My Mom and I were looking to book a last minute February trip with two important components, warm weather and beach. We thought about Belize, but the flights weren’t cooperating with our dates. We thought about Panama, but we didn’t want to split our time between city and paradise. Finally we settled on Jamaica, warm weather, renowned beach, a popular Caribbean destination which neither of us had been to. Bingo. Time was short and we had to book everything fast. Where to stay? On the Kingston side with the Blue Mountains and Bob Marley museum? Montego Bay right by the airport? Ochos Rios a bit further down on the north side with the popular Dunn’s River Falls? There are so many areas to choose from on one of the biggest islands in the Caribbean, but we settled on Negril because of the famed Seven Mile Beach.
So many people were saying it was dangerous in Jamaica, stay all inclusive, stay all inclusive. I couldn’t bring myself to do that. We were going to a different country and I wanted to immerse myself in their culture and help the struggling local economy. I am happy we stayed local, but it wasn’t all peaches and cream. Staying all inclusive means you do not have to interact with locals or see the condition of the country. You can have blinders to all of that and just enjoy their perfect beach.
There is some anger in Negril and I understand. It is dubbed ‘the capital of casual’ and considered a resort town, however, many people live here and aren’t on vacation. They are poor and struggling to survive. The diffusion of frivolous tourists and struggling locals can cause anguish at times, understandably. I would say the city is split into three distinct areas, downtown, the cliffs, and Seven Mile Beach. Downtown is where many of the locals live. It is urban and unkempt. We ventured there once on foot and felt a bit uncomfortable even though the police station is right across the street. We were the only tourists around. This was where one of our very few sour encounters occurred when a man shouted at us “You think you can walk wherever you want!” We quickly and quietly continued on and made it safely to our restaurant, where we were warmly received and the food was delicious. The cliffs are full of resorts – but have little beach access. The area seems quieter and restaurants fancier. Seven Mile Beach is where we stayed. A long action packed strip, full of restaurants and shops, and the magnificent pristine ocean. At the beach many locals find their source of income selling goods and services to the tourists.
You can’t walk more than ten feet on Seven Mile Beach without someone approaching you. Sometimes they are aggressive and won’t leave you alone, especially as just two women. To be polite, you have to acknowledge everyone who speaks to you, it’s tiring when there are so many people. I never talk to so many strangers at home. We were in a bit of culture shock. I understand this is how they make their living, but it does cut down on the peaceful beach experience having to talk to someone every few moments – especially if someone is rude to you when all you are doing is going about your business trying to enjoy the place you paid to travel to.
The beach is so beautiful you forget like a goldfish. It really is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. You forget the handful of negative people and remember the good ones. You try to understand the perspective and the history. You really hope that most people believe in ‘one love.’ The sand is so soft and white, the color of the water clear turquoise. It’s warm and on this side of the island there are no waves. The beach is long and the water isn’t crowded, you have room to swim. You can walk the beach for miles into quieter areas. Walk all the way down towards the cliffs and you will reach the Negril River spilling into the sea.
Walk all the way down the other way and you can take a little tree lined path towards all of the bigger resorts.
Just be weary of strangers in this seclusion, and the feral dogs that are shooed away from resorts to the edges of the beach. The nature was incredible from the birds in the air, the starfish in the sea, and the crabs in the sand.
You can get anything you want right on the beach from food and drinks to souvenirs. Many of the souvenirs are generic and ordered from different countries saying ‘I heart Jamaica’ – but you can find a few local artisans that provide their own flair. We were befriended by Marvel, a really great guy who sells a whole bunch of neat things right on the beach. Unlike most who sell the standard wooden carvings, Marvel glued local sand in pretty designs.
His family also makes their own jewelry. He was happy to tell us all about Jamaican culture and is beloved by tourists on the island – always coming in to say hello and have a drink with him. I will never forget this amazingly beautiful beach that melts all worries away.
Outside of the beach, I am not the biggest fan of tours I really prefer doing activities on my own. I love having a car and my own independence. Everyone I spoke to, on and off the island, told me I would be crazy to go into the woods by myself or drive as a first timer on the island. They drive on the left side of the road, which isn’t a huge deal. They have gigantic potholes on their secondary roads, and signage is poor – which can be confusing if you haven’t been visiting the island for 20 years. I was shocked to find out there really aren’t any real hiking trails near Negril. We ended up finding a driver that we came to like, a gruff older man named Carleton. He took us wherever we needed to go and was patient, put on great Jamaican music for us and told us a bit about their history. Haggling was always an initial part of our conversation, he would try to rip us off, we laughed. He was trying to make a living too we understood, but we aren’t made out of money and travel is expensive – mama didn’t raise no fool. So we went on little excursions to the nature based touristic spots and made the best of it. The land was gorgeous even with masses of people.
Every night our biggest attraction was the sunset. It was absolutely stunning and unobstructed on the west side of the island.
After sunset we left the beach. It becomes pitch black and felt unsafe. We walked short distances on the street, but were often times harangued which always feels more uncomfortable at night. We aren’t big drinkers, so we would get dinner at a nearby restaurant and then head back to our hotel for the rest of the night. I am thankful for my chance to visit Jamaica. I loved the beach, the food, the nature, and the people who were kind to us. I wouldn’t trade my experience staying local, even if it was tough or uncomfortable at times. The good outweighs the bad. Many tourists we spoke to told us they have been visiting for many years. They keep coming back to the island and staying local. Seeing other parts of the world really opens up your eyes and makes you thankful for what you have at home. It makes you more appreciative of the good people in the world who, no matter what their station in life is, are happy and friendly.
“The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively”
-The one and only, Bob Marley