(Note: I originally wrote this post in 2001. Then I updated it for the same band’s later trips, the last update being in 2009. In Dec 2016 I thought to take out all the very fluid parts of this article – names of restaurants, prices, things that may not be accurate. But I found I enjoy the memory of these places, so I will leave it with the 2009 update which is what you see here. Obviously Negril’s geography and such hasn’t changed much, so some things are still true today. Cheers!)
I was asked to write this several years ago for a trip I took with a band (ekoostik hookah) and their fans, about 200 people. I just updated it (the band is going back) so prices and such are fairly current as of March 2009.
Intro to Negril
Negril is on the southwest coast of Jamaica. There is basically one road that runs north-south – Norman Manley Blvd. It runs along the entire beach and so is often referred to as the “beach road”. The beach road has the beach on one side and the Negril Morass (morass basically means “wetlands”) on the other with mountains behind the morass. The Morass is not developed and there are no roads into it from the beach road.
South of the beach is the town of Negril. There is a roundabout that connects the beach road to the road to Savannah la Mar (which is inland from Negril to the east) and the cliff road (aka the west end road or lighthouse road) which continues south along the water as the beach turns to cliffs. Off the west end just past town there is a road up to the area known as Red Ground, where many locals live and hotels are few. Off the west end road further up there are a couple of “lanes” – short roads that dead end in the hills, some with restaurants or hotels on them (those of you staying at Villa la Cage are on such a lane). The west end road has many hotels and restaurants and shops both on the water side and the land side. The Negril lighthouse on the cliff road is the westernmost point in Jamaica.
Jamaica is in the eastern time zone but does not do daylight savings time.
Jamaica’s official currency is the Jamaican dollar which is currently trading at about JA$$85 to US$1. It is not uncommon for places to accept US$, especially places that are geared to tourists. Places that are geared to tourists generally cost more than places that are geared to locals. Be aware that if you choose to use US$, the exchange rate you get is up to the shop/restaurant/bar and probably won’t be as good as the rate you’d get if you changed to JA$ at a cambio or bank. Using US$ can raise the prices of things too. For all of these reasons, I suggest you plan to use JA$ during the trip, though US$ will get you by for as long as necessary.
DO bring small US bills – no one has change – not taxis, craft stalls, even bars and restaurants often have trouble changing larger bills. Go to the bank and get at least 50 US$1 bills and some $5’s too. You’ll be glad you did.
You can change your money or traveler’s checks at the airport (worst rate of all), at a bank (good rate but long lines), at a hotel (not good rate) or at a cambio (bank rate and usually no line). Cambios are located along the beach road, in town (there’s one at the Hi-Lo supermarket), and along the west end (cliff) road. Often they are just small board buildings with a person behind glass. Save your receipt, if you need to change your money back you’ll need it. You may get an offer to change money on the street. Don’t, scams are common.
Finally, for peace of mind, bring most of your $ in the form of traveler’s checks. If lost or stolen, they will be replaced quickly. If you have AAA you can get them free, some banks offer that to their customers also.
There are ATMs in town, usually they work but don’t count on that always being the case. They offer amounts in $JA and usually dispense $JA only and there is a fee. However, the exchange rate is very good. Call your bank before you go, some automatically block non-US transactions unless you call.
Credit cards may be used at many tourist hotels and restaurants but the good cheap places rarely accept them. Small craft stalls and jerk chicken huts almost never do. If you plan on using a credit card for meals and such, you’ll almost certainly pay more and be limited to the larger hotel-based restaurants. If you’ve never used your card out of the country before, call your issuer and let them know you plan to – in some cases the card has to be “unlocked” for use out of the US. It’s possible to get a cash advance on a credit card but you have to go to the bank and that can take awhile. In an emergency, Western Union is the fastest way to get money.
There’s a really nifty cheat sheet you can print out that lists the rates on a nice card that you can cut and carry in your wallet. Don’t forget to get the reverse one also so you can convert back and forth. http://www.oanda.com/convert/cheatsheet – “cash rate” is the one you want, select US as your “home” currency and Jamaican dollar as your “destination” currency.
You can find today’s rate for the cambio at the Hi-Lo supermarket in Negril here: http://www.fxtrader.gkmsonline.com/
How much to bring?
This is a common question and one that really depends on your lifestyle and plans. Rather than give you an amount, let me tell you what some things cost so you can plan accordingly.
