When it comes to travel, are you an adventure junkie? Or a creature of habit? I’d have to call myself something in-between. Maybe that’s why after all these years I still love Jamaica so much. It’s the Caribbean paradise that welcomes you back like an old friend even after one visit. But it also promises discoveries, both big and small, on the daily. That’s probably why we’re already planning our next trip. And it can’t come soon enough.
The island nation of Jamaica boasts a lush, gorgeous topography of mountains, rain forests, and reef-lined beaches. And at 4,240 square miles, it’s the third largest island of the Greater Antilles and the Caribbean. From dawn until the sea swallows the sun at night, Jamaica is a kaleidoscope of colors, sounds, and experiences. And it’s populated with some of the warmest, most welcoming people I’ve ever met.
Where We Stayed
In 1990, Chris and I were on the hunt for a sunny and super affordable getaway. A guide book to Jamaica recommended a “Robinson Crusoe” style hotel in Negril. We were sold. Today, that rustic hideaway is called Sunset at the Palms — a stunning but still understated all-inclusive. The hotel offers the luxury amenities you want without the overwhelming size of many other high end options. It’s also adults only (over 21). Lucky for us we got a good run in there with the boys before that happened!
Overall, I give Sunset at the Palms 5 stars. Things I loved: breakfast (everything!), the coffee bar, the beachside bar/restaurant (for lunch, sunset cocktails, complete with pristine bathrooms and outdoor shower), the beach (duh), the gardens (the most gorgeous I’ve ever seen island-wide and filled with colorful native birds), our spacious and well-appointed room with private balcony, the nightly dessert table (small portions!), the martini bar and Paul the piano player/singer, the Spa, and finally the kindest, most helpful, most dedicated staff. In fact, there are still friends working today who were there for our first visit — like Shorty (seen above), who actually planted and nurtured the lush, lovely gardens from seedlings.
A few caveats: the tennis court is currently not playable, but they will get you to a nearby hotel’s very nice courts (no fee and round trip taxi included); buffet style dinner (a necessary evil that I am not a big fan of, though I always found more than enough delicious food to choose from), and just the general “Groundhog Day-ness” of any all-inclusive (same setting, same people, same schedule). But…there are two a la carte dining rooms that we did not try, as well as plenty of daytime outings.
We’re already planning our trip next year and are checking out Skylark for a variety of reasons — Seven Mile Beach location (we actually missed the colorful busy-ness plus it’s great for nighttime strolls), overall mid-century, modern decor and hip insider vibe, fantastic restaurant (details below), access to Rockhouse (its award-winning sister hotel perched over Pristine Cove on Negril’s cliffs), property-wide environmental initiatives, and support for The Rockhouse Foundation (which funds the transformation of the places where Jamaica’s children learn and supports the great people who teach them.) Stay tuned for that post in 2021…if not sooner.
What We Ate & Drank
I’ve already raved about the hotel’s breakfast, and I’m not a typical breakfast person. I absolutely did not miss my daily Smoothie one bit. Of course there was all natural yogurt (from upstate New York, no less!), but I loved indulging in the array of fresh fruits and building my own veggie-filled egg scramble. If you’re a coffee drinker, you will love Jamaica’s Blue Mountain coffee. All in all, the perfect start to the day.
Over at the beach, I love love loved the jerk chicken and rice and peas and non-mayo coleslaw. In fact, it was my lunch of choice three out of five days. Along with a red stripe…or two. There was always fruit-infused water available to make sure everyone stayed hydrated. And I did have to try The Bob Marley, but just once! Down the beach was a mix of craft and food stalls. Chris managed to track down our old friend Ital, who cooked us a fresh caught lobster lunch for my birthday.
The birthday celebrating continued that night with dinner at Miss Lily’s at Skylark. We were joined by Jefferson — our very first friend from Negril, and we were so busy catching up that I forgot to get some good pics. This restaurant is truly a standout in every way — amazing food with lots of vegetarian/vegan-friendly options, fun signature drinks, top notch service, totally cool retro atmosphere, and even a DJ spinning at just the right decibel level. No matter where you stay in Negril, it’s not to be missed!
A Last Look at the Beach
Jamaica, and especially Negril, is known for has an anything goes attitude, but as you can see there are rules to be followed! No problem, mon. It’s nice to feel safe and buffered from the vendors who stroll the beach selling legal (and non-legal) wares. You can engage — at the waterline — if and when you want to. On a lighter note, Jamaicans are quite reserved and would never be caught in some of the beyond skimpy bathing suits visitors wear.
I always headed to the beach with a few, well-chosen essentials packed in a waterproof bag (love this sunny yellow monogramable option). Shown here: Herban Essentials towlettes (I carry these every day, everywhere), a healthy snack option (liking these lemony, plant-based Olly bars), Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40, a Wet Brush, Nuun tablets, and an SPF Lip Balm (love this one from Fresh). Shorty also made sure we had fresh coconuts every day! Bliss!!
A Few Final Tips
Over the years we’ve been lucky enough to take a few longer vacations in Jamaica that allowed us to travel around the island. We’ve stayed in hotels of every size, as well as a few guest houses and private villas. While Negril is hands down our favorite spot, we’ve discovered other not-to-be-missed locations.
Jakes @ Treasure Beach: This hidden gem on the south coast is an oceanfront gem. Nestled amidst a vibrant fishing village, Jakes is a colorful oasis of painted cottages, mosaic walkways, and a saltwater pool. We’ve stayed there twice and highly recommend it.
YS Falls: Originally a cane farm, this spectacular property is now one of Jamaica’s finest natural attractions, with seven waterfalls that cascade into natural pools. Our boys (and anyone else we’ve taken there) loved it. It’s also a very do-able day trip from many of the resort towns.
ClubMoBay: Our hotel rate included this travel perk upon our arrival at Sangster Airport in Montego Bay. We were personally greeted, whisked through Immigration, Customs and Baggage Claim, and accompanied to the VIP Lounge where we enjoyed complimentary beverages and a buffet (especially welcome since airlines serve virtually nothing on flights), WiFi, and the arrangement of transportation to our destination. We were so impressed, we sprang for the service on our departure and it was well worth it.
The irresistible beat of reggae, the enticing smell of jerk or fresh lobster over a fire, the sweet and salty embrace of blue blue water, the decadence of rum in your glass…no other place I’ve traveled to provides the range of activities and the cultural diversity that can be found in Jamaica. In case you haven’t guessed, I think you need to experience it for yourself. Do reach out if you have any questions!
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Photos by MP & Chris Allegaert. Photo Editing by Kristin Moore-Gantz.