Jamaica’s Best Beaches: My Top 10 Picks

(Note: Scroll to the end of this post to get your copy of the new Jamaica’s Best Beaches ebook!)

When people ask me where I’m headed and I respond “Jamaica,” they ooh and aah. No doubt because they’re picturing sun, sea and long stretches of white sand. And they would be right – Jamaica is one of the Caribbean’s most popular island destinations, as we all know. But what many visitors also don’t realize, is just how many beautiful, accessible, safe and secluded beaches Jamaica offers. From west to east or north, and from white sand to black, the beach choices go way beyond the ones that are plastered in ads (like Doctor’s Cave beach in Montego Bay). And I dare say, the variety and quality rivals some of the Caribbean’s more “beach-driven” destinations like Barbados.

After four years of traveling around the island and spending several months at a time, I keep discovering more. But for now, these are my top 10 favorites (in no particular order of preference).

1.  Best for People Watching, Partying & Watersports: Negril Beach or “Seven Mile” (Western Jamaica)

Aaah Negril! Seven miles of uninterrupted, fine sand, turquoise waters and quite possibly the best people-watching factor of any beach in Jamaica. Everyone loves Negril – even Jamaicans, who call it “the capital of casual” and flock here on national holidays. There’s an infinite choice of affordable, tasty street food (think jerk grills), and local restaurants and hotels sprinkled all along the beach, making it easy to hop-around and mingle with residents. The watersport options are endless, not to mention the nearby rivers (Negril River, Black River, Martha Brae), so you can juggle sunset cruises with river boat safaris and even rafting. And last but not least, music late into the night – from dancing to live reggae barefoot in the sand at Alfred’s Ocean Palace to partying at the Jungle Nightclub until sunrise. And if you just don’t do crowds, visit during the low (hurricane) season from May to September, or stay on the “more Jamaican” and cliffside of Negril just five minutes away so you can choose to head to the beach whenever you choose.

2.  Best Alternative to Negril Beach, With No Vendor Interruption and Delicious Seafood: Cosmos Beach (Western Jamaica)

For some reason even I forget about Cosmos Beach when I’m in Negril. But it’s a great alternative for getting away from the hustle and bustle of Seven Mile beach. It’s only a short ride from Seven Mile and there’s a minimal entrance fee (about US$5). You may even get that waived if you eat at the Cosmos restaurant – which serves some of the best seafood in town (even octopus!). Cosmos offers Jamaican dishes as well as simple beach foods like burgers.

3.  Best Alternative to Doctor’s Cave Beach in Montego Bay: Cornwall Beach (Western Jamaica)

You could never tell Doctor’s Cave Beach and Cornwall Beach are right next to each other. Though they appear to be separated by a small wall on the beach side, you can walk along one to get to the other. But the two scenes couldn’t be any more different. While Doctor’s Cave is sprinkled with rainbow-colored umbrellas and so many tourists you actually lose sight of the sand, Cornwall Beach is peaceful and just as beautiful if not more spacious. It’s also where most expats and residents go on a Sunday or weekday after work to relax. The entrance to Cornwall Beach costs between $300-$500 Jamaican dollars (or US$3-$5), and there’s a bar and restaurant on site that are well worth the try. Every Sunday, Cornwall Beach hosts a sunset beach party for residents, from 5pm until late, with a DJ and a “bottomless” Appleton mug option (read: all-inclusive rum all night) for JA $600.

4.  Best for Seclusion: Long Bay Beach, Portland (Eastern Jamaica)

The far eastern coast of Jamaica is absolutely stunning. Long Bay, about 15 minutes’ drive from Port Antonio, is a small fishing village, rural but yet sprinkled with a few small guesthouses along the coast here and there. It has fewer tourists than Port Antonio, and it feels more like the “real” Jamaica. If I needed to get away from it all, this is where I’d stay – and I’d pick the Blue Heaven guesthouse (a great choice for budget or simple travelers). It’s also very close to Manchineal, another stunning fishing village with more beach, and the prettiest waterfall in Jamaica (in my opinion): Reach Falls. To spend time on the East Coast of Jamaica, it’s best (and cheaper) to fly into Kingston rather than Montego Bay.