Some places on the beach and cliffs offer red stripe beer for $100-150J. Some places, notably the live music spots, charge up to $250J. Frozen drinks are $300-400J or more. Beers other than red stripe, including red stripe light, are often more than red stripe – be warned. Often there are drink specials and 2-for-1 deals, look around for those. In addition to Red Stripe, it’s easy to find Heineken, Guinness, Dragon Stout, Red Stripe Light and a couple of American beers.
You can buy beer and rum at the store and keep it in your room, that’s the cheapest way to do it. The Hi-Lo and Valumaster supermarkets sell these.
A sit-down breakfast or lunch, lots of food, will run you anywhere from $3-10US. As a rule restaurants in town or ACROSS from the beach or cliffs cost less than the places on the water or on sand. Where you see locals eating, food is less expensive (and often better…).
Patties (flaky pastry with meat or veggies inside) run about $80J apiece. One with some fruit makes a nice cheap lunch.
Dinner prices really vary, just like at home. You can get 1/4 jerk chicken with coco bread for around $350J on the street or you can get a full lobster dinner with appetizers and all for $1500J – or more. Cheaper meals are usually veggies/rice/beans, fish and chicken, with lobster and shrimp or steak costing the most. Most restaurants post their menu and prices outside so you can check prices before you go in. If not, just ask for a menu or what is being served that day.
Vegans and vegetarians can eat well in Jamaica, look for “Ital” restaurants, sort of vegetarian-kosher meals that many rastafarians eat. Lots of fresh fruit, vegetables, rice, beans around and of course tons of fresh fish if you eat it.
What’s expensive in Negril are motorized watersports. Parasailing will run you at least $40US for a trip up and down the bay, jetskiing is about $40US per half hour. You can rent a scooter for about $25-30US per day. Motorcycles cost more depending on the size of their engines with a 550 being the most $, about $50 US a day. If you plan to rent for a week you can knock those prices down a little.
There are a couple of supermarkets in Negril, the Hi-Lo and ValuMaster in town. There are a couple of smaller markets on the cliff road and beach road as well. Some things are MUCH more expensive in Jamaica – brand-name processed snacks like Pringles, some meats, imported canned goods, nuts. If you need peanut butter and jelly, brand-name snacks, stuff like that, bring them with you.
On the other hand, local fruits and juices are much cheaper than home, especially if you purchase them from stalls on the street.
A snorkeling trip on a glass bottom boat for an hour or two should run about $20 per person depending on how many go. Entry to YS Falls or Mayfield Falls is about $15 per person. Getting there with a guide who waits for you and brings you back can run about $15-20 an hour, or a flat $60US, or maybe $80 for a van…or more…the more people you have the cheaper things like that can be.
Don’t forget tips. Your maid(s), the bus driver to/from the airport, taxi drivers who are kind, waiters, bartenders – all rely on tips as part of their income. Restaurants sometimes add a service charge, check your bill and tip accordingly.
Lots of salespeople in Negril, everything from patties on the beach from a bicycle to drugs to aloe massages to glass bottom boat rides to anything else some enterprising entrepreneur thinks a tourist might want. I rather like the service offered by some beach salespeople – coconuts, fruit, lobsters…sometimes you can skip going to the store, so much comes to you!
Many hotel employees, taxi drivers, guys you pass on the beach etc., will offer to get you ANYTHING or try to sell you everything. Some can be very persistent and occasionally their tactics can be hard to handle which can make people feel kind of uncomfortable. If you are not interested just say no firmly- a smile doesn’t hurt either. Don’t get angry or defensive — they are just trying to make a living and this is how they do it. Deal with them respectfully and they will USUALLY do the same with you. “Catch me tomorrow”, “I don’t have money on me” are not good ploys, you will more often than not be remembered – you just made a promise so be ready to keep it the next day! Occasionally you get a jerk, “why are you walking by? are you racist?” stuff like that, in that case, walk and ignore. Sometimes they will attempt to walk with you to show you this or that, put a bracelet on you “as a gift”, rub aloe on you “as a gift” – then expect payment. Nip this in the bud if you don’t want these things by being firm from the start.
If you are interested, pretty much everything is negotiable. The price you are given by a craft vendor or seller of other goods should be considered a starting point. Everyone bargains there, it’s a cultural thing. Love it or hate it….if you don’t feel like bargaining just pay what they ask.
By the way, the word “higgler” is often used for anyone who sells things that they didn’t grow or make. Higglers are an important part of the JA economy, the middlemen, as it were, between farmers (or other makers of goods) and consumers. They typically go to a farm very early in the AM, buy a lot of fruits and veggies, then carry them to where the people are but the farms aren’t. The term is also used for craft salespeople and such on the beach and road. “Hustler” is different, there’s a negative connotation, the idea of a rip-off there.
