Last updated on March 8, 2023 by Wandering our World
If the Caribbean is calling and you are looking to plan your next vacation, Jamaica and Puerto Rico should definitely be on your list of potential destinations.
These two similarly-sized idyllic Caribbean nations are part of the Greater Antilles island group and sit either side of the island of Hispaniola: Jamaica to the west and Puerto Rico to the east.
But how do you decide which of these two sun-kissed islands is best for you? Well that depends on what you want your vacation to look like…
Jamaica, the home of Bob Marley and reggae, is a Caribbean island with the soul of an African nation.
Food, drink, and music play a huge part in Jamaica’s cultural identity, and the island is the perfect place to swim in warm seas, relax on the golden sand, and dance the night away to the ubiquitous reggae beats. For many, Jamaica is arguably the better choice for a beach vacation that incorporates plenty of culture.
Puerto Rico, the adopted home of reggaeton, is a territory of the United States of America and has a rich culture and history—perfect for travellers who are looking for new experiences.
The island territory is only 100 miles long and 35 miles wide, but Puerto Rico still offers a fantastic diversity of lush mountains, golden beaches, dense tropical rainforest, and plenty of activities to keep you entertained. It’s a popular destination with families and hikers.
Read on as we take a closer look at which island has the best beaches, hotels, and nightlife, which island is more budget-friendly, and which island is easier to get to.
By the end, we’re sure you’ll know which destination is perfect for you.
- Which Is Easier To Get To?
- Which Is Better For Beaches?
- Which Is Best For Nightlife?
- Which Has The Best Hotels?
- Which Is Best For Families?
- Which Is More Expensive?
- What Time Of Year Is Best?
- Which Is The Better Choice?
Which Is Easier To Get To?
As two firm favorites among the array of Caribbean destinations, you should have no major issues sourcing a flight to either location.
Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU), which serves San Juan, Puerto Rico’s main town, is the Caribbean’s busiest airport. And Norman Manley International Airport (KIN) in Kingston is also one of the region’s busier airports.
But, as the busier of the two airports, you may find it a little easier to secure a direct flight to Puerto Rico than to Jamaica.
San Juan receives direct flights from many of the major airports on the United States’ east coast, in addition to direct flights from Panama City and Bogata in South America and from Madrid in Europe.
Kingston Airport welcomes a few direct flights from the eastern half of the United States, but from fewer airports than Puerto Rico does. It is also possible to book a direct flight to Jamaica from Panama City to the south or from London’s Gatwick Airport in Europe.
All in all, these two popular destinations should pose no major hurdles to overcome when making your travel arrangements, but Puerto Rico may be slightly easier to source a flight to.
Which Is Better For Beaches?
If you are considering a vacation in the Caribbean, the quality of the beaches available will most likely be a deciding factor.
And the good news here is that both Jamaica and Puerto Rico are blessed with some superb stretches of idyllic sand – although some people argue that the beaches in Jamaica are more beautiful than the ones in Puerto Rico. The beaches in Jamaica are sometimes more accessible than the ones in Puerto Rico too, but that also make them busier and more developed too.
The best way to decide which destination will suit you more when it comes to beaches is to take a look at a few of the best beaches in both locations. That will show you what’s available in each and should help you decide which island is best for you.
Jamaica: The Beaches
Seven Mile Beach was initially promoted on tourism posters as “seven miles of nothing but you and the sea.”
This stunning stretch of golden sand has changed a little since then, and nowadays the beach is lined with bars, restaurants, and resorts. It’s still gorgeous, though, and it’s a great beach if you fancy enjoying some water sports, but it can be very busy.
Treasure Beach is perfect if you are looking for a quieter beach. The beach is located on the island’s south coast and is frequented by the locals for fishing and farming.
It’s a less-touristy beach and is seldom busy. It’s perfect for topping up the tan in solitude or making some headway with your holiday book.
Cornwall Beach is a secluded beach with way fewer tourists than many Jamaican beaches, and it’s a great place for taking a swim.
The beach is in the Montego Bay area (Montego Bay and Negril are the best beach destinations in Jamaica), and you can enjoy a relaxing day on the sand without big crowds.
There is a $5 entrance fee, but the tranquility is worth the price. Look out for “Cornwall Sundays,” when you can enjoy a bottomless mug of local Caribbean rum!
