Oyster’s writers and photographers have visited nearly 100 beachfront hotels in Jamaica, from lavish all-inclusives that give Vegas joints a run for their money (hello, Moon Palace) to break-the-bank hideaways (sigh, Round Hill). We’ve found hotels that don’t shy away from extravagance, whether that means 10 on-site restaurants or exorbitant nightly rates, and we’ve seen tired budget resorts that look and feel as depressed as their prices. Such extremes make Jamaica’s quirky-cool, budget-priced beach boutiques seem like exceptional finds. A few are even on our short list of favorite hotels on the island, period. Take a look, below.
The hand-painted street sign and magenta bougainvillea vines should clue you in that something magical awaits beyond this hotel’s sea-green gated entrance. Once inside, Catcha Falling Star’s maze-like paths, encircled in lush greenery, bright flowers and wooden arbors, unfurl toward the seaside cliffs. Tiered sun-lounging terraces, thatch-roofed seating nooks and spacious verandas with hammocks and daybeds all capitalize on the resort’s mesmerizing views and clifftop location. The stunning scenery, grown-up vibe, high-quality local food and intimate boutique experience are similar to what you’ll find at Jamaica’s famous (and far more expensive) SPA Retreat Boutique Hotel and The Caves.
After the hours-long, pothole-ridden journey to remote Treasure Beach on Jamaica’s south coast, Jakes Hotel, Villas & Spa immediately introduces itself as an eccentric and easygoing gem that was worth the trip. Stepping inside feels like entering a quirky artist utopia in the height of the Summer of Love. Meandering stone and tile mosaic pathways connect the cheerful and rustic guest cottages — no two are the same — that are sprawled along the jagged coastline. In truth, the whole resort is built along the water’s edge, with open-air spa treatment rooms perched right next to the sea and a yoga studio with 180-degree ocean views. The restaurant serves a rotating menu of Jamaican dishes (curry goat, broad bean stew) with an emphasis on produce from local farms. A shady canopy of lantern-strewn tree branches arches over the romantic outdoor dining area, bar and enchanting saltwater pool — all with sea views. On-site yoga, art and cooking classes are available.
The tiny, 12-room Nirvana on the Beach is a hotel that’s true to its word: the intimate boutique is, indeed, right on Negril’s Seven Mile Beach. In fact, Nirvana has a private beach area, which it sets up with hammocks, loungers, chairs and loaner kayaks. Of Nirvana’s dozen rooms, the cottages and studios provide the best value. Cottages are especially charming, with screened-in sitting areas, private bedrooms and full kitchens. The hotel lacks a pool, restaurant and bar but reception can help arrange local activities such as scuba diving, cliff jumping and snorkeling. Drivers are available for tours, grocery shopping and transportation around Negril.
Consisting of four freestanding cabins, wild-feeling gardens, and lounging terraces carved out of sea cliffs, the kooky-casual Banana Shout Resort is small but memorable. Local art, tie-dyed fabrics and Bob Marley posters or paintings adorn the perkily painted cottages. All have simple furnishings, kitchenettes and front porches with ocean views. The thatched-roof restaurant hut doesn’t have a set menu; instead, meals are cooked to order based on guests’ preferences. Food can be delivered to the cottages, the garden or anywhere on the property. Deep-sea fishing and glass-bottom boat rides are offered through the resort at an additional cost, and a bus driver is available to take guests on tours of local sights.
Country Country Beach Cottages is a low-key and locally-owned cottage resort located on a private section of Negril’s Seven Mile Beach. Its 20 private, pastel-colored cottages are big on local charm, with shuttered doors and windows, folksy wooden furnishings (including daybeds or sofas), and private porches or balconies. All have mini-fridges, coffee and tea facilities and air-conditioning — which is not a given at the hotels on this list. The hotel’s famous banana pancakes are included in the free breakfast, which is served at Country Peppa Grille. The open-air beachfront restaurant is also open for lunch and dinner, when it serves traditional jerk and surf-and-turf.
Set way back in Negril’s West End, Westender Inn is a secluded boutique where the rocky cliffside views are the main draw. An extra bonus is the small patch of sandy beach — a rare geographical feature in limestone-ridged West End. Swimming can be a risky endeavor here, as the water is full of sharp coral and the waves can get rough. Nevertheless, on a calm day, guests can grab free snorkeling equipment and explore the underwater world, including the hotel’s coral reef restoration project. Loungers are lined up under straw umbrellas around the oceanfront cliff terraces and on the small beach area, which has an adjacent saltwater dipping pool. A tiki-style beachside bar serves drinks throughout the day, and an all-day restaurant/bar overlooking the cliffs serves largely Jamaican fare. Note that the property is split by a rocky road, with sea-view rooms and suites on the ocean side and spacious garden cottages in the far section.
A hotel with a near 100-percent approval rating from past guests is a very rare thing. Negril Tree House Resort comes pretty close, with former visitors (many longtime loyalists) regularly praising its welcoming owner, its chef and its excellent spot on beautiful Seven Mile Beach. Rates are fair and include a generous breakfast buffet with waffle and omelette stations, plus callaloo veggies, fried dumplings, salt fish and homemade cakes. At the beach bar and grill, guests can order freshly grilled seafood, curried goat and jerk chicken a la carte for lunch and dinner. The 70 rooms and suites are basic, but all include flat-screen TVs, air-conditioning and semi-private balconies. Families should consider booking the two-bedroom suite for extra space, a kitchenette and two bathrooms.