Best Jamaica Beaches & Attractions
Beautiful, brash Jamaica is well-known for its beaches and music, but it is so much more.
There’s plenty of white sand, turquoise sea, and swaying palm trees, but there’s also breathtaking mountains and rivers, cascading waterfalls, and cactus-strewn savannah plains. The island is much more than a resort; it also has vibrant towns and cities like sprawling Kingston, which inspired the music of Bob Marley and countless other home-grown reggae superstars.
Jamaica, as the birthplace of the “all-inclusive” hotel, is ideal for those who want to go straight from plane to beach, never leaving their hotel compound. But, in order to get a sense of the country, you’ll need to do some exploring. Here are the best Jamaica beaches by region:
East of Port Antonio
The coastline east of Port Antonio is a fairytale landscape of jungle-smothered hills rolling down to fantastic beaches, from upmarket Frenchman’s Cove and Dragon Bay to laid-back Winnifred and Long Bay.
It also boasts the sublime Blue Lagoon, made famous by the eponymous 1980 movie. Further east, the smoking, sizzling jerk stands at Boston Bay are an essential stop-off en-route to Reach Falls, a lavish natural cataract in the hills pounding down into a deep pool. A series of smart hotels vie for business with a handful of less expensive guesthouses, the latter mostly slung along the palm-fringed, wind-whipped beach at funky, laid-back Long Bay.
Southwest of Kingston, a causeway connects the city to the bland but booming dormitory town of Portmore in the neighboring parish of St Catherine.
Portmore lies at the eastern fringe of the Hellshire Hills, an arid and scrubby expanse of “makko” thorn bushes and towering cacti that shelters the closest beaches to the capital. From the small fishing community of Port Henderson, the signposted road to the Hellshire beaches runs under the flanks of the hills.
Follow the road to Hellshire beach (no set hours; free), separated from the less enjoyable Fort Clarence beach (Mon-Fri 10am-5pm, Sat & Sun 8am-6pm; J$100) by a barrier reef that makes the Hellshire water a lot calmer.
Hellshire buzzes at the weekends, with booming sound systems and a party atmosphere. Most Jamaicans come here for the fish restaurants as much as the sea and sand, and Hellshire fried fish, best eaten with vinegary home-made pepper sauce, beats anything you’ll find in town. On weekends, watersports operators offer jet-ski rental and snorkeling equipment, and there are horse rides for children.
If you want to catch a glimpse of Jamaica as it was before the tourist boom, head south.
Mass tourism has yet to reach the southern parishes – none of the all-conquering all-inclusive resorts has opened here yet, and the beaches aren’t packed with sun-ripened bodies – but there are some fantastic places to stay and great off-the-beaten-track places to visit.
It takes a bit of extra effort to get here, but it’s definitely worth it. The parishes that make up south-central Jamaica are immensely varied; the landscape includes mountains, cactus-strewn desert, lush jungle and rolling fields.
To the west, in the beautiful parish of St Elizabeth, Treasure Beach – an extremely laid-back place with decent beaches and some lovely accommodation options – is the area’s main draw.
If you want to do some sightseeing, you can visit the fabulous YS waterfall, or drive around the tiny villages of the attractive Santa Cruz Mountains. Black River is the main town – an important nineteenth-century port that today offers popular river safaris and a handful of attractive colonial-era buildings.
The easy-going, snoozy little community of Treasure Beach has become the main tourist centre on the south coast, particularly popular with a hip bohemian crowd.
It has a good range of accommodation options, including a delightfully eclectic collection of villas and beach cottages to rent.
There are also some great places to eat and a couple of diverting attractions, while the bays here boast some pretty beaches.
The Santa Cruz Mountains rise up from the sea just east of Treasure Beach and run northwest, providing a scenic backdrop for the village and protecting the area from rainclouds coming from the north. As a result, Treasure Beach has one of the driest climates on the island, with a scrubby, desert-like landscape.
Treasure Beach itself is made up of a string of loosely connected fishing settlements. The chances are that you’ll stay on the long sandy sweep of Frenchman’s Bay, where tourism has displaced fishing as the main industry, or smaller Calabash Bay, where brightly colored fishing boats are pulled up on the beach below the newly constructed hotels and guesthouses.
To the east, Great Bay remains a fishing village with just a couple of guesthouses and some lovely beaches, while west of Frenchman’s Bay the road runs past Billy’s Bay, home to several of the classiest villas in Treasure Beach, some shacks and a lot of goats.
Tourist Attractions in Jamaica
Part of the group of islands that make up the Caribbean, Jamaica is arguably one of the most beautiful landscapes. Filled with beautiful beaches, expansive and lush rain forests, stunning waterfalls and enormous green mountains, there are plenty of activities for visitors that make the trip here. These are just some of the great tourist attractions Jamaica has to offer.
Dunn’s River Falls
Although this is one of the more crowded spots on the island, Dunn’s River Falls is a must see attraction. The water drops over 600 feet down into the sea and on its way rolls over a series of protruding rock ledges that give the effect of a natural stair case. Make sure you take a guide with you as they will be able to take you up the safest route.
Should you wish just to stay at the base of the waterfall then there are pools of water that are open for you to swim in. If you want to avoid the throngs of people then try to visit on the days that cruises aren’t scheduled to visit, and be prepared for the hundreds of vendors that set up stalls around the site.
A visit to Dolphin Cove offers you the chance to go swimming with these majestic animals. You will learn different techniques that the trainers use during their daily shows such as the foot push, which is where you will be pushed through the water by the soles of your feet by two dolphins. Or there’s the dorsal pull, where you will hold onto the fins of two dolphins as they glide through the water.
Swimming with the dolphins is only available to adults and children older than eight, but there are shallow water encounters and touch sessions which allow younger kids get up close and personal with the animals.
Doctor’s Cave Beach Club
Spending a day here will let you sample some of the specialties of Jamaica. There are plenty of beautiful beaches for you to relax on, some great snorkeling around the reefs just off shore and some great restaurants serving up some native cuisine. Locals and tourists alike visit this stretch of sand while you can rent chairs and umbrellas from the various concessionaires dotted along the beach.
Kids can also join in on some of the touch football games that start up and if you want to find somewhere to enjoy a snack, there are vendors that sell meat patties and goat curry along the strip. If you are planning to take the whole family with you, travel costs can easily spiral and it’s a good idea to head to an online flight comparison site like www.cheapflights.co.uk to find the lowest airfares for you and the family.
Royal Palm Reserve
The Royal Palm Reserve is a ten minute drive from Negril and gives visitors a chance to experience the deep heart of Jamaica. The reserve was set up to protect the Morass Royal Palm which grows only in the wetlands in the west of the island; it is filled with 300 acres of tropical forest that is unspoiled by any development. You can enjoy some fishing in the lakes here, take a picnic in the beautiful surroundings or rent a horse to explore the scenery.