This is a party place. Self billed as the Capital of Casual, Negril is a fun in the Jamaican sun. Seven Mile Beach is the main attraction of this tropical paradise. If you like reggae music, perfect weather and the Caribbean look no further. So cool, even James Bond has been here.
Je ne sais quoi (How cool is it?)
Negril’s Seven Mile Beach
Seven Mile Beach in Negril is one of Jamaica’s best beaches. More often than not, it is included as one of the most beautiful places in the world. Negril is an out of this world tropical paradise with something for everyone. The small beach town of Negril is playfully referred to as the “Capital of Casual”. Visitors here find spectacular blue Caribbean water and soft golden sands that make unforgettable fun beach vacations.
Negril is the westernmost town on the island. As Jamaica’s “Jewel in the Crown”, Negril is equally famous for its intense sunsets along the acclaimed Seven Mile Beach as it is for smoking ganja and getting spaced out. This incredibly long stretch of white sand gives taking a walk on the beach a new meaning. It is a place to see and be seen, drink, play sport and let loose. Negril’s first tourists were hippies. From them, the town picked up the reputation as a “spaced out” place on the beach. Not much has changed in that regard. The hippies smoked a lot of weed and found hallucinogenic mushrooms growing nearby. The Jamaicans were impressed immediately by the commercial benefits of selling shrooms to the tourists. Today, both mushrooms and marijuana are prevalent everywhere in Negril.
Where is Negril? 18°27′N 78°35′W
Negril: Best Beach in Jamaica
Negril’s Seven Mile Beach is consistently included as one of the top beaches in the world in any international showcasing of the best tropical beaches. If you are keeping score, this beach is just slightly under 7 full miles. There is a bay on each end of the beach. Bloody Bay is to the north side and measures two miles, while to the south one finds Long Bay which is 5 miles long! The massive all inclusive beach resorts are found in Bloody Bay. If you are looking for smaller hotels and family inns, you would be better served in Long Bay. Tourism is the raison d’être for Negril, so whatever you are looking for, you will find. Tons of options are available at different price points and levels of service, unlike some other limited Jamaican beaches like Duncan’s Bay.
The partying at 7 mile beach has been the stuff of legends for a very long time. The area has changed significantly over the years, but it has not reached maximum overflow capability a la Cancun yet. Chances are that it never does. (knock wood) The area still has an inviting feel good vibe to it, and even the hawkers on the beach are relatively cool mon.
You can find a great spot to kick back in the sun with food and drink at a lot of places on the beach . The more you are willing to pay for that Red Stripe, the more comfortable you will be. Reggae is everywhere. If that does not sound appealing, find another place for your vacation.
Best Negril Jamaica Beach
Like the name explains, Negril’s 7 mile beach stretches on and on into the distance. The beach offers a ton of activities and has numerous attractions too, that are guaranteed to entertain you. This iconic Jamaican beach spot is one of the best exotic locations in the Caribbean if not the world.
From the first of August until New Year’s, do not eat Jamaican Queen Conch.
Some of the best vacation activities in Negril include: day sail trips with a catamaran, scuba diving or getting scuba certified, banana boats, snorkeling, jet skis, kayaks. That is not a comprehensive list. People love to play in Jamaica. Due to the sheer number of choices on Seven Mile Beach, its unlikely that you will have to wait for a long time to do anything. If you choose to go horseback riding in the area, be extra careful who you decide to go with. It is illegal along the beach and causes a mess. “The problem of illegal horseback riding is still plaguing the resort town of Negril, particularly the beach strip, despite their best efforts to curb the practice, the Negril police said.”
Play all day in the Capital of Casual
Negril is small resort town with a population just under 7,000 people. It’s found in two different Jamaican parishes, Hanover and Westmoreland, because it is so spread out. The town is found in the southwestern part of Jamaica. This beach paradise is less than an hour and a half from the nearest international airport in Montego Bay. The southern part of Negril’s Seven Mile Beach, the downtown area, and the West End cliff resorts are in Westmoreland. Hanover Parish is home to the northernmost beach resorts.
You cannot be arrested if the police find you with 2 ounces or less of Ganja.
Jamaica was “discovered” by Christopher Columbus in 1494. He came ashore on the north coast at St. Ann’s Bay slightly off course from India. All the same, Columbus sailed the “Nina” from Montego Bay past Lucea, Green Island harbor and the Negril beach. He then headed around Negril Point and continued east for a few thousand miles until returning to Europe. It was not until the Admiral had been dead for three years that the Spanish began to settle Jamaica.
