Jamaica is a gorgeous island that’s one of the top honeymoon destinations in the Caribbean for a reason. Jamaica has something for everyone, including breathtaking beaches, great snorkeling, and scuba diving, delicious local food, vibrant culture, interesting historic sites, and an active nightlife scene. Plus, it’s one of the most affordable Caribbean islands.
Two of the top destinations in Jamaica are Montego Bay and Negril. Which is better, Negril or Montego Bay? The answer to this question will depend partly on what you’re looking for in your trip to Jamaica. Either town is a fantastic place for honeymoons or romantic trips, so how do you choose between Negril and Montego Bay? This article will give an overview of both towns and the surrounding areas so you can decide whether Montego Bay or Negril is best for your Jamaican vacation.
Montego Bay is the second most visited city in Jamaica after Kingston. For more than 50 years, it has been a popular destination for all sorts of getaways, including honeymoons, destination weddings, and romantic vacations. A thriving port city, Montego Bay has plenty of historic and cultural attractions and a vibrant atmosphere.
Negril is best known for its stunning beaches and laidback feel. Jamaica’s legendary Seven Mile Beach is in Negril, as is another top beach, Bloody Bay. Many of the restaurants and bars here are on the water.
Is Montego Bay or Negril closer to the airport?
Montego Bay is closest to the airport—in fact, it’s the site of Sangster International Airport, one of Jamaica’s 3 main airports. This makes Montego Bay the best choice if you don’t want to spend much time getting to and from your resort. Negril is about an hour and a half from the airport in Montego Bay.
Negril vs. Montego Bay: Beaches and Watersports
Beaches in Negril are long and lovely. In fact, the consistent answer to the question “Which beach is the nicest in Jamaica?” is Seven Mile Beach, located in Negril. This gives Negril a definite edge over Montego Bay in terms of beaches.
Seven Mile Beach is world-famous for its shining white sand and beautiful blue water. This water is calm and crystal clear, perfect for snorkeling and other watersports like wakeboarding, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding. You can also see some stunning sunsets along Seven Mile Beach.
Just to the north of Negril is Bloody Bay, also a gorgeous beach with calm, clear water for watersports. You can also visit pristine and quiet Half Moon Beach, a private beach near Negril with a small entrance fee.
Most of the resorts in Negril are beachfront, as are many restaurants and bars, so if you’re a beach lover, your best choice is Negril for your Jamaican escape.
Although the beaches in Montego Bay are smaller, they are also pretty. These include Doctor’s Cave Beach, Cornwall Beach, and Dead End Beach. Water sports in Montego Bay are also good due to the clear and calm waters. You can snorkel off the beach in Montego Bay or visit the Montego Bay Marine Park, which allows snorkeling and scuba diving in its protected waters.
Montego Bay vs. Negril: Town Vibes
Montego Bay is lively and vibrant, with more of an urban feel since it’s primarily a city that also has beaches.
Negril is a laidback, relaxed beach-oriented town; it started as a fishing village and still is primarily about the water.
Montego Bay vs. Negril: Attractions and Things to Do
Aside from watersports, there are plenty of outdoor activities in both Jamaican destinations.
Montego Bay Things To Do
Montego Bay is popular among tourists. These include golfing; Montego Bay is home to a number of championship golf courses.
Try rafting down the Martha Brae River on a bamboo raft for a peaceful and romantic experience in Montego Bay.
Visit Ras Natango Gallery and Garden for its lush botanical garden filled with all varieties of tropical plants and flowers like orchids and bougainvillea. A free shuttle from Montego Bay takes about 15 minutes.
A unique outing is a Luminous Lagoon, about 45 minutes from Montego Bay. Tour boats depart after dark and glide along the lagoon’s waters, which glow when disturbed due to the presence of millions of dinoflagellates. These are microscopic organisms that glow at night, and Jamaica’s Luminous Lagoon is one of only four such sites in the world. You can even swim in the glowing waters.
Cultural and historic sites in Montego Bay include Rose Hall Great House, Greenwood Great House, and Sam Sharpe Square. Rose Hall Great House is a former sugar plantation built in 1770 that has been restored and is now open to the public as a museum. Greenwood Great House is one of the best-preserved such homes in Jamaica.
Negril Things To Do
In Negril, visit the Negril Lighthouse, built-in 1894, to climb to the top for amazing views. The Roaring River Park and Cave are set on the grounds of an old sugar plantation and feature fascinating underground caves where you can take a cool mineral water bath.
Just a mile and a half from Negril are YS Falls park, which has 7 waterfalls, natural pools, and beautiful gardens. There are rope swings and ziplines for the adventurous. You can also go to Mayfield Falls to see 2 waterfalls that fill 21 “natural jacuzzis.” Or, go tubing on the Great River and enjoy the scenery as you learn about Jamaican history.
Tour Rhodes Hall Plantation, an 18th-century estate and working fruit farm on the water near Negril, where you can ride horses and hike the grounds. You can also visit Barney’s Flower and Hummingbird Garden to marvel at—and feed—these beautiful birds.
If you like to ride horses, check out the Horseback Ride’n’Swim in Negril tour for something different: swimming with horses!
