Negril, a town on the western coast of Jamaica, is known for its beautiful beaches. My friend TW and I explored Negril by way of Seven Mile Beach and the famous Rick’s Café. We booked the tour through our resort, Riu Reggae. Shoutout to Ingrid – our awesome tour planner!
After a resort brunch involving lots of beignets, a van picked us up, already packed with a small group of tourists from other resorts. The driver was very knowledgeable about his country. As he drove, he acted as tour guide, pointing out the different resorts and abandoned buildings and towns, serving up tidbits of interesting information. He revealed the meaning of the Jamaican flag colors: green symbolized the lush greenery of Jamaica, yellow signified the sunlight, and black represented the people.
But why does black represent the people?
The driver proceeded to recount Jamaica’s history to us…after Christopher Columbus “discovered” Jamaica in 1494, the indigenous people of the island were wiped out by disease, persecution, and murder brought on by the Spaniards that settled on the island. The Spaniards then imported West Africans to the island to work as slaves. When the English invaded Jamaica in the 1600s, they colonized Jamaica for their own. As the sugarcane market began to boom in the 1800s, the English continued to import hundreds of thousands of Africans to Jamaica as slaves. Slave uprisings ensued as word of abolitionism spread…until the abolition of slavery was implemented in Jamaica in 1838.
Finally, Jamaica gained independence in 1962, and the colonists left the island. I found it astounding and inspirational that the vast majority of the Jamaican people are descended from slaves who were forced from their country of origin, and are now the rulers of their own land. One of the decisions made by the people was to eliminate Columbus Day – after all, what good had Columbus ever done for Jamaicans? – and to celebrate Emancipation Day and Jamaican Independence Day.
Jamaica is also home to immigrants, of course, particularly from China, Haiti, Cuba, and Latin America in recent years. And from what the driver said, it sounds like the immigrants seem to coexist peacefully on the island, with many eventually mixing into the native Jamaican population.
The other tourists in the van asked the driver questions about different aspects of Jamaican culture and society, and he had answers for them all. We were impressed by his knowledge. Finally, after driving along turquoise-blue waters that comprised Seven Mile Beach, the driver stopped at a restaurant on the beach.
Seven Mile Beach
As we walked past colorful buildings and through the courtyard to the restaurant, TW and I noticed that an interest weed growing among the other plants on the side of the buildings…cannabis. Just out in the open, among the flowers and bushes. Hey there!
The restaurant had a thatched roof, giving it a tropical cabana feel. We grabbed some drinks at the bar and headed out to the lounge chairs overlooking the beach. The water was shallow, clear, tranquil…yet not as gorgeous we had expected. Though pleasant and relaxing, we had heard tales of the beautiful beaches of Negril. Then we realized that our tour guide probably brokered a deal with this restaurant, hooking us up with this particular stretch of beach, which may not necessarily be the best one in the area.
Still, we waded into the sea, drinks in hand. For a while, we enjoyed the tepid waters and the soft, oddly grassy-feeling sand. Suddenly – a booming crack of thunder! A flash of lightening lit up the cloudy sky. Within minutes, rain was pelting down on us. We ran, along with the rest of the crowd, and found shelter in the covered outdoor patio of the restaurant. It felt surreal, this storm on the beach – all the people running away from the water they’d just been swimming in for fear of…getting wet?
In the cabana area, speakers blasted music…starting with modern Jamaican dance hall music, and slowly shifting to American 80’s hits. TW and I ordered some Red Stripes and a platter of fried seafood. We watched as the rain continued to dimple the sands and whip the palm fronds.
A man came onto shore from a boat, bearing a net of live lobsters. He walked it over to a flaming grill on the patio, where a couple of men began to cook these lobsters straight from the sea. Talk about fresh seafood…
A middle-aged couple from our tour group ran in from the rain to join a table nearby; apparently, they had been taking a long walk on the beach before the rain had started…now they were soaked to the bone. We ate, drank, and enjoyed the unexpected scene, a cozy cabana and a stormy sea…
After lunch at the restaurant, our driver soon whisked us away for the second part of our tour. On the way to Rick’s Café, we stopped by a souvenir shop. Apparently everything was 50% off, but since bargaining was still acceptable, it was hard to get a handle on the actual value of the items. The shop was stocked with the traditional tourist merchandise (apparel, mugs, keychains, etc.) emblazoned with the insignia of Jamaica, along with pipes, hats featuring built-in dreadlocks, coffee, masks, beautiful wood carvings, obscene wood carvings, cigars, and a variety of other offerings. Tip – if you’re after the famous Blue Mountain coffee, make sure that it is 100% Blue Mountain, NOT a blend. The shelves only showcased the blends, but when I asked for the 100%, an employee brought out a woven bag of the good stuff from the back room.
Finally, we were approaching Rick’s Café, which our driver repeatedly mentioned was on the list of Top 10 Bars in the World. At first blush, the most obvious reason for this honor was the location: a cliffside overlooking the bluest waters I’d ever seen.
Rick’s Café included a pool, a poolside bar and grill, a performance stage with thatched roofing, and the main two-story bar and restaurant. The cliffside also featured a couple of jumping-off points, but no cliff divers were jumping when we first arrived. The gloom and drizzle made for a low key introduction to this top-10 bar, with not many patrons besides our small tour group.
That soon changed.
As TW and I powered through some disappointing chips and salsa, along with a few more delightful Red Stripes, the bar began to liven up. The rain stopped; the clouds cleared. Crowds of tourists and locals wandered in dressed in clothing ranging from casual beach attire to stylish nightclub garb. The poolside grill began cooking up burgers and hot dogs with a mouthwatering scent. A live band started to perform on stage, crooning some relaxing reggae.
And…most exciting of all…people began cliff-jumping! One after another, guys lined up to jump from the cliff about 60 feet into the blue waters below. The crowd cheered at each jump. One of the locals, who had clearly done this hundreds of times, added some pizazz to his jumps – twisting and flipping and diving – before climbing back up the craggy cliffside using his bare hands and feet, instead of taking the stairs.
One guy, a tourist, didn’t so much jump as he did stumble forward as though drunk (which he probably was), falling face and belly-first into the water. A collective gasp escaped the onlookers. The lifeguard plunged in after the jumper, just in case he had knocked himself out with the impact. He turned out to be ok, though I’m sure his face and belly were a bit sore…
It was great fun to watch the jumpers. Still…indignant that no women had yet jumped, and eager to represent, I entertained the idea of jumping myself. TW and I went in search of the driver so that I could change back into my swimsuit, which was in the van. But our driver was nowhere to be found. And so I did not jump. Luckily, some girls eventually stepped up to the plate and went for it!
Would I have actually jumped, you ask? I’d like to think I would have. After all, I did jump off a bridge once…granted, it was a bit less than 60 feet…
Anyway, Rick’s Café turned out to be a pretty happenin’ place. When we were ready to leave, though, our tour group had a hard time finding our driver. TW and I finally tracked him down at a local bar down the street, tucked just out of view. He seemed pretty out of it…(read: high). In fact, after he had spent 10 minutes driving our group back toward the resort, he turn us around, realizing he had left his cell phone and wallet at the bar. Our driver, so knowledgeable and informative earlier in the day, now didn’t feel much like talking…and so he blasted some club-banging Jamaican dance hall tunes in a van filled mostly with middle-aged Canadians.
Still, from beach downpour to cliff party, the day had given us a nice taste of Negril.