When it comes to dream getaways, Hawaii and Jamaica are two destinations that are at the top of most people’s bucket list. Both of these tropical paradises can offer unique varied experiences. From romantic getaways for couples looking for sun, sea, and sand, to the adventurous backpacker who wants to scuba dive and trek jungles in one of the world’s most exotic regions.
Choosing whether to visit Hawaii or Jamaica for that once-in-a-lifetime holiday or honeymoon destination can therefore be difficult. Having visited both, we compare Hawaii vs Jamaica below, and show you what each has to offer.
Hawaii vs Jamaica: Stunning natural scenery
Both islands are a mix of beach and lush mountains, but Jamaica probably has the better coastline of the two. Therefore if beaches are the main priority, then Jamaica should be your choice. However the popular beaches in Jamaica can get busy, and tourists often get harassed by people trying to hawk goods – something that is far less of a problem in Hawaii.
The white-sand beaches and crystal clear water in Jamaica are some of the best in the Caribbean though. However Hawaii has better snorkeling and diving sites. In fact Hawaii is a much better destination for tourists looking to be active – be that water-sports, hiking, and exploring.
However exploring Hawaii, and its different islands, can take some time and is probably more suited to someone who is looking for at least a two-week holiday. Hawaii is also a much more expensive place to visit than Jamaica – the latter of which has accommodation and food options to suit all budgets.
In terms of safety, there’s no doubt Hawaii is safer regarding crime. Although crime in Jamaica tends to happen in the big cities and away from tourist areas.
We look in more detail at what both islands have to offer potential tourists, before explaining how each is different culturally, and what to expect.
Hawaii is an outdoor lovers paradise, and while it has gorgeous golden beaches, its mountainous jungle-covered interior has to be explored and enjoyed. In fact Hawaii’s biggest peak stands at 4207m – nearly double the height of Jamaica’s highest peak!
For travelers leaning towards a Hawaiian holiday, there’s still many great beaches where you can enjoy that famous laid-back surfer vibe. Some of our favorites include the less well-known Waimea Bay Beach on Oahu, and the stunning Hanalei Bay on Kauai island. For great snorkeling and the chance to see turtles, then visit Hanauma Bay on Oahu. A great underwater camera – such as this one – is a must.
For a more fun-fueled beach adventure, pick up a cocktail at the famous Waikiki Beach and get chatting to locals. If you’re feeling energetic, a hike up Hawaii’s Diamond Head – which looms over Waikiki – will give you spectacular panoramic views of Honolulu and Oahu.
The Hawaiian island of Kauai was the backdrop for the film Jurassic Park, so expect great hiking and walking trails that will take you back in time. A superb walking and hiking in Hawaii book – such as this one – would be a great addition to your suitcase. The tropical forests here on the ‘Garden Isle’ make their way up the mountainsides towards sharp dramatic peaks.
The reefs on this island are also world renowned among divers, and offer spectacular scuba and snorkeling opportunities.
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, but this long stretch of gorgeous white sand is your stereotypical Caribbean paradise. Expect clear blue water, good 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. In fact beautiful beaches like this are one of the reasons Jamaica made our list of the best Caribbean islands for couples!
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.
As one of the Caribbean’s largest islands, the diverse geography in Jamaica is one of the reasons to visit. 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. 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 here, and the sunrise in the morning, are unrivaled. (Recommended: Snakes in Jamaica).
Hawaii vs Jamaica: Explore the sights and experience the tropics
Both regions have colorful cultures, but Hawaii is probably more of a family friendly destination, whereas Jamaica tends to attract a younger crowd and has a lively nightlife.
Hawaiian culture – aloha wear, hula, and luau for example – is almost better known that Hawaii’s gorgeous sunsets and swimming waters. So getting a taste of the real Hawaiian experience is a must if visiting Hawaii.
The iconic luau – a traditional Hawaiian feast with entertainment – should be the first thing on your list. We recommend the Smith Family Garden Luau in Kauai due to the delicious traditional food on offer, and the colorful entertainment and dances. But almost everywhere on Hawaii you can find a spectacular luau experience.
With your interest piqued in Hawaiian culture after taking part in a luau, head to the Polynesian Cultural Centre in Oahu to learn more about the Polynesian people and culture.
Hawaii is also home to one of the most notorious war crimes in history – the WW2 attack on Pearl Harbor. For military history buffs, the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum is therefore a must visit.
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.
Hawaii vs Jamaica: A taste of a different world
Both islands will provide a treat for your taste-buds, but with a very different focus.
Hawaiian food is truly unique, combining Polynesian, European, Japanese and American tastes.
A must try – and what you will almost certainly have at a luau – is Kālua pork. A whole pig is slow cooked for several hours and then the meat pulled apart ready to be eaten. It’s absolutely delicious.
For something that has more of an American feel, try loco moco – a burger steak, fried eggs and gravy. Perfect after a day swimming or hiking.
Shaved ice is also common in Hawaii, and is perfect to cool down on a hot day. This tasty treat is flavored with flavored syrup, and is sometimes served with ice cream too!
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.
Hawaii vs Jamaica? Which should you choose?
Both Hawaii and Jamaica make excellent holiday destinations. But if you’re seeking more time on the beach with a cocktail in your hand, then Jamaica will probably be the better choice.
However if you want an active holiday, then Hawaii can provide one that is packed full of trekking and adventure, as well as great beaches and snorkeling spots.
Recommended for your trip to Hawaii or Jamaica
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