Jamaica's western coastline is a laid-back: there is little to do other than sit back, relax and enjoy the renowned gorgeous sunsets in between beach-lounging and partying. At the centre of this hedonistic haven is the sunny resort town of Negril, dubbed the 'capital of casual'.
Despite its popularity and the accompanying proliferation of tourist accommodation, it has managed to retain the sleepy tropical charm that first seduced seekers of sun and solitude when it was 'discovered' in the 1960s. It was the hippies and flower children who were first drawn to Negril, and appreciated it for being different from the over-developed package-tour market of Montego Bay. Negril still attracts a young crowd, and the beachfront bars and cafes are abuzz each night with reggae music and dancing. Negril is known in the Caribbean as being a partying hotspot, and its nude beaches complete its liberal reputation.
Negril is favoured by those just wanting to get away from it all. It sports the famous seven-mile (11km) stretch of pristine beach, encircling Bloody Bay, and five miles (8km) of cliffs, where locals and visitors alike dare to indulge in some extreme cliff-diving. The coral reefs and caves along the coast make it a dream come true for scuba divers and snorkellers, and for active visitors there is the chance to take part in just about any watersport imaginable. Adventure seekers can venture by kayak into the mysterious Great Morass, a protected area full of palm trees, exotic birds and crocodiles.
The reason for Negril's recent boom as a tourist destination is centred on this seven-mile (11km) stretch of beautiful shoreline, dotted with palm trees and carpeted with pristine white sand. Development has been restricted to palm-tree height, and despite the proliferation of guesthouses and hotels along the strip the natural beauty of the beach has not been compromised.
There are lots of restaurants, resorts and shops along the beachfront but thankfully the length of the beach usually prevents it from becoming too crowded. There are myriad activities and watersports available at the beach and the snorkelling is wonderful. Although obviously not suited to those who like remote and secluded beaches, Seven Mile beach is a fun, vibrant and exceptionally pretty place to spend the day. Walking the length of the shore is a good way to enjoy everything it has to offer.
The beautiful estate of Rhodes Hall Plantation lies a short distance east of Negril. Here guided horseback excursions give a glimpse of the magic and mystery of the Jamaican countryside. Guides give some basic horsemanship tips and then take tourists off through the foothills, pointing out botanical wonders and regaling riders with stories and legends about local landmarks.
Visitors are taken through forests of banana and coconut palms, and along a beach to the Crocodile River, where hopefully groups can 'meet' one of the resident crocodiles. Swimming gear is a must, as the horses like to head into the surf. The riding tours last from half an hour to two hours, and are inclusive in the round-trip transportation from any hotel in the Negril area.
There is a restaurant and a gift shop on the plantation. Children are welcome and will love this excursion, but only children over six can ride.
The 22 mini-cascades and numerous swimming holes that make up the Mayfield Falls in the low-lying Dolphin Head Mountains make a memorable day trip from Negril. Tours offer guided walks through bamboo-shaded cool water holes and splashing falls. Swimwear and mosquito repellent are highly recommended, as are waterproof shoes.
Some parts of the walk through the area involve natural whirlpools; in others, blasts of water hit you from the rocks. There is an underwater cave to swim through, smooth rockslide areas and mini cliffs to dive from for the adventurous. This natural water park is edged and overhung with bamboo, flowers, vines, trees and shrubbery.
Jamaican dishes are available at the eatery at the entry point, where tourists can order meals before setting off. There are also a number of stalls selling souvenirs and crafts at the end of the trail.
Every year, Jamaica plays host to the well-attended Reggae Marathon. The course is a world-class run along some of Negril's finest white sandy beaches. The island marathon has a sound system rigged up along the race route, playing reggae music to encourage participating athletes.
There is a full marathon, a half marathon, and a 10k as well as lots of less athletic events for those who think reggae is still best paired with drinking and relaxing. Spectators can sit back and enjoy the scenery as runners tour the island after a traditional Rastafarian welcome at the start. The Finish Line Beach Bash is also not to be missed.
The course is mainly flat but the difficulty level increases slightly as running on sand is rather strenuous and hard. International competitors should be prepared for the heat and hydrate well as December is hot in Jamaica.
Negril is a top destination for outdoor enthusiasts: you can kayak out into the protected wilderness of the Great Morass to see crocodiles and other wildlife in their natural habitat; go horse riding on the beach and through the jungle at Rhodes Hall Plantation; scuba dive or snorkel the beautiful coral reefs and caves along Negril's coast; or enjoy some extreme cliff-diving into the clear ocean water, a very popular activity with both locals and visitors. There are also excursions into the surrounding countryside, like a daytrip to Mayfield Falls, a natural water park where you can swim in the pools formed by 22 cascades.
There is a reason, however, that this adventurer's paradise is called 'the capital of casual'. The most popular attraction in Negril is the famous Seven Mile Beach, where turquoise water and white sands create a paradise for lazy hedonists as well as active thrill-seekers. The Reggae Marathon held annually in December sees runners taking over Seven Mile Beach, but most of the time it is the territory of happy, relaxed and half-naked tourists.
For lovely views of Negril's coastline, climb the lighthouse on West End Road; it was built in 1894 and is open to visitors every day.
No direct flights from Heathrow to this Destination