Review: The Beautiful Tensing Pen Resort In Negril, Jamaica
Sometimes you’ve just gotta disconnect. Really truly disconnect. And that’s what I was feeling when I booked this trip…I knew I wanted sun, beach, fruity drinks, and absolute CHILL. I’d narrowed it down to Turks and Caicos or Antigua, and then I stumbled across the beautiful Tensing Pen…
As I was doing my trip research, Negril’s Tensing Pen popped up a few times on different “best of” lists as a hidden gem, including Travel+Leisure’s 2019 “Best Of”…they named Tensing Pen the #5 hotel in the Caribbean and Mexico and one of the Top 100 in the World. And after looking into it more (and seeing its price range vs. other hotels at the top of the list), I was totally sold!
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What should I know about Tensing Pen?
Though it’s only a few minutes from the famous Seven-Mile Beach, Tensing Pen Resort instead clings to the West End cliffs of Negril. It’s a small, intimate little boutique hotel, with crashing waves, sweeping ocean views, beautiful sunsets, clear turquoise waters, and a delightful staff. I’ll go into more detail below, but here’s an overview…
The service was awesome, and staff treated the guests like family. In fact, you could tell that many people come over and over and there isn’t tons of turnover—the staff clearly knew a lot of the guests by name, and greeted them like old friends upon arrival.
Rooms were super clean and generally comfortable, and the grounds were gorgeous. The restaurant and bar were great. Note, Tensing Pen is not an all-inclusive. And it was chill and quiet, not at all crowded…and no party vibe. You can check out the reviews on Booking.com and TripAdvisor, though I’d recommend booking directly with the hotel’s website.
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Would I stay at Tensing Pen again?
Absolutely! In fact, I have. I’ve now stayed here twice, two years apart. My second stay was still lovely, though at a totally different time of year (in off-season), and right after they had opened back up during COVID. So a bit different overall, and you could tell they were running a bit short on staff and working to get some updates done around the resort.
It didn’t have quite the special feel of my first visit, but I do give a lot of leeway for *when* I specifically visited. I would still visit Tensing Pen again, no question.
The others I’d consider if returning to Negril for a third time are Catcha Falling Star (see reviews on Booking.com and TripAdvisor) and Rockhouse (see reviews on TripAdvisor; also in the top 50 Caribbean hotels). I do strongly prefer to stay on the cliffs in Negril rather than on the beach. It’s just unique.
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[Note, I was able to visit Tensing Pen again in September 2021, so I’ve added some additional notes and pics reflecting that as well]
My travel day went WAAAAAYYYYY sideways, and so instead of arriving at the resort around 3:00pm, I arrived around 10:30pm. Woof. So it was dark and I couldn’t see anything, but the staff’s welcome was just as warm.
They guided me to my room in the dark through the maze-like paths…I could hear the waves crashing nearby and the full moon gave it a magical feel.
The next day I could see the gate where you enter, and enjoy the little outdoor “lobby” near check-in. On my second visit I arrived midday and they offered me a welcome cocktail.
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I booked in late November for an early February trip, and really only had one option room-wise…it’s a very popular time to visit Jamaica, and lots of people come back at the same time every year. So I stayed in the lovely Garden B, I think probably the smallest or one of the smallest rooms. But still completely comfortable and plenty roomy.
The resort lives by their manta of “At Tensing Pen, Life is Simple”. It’s intended as a place to disconnect, so rooms don’t have phones, music players, or TVs. For a reader like me, this is not an issue at all.
I did enjoy sitting on my little covered porch and reading at night. The only thing I’d have liked is a comfy chair or loveseat in the room for sitting in.
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My second time I visited I stayed in the Coffee Rose 1, which is an upper-level bungalow with views out over the ocean. It was lovely overall, spacious and clean.
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I loved the sunset views from the patio of Coffee Rose 1 (It doesn’t get direct sun until mid-afternoon, then is sun-palooza until it gets dark).
The one small down side was that it’s close to main building so you get music noise from the dining room and kitchen (I’m a cranky old lady and like peace and quiet). However, from talking to others in the resort, this is actually the better side to be on as the other side gets more noise from the resort bar next door and passing boats.
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The grounds of the resort are fairly small but lush and have a very private feel. There are little rock pathways that weave throughout the different cottages. Once you get out to the pool area, they open up and wind around the cliffs. It was hard to want to leave the resort because it was so beautiful and chill.
I want this room (the first one below) so badly next time!!! I believe it’s Cove Cottage.
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The pool area
The pool area of the resort is small but really nice, and I absolutely LOVED that it was never crowded or noisy. And best of all, I never once had to fight for chairs.
I saw pool towels on all the chairs and wondered if they were reserved, but the staff said no, as long as it was a clearly fresh towel then it was all mine!
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And if for some reason the pool area chairs *are* full, they scatter chairs in two’s and four’s all over the resort. I actually preferred those little private spots myself rather than the pool.
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As I mentioned, the staff were awesome. Razor, Saskia (spelling??), Splinter, and a few others kept me plied with drinks throughout my stay. The bar area is really bright and happy (but shaded and cool).
