Jamaica is well known for having some of the best beaches in the Caribbean. From the pristine white sand of Negril to the windswept rugged coastline in Portland, the best beaches in Jamaica run the gamut and will appeal to any beach lover.
I spent 10 months living in Jamaica and exploring this beautiful island country. A fan of beaches and getting away from the crowd, I was always looking for secret spots to enjoy the sun and that warm Caribbean Sea.
No matter how long your trip to Jamaica is, you will likely enjoy at least one or two of the best beaches in Jamaica. What kind of beach opportunity you seek really is up to you and how off the beaten path you are looking to get!
The Best Beaches in Jamaica on the North Coast
The North Coast of Jamaica is home to the majority of major hotel chains, all-inclusive resorts, and cruise ship ports. The beaches of Montego Bay and Ocho Rios are the perfection you see in the glossy honeymoon brochures. However, to be honest, they are not all quite as pictured.
Many of the beaches on the North Coast are unfortunately owned by the private hotels. This means some of the very best beaches in Jamaica are literally saved for a select few. This is discouraging for us visitors, but far more so for locals who should be free to enjoy their own homeland.
Some of the public beaches carry a day fee which may seem small to tourists, but for many locals it is sadly prohibitive. That said, there are some places where you can still find that classic Jamaican feeling of irie.
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Runaway Bay Beach
Not only is this one of the best beaches in Jamaica, but this lovely public beach is also totally FREE! Pull off the A1 highway just west of the Runway Bay town centre to find a small beach restaurant and lovely stretch of white sand and tranquil water.
The beach is nicely sheltered so the waves are calm and the sand is largely free of debris. Just up the beach is a local craft market to do some souvenir shopping and buy direct from the women of Runaway.
Ocho Rios Bay Beach
Ochie is home to many mega-resorts, but there is still a beach that has been saved for the public right in the centre of town. For a small entrance fee of $3-4 USD per person, you can visit this clean, well kept and preserved area. Avoid weekends and holidays as the beach will definitely fill up with families which may impact your sense of serenity.
Montego Bay Beaches
Montego Bay is the birthplace of the original all-inclusive resorts. This is where it all began. Montego Bay is also highlighted in the popular Beach Boys hit, but it has changed greatly since the tune was written.
Montego Bay has become very touristy and busy, with many of its beaches cordoned off by mega-resorts. Hustlers ply the beaches selling unnecessary wares, while petty theft can be a problem.
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Famously, Doctor’s Cave Beach is the central public beach in “Mo Bay” and the crown jewel of the town. With beautiful turquoise waters, wonderful offshore snorkelling and services abound, it’s easily one of the best beaches in Jamaica. But with all of that perfection, Doctor’s Cove does get very busy with tourists and locals alike.
A good alternative to Doctor’s Cave Beach is Cornwall Beach, just east and around the corner from its famous counterpart. Cornwall is less likely to attract the general masses and though it is less sweeping than others, the silky white sand and great snorkelling is no less attractive. Entry fee for Cornwall beach is $5 USD, while Doctor’s Cave is a dollar more.
The Best Beaches in Jamaica on the West Coast
Negril’s Long Bay
Also known as 7 Mile Beach, Long Bay is not in fact 7 miles long. Even so, Long Bay in Negril runs all the way from the centre of the small Negril town. It goes north approximately 4 kilometres past countless hotels and beach bars.
This long flat stretch of sand is one of the best beaches in Jamaica to witness the sun going down. It’s also probably the best place to get in that morning jog your body aches for while on vacation.
Negril is like Ocho Rios and Montego Bay in that it has many mega-resorts. However, non-resort goers are able to access this fine beach all along the water line. There are multiple entrances to get onto the beach, some of which are absolutely amazing open air seafood restaurants. Try the conch soup, it will change your world!
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The West End of Negril
While not a beach per se, the West end coastline of Negril is an excellent alternative to the craze of Long Bay. Smaller boutique hotels and guesthouses sit atop rugged cliffs. They’re perfect for sunset watching, sunbathing, and cliff jumping, depending on what you are into.
The West End has retained a bit more of that old Jamaica charm, with local restaurants and smaller quieter vibes, though it is also home to Rick’s Cafe.
Rick’s Cafe is said to be one of the best bars in the world. Perched on the West End cliffs, Rick’s is the destination for day tours, booze cruises and thrill seekers jumping off of cliffs. Live music keeps the dance floor shaking all day, as do the roaming servers of Jamaica’s local Red Stripe beer.
Portland – Jamaica’s Most Rugged and Real Coastline
Portland Parish in Eastern Jamaica feels like a whole other world when compared to the calm waters of the North and the West. Jamaica’s best surfing lives in Portland, which tells the story of how rocky those waves can be.