5.  Best for Stunning Landscape and Views:  Silver Sands, Duncan’s (Falmouth, Northern Jamaica)

When I first laid eyes on Silver Sands, I gasped. It is one of the top 3 most stunning beaches I’ve seen in Jamaica, without a doubt. It’s the perfect size stretch of fine sand, the views are incredible with individual villas tucked away in the hills behind the beach. There is complete privacy, and the water is so clear it glistens. You can lie back, read, swim, eat at the restaurant on site, or nap without any interruption. It’s quite frankly close to perfection. I would go back there in a heartbeat, and I’m not as much a beach person as I am an “interior” (waterfalls) kinda gal. To have access to this gated property, you would need to stay at one of the Silver Sands villas or maybe “know someone who knows someone” (smile) but it is well worth it.

6.  Best for Lovers: Burwood Beach (Falmouth, Northern Jamaica)

Another stunner: Burwood Beach, a public beach near Ocho Rios and near Silver Sands. When I was there, I saw maybe one  couple on the far end – otherwise, just me and the sea. I’m told this is a popular one for honeymooners, and I could see why as I watched that couple on a leisurely stroll with all that space to themselves. But hey, who says only lovers get to enjoy the prettiest beaches? :-)

7.  Best for Some Surf-Action: Boston Beach, Portland (Eastern Jamaica)

A beautiful small cove-like beach with waves good enough to surf. It’s also right next door to the famous Boston Bay jerk stands – where you will taste the best jerk cuisine (and jerk sauce) on the island. Can you say ieal location?

8.  Best for Overall “Vibe” & Family Beach Day: Winnifred Beach (Portland, Eastern Jamaica)

Winnifred Beach is now one of my favorites. I discovered it earlier this year on a roadtrip to the Eastern side of Jamaica, in the parish of Portland. There are jerk stands on site, lots of pretty trees and a beautiful stretch of white sand. There’s also some live local reggae in-season. I stopped by in the early morning so the grills and the music weren’t going yet, but I hope to be back some day.

9 & 10.  Best for Off-The-Beaten Path: Rafter’s Nest Beach (Eastern Jamaica) and Duncan’s Bay (Northern Jamaica)

Rafter’s Nest Beach: A beautiful, fine black sand beach, hidden below the Rio Grande bridge, where one would normally catch a rafting excursion. We took one wrong turn, went down a dirt path and stumbled on this hidden stretch, even larger than Reggae Beach. A couple of residents were swimming on the far end, on this otherwise deserted beach.

Another off-the-beaten path public beach in the North, and a very short ride from Silver Sands, is Duncan’s Bay Beach (below). It’s mostly residents and expats on this beach, while tourists flock to Runaway Bay or Ocho Rios. There’s a small bar on one end of the beach, for drinks and freshly grilled food.

Duncan’s Bay would be a great base for the off-the-beaten path traveler wanting to experience Jamaica safely and away from the “all-inclusives” – and one of the more recommended, cozy guesthouses in Duncan’s Bay is Jamaica Jewel. If I get to experience it myself one day, I will post a review here.

And of course, as with any beach excursion anywhere in the world, please take precautions: don’t swim alone and definitely not in rough weather, don’t swim right after you eat, leave your valuables at your hotel, stay hydrated all day and lather up with sunblock.

So many beaches, so little time! I think of the south coast of Jamaica too but that will be for another post. Am curious to know what everyone’s favorite beach is in Jamrock, and if it’s listed here?

***

UPDATE!

