Tensing Pen

Negril, Jamaica Book from

Reviewed by Cat Martin
A laid-back seaside hideaway on a clifftop in Negril - ideal for rest and romance
Set in a private cove on the western tip of Negril, Tensing Pen is a tranquil base for a restful holiday, but within easy walking distance of the buzzy town. Its wood, stone and thatch cottages are sprinkled throughout lush tropical gardens and rocky outcrops, each with simple but stylish interiors, and nearly all with sea views.

With 180 degrees of horizon and no other hotel in sight, this is a perfect place to unwind. There's no beach, but you can while away your days on comfy loungers beside the pool or on small stone terraces that jut out into the sea. Need to cool off? The brave can dive straight off the outcrops or main bridge; for cautious souls there are plunging metal ladders into the ocean.

There are no TVs or live bands at mealtimes - life is made simple for a change. So go with the vibe and take a yoga class or indulge with a massage. The restaurant dishes up great modern Jamaican food, and the bar provides a gathering place to witness amazing sunsets over an early-evening cocktail. All in all, it's a rather special place and guests return year after year, lots to get married.

Highs

  • Lots of space: there can be around 50 people when full, but it doesn’t feel crowded
  • A range of accommodation to suit all budgets and group sizes: small rooms, larger cottages and 2 houses
  • The peaceful shoreline - tourist boats pass by but don't stop, so the tranquility is maintained
  • Upscale but low key, with friendly service
  • Watching the sun set from a hammock, or the sea lull from your candelit balcony

Lows

  • The sea can be slightly rough, and getting in is for the sure-footed
  • If your room is set back off the shoreline, you may hear noise from the road / music from bars
  • The small restaurant gets very busy if the hotel is full, so you need to be relaxed about the service
  • No beach, but 7-Mile Beach in Negril is a quick taxi ride away

Best time to go

The hotel usually shuts in September for a few weeks, although not always. 5 nights or more would allow you to unwind properly. Consistently warm tropical weather ensures Jamaica is a popular destination year-round. On the coast, temperatures range from 22°C (72°F) and 31°C (88°F). Mid December - mid April is High Season. May, June, October and November are Shoulder Season in terms of climate but also Jamaica's rainy and hurricane seasons (it rains for a short spell most afternoons, but isn't a big deal). Low Season is from mid-April to mid-December - fewer crowds but less reliable sunshine.

Our top tips

Take a laptop if you really need to be connected to the real world, and a snorkel and mask if you don’t. Flat shoes are useful for walking over the rocky outcrops.

Great for...

Great Outdoors
Honeymoon
Wedding
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Hotel
  • 19
  • Restaurant + bar
  • Welcome, but not ideal
  • Open all year
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Concierge Service
  • Yoga pavilion
Room:

Rooms

There are 19 rooms, suites and stone-and-thatch cottages, nicely spread out amongst tropical gardens. Most have an ocean view, and a private sunbathing deck or terrace. There are no TVs; instead they are packed with simple detail - mahogany four-poster beds, chunky waffle covers, bamboo tables, carved wooden pineapple lamps, slatted shutters, terracotta floors, and local oil paintings on the walls. Eight rooms have air-conditioning, but all have ceiling fans and are breeze cooled. It’s a simple style, well done, that needs nothing more.

The cheapest offerings are Garden A and B, the Bungalow and the Patio cottage. We stayed in the latter and enjoyed sitting out on our veranda at night. The Pillar treehouses were our favourite; 2-storey properties with an outdoor (private) shower on the ground level, and bedroom on the first floor. Their sea views are magnificent, and their clever design allows natural ventilation so there's no need for air-conditioning.

Honeymooners and those wanting extra waterfront privacy should book a remote Rock Cottage, or one of the Seagrape suites, which sit in their own private cove (be sure to ask if you prefer to be 'up' or 'down').

