JAMAICA TRAVEL DIARY – MONTEGO BAY & NEGRIL
Okay so I know this travel diary is coming a whole month after my trip to Jamaica, but like all procrastinators say, better late than never. Right? This was my first trip of the year and the main aim was to unwind, relax and take some time to enjoy a warmer climate. After months of dealing with the harsh Canadian winter, I knew I wanted to spend a few days on an island, and what better place to visit than Jamaica?
The Caribbean island boasts to be a rising tourist destination over the past few years and after my visit, I can see why. One of Jamaica’s greatest assets is easily the people, ever smiling, willing to share their stories, show you around and ensure you have a good time in their home! Some of it’s most popular cities are Montego Bay, Negril, Ochos Rios and Kingston. I only had the pleasure of visiting 2 of those cities, as I was on the island for only 4 days.
This trip wasn’t packed with activities (except you consider getting enough hours of sleep + lounging by the pool + drinking as activities), but it was the perfect getaway trip from the hustle and bustle of the city life.
Couple of FAQ’s to know before making a trip out to Jamaica:
- The local currency is the Jamaica Dollar (JA$) but you can get away with using the US dollar. I suggest visiting a local Forex bureau however and exchanging your USD in Jamaica. You don’t have to do it in your home country – note that every time you spend $, you’ll most likely get your change in JA$
- No, it wasn’t a solo trip so a lot of the costs mentioned were shared between 2 people.
- Hiring a private driver/taxi is the easiest way to move around, if you really want to be comfortable.
- Always tip when you can!
- Staying in one city and making day trips will probably be the most efficient way to see Jamaica (I wish I knew this before going).
- No, safety was not an issue!
- I didn’t stay in an all inclusive resort – I don’t think this will be a good use of money except it’s for a large group.
- Get ready to laugh a lot and chat because Jamaicans are fully about that life!
FLIGHTS & VISAS TO JAMAICA
Being a Canadian Permanent Resident, I didn’t need a visa to visit Jamaica with my Nigerian passport. But if you aren’t, you should take a look at this article to see if you qualify to apply for a visa, the cost and processing times .
I booked my flight 2 months prior to the departure date via WestJet and it cost $437 CAD in total (no checked bags, this comes at an extra charge). I believe it was a little on the pricey side as my travel dates were set during the Easter break, which is a typical peak travel period. Flights are typically in the $300 – $400 range for non-peak periods.
LANDING IN MONTEGO BAY
The flight from Toronto to Montego Bay was pretty smooth, and a total flight time of 4 hours. I had booked an airport pick up through the hotel I was staying at in Negril, so I didn’t have to deal with haggling with drivers at the airport, or waiting in line to get on a bus with other passengers (I get really cranky after flights so I try to make my post-landing experience as stress free as possible).
The trip from Montego Bay airport to Negril was a 2hrs drive and cost $80 USD for 2 people. You can check out this website to book shuttle services ahead of time from the airport to any of the surrounding cities in Jamaica.
I spent the first two days of this trip in the city of Negril as a way to kickback, and really get the relaxation juices flowing. I had envisioned staying in a villa, sitting by the water, watching the sunset and drinking the famous red stripe beer I had heard so much about.
Accommodation: I opted to stay in a more traditional villa on the cliff of Negril, and Villas Sur Mer was the perfect choice! This was probably one of the best decisions I made on this trip as it was everything I imagined a traditional villa residence to be. It was luxurious, yet maintained a chic rustic feel – On arrival, we were warmly welcomed by Dawn, the manager of the resort, as well as the staff – I particularly love that this residence is more intimate, and you can get to know majority of the ground staff on a personal basis, which definitely made my stay feel safer.
The one bedroom villa had a full bedroom, bathroom, living room, kitchenette (which didn’t get used), and a balcony. The hidden cave leading to the ocean was probably the highlight for me! I loved taking morning walks through the facility and sitting by the water to experience nature in silence. I would give this hotel a solid 7/10, solely because there was no breakfast option. However, if this is something you don’t mind, then I highly recommend!
