Jamaica and Barbados are two incredibly beautiful islands that are ideal for a tropical getaway. While Barbados is known and loved for sites like Harrison’s Cave, the island’s botanical gardens, and its charming capital city of Bridgetown, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Jamaica stands out for its stunning Blue Mountains, and mesmerizing waterfalls. There are also world-class golf courses in Jamaica. Both island nations have beautiful white sand beaches with crystal-clear water and lots of opportunities for adventure everywhere you look!
Choosing between Jamaica and Barbados for a vacation starts with comparing and contrasting these destinations to see which suits you best. One of the first things you might notice is that these islands are very different in size — Jamaica is 4,244 square miles while Barbados measures just 169.5 square miles. Barbados is located in the southeastern Caribbean Sea next to Saint Lucia while Jamaica is in the northwestern Caribbean Sea near Cuba. Both of these islands are part of the West Indies with Jamaica belonging to a subgroup known as the Greater Antilles, and Barbados, the Lesser Antilles.
If you're still undecided about which of these islands will be right for your vacation, read on as we discuss all the things that set these two incredible destinations apart!
The beaches are where the competition begins with Barbados and Jamaica. Both of these islands have really great beaches where you can do as much or as little as you please. Jamaica is much bigger than Barbados, so there are naturally more beaches. Even with that said, there are quite a few beaches in Barbados, about 80 in all. Some of these beaches are quite extensive as well!
As Barbados is a coral island, the sand on the beaches is also made of finely ground coral. You’ll see gleaming white sand leading to perfectly clear waters on beaches like Crane Beach, Bottom Bay Beach, and Carlisle Bay in Barbados. This would seem postcard-worthy to any onlooker, and that's because it absolutely is!
Good to know: Barbados is sometimes called the ‘Platinum Coast’ because of how white the sand is on its beautiful beaches!
• Oistins & Miami Beach - If you’re lured in just by the name of this beach, we don't blame you. This spot is perfect for a casual beach day complete with swimming, relaxing, and watching an amazing sunset later in the day.
• Bottom Bay - Secluded and absolutely beautiful, Bottom Bay can be ideal for a quiet beach day as it won't be hard to find a spot just for you.
• Crane Beach - This beach experience features stunning cliffs that greet you once you arrive. A day on this crescent beach can include sunbeds for relaxing and food and drinks, which can also be found in this area.
• Dover Beach - Perfect for a lively beach day that includes lunch and perhaps some shopping before or after a relaxing swim. The clear waters of Dover Beach are part of the appeal, as well as the lifeguards on duty.
A vacation in Jamaica can include relaxing on any of the island’s 50 public beaches. Most of these beaches have lots of amenities and room to roam. Jamaica is one of those islands where you can truly have a romantic beach day that includes staying on the beach all day without running out of things to do.
• Seven Mile Beach - Located on the west coast, Seven Mile Beach is one of the best beaches in Jamaica. This strand is extensive and filled with things to do - from water sports to enjoying reggae music and dancing.
• Doctor's Cave Beach - Beautiful, calm, and quite possibly therapeutic, Doctor’s Cave Beach in Ocho Rios has lots of amenities that’ll come in handy on a beach day.
• Bloody Bay - Seven Mile Beach runs right into Bloody Bay Beach in Jamaica. This is a gorgeous beach with calm waters and a few bars and restaurants close by. Great for drinks around sunset!
• Treasure Beach - Truly a gem, this quiet beach on the south coast of Jamaica is ideal for a private beach day. There are hidden coves on Treasure Beach that’ll be fun to explore while there.
Expert tip: Aside from relaxing on picture-perfect beaches, there are lots of fun things to do in Jamaica during a couples’ vacation.
Barbados and Jamaica are both amazing islands where you can find many opportunities for adventure and exploration. Some of the activities you can enjoy during a vacation on either of these islands include snorkeling, scuba diving, fishing, and going on adventure tours. Let’s begin with the world of diving:
The Caribbean is known for great diving. On islands like Barbados and Jamaica, you’ll definitely be able to put on some dive gear and explore beneath the waves. Barbados stands out more in terms of what you can see when snorkeling or diving, but there's lots of diving fun to be had in Jamaica as well.
• Bell Buoy Reef (Accra Beach) - This reef is quite extensive and spreads across five acres. The reef depth ranges from 2 to 20 meters underwater, making it ideal for both snorkeling and scuba diving. This is one of the best places to go scuba diving in Barbados.
