Mexico and Jamaica are two stunning and culturally diverse holiday spots that should be on everyone’s bucket list at some point. Both have the exotic beaches you’ve always dreamed of, new and delicious foods to try, and plenty to get up to during the day and night. So how are you meant to decide between the two if you have to?
We know and love both countries, so read on to find out what some of the main differences are between each, so that you can get the most out of your vacation.
At a glance, Mexico is about 179 times larger in landmass than Jamaica, covering 76,000 square miles compared to 4,200. Unsurprisingly then, there’s more to do and explore in Mexico, as well as more diverse scenery, to-die-for beaches, metropolitan cities, volcanoes, huge mountain ranges, canyons, deserts, and massive barrier reefs. (Recommended: Snakes in Mexico).
So if you’re after a holiday of intrigue, where you can visit new things every day and explore a range of natural beauty, then Mexico will easily satiate that curiosity and sense of adventure.
This said, size isn’t everything. Being smaller, it’s much more possible to see all of the amazing sites Jamaica has to show in just one trip – and they also aren’t lacking for breathtaking terrains and natural wonders either. Jamaica has its own mountain range reaching 7,400 feet, a 180 foot Blue Lagoon, multiple tropical waterfalls, and rivers with all kinds of life – you can even get up close and personal with crocodiles on safaris! (Recommended: Snakes in Jamaica).
Of course, Mexico is Spanish speaking while Jamaica’s native tongue is English, making it easier to get around the latter. Mexico is also much larger, which means the main attractions are quite far away from each other. However it does also have more coastline – 5,800 miles to be exact – so there is more variety in where you can go, and what you can see or do.
Below we compare both countries, looking at which has the best beaches, activities, nightlife, culture and more. All so you can make the best decision for your vacation!
Mexico vs Jamaica: Which Has the Better Beaches and Beach Activities
We can wholeheartedly say that you won’t be disappointed with the illustrious white beaches at either destination, nor will you be left wanting for warmer, calmer seas.
With both Mexico and Jamaica offering such tropical beaches, and a variety of water activities to explore the surrounding sea life and reefs, it can be hard to choose one over the other solely based on these criteria.
Below we explain what to expect in each country, and what sort of beach activities are on offer. While Mexico has exceptional white sand beaches, we think Jamaica probably wins the beach battle – we explain why next!
Owing quite simply to its geography, you can find two types of beaches in Mexico: warm idyllic beaches on the Caribbean side of the island, and cooler waters on the Pacific side. The Pacific coast has a more relaxed vibe and better waves for surfing and other water activities in general.
What Mexico gives you then is the opportunity to have either a slice of Caribbean beach life, or a more adventurous Pacific beach adventure and activities. Classic beach vacation spots for both sides respectively include the likes of Cancun and Playa del Carmen on the Caribbean side, or Sayulita and Los Cabos on the Pacific side.
Cancun may have the best long stretches of beach we’ve seen throughout the Caribbean region, never mind just between Jamaica and Mexico! You’ll be able to rent jet skis at most of the popular resort beaches in Mexico too if you’re looking for some adventure on the water.
Below the surface of the tropical Mexican waves, you can snorkel with white sharks at Isla Mujeres near Cancun, or explore even further underwater by diving at the Manchones Reef, or the 300 square mile reef at Banco Chinchorro. As mentioned, the surf in Mexico is also great on the Pacific side, so grab a board and head over to the Baja Peninsula, or further south to surf towns such as Sayulita.
Or for something quite special, make your way to Cabo Pulmo National Park on the Pacific coast for whale watching opportunities and snorkeling amongst reef fish and sea turtles at the northernmost coral reef in the eastern Pacific Ocean. A great underwater camera – like this one – is a must. Keep an eye out for the stingrays that jump out of the water too!
However it’s worth noting that the beaches and resort areas in Mexico tend to be quite self contained. So if you’re looking for an all-inclusive holiday where beaches, bars, restaurants and tourist shopping are all together, then Mexico is perfect. That does, however, mean getting an authentic taste of Mexican and local culture is harder, and you will have to leave the beach resorts to get away from the crowds and enjoy a real Mexican atmosphere.
Mexico is also a huge country, so while there are two types of beaches – Caribbean and Pacific – it’s rare holidaymakers will get to experience both in a vacation. That’s unless your holiday is more than 2-3 weeks and you’re willing to travel across the country.
White, crystal-like sand and deep blue turquoise waters; Jamaican beaches are the epitome of any beach-lover’s dream holiday. This island also has some of the best beaches in the region, some of which have featured in movies.
