Jamaica's hot properties
Where to stay, from a thatched-roof cottage in Negril to the bed in Montego Bay where Prince Harry slept
Whether you're going to Jamaica for the first time or the tenth, where you stay makes all the difference. Do you want a high-end villa in the hills, with a butler and a cook? Or a cheap room in a family-run guesthouse next to the beach? Or maybe you’d like to stay in a luxury resort, and sleep in the bed that Prince Harry slept in?
Here’s a rundown of places in Negril and Montego Bay to spend a night, a week, or a month, from the no frills to the ultra luxurious.
Sitting on top of a private cove on the cliffs in the West End of Negril, Tensing Pen (tel: 876-957-0387; tensingpencom) is a quiet boutique resort with 19 cottages, most with thatched roofs. There are no phones or TVs in the cottages (though there is Wi-Fi) and many don’t have AC, since fans and the breeze take care of the cooling.
“Here it’s all about rest and relaxation,” explained manager Evelyn Smith. “And we don’t stand on formality.”
Three friendly Rhodesian Ridgeback dogs roam the lush property, mingling with the guests and sleeping with the guests at night (well, on the cottage porches). A restaurant, bar and pool overlook the ocean, and you can climb down ladders to swim or snorkel in the cove. There are yoga classes on the cliffs, where there is also an open-air massage hut.
Tensing Pen is popular with wedding parties, and the boldest of brides “trash the dress” by jumping off the six-metre-high rope bridge, which was featured last year in a Maxim magazine story “Vacations That Can Kill.” This reporter jumped off the bridge, and is happy to say, survived.
Most of the cottages are in the $265 to $375 range, in high season, and there are also a few smaller cabins ($150-$250) and a three bedroom Long House ($690). (All prices in US dollars).
Similar to Tensing Pen but with a larger property (12 villas, 34 rooms, all with AC), two restaurants and a slightly more boisterous atmosphere, The Rockhouse (tel: 876-957-4373; rockhousehotel.com) is known for its spa, a temple-like structure with a fountain and tropical foliage. A recommended treatment is the Blue Mountain Coffee Scrub, which is coffee blended with orange, cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar, ideal for detoxifying after an evening at the seaside bar. There is great snorkelling and swimming in Pristine Cove, with small coral formations and caves to explore. Rates are $295 to $465 for the villas, $165 to $205 for standard and studio rooms.
OLD SCHOOL WELCOME
Negril’s famed Seven Mile Beach (which is actually four miles long) is a five-minute drive from the Rockhouse. The bigger resorts like Sandals and Beaches are the most prominent places to stay, but there are still quite a few old-Negril-style guesthouses and cottages further south on the beach. An example is Rainbow Arch (tel: 876-957-4745; rainbowarchnegril.com), which is run by two sisters, Joy and Denise, and has cheap rooms ($100), some with a kitchen. A cosy beachfront restaurant serves great pumpkin soup and brown stew chicken. Nearby are other smaller hotels and cottages, like Nirvana on the Beach, The White Sands, which has a raucous bar, and The Whistling Bird.
THE GOLD STANDARD
If you want to really get away from the hustle and bustle and stay in a place fit for a king — or prince — rent a private villa in the hills around Montego Bay. The Fairway Manor (tel: 301-229-4300; jamaicavillas.com/villa/fairway-manor) is a 15-minute drive from the Hip Strip, the main tourist area in Montego Bay, and overlooks the ocean and the Half Moon golf course.
It’s a two-storey house that has seven bedrooms, eight bathrooms and comes with a staff of five: a butler, cook, chambermaid, laundress and gardener. There is a living room with an entertainment centre, a dining room, and a family room with a pool table, sound system and TV. All the bedrooms open onto verandas or balconies, and outside there is a swimming pool and hot tub.
Rates vary depending on the time of the year; in high season, you can rent one to three bedrooms for $8190 a week, or all seven bedrooms for $12,670. If you wanted to rent from December 29 to January 5, and throw the ultimate Jamaican New year’s bash, it would cost $19,200. The cheapest time of the year would be April to December, when you could rent three bedrooms for $6580.
Similar in scope is the Golden Castle (tel: 855-408-4552; goldencastlevilla.com), which is also in the Rose Hall area of Montego Bay and overlooks the Cinnamon Hill Golf Course. It’s owned by Lowell Hawthorne, a baker’s son who immigrated to the US and started the Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery franchise.
The Golden Castle has 12 bedrooms, each decorated differently and named after Jamaican parishes like Portland, Trelawny and Saint Ann. Again meals are cooked on the premises: you give the housekeeper about $400 for the week, and she’ll shop for local ingredients to make the food. The rates in high season range from $12,500 a week for five bedrooms to $30,000 a week for all 12. So if 24 of you can raise $1250, a week of pampered luxury can be yours.
HISTORY ON DISPLAY
If you want to see how the rich and famous used to live in Jamaica, the Greenwood Great House (tel: 876-953-1077; greenwoodgreathouse.com) is a short drive from the Fairway Manor. Once owned by Edward Barrett, the father of poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, it is now a national monument and museum.
A knowledgeable and humorous tour guide, Bob Benton, who has live on the property since 1976, will take you through the house, pointing out the relics of the 19th-century plantation days, from priceless antiques to a frightening and still functioning man-trap, used to capture any of the 2000 slaves who tried to escape.
THE ROYAL TREATMENT
If you’re still feeling flush, another option is to rent a room, suite or villa in the Half Moon (tel: 800-438-7241; halfmoon.rockresorts.com), which is across the street from the Fairway Manor (guests at Fairway can use the Half Moon beaches). The Half Moon is a 160-hectare luxury resort where Britain's Royal Family stay when they come to visit Jamaica; if you want to rent a seven-bedroom villa like the Flamingo, where Prince Harry stayed last March, it would cost about $3000 a day in high season, or $1400 in the summer.
About 20 kilometres west of Montego Bay, on the way to Negril, another high-end option is the posh Tryall Club (tel: 877-487-9255; tryallclub.com). It has 86 villas, set on 890 lush hectares around the Tryall Club Golf Course, on land that originally had a fort and then a sugar cane and coconut plantation. Rates go from $3850 a week for a smaller one-bedroom suite in the Great House to $13,200 a week or more for a private villa high in the hills.
If you’re on a much tighter budget, but still looking for a bit of pampering, a very cheap option in Montego Bay is the Ridgeway Guest House (tel: 876-952-2709; ridgewayguesthouse.com). Popular on Tripadvisor.com, where it is ranked number 16 of 62 hotels in MoBay, the Ridgeway is small family-run hotel near the airport.
It has 10 tidy rooms, with AC or fan, and is ideal if you need a base in Montego Bay before venturing elsewhere in Jamaica. The friendly owner, Colin Tatem, will pick you up and drop you off at the airport free of charge, and will also take you into town to go to the beach or to shop and eat. High season rates range from $45 for a single room with a fan to $80 for a triple with AC. All the rooms have cable TV.
This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.