Last updated on March 10, 2023 by Wandering our World
When it comes to dream getaways and honeymoon vacations, Aruba and Jamaica should be two destinations top of most people’s lists.
Both of these friendly island paradises can offer amazing experiences, especially if you’re looking for sun, sea, and sand. However both islands are actually very different from each other…
For example, smaller Aruba is probably better suited for a shorter holiday focused around the beach. There’s less to do there than in Jamaica, but it’s also one of the safest destinations in the Caribbean and significantly, Aruba lies outside of the hurricane belt.
In contrast Jamaica, with its lush forest and mountains, is more suited to holidaymakers who want a vacation that also involves activities away from the beach. Jamaica is a cheaper option than Aruba too.
However that’s just the beginning when it comes to how different these two Caribbean destinations really are…
That’s why after visiting both, we compare them below and show you what each has to offer.
We look at which has the better beaches, nightlife, what activities you can do in each, how the vibe compares, and more. All so you can make the right vacation decision!
- A Quick Overview & Comparison
- Which Has The Better Beaches & Landscape?
- Which Has The Better Culture?
- Where To Stay According To your Budget
- Which Is Best For Nightlife?
- How Does The Cuisine Compare?
- Which Is The Better Choice?
Aruba vs Jamaica: A Quick Overview & Comparison
For tourists looking to sunbathe and swim, both Aruba and Jamaica are great options. However Jamaica has a huge 635 miles of coastline compared to much smaller Aruba’s 43 miles.
Both islands have gorgeous white sand beaches, yet Jamaica’s huge coastline means it does have more. However other than the beaches, these two islands are worlds apart in terms of the landscape and culture.
Jamaica is a tropical island that has a lush green mountainous interior, in comparison to Aruba which is much flatter and arid.
That makes Jamaica far better suited for tourists who wish to do more outside than just sunbathe – such as hiking and walking. In fact Jamaica’s highest peak is 2256 meters – Aruba’s is just 189!
Aruba’s arid climate does mean it has beach-weather year round, although away from the coastline there is little to do in comparison to Jamaica.
Aruba is also outside the hurricane belt (unlike Jamaica), so it tends to be safe to visit year-round and has generally good weather year-round too. Crime wise, it’s also a much safer island than Jamaica, although crime in tourist areas is rare in both islands.
In terms of expenses, the large local population in Jamaica means that there are many different accommodation and food options in the country, and so it can cater to tourists on a range of budgets.
That is why Jamaica is included on our list of cheapest Caribbean islands to visit! Aruba, however, tends to be quite expensive and has far less options for budget travelers.
Below we look in more detail at what both islands have to offer potential tourists, before showing how each is different culturally, and what to expect.
Which Has The Better Beaches & Landscape?
Aruba: The Beaches & Landscape
It’s hard to separate Aruba and Jamaica when it comes to beaches, and they’re equally gorgeous. Although we’ve often thought the beaches in Aruba had nicer sand, but the ones in Jamaica felt more tropical and rugged (if you get away from the tourist spots).
For a fantastic swimming spot in Aruba, and a long stretch of white sand, then head to Eagle Beach in the island’s north. It’s the picture perfect image of a Caribbean coastline.
Arashi Beach is another one of our favorite spots in Aruba, with white sand and good swimming water.
Aruba also has some superb snorkeling and diving spots. In particular, this island is famous in the region for ship-wreck diving!
Head to Baby Beach in the very south of the island, and expect to be mesmerized. This is probably one of the best snorkeling spots in the world where you can watch numerous colorful reef fish, and swim with sea turtles. A great underwater camera – such as this one – is a must.
Malmok Beach is another great beach and snorkeling spot. The water is exceptionally clear – almost glass-like. In fact it’s possible to even see the 400-foot SS Antilla – now a haven for sealife – from the surface, despite the shipwreck being on the seabed.
The Pedernales is another WWII wreck you’ll enjoy diving and snorkeling around. This oil tanker was submerged in only 33ft of water and is now a wonderful site, especially for novice divers and snorkelers.
And if you still have time after all of that, then make a detour to visit De Palm Island, a small private island off the coast of Aruba. It’s home to a friendly flock of flamingos!
As you can see, the landscape in Aruba is mostly beach and coast dominated. So if you’re looking for a very beach-focused holiday on a small, safe island where everything is easy to reach, then Aruba will fit the bill perfectly.
Jamaica: The Beaches & Landscape
Jamaica has it all when it comes to a tropical island paradise, but what most tourists want are spectacular beaches – luckily Jamaica is full of them!
In fact, because Jamaica has so much coastline it’s possible to still find beaches that you can have all to yourself – that’s almost impossible in small, busy Aruba.
