negril is the place to be – it’s considered to be the best place for couples and people above 18 years of age. You can watch the sunset on Seven Mile Beach with your loved one, and continue with a candlelit dinner at The Caves.
Is Montego Bay or Negril better?
Both Montego Bay and Negril are popular vacation destinations in Jamaica. Neither one is better than the other – this is completely based on personal preferences.
If you like to be in the tourist hotspot and have opulent all-inclusive resorts, then Montego Bay is the place to be. But if you prefer a more laid-back atmosphere, then Negril is your destination.
Is Negril more expensive than Montego Bay?
In general, resorts in Negril are more affordable than those in Montego Bay. This might be because Negril is much smaller than Montego bay and has fewer resorts and hotels overall.
There are some expensive, 5-star resorts as well in Negril, so if you want to have a luxurious vacation, you can also do that in Negril. But for travelers on a budget, you could book a room for two in a hotel for as low as $45!
Each of these destinations mentioned has their own uniqueness and are special in their own different ways. When visiting with family, Runaway Bay would be my top preference as there are many options for hotels, from the budget-friendly ones to the luxurious ones. There is also a great selection of family activities available in Runaway Bay.
However, I would choose Negril if I were to visit alone with my partner. Here you can enjoy the miles of sandy beaches in shallow bays with calm, turquoise water and see a sunset before having a candlelit dinner at The Caves – this would definitely give couples the feeling of being in a honeymoon paradise.