Be sure to go to Rick’s Café for a refreshing cocktail, great sunset views, and the world-famous local cliff divers. Take a 20-minute boat trip out to Floyd’s Pelican Bar, a driftwood structure that offers cold drinks and fresh seafood. Or enjoy a leisurely glass bottom boat tour of the waters around Negril.
Twenty-five minutes from Negril is the Blue Hole in Ocho Rios, a stunning spot that offers a mineral spring and spring-fed swimming pool. About 2 hours away is the Appleton Rum Estate, where you can tour the operation and taste rum.
From either Negril or Montego Bay, you can take excursions into Jamaica’s mountainous interior and explore the rainforests. Hike, go on an ATV tour, or zipline through the jungle canopy. You can also go out on the water for scuba diving or deep sea fishing from either location.
Montego Bay vs. Negril: Restaurants and Nightlife
Both Montego Bay and Negril have many wonderful restaurants, and they actually both have good nightlife options as well. First, we’ll talk about eating in Montego Bay vs. Negril.
Montego Bay has plenty of casual local spots serving Jamaican fare like jerk chicken. A popular local place to eat in Montego Bay is Scotchie’s for the Jamaican jerk chicken, as well as grilled pork and fish. Seating is outdoors under shade trees and cabanas at this casual spot.
Another popular local hot spot in Montego Bay is The Pelican Grill. Located downtown on Gloucester Avenue, this family-operated restaurant has been serving classic Jamaican dishes for 50 years. Other top local restaurants in Montego Bay that serve Jamaican fare are Peppa’s Cool Spot and The Pork Pit.
There are plenty of romantic fine dining restaurants in Montego Bay. The Sugar Mill at Half Moon Bay Resort is set high on a hill and offers gourmet cuisine in an open-air setting. The House Boat Grill features waterfront dining in the Montego Bay Marine Park. Margeurite’s offers sophisticated fine dining and fresh seafood at the edge of the Caribbean.
There are plenty of casual restaurants serving authentic local fare in Negril as well. Roots Café has a variety of dishes as well as live music on Wednesday nights. Sweet Spice has a fun atmosphere and delicious Jamaican food. 3 Dives Restaurant and Bar is said to have some of the best jerk chicken in Jamaica. There are also two bars here, and you can get great sunset views. Chicken Lavish serves all sorts of—you guessed it—chicken.
Kuyaba on the Beach is a lovely thatched-roof restaurant serving Jamaican dishes. The open-air Rockhouse Restaurant serves “new” Jamaican cuisine in a beautiful seaside setting on the cliffs.
Try Bongos restaurant at the Sandy Haven Resort for a romantic feel and fresh seafood as well as local and international cuisine. A gourmet restaurant on Negril’s cliffs overlooking the water is Zest; feast on a variety of the Caribbean and international dishes here. Another upscale restaurant overlooking the water is Ivan’s, which also offers Caribbean cuisine. For a super-romantic dinner in Negril, try dining by candlelight in a private cave at The Caves Resort.
Montego Bay has an active nightlife scene, with many clubs and bars that stay open late into the night. Whether you’re looking to dance the night away or simply enjoy a few drinks with friends, you’ll find plenty of options in Montego Bay. Bars in Montego Bay tend to be frequented more by locals than the bars in Negril, so prices can be cheaper.
The best bars in Montego Bay are located in the Hip Strip area. “Hip Strip” is the local name for Gloucester Avenue, a busy street near Doctor’s Cave Beach. Top local bars and nightclubs in Montego Bay include Margaritaville, Pier One, and Blue Beat Ultra Lounge.
Nightlife in Negril is actually pretty good as well, and many consider Negril to have the best nightlife for tourists. There’s a wide variety of options, from chill waterfront bars like Canoe Beach Bar to a nightclub that some consider being the best in Jamaica, The Jungle. Bourbon Beach is another popular bar in Negril. Negril also has a Margaritaville location.
Montego Bay vs. Negril: Shopping
Shopping in Montego Bay is a must-do activity, especially if you’re looking for souvenirs. The city’s Craft Market is the perfect place to find unique handmade items such as wood carvings, jewelry, and paintings. You can also find plenty of duty-free shops in Montego Bay, where you can purchase alcohol, tobacco, and cosmetics at tax-free prices.
The Shoppes at Rose Hall in Montego Bay is a popular shopping destination as well, as is the “Hip Strip,” as Gloucester Avenue is known. This bustling street near Doctor’s Cave Beach is lined with shops, art galleries, cafes, and bars, and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Montego Bay.
Negril doesn’t offer as many shopping opportunities as Montego Bay, but you can visit Times Square Mall for duty-free and souvenir shopping, local galleries and shops, Negril Crafts Market, and Rutland Point Market.
Montego Bay vs. Negril: Accommodations
You’ll find a larger selection of hotels and resorts in Montego Bay since it’s a bigger city than Negril, but both areas have plenty of luxurious places to stay, including adults-only all-inclusive resorts. Prices in Negril for accommodations tend to be a little cheaper than in Montego Bay.
In Montego Bay, you’ll find the unique overwater bungalows at Sandals Royal Caribbean.
Where as in Negril, you can find Sandals Negril located on the famous Seven Mile Beach.
If you are looking for more affordable accommodations, you can find apartment rentals for around $100 a night, or smaller hotels in either Montego Bay or Negril.