Seasoned traveler or freshly bitten by the travel bug, we all yearn to explore unknown places, experience new things and in the process get to know ourselves even better.
This adventure started as my wanderlust had been poking at me for our entire frozen winter. I promised myself I was going to discover at least one new country a year and time was ticking. The ocean was calling my name, and somehow I was going to heed the call despite the insane rising prices of travel that were now prevalent in our Arctic Vortex of a climate. Diligently checking flight prices to anywhere hot & unknown after a week of searching I found a great fare (with some crazy layovers) to the fair isle of Jamaica.
Honestly Jamaica was never on my backpacking list.. as a solo woman traveler with a penchant for wandering where ever she likes it didn’t seem like the safest of destinations but the pictures of stunning beaches and smiling faces couldn’t be resisted. After one nights hesitation I booked myself on a flight leaving in mere days and challenged myself to have an absolutely amazing adventure on a shoe string budget. It wouldn’t be fancy…but it would be fabulous!
With a bit of a plan, the lightest rolling duffle I have ever been able to pare down to and a whole lot of unknown I headed to the airport. It was not my first last minute adventure so I decided not to book anything except my first night at a guesthouse in Negril. How would I get there remained to be seen.
As luck sometimes smiles on the friendly, I had the pleasure of meeting a lovely lady on the flight who was also heading to Negril. My public transit adventures would have to wait as I happily accepted a direct ride with her friend that was waiting. On the drive down I learnt that Peter had been coming to Jamaica for over 25 years and was as familiar as the locals…oh lucky day! With a bit of advice and plans to meet the next day I was dropped off at the gates of the hostel.
The word hostel seems to bring some crazy images into the minds of some people. I have stayed in many a hostel in my travels, some are beautiful and some are not so much but they all give you a place to rest your weary head after a hard days adventuring. With a little luck & research you can almost always find a great place to stay that doesn’t break the bank. Some can even compare to snazzy boutique hotels at a fraction of the cost! In Negril, that place ended up being Judy’s Guest House. Big iron gates & no visitor welcome signs gave me immediate confidence in the security of the compound and the lush gardens on the other side made me even happier.
Judy’s Guest House was a maze of tiny walkways, little cabins and a riot of color and greenery. Outdoor bathtubs, hammock gardens, community kitchen and a tiny store that boasted drinks to freshly made cakes rounded out the compound. Not too shabby for $23/night!
Route taxi’s are definantly the way to go when travelling Jamaica on a budget. It is the preferred method of transport for the locals and as long as you don’t mind having the taxi stop and pick up passengers on the way…and possibly cramming twice the amount of people that SHOULD be in there, you will save yourself a TON of cash. Route taxi’s always have red plates…others will stop and offer you a ride but always stick with the red plates. Another tip ALWAYS negotiate your fare before getting in! Route taxi’s go back and forth on a set route all day. You can hire them out for a private charter or just switch taxi’s when you get to the end of the route. The fares can vary but it’s usually 130 Jamaican (or appx.1.30 CAD). They will ask you for more but you have be firm and be prepared to walk away and wait for another taxi.
Personally, I am a walker. I find no better way to really get to know a country and it’s people that wandering about on your own 2 feet and taking in the sights as you go. The streets of Negril..and all of Jamaica really are narrow with cars dodging about erratically and at speed trying to avoid the ginormous potholes that are everywhere. You have to be very careful and very aware as you make your way down the very edges of the laneways.
The hostel was located at the base of the cliffs (West End) which ended up being the PERFECT location to explore both areas!
The famed 7 mile beach truly is a sight to behold. Stretched out in a wide bay with the Negril River at its beginning at a wee island dotting it’s tip. Soft white sand meets glorious blue and green crystal clear waters that sparkle in the sunshine. You can see fish from the shore and the temperature was as warm as I could ever wish. I spent 6 nights exploring every inch and had managed to walk the entire length and back within the first 2 days. Learning from the past has encouraged me to wander the entire area I’m visiting as soon as I get there..that way I don’t miss anything and leave sad because something fabulous was discovered the last day!
Walking most places, taking route taxi’s when necessary and eating local food I managed to stay under my budget of $45/day including accommodation! Below are some of the highlights of my time in Negril and the West End.
Enjoyed many a morning or afternoon on the stunning shores of 7 mile beach. Loved meeting the local children and the string of never ending vendors that walk up and down the beach daily bringing everything from food, to aloe plants and souvenirs. My favorite parts of the strip were the very beginning between the Negril River & the first stand of the more commercialized areas as well as the protected area about 3/4 of the way to the point which was deserted and full of mangroves and tiny personal beaches between the trees! All free!
Meeting one of the local boys who decided to share his fish with me! Apparently it has a rock hard shell and they put the entire thing in a fire to cook and then flake off the outsides to reveal the white meat inside..it was delicious!
My first glass bottom boat ride to snorkel off the reefs 1 km away from shore! I was invited to accompany my new friends as their guest ❤ I’m an avid water lover and always bring my own gear so I was ready! Cost? Free 🙂 Except for a few jellyfish stings anyway.
Discovering that the tiny beach at the end of the street where I was staying (St.Mary’s Bay) was THE BEST place to go snorkeling! I finally swam with Manta Rays here on a random stop…a huge highlight of my trip and I was able to tick it off the bucket list. Oh happy days! One of my most favorite finds on all the trip.
The spectacular meals that were found for an affordable price & off the beaten path in the West End Cliffs…Jamaican Food is divine. Saltfish & Ackee are my new favorite breakfast items…even took some cans home! One of the things I love about travelling is trying new dishes, fruits and anything else that wanders my way. You can’t discover new favorites if you don’t try things.
Sunsets at Whoopies Cafe….just 20 min’s away (walking) from the famed Rick’s cafe and at least 1000% better (in my humble opinion) Beers were $300 J instead of $700. You could cliff jump or just walk down the stairs. No crowding and they even had a hammock garden. Murphy’s restaurant across the road had inexpensive and amazing food as well. Total Score! A big thank you to Peter for letting me in on this hidden gem!
VS Rick’s Cafe..
Exploring Xtabi and the underground caves, snorkeling from the cliff! (Cost $400J including my beer)
Negril truly is truly a breath taking destination….I was sad to leave and had thoughts of staying a few more days but adventure called. The next leg of the trip was heading off the beaten path down to the South coast of Jamaica, specifically the Treasure Beach area. Remote with black sand beaches and a fabulous community feel, I was excited to check it out myself. I hadn’t been able to get in touch with any of the inexpensive guesthouses so I was going with a hope & a prayer that I would find something on budget. Even better, I had turned a long travel day into a fun adventure instead. Recruiting 3 other hostel guests to do a day trip to the famous Pelican Bar. A tiny structure of planks and thatch that was built about a mile of so off the shores of Black River. Having 4 of us in total, we chartered a taxi for the day. I packed my bags, took everything with me and started the 2 hour journey to the South coast with the intention of being left behind and finding my own way to my final destination. More fun, less stress and a great value!
If you are interested in hearing more about my wanders, portions will be posted weekly…on Wanderlust Wednesdays of course! If you are interested in JOINING me on one of my awesome adventures, we are NOW BOOKING for our epic beach lovers trip to Costa Rica in November 2014. 9 nights, 5 bucket list worthy adventures, 4 stunning beaches & towns. Almost all inclusive for $2195 CAD pp (double occ) including flights from YYZ. For those in other areas, we can give you a land only price and you can meet us there!
Carpe Diem my friends, life is too short to wait!!