Now Available:

JAMAICA’S BEST BEACHES: A MINI GUIDE

http://www.Amazon.com/dp/B00NXL97L6

My mini guidebook is geared toward new (or not so new) travelers to Jamaica, focusing on the major beach destinations around the island and helping you plan your first trip. It saves you lots of  time!

Get the skinny on:

* the best beaches in each resort town/area (including additional ones not mentioned in this post)

* my top recommended places to stay and eat

* what sights not to miss near your chosen beach town

*  the best of Jamaica – what not to miss and iconic things to do

* key maps to each area, with fun sketches!

There will be bonus Top 10 lists as well – one for lovers and one for families

This mini guide is based on my months and over five years of traveling across and living on this vibrant island, and will be filled with my full color photographs.

Get your copy here:

Jamaica’s Best Beaches (First Edition, Sept. 2014)

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Lebawit Lily Girma

Lebawit Lily Girma has contributed writing and photography to CNN Travel, New York Magazine, AFAR, American Way, Travel Channel, BBC Travel, and others. She’s the currrent author of MOON BELIZE for Moon Travel Guides and is completing a second title, MOON BELIZE CAYES. Lily is also AFAR's Jamaica Expert, and author of the AFAR Jamaica Country Guide. A serial expat, she's lived and studied on three continents, including Africa–from her native Ethiopia to Côte d'Ivoire–and Europe, and is fluent in four languages. A former attorney who ditched the office for the road in 2009, she favors all things culture, adventure and storytelling, and escapes Washington DC’s winters every year.

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36 Comments

  1. Briana 29 September, 2011 at 12:40 AM #

    I don’t know where to book a hotel and want to go in November. I’m 30 and my boyfriend and I want a nice all inclusive hotel hats beautiful and a party place! Thinking riu or place on 7 mile. Any ideas.

  2. Lebawit Lily Girma 14 June, 2012 at 12:10 PM #

    Hey Briana, sorry for some reason I completely missed your post! For any questions please email me at Lily@Sunandstilettos.com

  3. Sandie 27 June, 2012 at 9:31 PM #

    AWESOME photography!! I’m a total beach girl and these beaches look amazing! I’ve only been to 4 of your 10 listed – next trip, definitely looking up a few of the ones you’ve written about above. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Lebawit Lily Girma 28 June, 2012 at 9:35 AM #

    Thank you very much, Sandie! I love shooting islands… I’m publishing my first photography book on Jamaica in August! Very excited. Since you’ve subscribed already, you’ll be the first to know about the release.

  5. Paul 5 September, 2012 at 8:31 AM #

    Hi! I want to go to Jamaica in November with my girlfriend and we think your book will be a great guide. How can we get a hold of it?
    Paul

  6. Lebawit Lily Girma 5 September, 2012 at 4:34 PM #

    Hi Paul! Thanks so much for stopping by and I wish I had a guidebook written up for Jamaica – but I don’t yet. :) Perhaps I should, now that you mention it. Please let me know what questions you have and I’ll answer as best I can.

  7. giacomo 28 September, 2012 at 1:47 AM #

    Would love to know about best place to stay (few hotel names too if possible) and how is the night life for a couple in the 30s.
    thanks. we love your pics

  8. Liya 6 February, 2013 at 10:58 PM #

    Hi Lily,
    After admiring your beautiful work of Jamaican beaches and reading about your enthusiasm for Jamaica I think you would be the best person to ask what part of Jamaica you would recommend for someone who never had been to an island before. My parents lived a really hard life and have never had an opportunity to go anywhere before (they actually never had a chance to go on their honeymoon). But they always dreamed going somewhere where they could go enjoy beautiful sandy beaches and enjoy tropical fruits. I am trying to make their dream come true, I am praying that God helps me with that, too. So is there anything that you would recommend???

    Thanks!