Perhaps most famous is Seven Mile Beach which, as its name suggests, is a huge unbroken expanse of picture-perfect beaches. The beach is lined with resorts meaning you’ll never be more than a short walk away from activities, shops with everything you need, and food, drinks and entertainment of all sorts. The beaches and resorts in Jamaica tend to be more intertwined with locals and culture than the beaches and resorts in Mexico, so while you can stay in a resort ‘bubble’ if you wish, it’s also not difficult to explore other areas, find street food, and go on an adventure!
Less of a tourist location, but equally worth your attention is Treasure Beach on the southern side of the island, which we recommend visiting for a more authentic feel of the island while still enjoying a sandy paradise.
Finally, at a small fee of $12 to those not staying at their resort, Jamaica’s northeast coast is home to arguably the most beautiful beach – Frenchman’s Cove – which has featured in movies such as ‘Treasure Island’. It truly encompasses everything your heart could desire from a Caribbean beach. This cove tends to be a quieter and more relaxing place to spend your time, as local authorities have banned music to keep the area from becoming a party scene.
If you want to fill your days at the seafront with more than just sunbathing, there are many options for exploring the azure-blue waters up close. You can surf in a few spots in Jamaica too, such as Winifred Beach and Long Bay. If you want gentle waters for swimming then head to Negril, which is typically very calm and perfect for swimming. What Jamaica offers then, is all the beach activities you can get in Mexico, but in a smaller area!
Other popular water activities in Jamaica, and one of our favourites, has to be kayaking to Pellew Island where you can then snorkel over reefs teeming with life and colour of all shapes and sizes. Or head over to Montego Bay Marine Park to swim with turtles, lion fish and angelfish.
To get even closer, certified divers can swim amongst stingrays at the appropriately-named Stingray City near Montego Bay, while beginners can take on the shallower 30 feet dive at Middle Shoal Reef, near Kingston. (Recommended: Scuba Diving in Jamaica).
So who wins the beach battle? For us it probably has to be Jamaica. Both Mexico and Jamaica have wonderful beaches for sunbathing, relaxing and swimming. But Jamaica offers the opportunity to find stunning private coves that feel like your own slice of paradise, plus there’s plenty of snorkeling opportunities, kayaking, and chances to swim with sea turtles and stingrays!
It’s also all contained on a smaller island, which is a big bonus. When staying in Mexico you can either have the surfer vibe of the Pacific coast, or the spectacular sunbathing and swimming beaches – but busy crowds – on the Caribbean side. In Jamaica you can easily move across the island and enjoy it all!
Mexico vs Jamaica: Which Has Better Nightlife?
From late nights to laidback local spots, Mexico and Jamaica sure know how to have a good time! But overall Jamaica tends to have a more chilled out vibe while we’ve found Mexico has a complete range of nights out.
Whether you’re a die hard party fan looking for spring-break-type scenes, or looking for a more chilled night out, you can find it all in Mexico. From the rowdy late night clubbing spots in Cancun – one of the spring break capitals of the world – to salsa clubs and foam parties in Mexico City.
The nightlife in Cancun is famous, lively and brash, and Cancun Mandala is one of the coolest spots for late night fun. This energetic nightclub is one of Cancun’s most popular party spots. Another is Congo Bar Cancun, a nightclub and bar with several levels, dancers, and entertainment.
The other resort destinations in Mexico tend to have many nightclubs too, but also many laid-back nightlife options, with beach bars and live music venues. In places like Cabo you can even get cozy jazz joints like Two for the Road Cabo JAZZ Spot.
If you’re looking to party hard in a place where famous international DJs often visit, then Mexico’s resort destinations like Cancun could be your best choice.
Caribbean culture comes into its own here, and while you will be able to find whatever night out you’re after, generally Jamaicans are more relaxed, with dancing and social drinking very common. Locals and tourists tend to have more opportunities to mix and meet in Jamaica nightlife than in Mexico, at least in our experience.
The small fishing village turned resort town of Negril has a chilled out vibe, but also has the option of big night clubs alongside smaller cozy nightlife spots that are scattered along the beach. That gives you the option for both a laid-back beer on the beach, or a night of fun on the dancefloor!
In Negril the biggest nightclub is The Jungle, which is regarded by some as being the best nightclub in the Caribbean. It’s the perfect place to grab a drink and dance the night away to a wide a variety of music – from reggae to house! There’s a nice mix of locals and tourists here, so it’s a good place to make some Jamaican friends.
While Negril may be the more common nightlife spot for tourists, Montego Bay – named MoBay by locals – is regarded by most Jamaicans as one of the best places to party on the island.
