Family Travel: Negril, Jamaica

We visited Negril, Jamaica this past Spring Break in April. Jamaica is a beautiful tropical island in the Caribbean. This trip has exceeded my every expectation about the sea, sights, food and people of the Island. And everyone stayed healthy for the whole vacation. Miracle, right?Jamaicafromair1Transportation: We flew direct from Chicago to Montego Bay. My view from my plane window as we descended was absolutely stunning with greens, blues and every other shade in between.

Expect long lines at the passport controls when you arrive at Montego Bay and plan for at least 2 hours of wait for the passport control out of the airport returning back home.

When we arrived, we picked up a rental SUV to drive from Montego Bay to Negril. A friendly note on the rental car companies in the Caribbean – even if the company is US. based : please make reservations with 2 companies as a back up, especially if you are renting a minivan or SUV type. On the same note, you have to check about their car seat equipment in advance, twice.
CocoLaPalm02Hotel: We stayed at Coco La Palm Resort in Negril. As usual, my husband picked this hotel through extensive research on factors including beach and sea quality, proximity to beach, food options at and nearby the hotel, reviews and price. He hit the bullseye.
CocoLaPalm03We stayed at a suite with 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms (2 rooms separated by an interior door), a living room and a kitchen. It was very clean and comfortable.
NegrilBeach02Coco La Palm Resort is right by the beach, in the middle of 7-mile beach in Negril. We arrived to an amazing sunset after the rain. The beach was deserted but the sea was warm and inviting.
NegrilBeach03This hotel is not an all inclusive resort. It has a very good restaurant, which serves continental breakfast for free and other delicious breakfast options for reasonable prices. It also serves dinner offering different themed menus every night. It has a seaside cafe, which serves lunch. Actually, the main restaurant is also by the sea. This was our view after breakfast in the morning. That boat is hotel’s glass-bottom boat.
CocoLaPalm06The hotel has 2 small pools, which I don’t mind because we love to spend our time by the sea. Kids were coming to the pool when wind picked up by the beach.
NegrilBeach07Activities: Obviously top rated activity is swimming in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean which was as clear as a glass. The sand is pure fine, white sand without any pebbles or rocks. You just have to watch out for occasional sea urchins. The feast of changing colors of the sea and sky was mesmerizing. Sea doesn’t get deep quickly and does not get big waves, which makes is safer for young children.
NegrilBeach28Second top rated activity is building sand castles and digging moats around these castles. Our hotel had sand toys such as buckets, shovels, as well as floating devices to play for kids and adults alike.
Paddleboard03You can find rental paddle boards either at a nearby hotel or from street vendors walking along the beach (or paddling along the beach). Feel free to bargain. We rented this paddle board from the same guy every single day of our stay.
StarfishseaurchinKids loved snorkeling by the beach and discovering tropical fish, starfish and sea urchin.
StingrayinNegrilAnd even a stingray!
NegrilBeach21If you want to explore the beautiful sea life of Jamaica beyond the beach, you should definitely go on a snorkeling tour. We just rented the glass-bottom boat of our hotel. Again, bargaining optional.
NegrilSnorkeling02They took us not too far away from 7-mile beach. They had snorkeling gear and fins in every size (adults and kids). They cleaned them with soapy water on board. We did a more touristy snorkeling with life vests around our waists and floating above water and watch under the sea. Our guide threw some bread in the water which caused all kind of tropical fish to gather around us. We swam around looking at the colorful reef and the fish. Then our tour guide took us on a scenic tour. I wish I had an underwater camera with me. Nevertheless, all those colors and shapes are etched into my memory. Every time sun shone brightly above us, the whole sea and the reef glowed like jello. The whole tour took 1,5-2 hours.
NegrilhorseridingYou can do horse riding, if you like. For other options similar to these kind of services you might see passing by the beach, you can check your options with the concierge or receptionist at your hotel.
NegrilBeach17Painting and coloring is not just for children. Where else can I find better view to practice my watercoloring skills?
NegrilTropicalFishThere are many street vendors walking by the beach. They approach guests to offer their products or services. Most hotels have security people to prevent any unpleasant encounters but all the vendors I’ve seen or met were courteous and never disturbingly persistent. This fish evndor came by our hotel and these colorful tropical fish were all gone before I could take a second shot. We purchased fresh mangoes and bananas from a lady every day.
NegrilSupYogaIf you want a peaceful quite morning by yourself, you should definitely try Liquid Yoga at Treehouse Negril. One word describes my first liquid yoga experience: “bliss”
NegrilBeach06There are many professional snorkeling, diving and sailing services you can choose if you want more than casual snorkeling.
NegrilBeach28We preferred to snooze or read by the beach, accompanied by live reggae music.
NegrilBeach18Usually, the weather is sunny around mellow 80s (in April). Never scorching hot. Wind picks up right after noon and dark clouds roll in to drop tropical rain in the afternoon around 2pm. They move away by 5-5:30 pm. In fact, for our first few days we were lucky enough to watch the gray clouds race in only to leave their rain farther away, resulting in these amazing color contrast shots.