  9. Lebawit Lily Girma 6 February, 2013 at 11:10 PM #

    Hi Liya,
    Thanks for checking out my work. That sounds like a great treat for your parents. I would recommend they go to Negril. They would fly into Montego Bay airport (Sangster International/MBJ) and then, catch a shuttle to Negril (contact Clive’s Transport http://www.clivestransportservicejamaica.com, they are great and affordable). The ride is about 1 hour and 15 minutes from Montego Bay to Negril.
    There are countless hotels of all budget ranges in Negril. Some are on the beach – great choice for first timers – and others on the cliffside.
    Good luck and have a wonderful time! Jamaica is a fantastic place to visit.

  10. Liya 7 February, 2013 at 3:56 PM #

    Thank you so much!!! I really appreciate it.

  11. Sandhya 14 March, 2013 at 4:59 PM #

    Hi Lily
    Beautiful Pictures. We are planning to go Jamaica the first time(with our 4 and 7 year olds) for this summer. Thanks a lot for posting the pictures. Do you have any recommendation for the family friendly places? Thanks in advance?

  12. Lebawit Lily Girma 14 March, 2013 at 8:44 PM #

    Hi Sandhya, thanks for your kind words!

    Jamaica is a very family friendly tourist spot, so you won’t have trouble finding all sorts of all-inclusives (great for saving with kids) as well as guesthouses. The best areas for first-timers are Montego Bay and Negril areas (Negril is about 1h15 min drive from the airport). Hope that helps!

  13. Paulette 16 April, 2013 at 1:52 PM #

    Hi Lilly, Fantastic photographs of Jamaica beaches – I currently live in Jamaica but have learned about at least 3 beaches from your list that I did not know about – they have gone on my “to-do list”.

    My website is a work in progress on Jamaica vacations and what Jamaica offers to the visitor. One day I hope to shoot pics half as good at yours.

    I look forward to seeing more of your work.
    Regards
    Paulette
    i-jamaicavacations.com

  14. Lebawit Lily Girma 23 April, 2013 at 1:36 PM #

    Hi Paulette! Thanks very much for your comments, am glad you found my site and I look forward to reviewing yours! Jamaica was my first love in the Caribbean :) Hope to be back in the future. All the best to you as well!

  15. Jewel 5 November, 2013 at 7:53 AM #

    Hello Lily, love your article if the best beaches in Jamaica in your opinion!! Thank you so much, but help me out. I am getting married @ Royalton White Sands in Falmouth Jamaica June 13th, 2014. We would love to plan an All WHITE BEACH BASH with 65 of our family & friends ages 25-65, very live fun group!!! We would like to venture out that Thursday Night, can you tell us the best each to party with a fun but not too young group and how to get there?

  16. Lebawit Lily Girma 5 November, 2013 at 9:46 AM #

    Hi Jewel, thanks for your feedback! I am actually writing an e-book on best beaches and things to see around them, and plan to publish by late December. For a good time in a relatively safe environment, I recommend Negril – Seven Mile Beach has all the entertainment you need, from bars to live music spots (Alfred’s, Bourbon Beach–currently under renovation–or Jungle’s Nightclub across the street has an upstairs open deck w/music). You can’t match Negril’s Beach for nightlife, in my opinion. Falmouth is a little ways from Negril, however – but not impossible. Folks drive down from Mo-Bay to Negril just to party one night. Just hire a safe and responsible driver (look into Clive’s Transport Jamaica/they are online). They might also have other ideas. Hope that helps and congratulations on your wedding.

  17. Susan 10 November, 2013 at 10:02 AM #

    Hi there, stunning photos. I’ve noted many mentions of Portland/eastern area. We are planning a late Dec/early Jan trip searching for apartments/houses to rent for 5 people near nice beaches as well as interesting areas to explore. We have two children with us who will probably stay on the beach while we explore so need safe area. We hope to rent a car even though we read it is difficult. Any suggestions?

    Is you e-book available yet?