• Carlisle Bay Marine Park - During a diving expedition at the Carlisle Bay Marine Park you can see six shipwrecks, thriving marine life including turtles (lots of them!), parrotfish, seahorses, octopus, moray eels, and stingrays.
• Folkestone Marine Park - There are protected snorkeling areas within this marine park. Lifeguards are usually on duty here as well. There are quite a few inshore reefs at this park where you can find lots of tropical fish, corals, sponges, and more.
• Paynes Bay - This is a shallow reef that is known for being a great place to spot sea turtles. There are also lots of palm trees in the area, making this a truly tropical paradise.
• Seven Mile Beach (Negril) - Seven Mile Beach is one of the best snorkeling spots in Jamaica because of the Negril Coral Reef, which is about two miles offshore. If you’re a beginner though, feel free to start off a bit closer to shore.
• Doctor's Cave Beach (Ocho Rios) - The waters of Doctor’s Cave Beach are said to have healing properties. Whether or not this is the case, you can definitely have a cool snorkeling experience here. Sightings can include blue tangs, butterflyfish, and stingrays.
• Treasure Beach/Frenchman's Bay (White House) - There are some interesting reefs to explore in the Treasure Beach area in Jamaica. This beach can sometimes be a little rougher than the beaches on the north coast, but you just might spot some dolphins while you’re there!
• Booby Cay (Negril) - Booby Cay is a small island off the west coast of Jamaica. It is north of Seven Mile Beach and can make for a great snorkeling location. There are tours to this island that include a fresh lobster lunch, beer, and snorkeling.
The Caribbean is a pretty awesome destination for game fishing in general, but Barbados and Jamaica stand out in that regard. There are a variety of fishing tours you can choose from on these islands including fly fishing, reef fishing, and deep-sea fishing. Here’s what you can expect from a fishing experience on each of these islands:
Barbados is an excellent fishing destination. There are many fishing charters and tours on this island (including private and shared charters) that you can book. The best time to go fishing in Barbados is during the peak fishing season from December to April. You're more likely to make big catches during this time, but you can go fishing in Barbados throughout the year.
There are many different types of fishing that you can try in Barbados including deep-sea fishing. Anglers can make deep-sea catches not too far out from shore, which adds to the appeal of fishing in Barbados. During the months of December through April, common catches include blue marlin, white marlin, mahi-mahi, sailfish, and barracuda.
In Barbados, you can also make some good catches in the shallows. Inshore fishing is preferred for bonefish, tarpon, permit, and sometimes barracuda. Aside from the peak months for fishing, you can catch lots of barracuda in Barbados from May to June, and lots of wahoos from September to November.
Expert tip: If you go with an experienced crew on a fishing charter in Barbados you're likely to be taken to some of the prime spots which are important for big game fishing.
Like most Caribbean islands, Jamaica is a great fishing destination. The peak season for fishing in Jamaica is from February to June annually. Some of the popular catches around Jamaica include jackfish, blue marlin, snapper, mahi-mahi, wahoo, yellowfin tuna, and barracuda.
Towns like Ocho Rios, Montego Bay, Port Antonio, and Negril are known for deep-sea fishing. Near some of the coral reefs around the island, you can make catches of grouper, kingfish, yellowtail snapper, mutton snapper, mackerel, and more. You can also choose to fish in the shallows in Jamaica where you’ll find bonefish.
There are quite a few tours and fishing charters available in Jamaica. The Island Routes Deep-sea sport fishing in Montego Bay, for example, includes transfers and an experienced crew that’ll take you to some of the best fishing spots in Jamaica. Cold drinks and snacks are also included with this tour.
The Caribbean is great for adventure tours and nature-oriented excursions. Islands like Barbados and Jamaica are top-rated for these types of experiences. In Jamaica, you can explore lots of different beaches, and waterfalls, and go on river rafting tours, while in Barbados, you can explore caves, take walks in wildlife reserves, and spend time on amazing beaches as well!
Barbados might be a small island but it offers lots of unique and exciting experiences visitors can enjoy. If you're looking to have a memorable vacation, you’ll definitely want to check out our list of 56 adventurous & fun things to do in Barbados. You might also want to look into the all-inclusive resorts in Barbados!
Here are some of our favorite tours in Barbados:
• Harrison’s Cave - This is an underground cave system that you can explore while in Barbados. A tram will take you underground for this tour, and once you get to a certain spot, you’ll be able to walk around and explore.