Surf Culture in Boston Bay and Long Bay
Boston Bay and Long Bay are both windswept and rugged, perfect for catching waves and getting away from the crowds. Be aware, Portland roads are notoriously poor. But thankfully once you arrive in this lightly populated parish, you’ll discover why many Jamaicans call this their favourite part of the country.
Boston Bay and Long Bay both have surf cultures, and many of the guesthouses and beach bars rent boards to travellers.
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Head to Portland in July to truly get a taste of the parish, literally, at the Portland Jerk Festival. Boston Bay is thought to have the best jerk in the whole jerk filled country, but the festival is currently held in Frenchman’s Cove, mainly because it outgrew the small village of Boston. Still, combine yummy roadside meat with a beautiful seaside and that’s the Jamaican dream.
Luxurious Beaches in Portland
Not to be outdone by the north, Portland still has some classic beach perfection to beckon folks away from the rest. Winnifred Beach leads the pack. Still public, Winnifred Beach is undoubtedly one of the best beaches in Jamaica. It’s currently at the centre of a long running feud between the privatization hungry government and the grassroots local movement to retain it as public domain.
Winnifred Beach is so perfect it was used in Robin William’s movie Club Paradise and is extremely laid-back and peaceful. You can chip into the effort to save Winnifred from the hotel developers when you arrive by making a donation to the cause.
San San Beach and Frenchman’s Cove are both located east of Port Antonio and are great options but will cost you a few bucks. Beautiful and well kept, these two Jamaican beaches have been taken over by hotels, though luckily those hotels do allow day passes for non-guests.
San San and Frenchman’s are lovely beaches for a treat and can be used as jumping off points for boat tours to the Blue Lagoon, horseback riding, and snorkelling.
The Best Beaches in Jamaica on the South Coast
In the name of full disclosure, the South Coast is my favourite part of Jamaica, so I am biased. I lived nearby, and the South was where I could be found at Christmas, Easter, and any other time I needed the Caribbean.
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Objectively, the South Coast is everything that many independent travellers are looking for. Great beaches, quirky accommodation, excellent dining, and an extremely friendly local scene. Laid-back and relaxed, being in Treasure Beach makes people walk slower, read more books, and descend deeply into the hammock lifestyle.
Treasure Beach is the heart of the South Coast. A heart that is being led by the ideals of sustainable community based tourism and respect for its environment. With not one all-inclusive resort in sight, small boutique guesthouses, vacation rentals, and hostels welcome travellers and lead those folks almost directly to the beach.
Treasure Beach is made up of four of the best beaches in Jamaica, all lovely in their own ways. It’s extremely popular with the backpacker crowd of Jamaica.
Billy’s Bay is the most westerly stretch, and is more often than not completely deserted. Closer to the action is Frenchman’s Cove. It’s dotted with guesthouses and beach bars, but mainly trafficked by local fisherman coming in and out. The waves of Frenchman’s and Billy’s Bays can be strong, but most mornings the water is calm and welcoming.
Great Bay and Calabash Bay are the two eastern beaches. Great Bay is a solid stretch of sand that is nicely protected, making the best swimming beach on the South. The Lobster Pot restaurant is located off Great Bay, a definite stop for any seafood lover. But call ahead, they make everything to order, so you can be waiting a while for that perfect lobster to arrive on your table.
A Few Tips for Enjoying the Best Beaches in Jamaica
Avoid the busier beaches if you are averse to folks hassling you to buy their wares. Some beaches are known to have major harassment issues and this is made worse if you are a woman.
Keep an eye on your gear. Jamaica is still a developing country and an iPhone left unattended on a beach chair is a prime target. It is a good idea to have a waterproof phone case so you can take your cash, cards, and phone into the water with you.
The best way to explore multiple beaches and coastline is to rent a car. Short of that, Jamaica can be travelled completely with public transport and maybe a little hitchhiking here and there.
Buy beer from the vendors selling it on the beach or from small stands. It will be cheaper than bars and they may even deliver it to your chair.
Eat the seafood! Jamaica serves up amazing, fresh seafood all year around. It would be a real crime to leave the island without trying some of the country’s specialties from the sea.
Jamaican beaches have something for everyone. Whether you are looking for a scene, some rip curls, or a dose of laid back serenity, you’ll find it. Depending on the amount of time you have, try to experience different parts of the island. The variety of landscapes really is surprising based on how small Jamaica truly is.
Jamaicans are welcoming and they love their country. Proud of their beautiful landscapes, locals will point you in the direction of the best beaches in Jamaica if you ask. So always chat up the locals, stay flexible, and chase that perfect beach!
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