The Long House is the largest offering, with 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, and a kitchen and sitting room. It is closer to the road than the sea, but great for bunch of friends. Most rooms have showers only, although they are generously sized. Our bathroom (in Patio) was open to the bedroom, so be sure to know your sharer quite well!

Features include:

  • Coffee tea making
  • Cots Available
  • Extra beds
  • Fan
  • Internet access
  • Iron
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Terrace
  • Toiletries
  • Umbrella
  • WiFi

Eating

Meals are taken in the open-air restaurant that overlooks the pool and shoreline. Menus change daily but feature modern Jamaican food and use seasonal local ingredients.

Breakfast includes juices, smoothies, a choice of eggs, pancakes, and a daily Jamaican special - perhaps Ackee and Saltfish, Steamed Callaloo and Fried Plantains. Lunch is an a la carte menu - maybe Escoveitched Chicken Salad, Smoked Marlin Salad or Curried Pumpkin Roti, though we recommend the Tensing Burger if you are hungry!

Have a pre-dinner drink in the colourful bar; perch on high wooden stools, or comfy bamboo sofas as you soak up the spectacular sunsets. The tablecloths come out for dinner, but it’s still an informal atmosphere and there's no need to get too dressed up. Try the grilled lobster, freshly caught fish and traditional jerk chicken; all are delicious.

Refreshingly, the hotel encourages guests to go beyond the confines of the hotel to experience local life, and there are some good local restaurants for a change of scene. Ras Rody's is an excellent organic vegetarian roadside stand; Shark's is tops for seafood. Rick's Cafe is the famous one - worth it to watch the cliff divers, though the food is generally considered to be overpriced.

If you're staying in Long House you get a kitchen that's well equipped for self-catering, should you wish to cook for yourselves; there are supermarkets in Negril plus some small grocery shops opposite the hotel. Alternatively, you can ask for hotel staff to cook for you in your house. As Tensing Pen is so intimate, friendships easily form so people staying in these cottages sometimes invite other guests to dine with them.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Coffee tea making
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Restaurant
  • Room service
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Enjoy an early-morning jump off the bridge to swim and snorkel in the clear sea below, or just enjoy a peaceful float – it’s a simple pleasure, and so refreshing

  • There is a special yoga space, and classes can be arranged on request (minimum 2 people)

  • Have a massage or beauty treatment in the massage hut or in the privacy of your own room. Most use local products such as sea salt, cocoa butter and plants

  • Take a guided tour of nearby attractions: Mayfield Falls and River Falls (mini waterfalls and pools for swimming), the Appleton Rum tour (a visit to the distillery and tasting session) and the Black River Safari (a tour of the Black River to see wildlife including crocodiles)

  • The front desk can book deep-sea fishing trips; cast your hook for mahi mahi, wahoo, blue and white marlin, sailfish, tarpon, and barracuda

  • Various watersports can be arranged at Negril's famous 7-Mile beach: windsurfing, sailing, waterskiing, surfing, parasailing, boat trips to the reef and kayaking

  • Tensing Pen works with 3 PADI scuba centres

  • Rusty's X-cellent Adventures nearby offers mountain biking adventures through tropical, hilly countryside and along undeveloped Caribbean coastline

  • The Negril Hills Golf Club is a short drive away

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Boat trips
  • Fishing
  • Golf
  • Kayaking
  • Mountain biking
  • Nightlife
  • Parasailing
  • Private guided tours
  • Sailing
  • Scuba diving
  • Snorkelling
  • Surfing
  • Swimming
  • Waterskiing
  • Well being
  • Windsurfing
  • Yoga

Kids

Children are allowed, but not encouraged. The only children who stay are usually the kids of repeat guests, who are aware of the property's dangers – there is plenty of scope to fall off the cliffside and straight into the sea. Baby cots (free of charge) and extra beds (surcharge) are available and can be added to certain cottages.

Best for:

Teens (over 12)

Family friendly accommodation:

Cots Available, Extra Beds Available

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

9/
Rooms
7/
Food
7/
Service
8/
Value
8/
Overall

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