When it comes to dream getaways and honeymoon vacations, Barbados 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 these island nations are very different from each other.
Making the right decision to visit either Barbados or Jamaica for that once-in-a-lifetime holiday or honeymoon is therefore very important. Having visited 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!
Barbados vs Jamaica: Stunning Natural Scenery
Both islands have stunning beaches and those picture-perfect white-sand beaches you expect from a dream tropical holiday. Jamaica is huge compared to Barbados though, with Jamaica boasting 635 miles of coastline in contrast to Barbados’ 60 miles.
However, Jamaica is a tropical island that also has a lush green mountainous interior, in comparison to Barbados which is much drier and flatter. That makes Jamaica a better vacation choice for tourists who wish to do more outside than just sunbathe. Such as hiking, swimming in waterfalls, and culture-based activities. In fact Jamaica’s highest peak is 2256 meters – Barbados’ is just 63!
Yet the infrastructure in Barbados is some of the best in the Caribbean, and it’s a very easy island to get around. In theory that means you can get from beach to beach, town to town, in Barbados a lot easier than in Jamaica. Buses are cheap and easy to get between resorts too, which is another big plus point.
So if you’re looking for a vacation where the tourist sights and hotspots are easy and quick to reach then Barbados may suit you better than much larger Jamaica.
Below we look in more detail at what both islands have to offer potential tourists, before showing how each is different culturally, which may be cheaper, and even more to expect.
Smaller Barbados is perfect for sun, sea, and sand, but the island itself can be easily explored within a week. That makes it great for a short holiday, whereas Jamaica may be suited to a longer one.
Make your way to Oistins and Miami Beach for great swimming waters and one of the best sunsets in the Caribbean. Beaches in Barbados can get busy with tourists though, and it can be harder to find a secluded beach here than it is in much larger Jamaica. But both islands are hard to separate when it comes to which has the better beach choices.
You can find turquoise water and golden sandy beaches up and down Barbados. One of our favorites is Bottom Bay. It’s not a great swimming spot, but it’s secluded, romantic, and with swaying palm trees it has a real deserted island feel to it. Beautiful beaches like this are one of the reasons Barbados made our list of the best Caribbean islands for couples!
Barbados’ teeming sea-life can also be viewed when out and about swimming and snorkeling. Bell Buoy reef, near Accra Beach is the perfect place to spot angel fish and parrot fish. A great underwater camera – such as this one – is a must.
While at Carlise Bay Marine Park you can dive among numerous ship wrecks that have been taken over by colorful fish, nurse sharks, and manta rays! Some of the best reefs to explore in Barbados can be found in this.
Jamaica has it all when it comes to a tropical island paradise, but what most tourists want are spectacular beaches!
One of the best on the island is Seven Mile Beach at the town of Negril. This is a popular spot, and 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 favorites is Montego Bay. Head there to swim beside colorful reef fish and sting rays. (Recommended: Montego Bay or Negril: Which Jamaican resort destination?).
As one of the Caribbean’s largest islands, the diverse geography in Jamaica is one of the reasons to visit, and something that sets it apart from Barbados. 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 panoramic views of the island head to Holywell National Park in the Blue Mountains. There 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 unrivalled.
Barbados vs Jamaica: Explore the Sights and Experience the Tropics
Barbados definitely has a slightly English feel to it, whereas Jamaica has more of a colorful Caribbean vibe. Therefore if you want a holiday which feels more Caribbean, then Jamaica is the best choice.
However Barbados is more of a family friendly destination, whereas Jamaica tends to attract a younger crowd. The nightlife is therefore more lively in Jamaica, and there are also casinos to enjoy on the island too. There are no casinos in Barbados, where gambling is illegal.
When deciding between Barbados vs Jamaica, expenses are important to consider too. The large local population in Jamaica does means there are many different accommodation and food options in the country, and so it can cater to tourists on a range of budgets – which is why it’s one of our top choices on our list of cheapest Caribbean islands to visit. Barbados, in contrast, tends to be quite expensive, more upscale, and has far fewer options for budget travelers.
With a mix of West African and British influences, Barbados is a fascinating country with a rich blend of Caribbean traditions and a culture that emerged out of plantation slavery economy.
Historic Bridgetown is where you should head if you want to learn about the colonial past in Barbados. A walking tour will introduce you to the country’s tumultuous past, and the colonial relics and architecture that still stand today. You can also tour St Nicholas Abbey, a Jacobean plantation house.
As with many countries that were colonized by the British, cricket quickly became the national sport and a way to beat the occupiers on the playing field! Take a trip to Kensington Oval Barbados to watch a game.
Barbados also has one of the oldest horse race tracks in the world, the Garrison Savannah. Situated just outside of Bridgetown, locals and tourists mix on race day as excitement builds. In fact a visit here is on our list of the best things to do in Barbados!
Jamaica’s culture is colorful and vibrant, and the country is a wonderful melting pot of different religions and beliefs.
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.
For the best nightlife on the island head to Montego Bay – named MoBay by locals. This party town is a place where you can enjoy a cocktail on the beach, or dance to reggae until the early hours of the morning.
Synonymous with both Jamaica and Rastafarians is marijuana. Which is legal for medicinal use in Jamaica, and for use by Rastafarians. Being caught with small amounts (2oz or less) will result in just a small fine of around 5 USD. That makes Jamaica a relatively safe place to smoke for tourists looking for their ganja fix. It’s common for tourists to be approached about buying weed in Jamaica. Always exercise caution.
Barbados vs Jamaica: A Taste of Island Life
Both Barbados and Jamaica will provide a treat for your taste buds, with cuisine focused around seafood.
Unsurprisingly, fish features heavily in Barbadian cuisine too, and fried flying fish is one of the national dishes of Barbados! However with such a mix of cultures here, food is influenced by West African, British, and even Indian tastes.
Here popular dishes include chicken curry, barbecued pig tails and even Macaroni pies!
Just like many Caribbean islands, rum is the drink of choice in Barbados. Luckily for visitors, they make great rum too! Get yourself along to Mount Gay Rum Distillery for a tour and some free tasters.
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! As for what to drink, Jamaica’s very-own Red Stripe lager is popular on the island (and around the world). Rum cocktails are also made up and down the island with a variety of fresh fruit.
Barbados vs Jamaica: Which is the Better Choice?
Both Barbados 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.
Jamaica, with its lush forest and mountains, is more suited to holidaymakers who want a vacation that also involves activities away from the beach, such as hiking or culture-based activities. Jamaica is a much cheaper option than Barbados too.
Being much smaller, Barbados is probably better suited to tourists who want a beach vacation with all the sights and tourist hot-spots in close reach.