• Barbados Wildlife Reserve - This wildlife reserve spans four acres and is home to a range of animals including monkeys, peacocks, iguanas, flamingoes, parrots, and turtles.
• Learn to Surf - Barbados is one of the best surfing destinations in the Caribbean. You can sign up for surfing lessons at one of several surf schools that offer classes for beginners and more experienced surfers.
Jamaica has a mostly mountainous landscape, but the topography of this island is still quite diverse. This diversity influences the range of tours you can do on the island. You can visit many different waterfalls in Jamaica including Dunn’s River Falls, Konoko Falls, YS Falls, Mayfield Falls, and others. You can also explore lush rainforests and incredible beaches.
Here are some of the best adventure tours in Jamaica:
• Dunn’s River Falls - This is the largest and most popular waterfall in Jamaica. At Dunn’s River Falls, you can climb the falls, bathe in the surrounding natural swimming pools, or even spend time on Dunn’s River Falls Beach.
• Bamboo River Rafting tours - A bamboo rafting tour can be truly romantic in Jamaica. The most popular bamboo rafting tour in Jamaica will take you along the Martha Brae with a guide. Surrounded by greenery, you’ll be in a space of pure bliss!
• ATV Safari Tour - Get off the beaten path in Jamaica and explore undiscovered terrain on an ATV. There are ATV tours available in Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, Negril, and Sandy Bay in Jamaica.
Good to know: The adventurous will find tons of things to do in Jamaica, including hiking. Check out our expert guide to hiking in Jamaica which includes info on the best places to stay as well.
Jamaica and Barbados are both Caribbean destinations with good shopping. While exploring the towns in these islands, you’re bound to find unique items in different price ranges that you’ll want to take home. Here’s what you need to know about shopping in Barbados and Jamaica.
Shopping is definitely one of the things that Barbados is known for. No matter your budget, chances are you’ll find something that appeals to you on this island. Some of the shopping options in Barbados include the Limegrove Lifestyle Center and the Sheraton Mall. The Limegrove Lifestyle Center in Holetown (on the west coast) has lots of luxury shops including Jaeger-LeCoultre, Breitling, Ralph Lauren, and more.
For more traditional items, you’ll want to look around the city of Bridgetown where there are shops and markets selling things like Bajan crafts. On Saturdays, the Brighton Farm Market in St. George, Hotel Chattel Village, or Pelican Craft Center are great spots to purchase traditional Bajan souvenirs. Barbados is great for duty-free shopping as well.
A shopping trip in Jamaica will likely lead you to areas like Ocho Rios, Port Antonio, Montego Bay, and Kingston. Some of the popular places to shop in these areas include Main Street Jamaica, the Kingston Craft Market, and the Musgrave Market in Port Antonio. Main Street, which is sometimes referred to as the ‘Shoppes at Rose Hall’, is a great spot to buy items like Jamaican spices, jewelry, and art. This is more or less an open-air mall.
The oceanfront Kingston Craft Market also has open-air appeal. At this location, you can find clothing, handmade paintings, jewelry, and lots of other cool items to take home as souvenirs. Musgrave Market is the place to go in Jamaica if you want fresh produce, crafts, and local Jamaican street food.
If you’ll be visiting Jamaica or Barbados for a vacation, it's safe to say you’ll be in good hands where entertainment is concerned. Both of these islands are known for their exciting nightlife, and here’s what you need to know before you go:
Like many other Caribbean islands, there is a nightlife epicenter in Barbados. This tends to be around the St. Lawrence Gap area, which is along the southern coast. In this area, you can find many different bars and clubs to really get into the island rhythm. Some of the spots you might want to check out in this area include McBride's Music Pub, Hal’s Car Park Bar, and The Cove.
Harbor Lights in Carlisle Bay is also a great option for a night out in Barbados. This establishment offers dinner, drinks, and a show. You might even get to see some fire eaters and limbo dancers and enjoy live music.
Vibrant, dynamic, and exciting are some of the words commonly used to describe Jamaica’s nightlife. That assessment is largely correct considering Jamaica is known for its exceptional entertainment and nightlife, particularly when compared to other Caribbean islands. In Jamaica, whether you stay in Negril, Ocho Rios, Montego Bay, or another popular town, you’re bound to find something to do when the sun goes down.