NegrilSunset14Watching the divine sunsets, with skies colored in every shade of gold, blue and purple every evening is a major attraction in Negril. You can take your sunset in three ways: either on a stroll by the beach, at a seaside restaurant or…
NegrilSunset03…on a catamaran sunset tour. These are really crowded. Watch out for the nude ones!!

Food and Restaurants:
RicksCafe01Food: Jerk Chicken (or anything jerk) is the staple dish of Jamaica. They are delicious. Obviously, seafood dishes are plenty. You should try National Dish for breakfast. Also pick up local tropical fruit such as mangoes or bananas from a street vendor by the beach or by the side of the road. You will see how different they taste from the ones we eat here. So much flavorful. You can also try other fruit, you might be very familiar with such as naseberry. You are able to sip your coconut water from a freshly cut coconut, available at every corner of the island. Honestly, it’s not my favorite. I’ve just tried to see whether it tasted as different as mangoes and bananas did. Meh! As bland as you can find anywhere.
I recommend these restaurants:
Ricks Café is a café/restaurant where crowds flock in from the land as well as the sea (on glass-bottom boats) for sunset and cliff diving. We went in close to sunset and despite the crowd were able to find a table to sit and eat dinner. Most people come in, drink, dive and scatter like cockroaches once they see the sun go down (not the most pleasant analogy but you get it).

Watching cliff diving is really fun. (Watching not diving). There are assistants to give safety instructions and maintain order so that there are no accidents. There is live music on stage. By your 2nd day in Jamaica, you’ll know all Bob Marley’s songs by heart.
To get a glimpse of the sunset with naked eye, let alone a decent shot might be tricky as the prime spot to watch the sunset at Ricks Café is overcrowded. Still, it’s worth to check it out.

RockHouse Restaurant is along the rocky cliff where Ricks Café is. Here it has the same beautiful sunset with a quieter and more romantic ambiance. The food is delicious. The restaurant also had a huge chess and checkers tables which kids loved and asked us to go back every night after that.

Ivan’s Bar is again close by RockHouse Restaurant and Ricks Café. It has great menu, great service and magnificent view.

Murphy’s West End is a smaller and not so fancy, but quite popular restaurant. You should try the fish dishes (rock fish).
Margaritaville Negril is a chain restaurant on 7-mile beach with good food and drinks. It was in a walking distance from the hotel. Since the area is not highly populated and brightly lit at night, sky at night is amazing. You can see all the planets, stars and constellations. If you have SkyView free on your phone, it is a good entertainment for kids.

Sightseeing and Day Tours:
We mainly stayed in Negril but walked a lot along 7-mile beach during the day. We visited Negril Lighthouse, which was free and watched yet another beautiful sunset.
NegrilLighthouse02You can climb up the Light House, if you’d like. It closes after sunset.
BlackRiverTour08On our last full day, we rented a day tour to take us to Black River Safari and YS Falls. Since we were a big enough group, a minibus picked us all up in the morning and drove us to Black River, which as about 1,5 hr drive.
BlackRiverTour05We got on an hour-long river tour along with mangroves.
BlackRiverTour02We visited with resident crocodiles, which seemed quite docile.
BlackRiverTour16The weather was gorgeous and the view was striking.
NegrilAfter the river tour, our tour driver to us to have lunch at a remote restaurant with a view. It was included in the tour package.
YSFalls01From the restaurant, it took us another 30 minutes to get to YS Falls parking lot. Again our driver arranged all of our entry. From the parking lot, trolleys transport visitors to falls through the greenest fields under the bluest skies you can ever see.
For the duration of our trip in Jamaica, with the turquoise sea and almost untouched tropical forests, falls, food and music, I thought, this is what heaven must be like.
Coming back to Earth, this is the map of YS Falls attractions. There are cascades of pools to swim in. There is also a natural string pool, that younger kids can enjoy, if they cannot get into bigger pools. There is a play area and a canopy ride (zipline). We skipped the zip line. We would have done the tubing but that attraction was closed at the time of our visit.
YSFalls07We spent most of our time at the upper most pool. When we were picking a day tour we picked YS Falls over another falls named Mayfield Falls. The main reason was that we’ve read Mayfield Falls required more tracking and climbing. With kids we could not take a chance. I think, we made a great decision.
YSFalls10My son jumped from the swing rope, maybe 20 times. He had a blast. This was the highlight of his trip. I just tried once.
YSFalls14Despite our wishes, clouds rolled in around 2pm and tropical rain poured down, to keep the forest bright and lush, and falls . This is the natural spring pool at the bottom of the falls. There is a souvenir shop as well.
NegrilSunset14The rest of our trip, we soaked up in the sun, stored lots of vitamin D and stayed in the sea until it got dark.
NegrilSunset15I can comfortably say, Negril trip was one of our “best family vacations ever”. Until next time!

You can see all the photos from this trip in our Negril, Jamaica Flickr Album.

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