I had plenty of pina coladas, dirty bananas, and more (gotta love a frozen rum drink on vacay!) and their had some other interesting cocktails I enjoyed in the evening. For such a small resort, it has a surprisingly well-stocked (or at least interestingly-stocked) bar—better than big resorts I’ve visited.
Make sure you pack these reusable metal straws to enjoy your drinks!
The famous West End cliffs
This was one of the big draws for staying here rather than on Seven Mile Beach. Y’all know I’m a sucker for a good view…
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There were so many spots dotted along the cliffs where you could go and feel completely alone, stare at the water, soak in some sun, and hear the waves crashing. I spent most of my time out here in one of the chairs 🙂
This gives you a sense of the crashing waves…though I will say that it was quite windy and the waves were super active my first day or two at the resort, due to super large storm front stretching from Chicago down almost to Jamaica.
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The bridge and cliffs
One of the iconic photos you’ll see of Tensing Pen is this bridge. Kids (and adults) love jumping off it when the lifeguard is on duty, and it makes a gorgeous view throughout the day and night.
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There isn’t any kind of railing either on the bridge or on the cliffs, which is one of the reasons this resort isn’t really as appropriate for little kids. I’m not sure what their *rules* are, per se, but in general trying to wrangle little ones would be quite challenging.
On my last afternoon there, I caught someone diving off (and then jumped off myself…because I knew @sjems5 would never forgive me if I didn’t!).
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The sunsets from Tensing Pen (as well as nearby Rockhouse and Catcha Falling Star) were pretty and lasted quite a while, which is always nice. Some places I’ve been sunset takes like 5 seconds (lookin’ at you, Aruba)…these are sunsets you can really luxuriate in.
If I had to pick, I’d say Ivan’s at Catcha Falling Star has maybe a slight edge on the sunset view angle, but overall sitting at Tensing Pen and having a drink or dinner while watching the sunset is perfect.
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Make sure not to just stick to the pool area for sunset, though (a mistake I made my first visit). Wandering along the cliffs gave me some stunning angles!
For me, I get my relaxation being alone, reading my Kindle, and soaking in the sun. But I won’t say no to a spot of massage therapy either. I ended up booking an aloe vera massage to help alleviate the little sunburn I got on day one.
They also have yoga (I meant to get to a class but never did) and some hammocks laying around. No matter your version of relaxation, you’ll find it here.
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The restaurant and the food
I tend to be leery of hotel restaurants, but the Lodge at Tensing Pen is really great. The open-air setting is cool and breezy, and gives you great views no matter where you are. It’s about 70% covered and 30% out in the open.
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There’s a small continental breakfast you can have for free, but wasn’t really to my taste…cereals, toast, that kind of thing. I’m honestly not a breakfast eater typically anyway.
But I couldn’t resist trying out some of the other breakfast dishes you can order as extra. I had pineapple pancakes one morning and banana pancakes another. I also couldn’t resist trying the traditional Jamaican breakfast of ackee, callaloo, and hardo bread.
One note (and I can’t remember if this was related to COVID schedule changes or was true on my first visit), but I was sad about not being able to get coffee before like 7:30 at breakfast or 6:30 if you sweet talk the kitchen staff. Sadly I kept waking up SUPER early and I would have really loved having some coffee, reading, and watching the sunrise. You could consider bringing a small electric kettle.
I had lunch here twice and found the food pretty good, though no earth-shattering. The grilled fish sandwich was great, and the burger totally adequate (true for Jamaica, not necessarily a burger place).
However on my second visit I completely fell in love with the pumpkin curry roti…SO good!
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I had dinner at the Lodge only once, but it was great…and not just because of the views. I took a total left turn and had the sweet and sour chicken, with delicious fish cake starter.
On my second visit I had the special one night (coconut crusted snapper), which was super yummy. On my last night a frequent guest recommended an off-menu dish and BOY was it delicious. Hit me up in the comments if you want to know what it was and how I ordered it!
If you’re planning a stay in Montego Bay, here’s my review of the adults-only Iberostar Grand Rose Hall
What does it cost to stay at Tensing Pen?
And as I researched the other top Caribbean hotels, most of the top Caribbean hotels were like $1,000 a night or more, but Tensing Pen was considerably less. The Garden B cottage was $224 per night when I visited, which I believe included a discount for that particular time of year. That is one of the least expensive rooms at the resort.
You can get updated prices from the Tensing Pen website and see which rooms are available. You should also check out the reviews on Booking.com and TripAdvisor. I found them super fast at answering emails as well. They can arrange transportation from Montego Bay airport if you’d like ($70 USD each way at the time); it’s somewhere between an hour and hour and a half drive.
Other relaxing Caribbean experiences to inspire you:
- My First All-Inclusive Resort Experience: Royal Hideaway Playacar, Mexico
- How to Have a Super Chill Vacay in Caye Caulker, Belize
- 9 Tips for a Perfect DIY Vacay in Aruba
- Review of Excellence Playa Mujeres in Cancun
- A Stay At Cancun’s Luxury LeBlanc Resort
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