Recommended: Shark Attacks In Jamaica
Puerto Rico: The Beaches
La Playuela is located in the south-west corner of the island and is perfect for a lazy day under the sun.
This beach sits in a half-moon bay, and the water is calm and good for a swim to cool down. It’s a remote beach, and there’s a short hike to reach the tranquil sands, but the effort is well worth it.
Crash Boat Beach sits on the island’s north-west corner, looking out across the clear ocean towards the Dominican Republic. If lying stock-still in the sand is not for you, this beach offers a range of water sports to keep you entertained.
Swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving are all possible, while during the winter months the conditions allow surfing too.
Playa El Combate is also in the south-west, not too far from La Playuela. Playa El Combate is a little livelier than its neighbor, and it attracts a younger crowd.
The beach is great for snorkeling or scuba diving and is also a fantastic spot to watch the sunset in the evenings. If you get too hot, you can take a cooling plunge off the pier, and if hunger kicks in, there are plenty of excellent food options nearby too.
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 wee 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 Puerto Rico.
As the birthplace of Bob Marley, Jamaica is the home of reggae. If you’re a reggae fan, you will not be disappointed 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.
You will be able to find plenty of bars and clubs in Kingston and the major tourist areas playing cool Caribbean tunes well into the night.
If you’re leaning towards Puerto Rico, don’t worry—you will find an excellent party scene here too. There are plenty of clubs and bars in Old San Juan to keep you entertained during your stay, and the tourist areas are also well-stocked on this front.
While you will hear plenty of reggae beats here too, the music and nightlife in Puerto Rico has a more Latin influence.
If you’re planning a trip in February or March, you may want to check the dates for Spring Break.
Puerto Rico has a bigger Spring Break scene than Jamaica, and if you are looking to party on your vacation, this could be the perfect time to visit Puerto Rico.
Which Has The Best Hotels & Resorts?
Once the flight is booked, the next big decision to make is where to stay. As two major tourist destinations, you can expect plenty of options, though too many options can be problematic sometimes.
Below we take a look at the best options to suit different budgets and needs in each location to help narrow down the search for you, and hopefully help you decide which hotels – and island – will suit you best.
Best Budget Option: Sunrise Club Hotel
With an excellent location, mere steps from Jamaica’s famous white-sand Seven Mile Beach in Negril, this hotel also features an on-site restaurant and a bar, as well as free Wi-Fi in public areas.
With an on-site restaurant, The Lobster House, serving Jamaican specialties and gourmet Italian dishes, and The Morgan Bar serving breakfast and beverages, the Sunrise Club is a great choice of accommodation. See photos and rates here!
Best Mid-Range Option: Villas Sur Mer
Located high on the cliffs of West End Negril, Villas Sur Mer features an outdoor pool surrounded by tropical plants.
Each villa has direct access to the surrounding garden area and features a TV, air conditioning, and free WiFi. The villas also have a kitchen area with a microwave, stove, and fridge, and Seven Mile Beach is just a ten-minute drive away. See photos and rates here!
Best All-Inclusive Option: Half Moon
Set on 400 acres, this excellent 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!
Best Luxury Option: GoldenEye
This stunning 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!
Puerto Rico: Hotels
Best Budget Option: Casa Coral
Situated 300 meters from La Pared Beach and less than one kilometer from Azul Beach, Casa Coral offers comfortable accommodation with a shared lounge, a garden, and a terrace.
Activities such as hiking, cycling, and fishing can be enjoyed in the surrounding area, and guests can relax along the nearby beachfront. See photos and rates here!
Best Mid-Range Option: Parador Palmas de Lucia
Located at Lucia Beach, this mid-priced hotel stands on the beautiful southeast coast of Puerto Rico. The comfortable rooms feature free Wi-Fi and balconies overlooking the hotel gardens and pool.
There’s also a fitness center, and basketball and volleyball courts are available to all guests. For families, a children’s playground and a games room will help keep the little ones entertained. See photos and rates here!
Best All-Inclusive Option: Villa Montaña Beach Resort
Situated on 35 acres of land, including 5 kilometers of pristine and secluded beaches, Villa Montaña Beach Resort is located in the northwest of Puerto Rico and is fantastic value of money considering what you get.
The resort features two swimming pools, one restaurant, and a spa service. Activities like diving, surfing, and snorkeling are available to guests during their stay too. See photos and rates here!
