Last updated on March 1, 2023 by Wandering our World
When it comes to dream getaways, Hawaii and Jamaica are two destinations that are at the top of most people’s bucket list. They can both provide romantic getaways for couples looking for sun, sea, and sand, as well as plenty of fun for adventurous backpackers who want to scuba dive and trek jungles in one of the world’s most exotic regions.
Yet despite that, Hawaii and Jamaica are actually quite different. So choosing the right one to visit for your once-in-a-lifetime holiday can be as difficult as it is important.
For example if you’re looking to spend more time on the beach with a cocktail in your hand then anything else, then the Caribbean beach vibes of Jamaica will probably be the better choice for you. Jamaica is cheaper than Hawaii as well.
However if you want an active holiday in a spectacular landscape, then Hawaii can provide a vacation that is packed full of trekking, adventure, fantastic surf and great beaches.
However that’s just the start when it comes to how these two destinations differ.
Luckily after visiting both, we compare Hawaii vs Jamaica below, and show you what each has to offer.
We look at which has the better beaches, nightlife, excursions, what there is to see and do in each and more. All so you can make the right decision!
- A Quick Overview & Comparison
- Which Has Better Beaches & Natural Scenery?
- What About The Culture?
- Which Is Better For A Family Vacation?
- Where To Stay According To Your Budget
- How Does The Cuisine Compare?
- Which Is The Better Choice?
A Quick Overview & Comparison
Both island destinations 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, and are the main reason tourists head to this nation year after year.
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, road tripping or just general 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.
Below 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.
Which Has Better Beaches & Natural Scenery?
Hawaii: The Beaches & Nature
This island archipelago 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 (see photo below) 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.
Waikiki and the island of Oahu is a famous surfing spot too. So if you’re looking to catch a wave – or learn how to – then Hawaii will no doubt suit you more than Jamaica. This U.S. state is the birthplace of surfing after all!
But Hawaii is also known for its world-class hiking, and the trails on Hawaii that wind themselves round dramatic coastlines, volcanoes and even active lava fields are simply breathtaking.
In fact the Hawaiian island of Kauai was the backdrop for the film Jurassic Park, so you can expect not only great treks when visiting there, but also some of the world’s most spectacular landscape.
And don’t miss out on a trip to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, located on the Big Island. The park is home to the active Kilauea volcano and offers visitors the opportunity to witness the power of nature up close.
Or head to the island of Maui for the famous “Road to Hana” which is an epic highway connecting Kahalui to Hana.
With 620 curves and 59 narrow bridges, this incredible road trip is not for the faint of heart and is nicknamed “divorce highway” for how many arguments it starts!
And on top of all that, the reefs around Hawaii are also world renowned among divers as they offer spectacular scuba and snorkeling opportunities.
All in all, if you’re looking for more than sunbathing and swimming, there’s countless outdoor activities to do in Hawaii. The only downside is that this spectacular landscape is spread over a large area and several islands, so traveling around is not always easy or cheap.
Jamaica: The Beaches & Nature
Jamaica has it all when it comes to a tropical island paradise, but what most tourists want are spectacular beaches. And when it comes to sun, sea and sand, then in our opinion Jamaica beats Hawaii hands down.
One of the best stretches of coastline on the island is Seven Mile Beach at the town of Negril.
This is a popular spot, but for good reason as 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. It’s laid-back and feels romantic.
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. And while Jamaica can’t match Hawaii when it comes to mountain scenery, there’s still plenty to explore.
For example 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)
Simply put, if you want a holiday which is beach focused, but where there’s still opportunities to do a few activities away from the coast, then Jamaica will be a great fit.
What About The Culture?
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.
Hawaii: The Culture
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: The Culture
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.
Which Is Better For A Family Vacation?
Looking for an island getaway for your next family vacation? If so, Hawaii might be the best option of the two, as it boasts more things to do with kids.
From dolphin and whale watching tours to big city malls and the Honolulu Zoo, there are lots of activities and attractions that are family-friendly in Hawaii. So, if your kids tend to get bored just sitting on the beach, you’ll have plenty of other ways to keep them entertained.
Recommended: The Best Island In Hawaii For Families
Even older kids and teens can find plenty of fun things to do, like Hawaii’s Wet’n’Wild water park, forest hikes, surfing spots, or zipline tours.
Plus, since family vacations tend to be more frequent in Hawaii, there’s a better chance of your kids making friends and socializing with people their own age.
Jamaica can be a fun family vacation too, and you can find plenty of the usual water sport activities at the beaches, including snorkeling and jet skis, and away from the beaches, there are plenty of family-friendly activities such as zip-lining to while away the hours.
For a fun-filled family day out in Jamaica, head to Kool Runnings Water Park on the west coast. The park features go-karting, paintball, and a number of water slides to enjoy.
Jamaica’s north coast also boasts an adventure park, Mystic Mountain Adventure Park. This park features zip-lining and climbing and also gives you the unique chance to try bobsledding in the Caribbean.
However if your kids are quite young, it’s worth remembering that Hawaii is still part of the United States and, consequently, you will be able to find more Western home comforts there, such as branches of well-known restaurant chains.
Where To Stay According To Your Budget
Budget: Located in the heart of Waikiki, 2 minutes walk to the famous Waikiki Beach and surrounded by shopping and dining is the luxury boutique Halepuna Waikiki hotel.
This four-star hotel will stretch budgets, but the panoramic views of the ocean and city – alongside the gorgeous infinity pool – will be worth it. See photos and rates!
Luxury: Montage Kapalua Bay on Maui is one of those hotels we all wish to stay in one day. It’s extravagant beachfront luxury on a 24-acre landscaped resort with unparalleled views to the sea and beach access. It’s everything you’d expect of a five-star resort and more. 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!
A Taste Of A Different World: How Does The Cuisine Compare?
Both islands will provide a treat for your tastebuds, but with a very different focus.
Hawaii: The Food
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: 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! 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 Is The Better Choice?
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.