  18. Kevin 12 November, 2013 at 3:42 PM #

    Lily, great listing. I love top 10 lists. I will be traveling to Jamaica at the end of January, 2014, This will be my second vacation there. I will be staying in Runaway Bay, as I did in January of this year. The resort is nice and the beach is pretty nice too, but not very big. I would like to take one day of my trip and check out another beach. Can you recommend a place that would be fairly close to get to from Runaway Bay? I would prefer not to travel more than an hour though. There is only so much time in a day, and vacations go by so fast. Thanks.

  19. Lebawit Lily Girma 19 November, 2013 at 9:12 AM #

    Kevin – Runaway Bay has a nice public beach, ask the locals they will know it. It has a restaurant on site, ample space and music occasionally. A popular hang out spot for all. Nearby you also have Duncan’s Bay (Fisherman’s Beach), public and also a local bar/grill on site.

    Susan – Can’t recommend any houses or apartments, but the Port Antonio area would be ideal for what you seek. Plenty of guesthouses and hotels around there as well and numerous beaches and sights. Frenchman’s Cove is lovely, as is San San Beach and Winnifred Beach.

    My e-book isn’t out yet but close to being finished – I got interrupted by several freelance assignments (the life of a freelancer!).

  20. Brian 7 December, 2013 at 12:37 PM #

    Hi lily, Do you have a recommend beach and hotel for me and my wife and 11 year old son?

    Thank You

  21. Sherri 25 December, 2013 at 4:55 PM #

    Loved your photos. We will be staying in Ocho Rio in June 2014. Let me know when your e-book will be available.Looking for ideas of excursions . I had noticed Boston Bay Beach & Reagge Beach. Are those safe areas ???

  22. Gustavo Di Gregorio 20 January, 2014 at 2:14 PM #

    Hello Lily. Your article really helped me decide which beach would like to see. Thank you!!! But I need your help. I’m on Royal Caribbean cruise with stops in Falmouth. What is the best transportation option to visit the beaches of Burwood and Silver Sands? It is dangerous for a tourist? Sorry about my english.

  23. Lebawit Lily Girma 21 January, 2014 at 6:19 PM #

    @Brian – Jamaica is huge and there are plenty of hotels for families. If you select a couple I could give you feedback, but it’s hard to select without knowing your interests. Montego Bay, Negril and Ocho Rios are good picks for areas.

    @Sherri – Thanks! I will keep you posted as soon as I publish it. All those mentioned above are safe areas. Jamaica is not as scary as the US media will have you believe. Just use common sense as in all places in the world.

    @Gustavo – You’re welcome! Happy it helped. My advice is to get a recommendation for a taxi driver and hire him for those hours. I suggest you call Clives Transport Service (www.clivestransportservicejamaica.com) and ask them – they are very good with email and have several drivers. If they can’t, they will recommend someone they know. Don’t get into any random taxi – better to get a suggestion first.

  24. Tanya 26 March, 2014 at 3:19 PM #

    Hi my name is Tanya and my husband n I would love to honeymoon in Jamaica. We wanted to do all inclusive and also have access to a great beach. Any suggestion, we will be there 4 nights and 5 days.

  25. Lebawit Lily Girma 3 April, 2014 at 4:00 PM #

    Hi Tanya, Jamaica is a huge island! So many options. It all depends on your budget and travel comfort level. Since you’re new to the island, I’d recommend looking up one of the Couples Resorts, they are usually a sure bet (look into Couples Sans Souci in Ocho Rios or Couples Negril). My guide to Jamaica will be out this early Fall, if you have time to wait. Best wishes!