Best Luxury Option: Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve
This luxurious beachfront resort features an on-site golf course, a fitness center, and excellent views across the azure Caribbean Sea.
The rooms are gorgeous and some even feature an en-suite plunge pool and stunning ocean views. The property also has four on-site restaurants and a luxurious on-site spa. It’s an incredible place to stay. See photos and rates here!
Which Is Best For Families?
If you’re traveling with the family and have kids in tow, you may want to check out what family-friendly activities are available in each location.
One popular and magical activity in both locations is to visit a bioluminescent bay. There are not so many of these bays in the world, so a trip to experience one at night should be on your list in either location.
Puerto Rico has three such bays: Mosquito Bay in Vieques; Laguna Grande in the northeast in Fajardo; and La Parguera in the southwest in Lajas. Jamaica only has one bioluminescent bay, the Luminous Lagoon, which is located in Trelawny.
Aside from the bioluminescent bays, both islands have plenty to see and do, and you should have no problem keeping the children occupied and entertained in either.
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.
If you enjoy spending time in nature with the children, both Puerto Rico and Jamaica have impressive sights to see.
El Yunque National Rainforest in Puerto Rico is a beautiful rainforest, and you can trek below the canopy to see impressive waterfalls. And not to be outdone on the waterfall front, Jamaica’s Dunn’s River Falls are a popular attraction and one of the country’s most Instagrammed places.
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.
Puerto Rico also has some water and adventure parks to enjoy. At the western end of the island, you can find Coqui Water Park.
This relatively small water park gives the kids a chance to have some fun on the slides, and the adults can kick back and enjoy the stunning views across the ocean with an adult beverage or two.
If you’re closer to the other end of the island, you have the option of visiting Las Cascadas Water Park. This is a larger park that has recently been renovated and expanded, and it now boasts being the largest water park in the Caribbean!
All in all, both Jamaica and Puerto Rico have plenty of fun-filled and interesting activities to keep you and the kids entertained during your vacation.
But, if the kids are still quite young, Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States and, consequently, is a little more Americanized, so you will be able to find a few more Western home comforts, such as branches of well-known restaurant chains, a little bit more easily.
Which Is More Expensive?
If budget will be playing a role in your vacation planning, you may want to spend more time looking into Jamaica than into Puerto Rico.
In terms of the average daily spend, Jamaica will come in a little lower than Puerto Rico. In Jamaica, you can expect to spend around $100 per day, while on Puerto Rico, the expected average daily spend is a little higher at $170 per person. These average prices take into account food, transport, and activities.
On the whole, food, accommodation, and transportation costs are a little lower in Jamaica, and the average tourist attraction will have a slightly smaller price tag.
What Time Of Year Is Best?
For Puerto Rico, the best time to visit is generally considered to be from mid-April to June. This is just after the peak season, when prices for flights and hotel rooms are at their highest. The island will be a little less crowded during these months too.
From mid-April on, the weather is pleasant, with temperatures rarely falling below the mid-80s. The autumn months can be appealing from a budgetary point of view, but you will be risking a hurricane rolling in during this time of the year.
November to mid-December is a great time to head to Jamaica. Beating the Christmas rush can make it easier to find good deals on hotels, and the weather at this time of the year is excellent.
Between Christmas and March is the peak season in Jamaica, and the flight and room prices will reflect the increased demand. The summer months are good for finding bargains on flights and rooms, but there’s always the chance of a hurricane during this period.
Jamaica vs Puerto Rico: Which Is Better?
The Caribbean is one of the world’s most popular vacation destinations, and for very good reasons. The weather is ideal, the beaches are beautiful, and the people are extremely welcoming.
And Puerto Rico and Jamaica are two of the best destinations within the Caribbean region. Stunning beaches, lush mountains, and warm waters will await you in either location.
If you’re traveling as a young family, Puerto Rico’s status as a US territory may make it easier for you to find familiar foods. And if you are a big music fan, you will find the rich musical history of Jamaica more to your liking.
But all in all, both Puerto Rico and Jamaica will allow you to enjoy a fantastic Caribbean vacation. Get your flights and accommodations booked, then count down the days until you’re basking under the Caribbean sun with a rum and coke in your hand and the soft reggae beats filling the ocean air.