Crime and Safety
Most Jamaicans you will meet are good people working hard to make a living. Minimum wage is about US$40 a week. You’ll notice the cost of food, etc is about the same as the US so you get an idea of just how hard it is to make ends meet there.
However, Negril is a tourist town and like tourist towns everywhere, it attracts a certain criminal element that’s looking to take advantage of your inexperience, newness, unfamiliarity, etc. It is not a good idea to go off alone with a stranger to make a deal or for any reason. Also not a good idea to take a “tour” on a scooter, in a taxi, etc with a stranger. If you have fancy jewelry, leave it at home. Just like when you travel anywhere, don’t leave your purse hanging on your chair, don’t put your wallet in your back pocket, don’t leave valuables unattended, lock your room when you’re not there, if there’s a safe use it, bring most of your $ in traveler’s checks. When under the influence of alcohol or whatever, use caution. Stumbling around town drunk at 4AM is not cool or smart. In other words, this is a real place – it’s not a theme park, as much as it may seem like one at times. Don’t leave your common sense at home. Oddly enough, for so many tourists being told to “stay in the tourist areas for safety”, away from the tourist areas you will encounter far less hassle and crime!
One of the biggest dangers in Jamaica is the SUN. It is MUCH stronger than at home and if you get a burn, that can really ruin your trip. Sun poisoning comes on fast and then you’re stuck – no boating, no beach walking, no nothing. So bring strong sunblock and use it often. Also, drink plenty of water , especially when you are in the sun and/or drinking alcohol – heatstroke is pretty common. There is no need to buy bottled water, Jamaican tap water is very safe and actually very tasty. Do pick up at least one bottle of “Cool Runnings” water though, just because the label is so cool, I always bring one home Smile
Though you might not think this when you see Jamaicans smoking casually in bars and on the beach, ganja is illegal in Jamaica and you can, and tourists do, go to jail. Jamaican jail is not a tour you want to take. However, ganja is sold everywhere and for significantly less $ than in the US.
Mushrooms, on the other hand, are legal. Tedd’s One Stop is in town and sells mushroom teas and foods, he has been around a long time.
Other drugs are around too, cocaine, ecstasy, LSD, pills of various kinds. All of those are illegal and frankly, you’re getting into territory there that can be dangerous as it’s hard to tell exactly what’s in a pill or a drop by looking and drug dealers don’t have to worry much about repeat business in a tourist town setting.
Uniformed and undercover cops are around, especially on the beach. Roadblocks to check for drugs are not uncommon – most Jamaicans do not travel with anything.
Don’t even think about bringing anything illegal home with you. US Customs loves to bust people who are stupid enough to do that (if the Jamaicans don’t catch you first – your bags will be searched in Jamaica at the airport when we leave, more than once usually).
Most people in Negril get places by taxi or walking. Of course you can walk the beach to get from place to place. You can also walk along the beach road. You can walk through town and on the cliff road too though there is often no or little shoulder – no sidewalks anywhere, so be careful and remember to look both ways – the OTHER way first – when crossing.
Taxis cruise up and down both roads all the time. There are two basic types of taxis available. Route taxis are used primarily by locals. They are shared (4-5 in back and 2 incl. driver, sometimes 3 in front). You hail these as they pass (look for Jamaicans waiting for one, that would be a likely pickup spot). Fares are set at daytime $80J from anywhere on the beach road to anywhere else on the beach road or town (can be higher at night), from town or the cliffs to anywhere else on the cliffs is the same. So going from beach to cliffs by day would be $160J per person. Route taxis rarely have change. I usually give the driver $100 for the route.
Most tourists use “charters”, the term for having a taxi all to yourself as is the norm in the US. These cost more. To get an idea of that HIGHLY NEGOTIABLE fare, figure the route taxi fare times 5 (the number of passengers in a route taxi) for the whole car. Some charters will ask for a lot more, some will accept less. You can bargain or you can pay the higher fare or you can wait for another and bargain with that one – there are a lot of taxis in Negril. Official ones with proper insurance for passengers have red plates. You can take others but be aware that they are pretty much just a guy who owns a car making some $. In any case, SETTLE THE PRICE BEFORE YOU GET IN THE CAB AND HAVE EXACT CHANGE.
Renting mopeds or scooters is a nice way to get around town and also to get out of Negril and see the countryside. However, if you are not VERY comfortable handling one, this is not the place to try it out. Driving is on the left and road conditions are very poor. Potholes bigger than cars are all over, not to mention there are goats, dogs and cows crossing and even walking in the road. Jamaican drivers are among the most aggressive I’ve seen.
