Jamaica has 635 miles of coastline with a beach for every bum — and not all of them are dominated by all-inclusive resorts. Rugged pathways lead to secluded coves, and lively public beaches are equally tempting. From east to west, for everyone from foodies to families, here are the Jamaica beaches we consider to be the island’s best.
Jamaica’s celebrated western sweep isn’t really 7 miles long; it’s actually closer to 6, but for beach lovers the exact distance is irrelevant. What really matters: the casual and carefree vibe of Jamaica’s longest and most famous beach, where you can relax with a Red Stripe, get your hair braided or enjoy an aloe massage as a colorful cast of characters strolls by.
Doctor’s Cave Beach
In Montego Bay in the early 1900s, a local doctor and his friends would take a morning dip in a part of the sea fed by underground streams, which he was convinced had curative properties. Ever since, what’s now known as Doctor’s Cave Bathing Club has attracted legions of visitors, drawn not just by the water but also by family-friendly conveniences that include showers; beach umbrellas, chairs and floats for rent; and a seaside food court.
The collective name for collection of small beaches on the untrammeled south coast, Treasure Beach strands are more brown sugar than white, with a wild beauty you won’t find on the manicured, resort-lined north coast. Kick back with a cold one on the sand at Jack Sprat, Great Bay or Calabash Bay beach, where yours will be one of few footprints.
Sheltered by sea grape trees and embraced by rocky outcrops at either end, this local favorite (formerly known as Reggae Beach) lies just east of Ochi in St. Mary. The $11 entry fee includes rental of a beach chair to mark your plot on the quarter-mile cove, while plenty of shade and a beach bar and restaurant make staying all day seem like the sensible thing to do.
In Port Antonio, this wide scallop immortalized in the movie Cocktail is bordered by a lush garden with a river running through it, and is undoubtedly one of the island’s most Instagrammable. You’ll pay $10 to get in, but the beach is blissfully quiet, with no water sports or loud music to disturb the peace.
Dunn’s River Falls Beach
In the rush to climb the famous 600-foot-high cascade, most visitors overlook the lovely half-mile of sand at its base, from which you can snorkel or take a glass-bottom boat ride. To avoid the crowds, come in the early morning, late afternoon or on weekends, when cruise ships aren’t in port.
Ocho Rios Bay Beach
Also known as Turtle Beach, Ochi’s marquee strand offers welcome respite from the cacophony of the bustling town. Enter through the shopping center on Main Street and enjoy the surprisingly peaceful half-mile-long sweep’s white sands, lapped by turquoise waters on which cruise ships float like giant tub toys.
In the east-coast town where Jamaica’s fiery and fragrant barbecue originated, the appeal of this rugged beach endures despite recent erosion, partly because of the nearby jerk stands. Ride surfer-ready waves for an hour or two, and then reward your efforts with a foil-wrapped, finger-licking feast of jerk pork or chicken, enjoyed best right on the sand.
5 miles from Port Antonio, this islet has had many names (Monkey Island and Princess Island among them) but its compact beach is consistently sweet. Live out your castaway fantasies here, mere minutes from the mainland, by kayaking over from San San Beach to laze on the sand and to snorkel the nearby reef.
Just 30 minutes’ drive from Kingston, this strand has caramel sand and vigorous surf. Sea and sand, however, play second fiddle to the string of fish shacks (each with its own devoted following) that line the lively sweep. Choose a fish from your shack’s cooler; order it flash-fried with sides of festival (slightly sweet fried dumplings) and bammy (fried cassava bread); and enjoy a beachfront breakfast of champions, Jamaica-style.