But if you’re looking for one of the best beaches on the island you’ll have to face the crowds and head to Seven Mile Beach at the town of Negril.
This is a popular spot and there can sometimes be slightly annoying hawkers trying to see their wares (that’s rarely an issue in Aruba), but this long stretch of gorgeous white sand is your stereotypical Caribbean paradise. Expect clear blue water, great snorkeling, and one of the best sunsets in the region.
For another beautiful beach with calm swimming water, head to Bloody Bay. The turquoise-hued water is a great place to swim, snorkel, paddle board and more.
There are many great snorkeling spots throughout Jamaica’s coastline, but one of our favorite places is to snorkel at the resort town of Montego Bay. Head there to swim beside colorful reef fish and sting rays.
Recommended: Montego Bay or Negril: Which Jamaican Resort Destination?
However as one of the Caribbean’s largest islands, the diverse geography in Jamaica is one of the main reasons to visit. In Jamaica you can hike, zip-line over jungles, go wildlife-spotting, raft down rivers and climb peaks. It’s an adventure lover’s paradise as much as it is a sunseeker’s.
In particular, the iconic Blue Mountains are stunning, and the gorgeous 14 mile Blue Mountain Peak Trail takes you through jungle waterfalls, coffee plantations and more as you make your way up Jamaica’s highest peak.
For more panoramic views of the island head to Holywell National Park in the Blue Mountains. Here you can hike up through the jungle. Our top tip is to rent a tent and camp for a night or two – the stars up there, and the sunrise in the morning, are unrivaled.
All in all, Jamaica is the perfect destination if you’re looking to spend some of your time sunbathing and swimming, but also some time doing other outdoor activities away from the coast like exploring towns, hiking in the mountains and swimming in waterfalls.
Which Has The Better Culture?
Both islands also have an interesting cultural scene that’s well worth exploring.
However there’s no doubt Aruba has an ‘Americanized’ feel to it, whereas Jamaica has more of a colorful Caribbean vibe.
That’s partly down to Aruba being such a popular tourist and cruise ship destination. In contrast, while Jamaica has areas that are popular with tourists, the vast majority of people work outside the tourist sector.
Therefore if you want a holiday where you really feel like you are in the Caribbean, then Jamaica is the best choice.
When it comes to nightlife, both countries are fun places to stay when the sun goes down. However Jamaica’s nightlife tends to be more lively and geared towards a younger crowd than Aruba’s.
Below we look at some of the cultural highlights in Aruba and Jamaica, so you can see which suits your holiday preferences most:
Aruba: The Culture
Although officially part of the Netherlands, Aruba has been under Spanish and British control in recent centuries, and all of that has left a mark on the island.
There was a small gold boom in the 19th century, and the ruins from that can be toured. The old gold smelters, Bushiribana and Balashi, are outside of Aruba’s capital Oranjestad and give an interesting insight into the dash for Aruban gold.
Staying near the capital, the Butterfly Farm is well worth visiting. This is an opportunity to step into a lush forested area and enjoy the colors of thousands of exotic butterflies above your head.
Apart from the beaches, Aruba also have a good nightlife! All major hotel resorts have casinos that are popular when the sun goes down, and Oranjestad has a fun nightlife and shopping scene.
Jamaica: The Culture
Jamaica is one of the most culturally rich countries in the world, and this island can only be described as a diverse melting pot of different beliefs and cultures. Simply put, if you’re looking for some culture on your holiday then Jamaica beats Aruba hands down.
One of those is the Rastafarianism movement which was borne out of Jamaica in the 1930s. For visitors to the island, the Rastafari Indigenous Village near Montego Bay is an opportunity to connect first-hand with people practicing the religion, while also learning how to make traditional drums and cuisine.
Probably Rastafarianism’s most famous member was Bob Marley, and no visit to Jamaica is complete without visiting the Bob Marley Museum in Jamaica’s capital, Kingston.
Where To Stay According To Your Budget
Budget: If you are looking to travel on a budget, there are also some low-end backpacker options in Aruba. These options are located in and around Oranjestad and the best is probably Aruba Harmony Apartments (see photos and rates!).
Luxury: With its on-site casino, water activities, spa and outdoor pools, the five-star beachfront Ritz-Carlton, Aruba is always going to be a fantastic stay. Even more so due to its location right on Palm-Eagle Beach, so every day can be a beach day when staying here. See photos and rates!
Budget: Set on 400 acres, the excellent Half Moon all-inclusive resort in Montego Bay has three kilometers of private white-sand beach and features three restaurants and five bars!
The active-minded can enjoy the basketball, volleyball, squash, and tennis courts, and there’s an 18-hole golf course and spa. It’s one of those resorts we all want to stay in at least once in our lifetime. See photos and rates here!