  26. Fabiana 7 April, 2014 at 12:09 PM #

    Hello! Your pics are amazing, makes us want to jump in! We have 2 girls (8 and 11) and are going on a Disney Cruise on May 10, 2014! Have little time to look!! All we want is a nice, white sand, quiet beach to swim with the girls. We port at Falmouth, Jamaica.
    I was wondering if you can refer us to a trustworthy local travel agent or taxi company so we can arrange it and help us pick the best option for us. We have a whole day from 9am-4pm. Thank you

  27. Rhonda 12 April, 2014 at 10:12 AM #

    My cousin and and want to go to Jamaica this July or August. We are in our 40s. We are married but leaving husbands at home. Need an all inclusive place to stay. We have 5 star taste. Want a nice beach and nice pool with swim up bar. Love to snorkel. Not taking kids. Any suggestions? Aruba is our fav but want to try a different island this time.

  28. Max 14 April, 2014 at 5:08 AM #

    Hi Lily, 1st of all congrats for your very great job on this site. we are a small Group of 6 adults and 4 kids, wishing to spend the new year’s eve in Negril; can you suggest us the best all inclusive resort in Negril? and nost of all, do you think it can be a good choice going there with 4 kids? we are people who like to dance and spend some nighttime, but everything done in a polite and normal way, with no excess.. Thanks in advance for your kind reply, Max

  29. stephen 18 April, 2014 at 4:31 PM #

    We are on a cruise leaving tomorrow with our two boys (8 and 11). We stop at Fallmouth. Burwood beach looks nice. Any facilities? would you recommend it or another beach?
    Thanks…

  30. Lebawit Lily Girma 23 April, 2014 at 5:58 PM #

    Apologies, everyone – I am swamped with work, finishing the book and a crazy travel schedule for the past couple of months and through end of May. I won’t be able to respond until then – thanks for stopping by and for your patience! – Cheers, Lily

  31. mady 20 May, 2014 at 10:29 PM #

    Would love some input–I’m a 65 yo widow (young at heart) traveling late september early october with my 23 yo son for some mom-son time. we both like music, good food (he’s a chef), nice beaches, relaxation. Nothing too upscale (i.e expensive). In addition, I’m an amateur photographer and writer and would like a bit of an excursion to see something other than the beach. I’m thinking Negril ?? and then something interior. Any suggestions for places to stay, eat, see? Thanks!!

  32. Lebawit Lily Girma 11 July, 2014 at 8:23 AM #

    Hi Mady – Yes, Negril is your best bet! Sorry, but I’m knee deep in my Jamaica guidebook writing and will post here as soon as it’s released this September. See today’s post for the book cover and latest update: http://lilylilyphotography.com/2014/07/jamaicas-best-beaches-cover-update/

  33. LD 20 July, 2014 at 9:17 AM #

    Hi Lily,

    We are headed to Jamaica 6 of us. We are interested in villas with beach front properties. Would you have any recommendations or areas to look at thanks.

  34. Lebawit Lily Girma 20 July, 2014 at 6:01 PM #

    Hi LD, It really depends what activities interest you, how independent you are as a traveler and what you enjoy. Jamaica is huge! I am busy with my upcoming book and can’t answer individual questions at the moment, but I recommend you look into the Silver Sands Villas (north), or for a slower pace, Port Antonio (flying into Kingston). Have a great trip!

  35. Carmelina 30 September, 2014 at 10:33 PM #

    Hi Lebawit love your pictures!! I have a few questions i feel you could answer for me…After reading your great blog about Jamaica would like to know where would be a good place to stay if it is my first time? Not a fan of big resorty places .. i love to feel culture see beauty eat good food and meet great people. Could you give me suggestions ? I appreciate it ..If you have any questions about Italy I’m here to answer your question hehe. Carmelina

  36. Lebawit Lily Girma 1 October, 2014 at 3:46 AM #

    Hi Carmelina! Thanks for your kind words. I actually wanted to post here yesterday because: my new Jamaica’s Best Beaches ebook is now available on Amazon!!

    It’s specifically for questions like yours and is easy to read, with lots of photos, advice on where to stay, what to do, where to eat, etc. From the best of sights to cultural festivals, it’s all in here.

    Here is the link:
    http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00NXL97L6

    One Love!

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