Negril is very spread out, stretching for miles. Some visitors walk where they want to go, but it's a long hike if you're heading to the northern edge of Long Bay or to the West End -- some of these places may be 11 to 16km (6 3/4-10 miles) from your hotel. Also, walking along the roads of Negril after dark isn't recommended because of potential muggers and because of the dangers from fast-moving cars on the narrow roads of the town's West End.
So you'll need transit. The upscale resorts, including the all-inclusives, operate shuttles from the northern tip of Long Bay into Negril Village. Because the West End's hotels aren't on the beach, the more prosperous ones also operate shuttles to the beach; small inns don't.
Otherwise, you can do as the locals do and take the minibus that runs all day long up and down Norman Manley Boulevard and even into the West End. Most rides cost US$2; the bus runs until early evening, sometimes later.
In lieu of the uncomfortable minivan, you might hail a taxi. Cabbies operate all over Negril, the licensed ones displaying a red medallion. In theory, fees are regulated by the government, but in years of going to Negril, we've never encountered a meter that wasn't broken.
So negotiate your fare before getting into the cab. Most trips should cost from US$5, depending on where you're going. If a cabbie demands US$20, look for another taxi. Taxis are most plentiful at Coral Seas Plaza and the Negril Crafts Market. Your hotel will often call a cab for you; if they won't, phone the Jamaica Union of Travellers Association (JUTA; tel. 876/957-9197) for one.
You can also get around Negril by bike. Bicycles are available at most resort properties.
Instead of peddling up and down Seven Mile Beach or across the rocky cliffs of the West End, many visitors prefer to rent a motor scooter. The best supplier of those is the aptly named Dependable Bike Rental, at Vernon's Car Rental, Plaza de Negril (tel. 876/957-4354 or 876/957-3585). This outfitter doesn't rent bicycles, only motor scooters costing from US$30 to US$35 per day plus a US$300 deposit taken on your credit card. Jeeps can be rented here, as well: A Suzuki convertible jeep begins at US$70 a day.
Unlike in the U.S., helmets are not mandatory in Jamaica, but you should wear one for your own safety: Roads are potholed and often dangerous, with patches of sand and gravel making it easy to skid out of control. Helmets are included in the rental fee.
If you'd like to escape the traffic and the crowds along Norman Manley Boulevard, the best place to go biking, in our view, is into the Negril Hills, which lie beyond the Negril Lighthouse along West End Road. A bike tour here can be in relative isolation as you pass along the most often deserted beaches of greater Negril and even past some landing strips where private planes depart with illegal cargoes of marijuana for the mainland United States.
Orienting Yourself in Negril
Of all the resorts of Jamaica, Negril offers the simplest geography. Many visitors view Negril as one long street.
The South Negril River divides the resort in two, with Long Bay and its beaches lying north of the river and West End lying to the south of it.
Set inland from the beach about 91 to 137m (300-450 ft.), Norman Manley Boulevard begins near the Norman Manley Sea Park, close to the point where the South Negril River empties into Long Bay. This two-lane highway, flanked by hotels and restaurants, continues north to Long Bay Beach Park and eventually the airport.
Negril Village (the heart of Negril) consists mainly of two unimpressive shopping plazas, a bank or two, some tacky stores, and some housing developments in a distant section known as "Red Ground." (Most of Negril's local population lives here.)
The two main squares, Negril Plaza and Coral Seas Plaza, lie south of the traffic circle fronting Negril Square. At the parking lot here, you can hail a taxi to take you where you want to go. This sector marks the beginning of Sheffield Road, the main highway leading out of town to the city of Savanna-la-Mar. Here you'll find the most convenient gas station in Negril, along with a health clinic and the police station.
South of the South Negril River is a rock-studded limestone plateau. When American hippies arrived back in the 1960s, they settled here, calling the place "the Rock." Hotels here are intimate, attracting an independent backpacker clientele.
Eventually, West End Road leads to the West End and becomes Lighthouse Road as it winds its way to Negril Lighthouse, some 5km (3 miles) south of Sunshine Village at Negril Village. The lighthouse stands 30m (100 ft.) above the sea at the westernmost tip of Jamaica. The West End is the only sector that evokes the Negril of old, though it becomes increasingly congested and developed with each passing year. As you travel beyond the lighthouse, you'll find a few places to escape the maddening beach crowds.