That said, Jah B’s on the beach road across from Roots Bamboo is a good place to rent, highly recommended, never had a bad experience. I also liked tyke’s on the cliffs. Always check out the bike before you rent, note any damage, and go fill it up with gas ASAP, most places just give you enough to get to a gas station 🙂
If you do rent, be careful, don’t drink and drive, go slow, let cars pass you, don’t get into a road rage altercation with anyone, it’s not worth it. Helmets are the law and roadblocks to check for them are not uncommon.
Bicycles are available for rent at lower rates. There are also mountain bike tours in the hills behind Negril. Cars and 4 wheel drive vehicles are available also but the required deposit is very high – like $1000US.
Bugs and Stuff
There are bugs in Negril. It’s the tropics so in addition to the bugs and critters we know from home, there are some exotic ones as well.
Beach people will find the #1 annoyance there are sand fleas. These guys hide in the sand until sunset, or after a rain, and then rise up for dinner (you) – they’re tiny, almost impossible to see, so you won’t know what happened until it’s too late. Don’t be on the beach at sunset or after a rain or if you are, wear plenty of repellent, esp on your ankles and legs, or long pants and socks. Also make sure you wash off your feet before going into your room, and get the sand off your bag, etc – sand fleas can hide in there and you don’t want them in your room.
Mosquitoes show up at sunset and after too but not only on the beach. They like standing water, vegetation of any kind and are most fierce in the hour or two after sunset. Again, use repellent and/or long pants. The skeeters are a not really worse in Jamaica than they are in the midwest US…I find they are worse at the Ledges.
During the day neither are really a problem unless you are in the bush or morass (swamp). Most hotels have screens, if yours doesn’t you can buy mosquito coils in the supermarket.
Other critters to look out for include sea urchins (you really don’t want to step on one), and “40 legs” which are stinging centipede-looking things. Jellyfish are around here and there, look before you jump. Rays are common in the shallow water along the beach, the water is crystal clear just look where you step. “Sea lice”, really baby jellyfish, can get stuck between your swimsuit and your body and irritate your skin. Rinse saltwater off periodically and rinse your suit well to deal with that.
Jamaica is pretty much snake-free, except for the very rare and harmless yellow boas in the hills. You may if you’re lucky see a mongoose, they were brought to JA to control sugar cane rats hundreds of years ago and have done quite well there. They’re usually blamed for the no-snake situation, but a friend that lives in the hills says he has never seen a mongoose with a snake, only seen them dead along the road, hit by cars. Often you will see small lizards in your room or at outdoor restaurants. They’re harmless. Jamaicans think of them kind of like we think of roaches – they don’t like them and often kill them, but they’re totally harmless, even cute.
Sharks are rare in Negril. If you scuba dive you might see nurse sharks and supposedly there are some hammerheads but all those fish are really too big to come in past the reef to shore and wouldn’t be found in the shallower snorkeling areas or the beach. Some coral is dangerous so don’t touch it (also this can kill the coral). There are barracuda at the reefs but if you leave them alone, they leave you alone.
Phones & Internet
It is unusual to have a phone in your hotel room in Negril. Public phones are not that common and usually only accept phone cards, not change. Your cell phone will may or may not work there and may or may not cost a fortune to use…if you’re considering bringing one find out what the charge is – it can be very high.
If anyone has good strong walkie-talkies, these are a great way to communicate when out and about.
Calling the US collect is VERY expensive for the person you call.
Most Jamaicans use pre-paid cell phones from Digicel. You can rent one for around $5 a day, or buy one for around $40. You can buy phone cards for them all over the place. Calling the US is cheap that way, like 25 cents a minute. Or get together with friends and split one…and add a new plan that is $1,000J for 1,000 minutes of US calls.
There are a LOT of cybercafes in Negril and many hotels now have wi-fi.
Many hotels offer internet access though there may not be a sign, ask.
This is a list of places that we know, or friends know, are inexpensive, good places to eat. Most serve Jamaican foods – chicken, fish, veggies, rice and peas (beans), occasionally pork or goat. There’s not too much beef around and in Negril a lot of places don’t serve pork.
3 Dives – best food, best people, best sunset, best everything and very reasonable prices. Something for everyone, vegans, jerk chicken lovers, lobster lovers….on the cliffs next to Xtabi. Eating is outdoor on interesting picnic tables. Be there or be square at sunset Smile And DO NOT GO HUNGRY – service is slow here, everything is made to order.