COST: $400 USD for 2 nights (this includes taxes and other fees)
Activities: On the first day, we had breakfast at Patsy’s Coffee Shop, before embarking on a 3 hour drive from Negril, up the mountain to the South Coast. The first stop was the Black River Safari tour, where we were taken on a very educative tour of the Black River and it’s wildlife habitats – crocodiles and birds. Did you know that crocodiles could shut down their digestive system so they store food longer? This fact blew my mind! Following the Black river, was a trip to the YS waterfalls. The falls consists of seven waterfalls which cascade into natural spring pools, and visitors were highly recommended to take a dive in! I stayed away for different reasons, but mostly because I was scared I would slip and hit my head on a rock (clumsy Alma cannot be predicted). The day ended with a boat trip to the Pelican Bar, somewhere in the middle of the ocean to watch the sunset while drinking beers and listening to reggae music. Pay in mind that drinks at the Pelican bar are costlier than if you get it in a supermarket – which is something I’d recommend you do if you go up there.
One thing to note is, between the extended driving times and heat, you will get super exhausted by the end of the day. So it’s safe and realistic to not plan any night time activities if you have a full tour day. However, one way to minimize the stress with the sight seeing is hiring a private driver for the day. To hire one, it cost us (2 people) $100 USD for the whole day. I’m not entirely sure if this was a good deal but you can definitely try to haggle lower. Personally, I was more concerned about the comfort and even better, having a personal tour guide. This transportation can be arranged through most of the hotels and resorts.
After spending the first two days in Negril, it was time to return to MoBay. Just like we did for other trips, we booked a private driver (Richard) through the hotel for the 2 hour drive. After checking out from our hotel, we headed to the 7 mile beach and had breakfast at Bourbon Beach. In all honesty, the only thing I liked about this restaurant is the live band and the fact that it was conveniently located on the beach. I wasn’t impressed with the food (taste + portions) and spent a good amount of tine waiting.
Accommodation: As a polar opposite to our villa accommodation in Negril, S Hotel Jamaica is very modern, contemporary and located on the Hip Strip. On arrival, we were welcomed with complimentary cocktails (of our choice) in the lobby as we processed our check-in. Personally, this gesture went a long way in helping me feel relaxed as the weather was borderline 28 – 30 degrees and the drive from Negril was quite intense! (Jamaicans drive like they are in an episode of grand theft auto FYI).
I stayed in the Ocean View Spa Suite. This suite is a beautiful room with a custom-designed oversized bathroom, that gives way to an artfully designed guest room with sitting area, boasting beautiful views of the Caribbean Sea complete with furnished balcony. The suite also features a free-standing soaking tub perfectly situated in the middle of the room, which I found very romantic. I also loved the overall monochromatic vibe, with a good play of neutral colours and textures.
You can catch a room tour of this suite on my IGTV here.
Some of the other amenities that made my stay at this hotel very relaxing are: Lobby Bar, The Pool Bar & Grill, The Market (a casual eatery that serves breakfast and lunch featuring a fresh locally driven buffet and a la carte options highlighting Caribbean and international specialties) and the Ska Café.
COST: $500 USD for 2 nights (this includes taxes and other fees)
Activities: Unlike Negril, Montego Bay had a more relaxed turn of events. I had planned to visit the Martha Brae River, Doctor Cave’s beach amongst other things, but really spent most of the day by the pool bar, sipping cocktails and listening to live reggae. By the second night, I went clubbing at Margaritaville Night club, which is a really good club on the Hip Strip if you’re looking for a place with great selection of music! P.S I absolutely love how Jamaicans are ready to bust into an unplanned choreography at any moment!
Admittedly, one of my biggest worries with visiting Jamaica was the safety. I had seen articles about how it wasn’t the safest place to visit for tourists and I can whole heartedly say that is FALSE. Jamaica is like every other country with it’s up and downs, and while I took precautions to not put myself in harm’s way (like I’d do in any other country), I never for once felt unsafe.
One thing I would have done differently on this trip is definitely spend more time in Montego Bay. I believe it would have been a better use of time to stay in one city and taken multiple day trips to the surrounding cities. However, I know that this will not be my last time visiting the island as there’s still so much I’d like to do and see, so I look forward to my next trip!
I hope you enjoyed reading this travel diary and if you have any questions, please leave in the comment section below!
Till next time,