On this island, reggae, dancehall, and dancing are a large part of the fun, but there are also more mellow ways to spend an evening, like going out for dinner and drinks. Some of the best places to enjoy the night hours in Jamaica are Rick's Cafe in Negril, Colette’s, which is also in Negril, Usain Bolt’s Tracks and Records restaurant in Kingston and Montego Bay, and the floating Floyd's Pelican Bar off the coast of Treasure Beach.
Good to know: If you want lively nights and some of the best entertainment in Jamaica during your vacation, Montego Bay won't disappoint. Some of the most luxurious all-inclusive resorts in Jamaica are in Montego Bay too.
Taking in the famous national landmarks, architecture and other stand-out features of an island can really add something special to a sightseeing tour. Jamaica and Barbados both have interesting landmarks that you must see while there. It is worth noting that Jamaica, because of its size, has a few more landmarks, and in some cases more color vibrancy in its architecture. Here’s what to expect in each of these islands:
In Barbados, you’ll find architecture that has both British Georgian and traditional Caribbean touches. There are many historical buildings and landmarks across this island that you can visit to see these designs up close. Here are some of the ones worth visiting while in Barbados:
• Nidhe Israel Synagogue Museum and British Jewish Synagogue - This synagogue in Bridgetown Barbados is quite likely the oldest in the Americas. It was built in 1654 and you can explore it during a guided tour.
• St. Nicholas Abbey - This Jacobean mansion is about 350 years old and it is one of only three still in existence in the Western Hemisphere. The mansion sits on about 400 acres of property. Guided tours are offered.
• Clifton Hall Great House - A plantation mansion that dates back to 1656, the Clifton Hall Great House is open for tours. Rum tasting is also a possibility here!
Similar to Barbados, Georgian and traditional Caribbean architecture is common in Jamaica. One difference in Jamaica is that the buildings constructed in this style tend to be more vibrant in terms of color when compared to those in Barbados. Here are some of the buildings and historical landmarks that you might want to check out while in Jamaica:
• Rose Hall Great House - A Georgian-style mansion in Montego Bay that's rumored to be haunted. You can enjoy some golfing in Jamaica at this estate and take a tour of the mansion.
• Bob Marley Museum - Bob Marley is an icon in Jamaica and throughout the world. There's a museum that celebrates him set up in his former home. Tours of the Bob Marley Museum in Jamaica include viewing some pretty awesome murals.
• Devon House - The first black millionaire of Jamaica lived at Devon House. Tours of this property, which was built in 1881, are available. There’s also a popular ice cream shop there.
Jamaica and Barbados are both sunny weather destinations in the Caribbean with peak seasons around mid-December to mid-April. There are many similarities in the climates of these destinations, such as weather that’s slightly cooler during peak season compared to the summer months. In peak season, the chances of rain also tend to be much lower.
The average temperatures in Jamaica and Barbados are similar also. Between the months of December and April, the average temperature in Jamaica is usually around 75°F. In the summertime on this island, the temperature tends to be closer to 78°F. Barbados has a moderate tropical climate and temperatures of 76°F are common from December through April. Typically, the summer months in Barbados are warmer, recording temperatures of around 80°F.
Good to know: Even though Jamaica is sunny most of the year, it has been known to snow on the Blue Mountains on this island. The Blue Mountains are 7,402ft tall and snow has been a reported sighting near the summit. Even in this instance, the flurries do not tend to settle or build up.
There are similarities between the cultures of most Caribbean islands, but each island has things that set them apart. With Barbados and Jamaica, for example, the cultures of the islands vary greatly.
Barbados has a culture with distinct West African and European influences. These influences can be seen in some of the traditions on the island, such as cricket, afternoon tea, tuk bands, and pottery. Jamaican culture also has African and European influences, and these elements come out in dynamic and outgoing ways through the island's music, dancing, nightlife, and other traditions. Both of these islands have their own Caribbean festivals packed with historical and cultural significance, which can help visitors get a true sense of what the islands are about.
If you bring up island food in any conversation that involves Caribbean nationals, you will have set yourself up for some real rivalry. Much like the other islands of this region, Barbados and Jamaica both have signature dishes that are worth trying during a visit.
Barbadian food has both West African and European influences. Some of the popular foods & drinks you must try when in Barbados include cou-cou (cornmeal, okra, flying fish), pudding and souse (sweet potato and pickled pork), and the popular macaroni pie (mac and cheese casserole). In Jamaica, there are loads of interesting food options to try including ackee and saltfish, steamed fish and okra, and Jamaican jerk chicken (or pork), which is spicy and quite delicious!