The first settlers named this present day beach spot Negril. It is a short for “Negrillo” meaning small black ones in Spanish. There is no conclusive explanation for the name, but there are two plausible theories. The first states that Negrillo refers to the darkened colored cliffs found on the West End. The other explanation is that the Spanish named the area Negro Eels after a substantial population of black eels that were found along the coast. Later the name was shortened to Negrillo and then later just Negril.
Unfortunately, the arrival of the Spanish lead to death and destruction for the locals. The Spanish made the local Taino Amerindians slaves. Within 50 years, they were all dead. Soon thereafter, the Spaniards imported Africans to work the plantations. A few Spanish names still dot the map of Jamaica from their time here, like Punta Negrillo and Savanna La Mar. While the Spaniards were masters of the tropical island of Jamaica, tropical produce was quite profitable in Europe. Even though the island was potentially profitable, the Spanish weren’t terribly interested in this particular island spot. The American mainland seemed more interesting to the Spaniards. So much so, that when the British landed in Kingston Harbor in 1655, the Spanish simply left. Of course, the British did land with 5000 men. Jamaica’s capture was the casus belli that resulted in actual war between England and Spain in 1655.
The leaders of the invasion of Jamaica were Robert Venables and William Penn. They had recently been defeated at Santo Domingo in Hispaniola and were scared to return to England and face Oliver Cromwell with only failure on their resumes. So they decided to take Jamaica. Jamaica had little to no defenses and there were only about 1500 Spanish settlers including woman and children.
Hot, hot, hot
The next year, Cromwell banished 1000 Irish girls and 1000 Irishmen to Jamaica. Additionally, Cromwell ordered the Scottish government to deport to Jamaica all known robbers, vagabonds, idle folk and the masterless. Jamaica was divided into 10 districts and parishes for the sake of a census by 1662. The remote parishes of Negril were quite susceptible to attack from roving bands of former Spanish slaves. These bands formed the heart of the group that would become internationally known as “the Maroons”.
Some relevant Jamaican history
Obviously, the English had no idea how many Maroons there were. The numbers of marauders were constantly increasing as the bands were joined by runaway slaves in Negril. Over 1200 British settlers skilled at sugar production arrived in 1667 from South America. These new arrivals settled in Westmoreland and Hanover parishes. Today, both the Great House as well as the sugar plantation are still in Negril.
After 1667, Caribbean history got a lot more interesting as the pirate Captain Henry Morgan began his career. Yes, the guy on the bottle of rum was a real life pirate. He was friends with the Governor of Jamaica, Sir Thomas Modyford, who gave him a letter of marque, a license to attack and seize Spanish vessels.
Captain Morgan became famously wealthy raiding settlements and shipping on the Spanish main from his base in Port Royal, Jamaica. Morgan eventually purchased three massive sugar plantations in Jamaica with his prize money from the raids. Renowned as the “wickedest place in Christendom”, the infamous Port Royal was located on a spit of land across from today’s Kingston. With a safe haven and a license to steal, Morgan and friends would comfortably repair ships, tend to wounds and carouse in Port Royal.
Captain Morgan is more than just a spiced rum
There is no disputing that Morgan was phenomenally successful and led a prosperous life. Not only was he knighted, he was also appointed Jamaica’a Lieutenant Governor before turning 30.
The wrath of God struck Port Royal on the 7th of June, 1692. The city was destroyed by an earthquake, which was followed by a tidal wave. Like Sodom and Gomorrah, all traces of Port Royal vanished into the oblivion. For better or worse, the city never bounced back to its heyday.
“Today, the area is a shadow of its former self with a population of less than 2,000 that has little to no commercial or political importance.” It is known as the “City that Sank” to post -medieval archaeologists.
Jamaican Piracy from Port Royal
With his letter of marque in hand, Morgan raided Puerto Principe (current day Camagüey in Cuba) and Panama’s Porto Bello successfully. Later he sailed south for Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo and “raided and plundered” the towns of Gibraltar and Maracaibo. For good measure, Captain Morgan then destroyed the large Spanish fleet as he fled.
Three years later in 1671, Morgan’s next target was Panama City. He landed on the Caribbean beaches and travelled across the country to attack the City on the Pacific coast. Unfortunately, the English pirates did not profit much for their endeavors, even though the battle was a complete rout. Morgan was arrested and sent to London because the attack took place while there was a peace treaty in effect. This was just an attempt to mollify the Spanish however. Royalty including Charles II, the leading government members and especially the general public welcomed him as a hero.