It’s a city where the the later it gets, the harder you party! Considering Montego Bay is also more of a local city than Negril, you can expect cheaper prices there than in Negril, as well as more opportunities to meet locals. (Recommended: Negril vs Montego Bay: Which Should You Choose?).
So if you’re looking for nightlife diversity then Jamaica may be the better choice. In the island’s vacation hotspots you can choose early evening cocktails at beachside bars, to partying to reggae at 4am in nightclubs – all within a mile or two radius!
Mexico vs Jamaica: Food, Drink and Culture
Mexican food is well-known, and a favourite cuisine among many, while traditional Jamaican dishes will likely be a novelty but in no way inferior.
Both have rich cultures with many ways for visitors to be immersed in their histories and heritage. Neither will disappoint on this front, and each country has a unique charm worth experiencing.
Just be aware that the Caribbean side of Mexico has become more developed and Americanised over the decades, with more chain shops and restaurants geared towards tourists instead of culturally rooted independent shops. You can still visit Mayan ruins on day trips from the popular resort destinations, but an authentic Mexican culture and vibe is certainly missing these days in the hotel zones.
From enchiladas, burritos, and tacos to the accompanying guacamole and salsas, we’re sure we don’t really need to explain the classic tasty options offered across the country!
For the real foodies among you, there are a couple of places to take note of that are known for more ancient and traditional dishes you’re less likely to have heard of. In Oaxaca you can find chapulines (grasshoppers) and huitlacoche (corn fungus)! But if you’re looking for less daring options, Merida and Puebla have fabulous Spanish-influenced delicacies.
Beverages won’t be hard to find in Mexico, with tequila and mezcal being local favourites and therefore must-haves. Also keep a look out for wines from Mexico’s very own wine region, Valle de Guadelupe, as well as their lesser known fermented drink called pulque – which is local to Mexico City in particular.
As for experiencing Mexico’s deeply rooted culture – the south of Mexico houses some incredible Mayan and Aztec ruins which can be found in Chichen Itza. This place will really take you back in time.
You can also visit the Museo Frida Kahlo and National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City for some lovely cultural options.
It’s less likely that you’re already familiar with traditional Jamaican foods, but you won’t be disappointed when you do discover them!
With a variety of options to suit any palette, you can find cuisines such as ackee – a fruit which is Jamaica’s national dish, but also poisonous when unripe! There’s also fried plantain, curried goat, saltfish, a variety of fried doughs and of course: jerk chicken! From experience, be prepared for your spice tolerance to be tested, but once you get a grip on that you will be back for more of everything.
On to drinks! Being in the Caribbean you simply must do a bit of rum tasting to experience the best of what the island has on offer, but there are also plenty of local beers such as Red Stripe and Stout Dragon to try as well. Additionally, a great non-alcoholic option if you can get your hands on it, is Blue Mountain Coffee. This coffee is regarded as one of the best in the world and we really recommend having a cup or two if you can.
And of course we can’t forget Jamaica’s fascinating and rich culture. There is plenty to do all around the island that will expose you to the many fascinating aspects of Jamaican history, culture and life. There are guided neighbourhood tours at Fort Charles detailing the evolution of the area following a catastrophic earthquake and English-ownership. Museums of History and Ethnography that will teach you about Port Royal, a town which fell victim to the same earthquake and was left submerged below 40 feet of water; and for fans of reggae, you can learn more about the genre and the great reggae artist Bob Marley at the Bob Marley Experience.
Another famous part of Jamaica is the Rastafarianism movement which was borne out of the country 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. A must do activity!
Jamaica and Mexico are both culture rich, but experiencing the culture and cuisine is easier to do in Jamaica than Mexico.
That’s because the main resort destinations in Mexico have become over developed and highly Americanized – so seeking out authenticity can be hard at times. It’s much easier to find that local vibe in Jamaica, even if you’re staying in resort locations like Negril or Montego Bay.
Mexico vs Jamaica: Which is the Better Choice?
There aren’t many major differences between Mexico and Jamaica which could make or break your holiday decision – they both have fantastic beaches, history, culture, and cuisine. So if you enjoy one of these countries, you’ll definitely enjoy the other as well.
In general, the beaches in Mexico on the Caribbean side are slightly more impressive than in Jamaica, so if perfect beaches are your priority then Mexico may be the better choice than Jamaica. That said, Jamaica has stunning beaches too, and it’s often easier to experience culture in Jamaica than in Mexico, because the main Mexico resort destinations are quite Americanized.