It won’t be hard to get around in Jamaica or Barbados as long as you do some research before you get there. It is worth noting that since Barbados is much smaller than Jamaica, it can be easier to find your way around the island. Barbados has some of the best infrastructure in the Caribbean, so things tend to be a little more organized when compared to some of the other islands. This makes it a whole lot easier to get around. In fact, you can explore the entire island of Barbados in a week or less.
In terms of topography, Jamaica is quite diverse. This can make it a little challenging to get from one part of the island to another. The Blue Mountains are set pretty much in the center of the island, so you’ll typically have to travel along the perimeter when commuting. Naturally, this increases travel time to and from various areas. Luckily, there are multiple airports in Jamaica offering domestic flights and international flights. This means you can plan to land in or near to the area where you’ll be staying while on this island.
There are lots of buses and taxis on both of these islands, as well as car rental options.
Expert tip: Before hopping on a cab in Jamaica it is important to check that it is one of the licensed red plate taxis.
Barbados and Jamaica are two of the Caribbean islands that have their own currencies. Barbados uses the Barbadian Dollar (BBD), while Jamaica uses the Jamaican Dollar (JMD). These islands both accept US dollars (USD) as legal tender.
Currency conversions make Jamaica a relatively low-cost island to visit as $1 USD amounts to about $152.86 JMD. In Barbados, $1 USD is about the equivalent of $2.01613 BBD. Generally, Barbados tends to be more expensive than Jamaica in terms of food, transportation (can be twice as expensive as Jamaica in this area), events, and entertainment (as much as 70% more expensive). If you're on a budget, Jamaica might be the better destination for you because your money can go a bit further there.
Barbados is largely considered to be one of the safest islands in the Caribbean, but it is still important to be aware of your surroundings there as you would at home, especially at night.
Jamaica tends to get some bad press when it comes to safety, but it can still be a safe destination if you stay alert and follow the same safety guidelines you would in any other destination. If you'll be visiting Jamaica, some of the safest areas to stay in and explore include Ocho Rios, Montego Bay, Negril, and Whitehouse. These areas are also known to be resort towns, so you'll find lots to do there as well.
Expert tip: Ask resort staff for guidance if you want more information about a particular place before you go.
In both Barbados and Jamaica, there are Sandals all-inclusive resorts that can be perfect for a couple's vacation. Each resort has its own personality, so it is important to find out as much as you can before deciding on a resort.
In Barbados, there are two Sandals Resorts to choose from - Sandals Barbados and Sandals Royal Barbados. These resorts are in St. Lawrence Gap on the south coast of Barbados. St. Lawrence Gap is known for its amazing beaches, restaurants, and nightlife, so you can be assured that if you stay in this area you’ll be kept well entertained.
The choice of where to stay is a bit more difficult in Jamaica because you’ll have six Sandals Resorts to choose from - two in Montego Bay, two in Ocho Rios, one in Negril, and one in Whitehouse. You can read our posts on what guests love about each property starting with what guests love about Sandals Montego Bay and what guests love about Sandals South Coast to see which one might be right for you!
Good to know: Sandals resorts in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios are ideal for couples who want to be at the center of the action, while Sandals Negril is more serene. Sandals South Coast is more rural and secluded.
Barbados and Jamaica are both amazing islands. The choice you’ll make on which of these islands is best for your vacation will depend entirely on the sort of experience you want to have. Knowing the differences between what these islands offer in terms of food, culture, beaches, entertainment, and other areas should help point you in the right direction.
Your accommodations are critical when vacationing in Jamaica or Barbados. Whether you're a first-timer or a return visitor to any of these islands, staying at an all-inclusive resort is a great idea! Staff at Sandals Resorts are super helpful when it comes to pointing guests in the right direction for the best things to do and island hot spots that are worth visiting. A vacation at a Sandals all-inclusive resort will also grant you access to lots of quality inclusions like gourmet restaurants, luxury accommodation, entertainment night and day, lots of bars including swim-up bars, and everything you’ll need for a memorable island getaway.
Expert tip: Want to visit two destinations in one trip? It takes just about 20 minutes or less to get from Barbados to Saint Lucia by plane. If you decide to vacation in Barbados, you can spend a few days in Saint Lucia as well since there are Sandals Resorts on both islands.