Just Natural (great breakfast – dinner is kinda spendy but very good): on the cliff road across from the water side, near Xtabi.
MiYard: Great food 24/7 including some Jamaican fast food (breadsticks and bammy and tuna and stuff)
Miss Sonia makes very special, filling patties and much more, she is a really nice lady in addition to being a fantastic cook. Her restaurant is located on the beach road.
The Negril Yoga Center on the beach road near Travelers and the Hungry Lion on the cliff road both have vegetarian/Ital menus.
Fattie’s Located across the street from Travelers, next to the Medical clinic. No menu, you get what she’s cooking that day. True, authentic Jamaican cuisine. You may be the only tourist there.
Selina’s has a really huge breakfast and good food at all times of the day. On the beach road across from Merrils.
Jah B’s is a friendly, inexpensive and delicious restaurant (and hotel) located on the beach road across from Roots Bamboo.
Things to Do
Snorkel – free off the cliffs (buy a beer or something if you are at a hotel you aren’t staying at) – Xtabi is a great place to snorkel. The boats have gear, or bring your own. You can charter your own glass-bottom boat for a trip to the reef, a deserted beach, the cliffs – anywhere really.
Scuba – there are a few dive shops around and resort courses are available if you aren’t certified.
Parasail – you’ll be asked when you are on the beach, trust me.
Catamaran cruise (aka booze cruise or sunset cruise) – these are around, there may be one offered just for our group, more info on that later…
Waterfalls – YS Falls is about 2 hours away, Mayfield maybe an hour and a half. Mayfield is less crowded and has a nice mellow vibe, requires some hiking both in the water and alongside. Restaurant/bar on premises. YS is a little more developed and includes a jitney ride from the parking area to the falls area, good place to picnic.
Horseback Riding – can be arranged in Negril but takes place in the hills or on a bay 3 bays over from Negril.
Getaways – Plenty. Little Bay, Lost Beach, Bluefields Bay, the hills…all of these are within an hour of Negril and are nice places to get away from the tourist hustle and bustle for a little bit. Further afield is Treasure Beach, Alligator Pond and the whole south coast. Snorkel with manatees, take a boat ride…definitely need all day for these. Some local tour guide/drivers we have used that are friendly, trustworthy and fairly priced are Talk of the Town Tours and Chicken’s Magic Tours.
What to Bring
A suggested packing list:
1. water toys (rafts, floats, whatever)
2. snorkel/fins/mask (if you are staying on the cliffs especially)
3. cooler (good to pack stuff in and to have to truck to the beach or on day or boat trips, collapsible ones are especially good)
4. swim suits (duh)
5. bug spray (whatever brand you like but bring plenty)
6. suntan lotion (sunscreen, like 30, and a lighter one for later in the week when you’re tan)
7. camera, video camera, film, tapes, batteries, etc.
8. money (especailly 1’s and 5’s for tipping and small purchases)
9. passport, drivers license
10. plane tickets, vouchers, etc.
11. travelers checks (for peace of mind, they are easy to change and use)
14. one long sleeve shirt and one pair of long pants
16. water shoes (esp if you plan to go to waterfalls, Tevas work well too)
17. books or whatever you like to read
18. anti-itch and first aid medicine
19. tylenol, aspirin etc.
20. ATM card and/or credit card
21. beach towels (most hotels don’t provide them)
22. snacks from home if you need them
23. Pepto, benadryl, aspirin, anti-itch stuff, Neosporin…just in case
Clothes-wise, you’ll probably wear a swimsuit most of the time, maybe throw shorts on over that and a t-shirt. At night, maybe long pants or long sleeves, for bugs or if it gets chilly. If you want to horseback ride you’ll want long pants. No need for anything dressy at all, unless you feel like it.
There is a medical clinic on the beach road near the Yoga center that can handle bad flus, possible broken bones, etc. In the event of a serious emergency you want to go to Montego Bay Hope Hospital near the Half Moon resort or leave the island. Medical care is not great in Jamaica so keep that in mind when you rent a scooter or cliff jump. There is a pharmacy at the Hi-Lo supermarket.
Electricity is 110V Standard – same as the US and Canada. It’s 50 cycles though instead of 60, so your clock radio will always be slow 🙂
Most Jamaicans can speak English but will speak to each other in patois. Speak slowly and clearly if you have a problem understanding them or they you, it usually works out eventually 🙂
One more thing – this map is incredibly detailed – it lists pretty much every business in Negril – hotels, cambios, restaurants, ATMs, etc. It’s made to be printed but you can view it online too.
Safe travels everyone!!