Sir Henry Morgan died in 1688 with a state funeral given with his body lying in state at the King’s House for the public to pay their respects. In order for the local pirates, privateers, and other ruffians to be able to pay their respects without fear of arrest, a general amnesty was declared.
The one and only “Calico Jack Rackham” was apprehended in 1720 on the west coast of Jamaica in Negril. Calico Jack was then brought to Spanish Town for trial and execution to a place that was subsequently known as Rackham’s Cay. A fetish for wearing calico underwear led to this pirate’s nickname. Supposedly, before capture Jack was celebrating with 2 female members of his crew, Anne Bonney and Mary Read, that were known to be more bloodthirsty than their captain. During trial, they “pleaded their bellies” as they were pregnant by the captain. They were spared.
Through the labor of 2 million slaves, Jamaica had become the largest sugar producing colony on the planet by the 18th century. It was a prosperous time for the sugar barons. Their fortunes made the King of England envious and as they built their great houses above the fields. The slaves were treated harshly and shamefully. No matter what they tried, the owners could not squelch the rebellious nature of the enslaved Africans in Jamaica. The slaves were inspired by the Maroons to join their group. The Maroons fought the British with sophisticated Guerrilla warfare tactics for 20 years starting in 1720, which resulted in a well earned level of autonomy.
Negril and the Sugar Trade
The sugar trade went downhill in accordance with Jamaica abolishing the slave trade in 1807. It took another 26 years, to outlaw the institution with 1833’s Emancipation Day. In 1865, there was a dramatic decrease in the cost of sugar, which resulted in an uprising. As a response, Jamaica became a British colony the following year.
As the sugar industry was replaced with bananas and other new crops, life on the island improved. Jamaica was able to peacefully transition away from the slave economy, unlike the United States. The plantation owners wanted to hire their former slaves as “free men”, however they had no interest in going back. Cheap labor was sought from around the globe. Waves of different ethnicities came from Scotland, China, Germany, Ireland, and India. “A full 95% of Jamaican people can trace their roots to Africa but most have links tying them to Britain, the Middle East, China, Portugal, Germany or South America.”
These ethnic groups had created a new national identity by the middle of the 20th century which had replaced the British one in the collective Jamaican soul. For practical reasons like the need to survive and the mixing of races, the groups all lived together peacefully. Jamaica became an independent country in 1962.
Norman Washington Manley was one of the first people to see the tourist potential of Negril. At the time Negril was a sleepy fishing village. Manley started the area’s development by cutting canals to drain the swamps. Immediately Jamaicans learned of this new beach vacation spot on their island. The area’s welcoming and hospitable reputation grew over time and the first of many resorts was constructed in the mid to late 1960s. International Backpackers and hippies started coming to Jamaica around this time as well. A lot of these new guests camped on the beach and did a lot of drugs. The laid back lifestyle that is Negil and the “Capital of Casual” was born.
Negril was lightly populated and cut off from the right of the island because of a large swamp and bad roads for centuries. Formerly a port for whalers, Bloody Bay is found to the north of Long Bay. The water in the Bay was often red from whales being towed in to be disemboweled.
Negril’s status as the hot new beach vacation spot was cemented when the road connecting Negril and Montego Bay was improved in the 1970s. It was a simple two lane paved road 100 years off the beautiful white coral sand beaches. The road was straight enough to be used as an airstrip for small airplanes smuggling ganja.
The area has matured nicely over the years. “In 1990, the Negril Coral Reef Preservation Society was formed as a non-profit, non-governmental organization to address ongoing degradation of the coral reef ecosystem. The Negril Marine Park was officially declared on March 4, 1998 covering a total area of approximately 160 km2 (62 sq mi).”
The protected reef systems offer very good diving opportunities. On the Western tip of Negril, near the lighthouse, there is especially beautiful scenery and dramatic cliffs.
Part of the charm still alive in Negril is that is not totally developed. A new highway was built from MoBay and ever more tourists continue to arrive each year. With them, more hotels and resorts are built each year. It has been an popular Spring Break destination for American college students since the 80s.
Negril is an unforgettable place. The calm blue water and perfect white sand of Seven Mile Beach is impressive. The first time I went there was in the early 90s. It was one of my first international trips. I camped for a month on Seven Mile beach with about 20 friends from university. It was a mess.
“Out of many, one people”
Thank you to Paul C- for sharing these great pictures. He has been a great friend over the years dating back to when we lived in South America. He’s sitting there with Jonny H. These guys rock.