Jamaica’s beach experiences are as varied as the island’s topography. From the gentle waves in Half Moon Beach to the surfer's paradise in Boston Bay Beach, there's a bevy of ways to enjoy the sand and surf on this Caribbean island. Here are the best beaches in Jamaica.
Half Moon Beach
Around 7.5 miles (12km) north of Negril, Half Moon Beach is a beautiful, hassle-free stretch of sand beloved by locals and families, with calm, shallow water. On weekends there's sometimes live music, and Calico Jack's, the restaurant on a nearby island (US$5 round-trip by boat) serves tasty seafood. The beach is part of the Negril Marine Park; there are relatively healthy reefs just offshore and no motorized watercraft. Topless sunbathing is permitted.
Seven Mile Beach
Seven Mile Beach in Negril was initially touted on tourism posters as “seven miles of nothing but you and the sea.” True, sunbathers still lie half-submerged in the gentle surf, and the sweet smell of ganja smoke continues to perfume the breeze, but otherwise, the beach has changed a great deal.
Today it’s lined with restaurants, bars and nightspots, and every conceivable water sport is on offer. It is still beautiful to behold, but if you’re looking for solitude, look elsewhere.
It's worth noting that Seven Mile Beach is actually only 4 miles (6.5km) long.
This beautiful little cove just east of Port Antonio boasts a small but perfect white-sand beach, where the water is fed by a freshwater river that spits directly into the ocean. The area is owned by the Frenchman’s Cove resort. There’s a snack bar serving jerk chicken and fish, alfresco showers, bathrooms, a secure parking lot and the option of taking boat tours to the Blue Lagoon.
Ocho Rios Bay Beach
The main beach of Ocho Rios, popular with tourists, is the long fenced-off crescent known variously as Turtle Beach and Ocho Rios Bay, stretches east from the Turtle Towers condominiums to the Renaissance Jamaica Grande Resort. There are changing rooms and palms for shade. It's a pleasant scene but can be a bit overshadowed by cruise ships when they're in port.
The small and charming Mahogany Beach in Ocho Rios is particularly popular with locals; it comes to life on weekends with loud music, smells of jerk cooking and impromptu soccer matches. There’s plenty of parking plus showers, and a small shop selling beach goods. The beach is about a mile (1km) east of the town center – it's quickest to jump in a taxi to get here.
James Bond Beach
This attractive strip of white sand in Oracabessa is pretty quiet during the week but livens up on weekends. If you want to enjoy more than just the beach, hire jet skis or take a boat trip along the coast. A small bar and restaurant provide refreshments. The beach also hosts large-scale music events – check the flyers in Ocho Rios for what's coming up.
Doctor’s Cave Beach
It may sound like a rocky hole inhabited by lab-coated troglodytes, but Doctor’s Cave Beach is actually Montego Bay’s most famous beach. Founded as a bathing club in 1906, the beach earned its name when English chiropractor Sir Herbert Barker claimed the waters had healing properties. It's been a popular spot ever since.
The beach itself is a pretty arc of sugary sand fronts, a deep-blue gem studded with floating dive platforms and speckled with tourists sighing happily. Er, lots of tourists – and a fair few Jamaicans as well.
There are lots of facilities on hand, including a restaurant, a grill bar, an internet cafe and water sports, and lots of things to rent (beach chairs, towels, snorkeling gear).
Boston Bay Beach
Boston Bay's beach sits in a small pretty cove, and while its golden sand is a draw, the shape of the bay and prevailing weather make it a perfect surf spot. There are showers, changing rooms, a lifeguard and a small restaurant.
Perched on a cliff and eight miles (13km) east of Port Antonio is the little hamlet of Fairy Hill. Follow the road steeply downhill and you’ll reach Winnifred Beach, yet another totally gorgeous strip that puts a lot of the sand in more famous places to shame.
It's the only truly public beach on this stretch of the coast, and has a great vibe, with food and drink stands, weekend sound systems and Jamaicans from all walks of life. If you drive, please make a donation for parking – the beach relies on public funds for its upkeep.
This beautiful horseshoe-shaped bay, five miles (8km) west of Runaway Bay and five miles (8km) east of Rio Bueno, is a popular resort spot for locals drawn to Puerto Seco Beach. Many of Jamaica’s wealthiest families have holiday villas up in the hills here. The town itself has only marginal appeal.
This is the most centrally located beach, running east from the Treasure Beach Hotel as far as Jack Sprat Beach. It is watched over by a landmark buttonwood tree that has long attracted the attention of poets, painters and wood-carvers who ply their wares. It's a good place for sunning and swimming, and a popular spot for watching the sunset.
Bamboo Beach Club (Reggae Beach)
This clean yellow-sand beach is hustler-free and popular with tourists only, due to the high admission price. Locals still call it by its old name, Reggae Beach. Kayaks are available for rent, there are changing rooms, and jerk chicken and fish are readily available. On a hot day with a cruise ship in Ocho Rios, the place gets absolutely packed.
Several miles south of Black River, this is essentially a continuation of Heavy Sands beach – more dark sand studded with shells and loads of clean ocean. Excellent for swimming, but don’t swim out too far as you’ll likely be on your own out here.
The idyllic Lime Cay in Port Royal is one of half a dozen or so uninhabited, white sand–rimmed coral cays about two miles (3km) offshore from Port Royal. Immortalized in the final showdown of the movie The Harder They Come, it’s ideal for sunbathing and snorkeling. Shacks sell food and drinks.
Hellshire Beach is a funky spot with dozens of brightly painted huts and stalls selling beer, jerk and fish. It’s a lively place on weekends, with sound systems on Sunday nights. In the morning, fishing pirogues come in with their catch. On any day of the week, though, it’s a fascinating visit, a slice of the “real” Jamaica up close.