Luxury: The stunning GoldenEye resort features private beaches, hidden coves, and a saltwater lagoon. GoldenEye was actually author Ian Fleming’s Jamaican retreat, with all 14 James Bond novels being written here.
The property features three outdoor pools and a full spa. Guests can choose from a range of villas, beach huts, and cottages, including beachfront and lagoon-front properties. See photos and rates here!
Which Is Best For Nightlife?
If you are planning on dancing the night away whilst on vacation, you can rest assured that the Caribbean rhythms will be pumping into the small hours in both locations.
Both islands are blessed with vibrant nightlife, and you should have no problem finding a great party in either Jamaica or Aruba.
However one big difference is that the nightlife spots in tourist areas of Jamaica tend to have more integration between tourists and locals than the popular tourist areas in Aruba. So if you’re looking to make local friends, that’s worth keeping in mind.
Below we look at the nightlife highlights in both countries, and compare the evening scene in a bit more detail!
Aruba: The Nightlife
As a popular destination, the nightlife scene in Aruba is lively and geared towards tourists. While you can find local dive bars, in general the nightlife you can expect is very similar to cities in the U.S, or the entertainment you can find on big cruise ships.
One popular place you must visit in Aruba is the 5 O’clock Somewhere Bar at Renaissance Marketplace. Live entertainment and special drinks and snacks are the order of the day there.
And if you’re feeling lucky, there are a good number of action-packed casinos nearby you can pop into.
Various hotels, resorts and restaurants also provide special performances for tourists like magic shows, dance shows and circus events that you can enjoy on an evening.
And if you’re a nightlife lover, why not bar hop? There are multiple unique nightlife tours in Aruba that will take you on a memorable bar-hopping adventure.
Jamaica: The Nightlife
As the birthplace of Bob Marley, Jamaica is also the home of reggae. So if you’re a reggae fan, you will not be disappointed by the evening vibes in Jamaica.
But it’s not just reggae. Jamaica has a very rich musical history, and ska, mento, rocksteady, dub, and, more recently, dancehall and ragga all originated from this musical island.
So you will have no problem finding plenty of bars and clubs in Jamaican cities like Kingston, Montego Bay and Negril playing cool Caribbean tunes well into the night.
In particular Montego Bay – named MoBay by locals – is a fun party town in the evening where you can enjoy a cocktail on the beach, or dance to reggae until the early hours of the morning.
All in all you can find great nightlife in both Aruba and Jamaica, but if you want a slightly different version of nightlife than what you’d get in the US or Europe, then the clubs and bars in Jamaica will provide just that.
A Taste Of Island Life: How Does The Cuisine Compare?
Both Aruba and Jamaica will provide a treat for your taste buds, with cuisine focused around seafood.
Aruba: The Food
Aruban cuisine is a mix of Caribbean, Dutch, and Latin American influences.
Keshi Yena is regarded as the national dish of Aruba. This large ball of cheese is stuffed with chicken (but sometimes other types of meat too), and is a real comfort food.
Trying out the seafood is, of course, an absolute must. Common freshly caught fish here includes mahi-mahi, grouper and lionfish.
Our recommendation is to try out the prawn starters that appear on menus up and down the island. Freshly caught and often cooked with coconut water, they’re a real treat!
For desert, you must try Pan Bollo. This traditional Aruban delicacy is bread pudding often served with rum (what else!) and ice cream. It’s delicious.
Jamaica: The Food
Jamaica’s national food, ackee and saltfish, combines the national fruit of Jamaica (ackee) with salted cod. It’s a popular dish that famous Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt has said he often eats for breakfast!
Another iconic Jamaican dish worth trying is jerk chicken or pork.
This type of cooking is native to Jamaica and the spicy cooking style may have been invented by slaves who escaped into Jamaica’s wilderness and invented it as they cooked over wood fires.
For something sweet, try Grater cake – a delicious cake made from grated coconut! While to drink, Jamaica’s very-own Red Stripe lager is popular on the island (and around the world), whilst rum cocktails are made up and down the island with a variety of fresh fruit.
Aruba vs Jamaica: Which Is The Better Choice?
Both Aruba and Jamaica are great places to visit for a beach-orientated vacation, with each island home to beautiful white sandy stretches of coastline, and some stunning snorkeling spots.
The smaller Aruba is probably better suited for a shorter holiday though, as there is much less to do and explore than in bigger Jamaica.
Jamaica, with its lush forest and mountains, is more suited to holidaymakers who want a vacation that also involves activities away from the beach. Jamaica is a cheaper option than Aruba too, but both have a good nightlife scene.