The question of where to stay in Jamaica often comes down to Montego Bay and Negril. It’s not surprising — they’re the two most popular resort towns in Jamaica! For all the similarities they have, there are a few key differences that could be the key to deciding the backdrop for your vacation.
Montego Bay vs Negril: Location
Montego Bay (also known as “Mobay”) is located on Jamaica’s north coast, while Negril is on the western tip of the island. As coastal towns, any resort you stay in will be just a stone’s throw from the beautiful Caribbean Sea, if not directly on the beach!
The landscape in and around both towns is fairly similar, with white-sand beaches and lush greenery. Montego Bay is more surrounded by rolling hills and rivers while Negril has cliffs and waterfalls.
How Far is Negril from Montego Bay?
Negril is about a 1.5-hour drive from Montego Bay.
It’s important to note that Sangster International Airport is in Montego Bay. If your vacation is going to be just a few days long, the transfer time from the airport to Negril might be a dealbreaker. Every hour counts!
For longer trips, the distance shouldn’t be much of a concern. Whichever town you decide to call home for your vacation, the other is close enough for a day trip.
Montego Bay vs Negril: Beaches
The highlights of any island vacation are undoubtedly the beaches. Montego Bay’s beaches are nothing to scoff at but Negril just can’t be beat. In fact, Negril is known for having the most beautiful beaches on the entire island!
Though Mobay loses to Negril in this category, it’s still a winner. The beaches in Montego Bay are smaller but more varied, making it a great destination for beach-hopping.
Doctor’s Cave Beach put Montego Bay on the map almost 100 years ago and it retains its status as the town’s premier beach, with a great beach club, too. Aquasol Beach is another great choice and is great for families, having a mini waterpark on-site.
The coral reefs around Montego Bay are very well protected and maintained, so snorkeling and scuba diving in this area are especially magical experiences.
Negril is arguably home to the best beaches in Jamaica, the crown jewel being Seven Mile Beach. This seemingly endless stretch of white sand and bright blue sea has several beach clubs and bars dotted along it. Because the beaches in Negril are so expansive, they seldom ever seem crowded, even when there are lots of people out!
Though Negril is notable for its laid-back atmosphere, there’s no lack of excitement waiting for you. Watersports are big in the area, including parasailing, diving, and cliff-jumping from the Negril Cliffs.
Montego Bay vs Negril: Attractions
The offerings are quite different but Montego Bay wins by a hair, by virtue of having a wider variety of things to do. In addition to its more typical vacation attractions, Montego Bay’s richer history has it boasting many cultural attractions.
Just as Negril is known for its beaches, most of the things to do there are similarly water-based. Because the town was practically built for tourism, it’s a bit lacking in the cultural attraction department.
Martha Brae River
The Martha Brae River stretches from the neighboring parish of Trelawny into St. James, where Montego Bay is. It’s one of, if not the best river in Jamaica for bamboo rafting. It’s super relaxing and romantic!
Rastafari Indigenous Village
You can get an authentic cultural experience with a visit to the Rastafari Indigenous Village just outside of Montego Bay. The locals are very welcoming and open to teaching visitors about Rastafarian and Jamaican culture, from music to food to history.
Rose Hall Great House
Rose Hall Great House is wrapped up in ghost stories of a former owner, who you may get a glimpse of in a nighttime tour of the manor. The 2000-acre grounds of this former plantation are also home to an equestrian center and one of Montego Bay’s many golf courses.
Rick’s Cafe is a combination restaurant and lounge. What makes it special is that it’s located right on a cliff overlooking the sea! It’s one of the most popular spots in Negril — and the whole island — for cliff-jumping. A nearby cove also makes a great relaxation spot.
Mayfield Falls is a series of 21 small waterfalls — the tallest, “The Washing Machine” is only 10 feet high. Yep, even the waterfalls in Negril are chill! You can take a tour of the Falls and its surrounding scenery, or just visit to take a dip in the refreshingly cool running water.
Blue Hole Mineral Spring
The water inside the limestone cavern of Blue Hole Mineral Spring makes for great mineral massages. Relaxing in the blue, spring water-filled lagoon or diving from the top of the cavern are equally satisfying experiences.
Montego Bay vs Negril: Nightlife
Comparing the nightlife in Montego Bay and the nightlife in Negril is quite hard, as their strengths lie in different areas. Locals would consider Montego Bay to have the best nightlife, while nightlife in Negril is more tourist-oriented. Whether you care about a more “authentic” Jamaican nightlife experience will decide the winner.
This beachside restaurant plus bar makes a great spot to have dinner and drinks while watching the sunset and enjoying local DJ sets. This venue is located right where the Hip Strip meets downtown Montego Bay.
Margaritaville Montego Bay
Several towns in Jamaica have their own Margaritaville but, in this comparison, Montego Bay has the better one. It’s a sort of all-around fun and entertainment venue by day, then a lively nightclub after dark! The highlight is the coveted VIP lounge.
The Jungle is the biggest nightclub in Negril and it probably has the most equal proportion of tourists and locals in the area, too. It’s a classic Jamaican club — you’ll hear a mix of reggae, dancehall, and house here.
Canoe Beach Bar
Canoe Beach Bar perfectly fits Negril’s laid-back atmosphere. This venue is analogous to Montego Bay’s Pier One. Located right on the beachfront, it’s a great place to watch the waves roll by while dining and drinking.
Montego Bay vs Negril: Safety
Despite all the wonderful things about Jamaica, hearing about the high rate of crime can be a turn-off for some. Luckily, the issue is not nearly as bad as it seems.
Inner-city areas of Montego Bay have a relatively high crime rate but it doesn’t spill over much into the tourist areas. Violent crime is very rare. Pickpocketing is the main thing to be wary of but a healthy amount of caution can mitigate that risk effectively.
Negril, being a smaller and quieter town, is generally safer. Similar opportunistic crimes such as pickpocketing can occur, though, so a bit of extra carefulness goes a long way.
Montego Bay vs Negril: Conclusion
Montego Bay and Negril are the two strongest contenders on the island when considering where to stay in Jamaica. The decision largely comes down to personal preference and what kind of vacationer you are.
Montego Bay is overall well-suited for families, as it has more attractions and family-friendly activities available. Negril is better for couples, especially those who love to just relax. The tourist-oriented nature of both locations makes either one great for first-time vacationers.
Singles and groups of singles would have a good time at either location. Beach lovers and those who dream of a peaceful island vacation will prefer Negril. Those who prefer an urban vibe and a variety of attractions will much prefer Montego Bay.