When it comes to Caribbean vacations, Jamaica and the Bahamas have always been able to hold their own. Cumulatively, because of the fact that the Bahamas is made up of 700 different islands, and that Jamaica is a single 4,244 mi² landmass, the two are among the largest territories in the Caribbean region.
While both tropical paradises are worthy of a beach getaway, the Bahamas offers you over 700 tropical islands and therefore this is the place you go on a relaxing boat trip, from one beautiful white sand beach to another. Jamaica has its incredible mountainous landscape, which offers wild river rafting, spectacular waterfalls, hiking tours and zipline adventures. Although the ocean water is slightly warmer in Jamaica compared to the Bahamas, the latter has a slight upper hand when it comes to snorkeling and scuba diving.
Tip: Get PADI® certified at one of Sandals all-inclusive resorts, and dive the rest of your stay for free!
When it comes to food, there is a soul in Jamaican cooking that is unmatched. When in the Bahamas, try out one of the many conch dishes and ‘peas & rice’. In Jamaica, give the jerk chicken and ‘ackee & saltfish’ a try.
Both Jamaica and the Bahamas have a rich history and similar style architecture. In Jamaica you will find Georgian style buildings and in the Bahamas you can marvel at colonial style buildings. Both countries feature colonial fortifications.
While casinos are hard to find in Jamaica, nothing beats listening to a live reggae band while sipping on your Red Stripe beer. If you are looking to play golf on your vacation, check out Sandals Emerald Bay in Exuma (the Bahamas) or Sandals Ochi in Ocho Rios (Jamaica).
Both countries are post card worthy and undeniably worth a visit. Still not sure which of the two tropical paradises to pick for your next vacation? Here is an in-depth look at both islands, which we hope will help make your choice that much easier!
In this article on the Sandals Blog:
Landscape & climate
Where to stay?
Economy & currency
Select your favorite activity from the list below:
Relaxing on the beach
Entertainment & Nightlife
Get in touch with your most laid-back self as you lay on warm Caribbean shores soaking in the sun. Caribbean beaches tend to be more beautiful than most, so be sure you walk with your camera, and plan out your day ahead of time.
There are plenty of beaches to choose from in Jamaica, including the world famous Seven Mile beach, Frenchman’s Cove and Doctor’s Cove beach. Most are tourist friendly, with amenities allowing you to stay for longer periods of time and have fun. The sunsets in Negril are simply amazing. Jamaica also has beaches like Tropical Bliss beach in Montego Bay, perfect if you prefer a party beach atmosphere.
Picture: Sandals all-inclusive resort in Negril, located on Seven Mile Beach.
While in the Bahamas, Cable Beach, Coco Plum Beach, Pink Sand Beach, and Gold Rock Beach are favorites for both locals and tourists alike, beaches like Lighthouse beach are best for relaxing in a quiet and serene environment. In the Bahamas you will find plenty of beaches of white soft sand and beautiful turquoise waters.
Picture: Sandals Royal Bahamian, located on Cable Beach.
Check out the beaches we listed in our ‘Top 12 beaches in Nassau’ and ‘Top 40 beaches in the Bahamas’ articles, if you want to learn more about the amazing beaches found in this country.
While Jamaica has some amazing tropical beaches, like those in Montego bay, Ocho Rios and Negril, the Bahamas comes out on top. The beaches in The Bahamas are so plentiful, and so diverse, that you can find a breathtaking white sand beach on dozens, if not hundreds of the 700 islands across the Bahamian archipelago. Ideal for beach-hopping!
Loads of people travel to both Jamaica and The Bahamas to see what the beaches have to offer. It’s part of their Caribbean appeal. In Jamaica, there is a range of activities visitors can engage in on some of the most pristine beaches, including Seven Mile Beach and Doctor’s Cove Beach. While in The Bahamas, Pink Sand Beach and Gold Rock beach are favorites for both locals and tourists alike.
Sea life you might encounter while snorkeling in Jamaica, include snappers, sergeant majors, barracudas, squirrel fish, flying gurnards, spotted moray eels, stingrays, trumpet fish, jack fish, puffer fish, hard corals, soft corals, scorpion fish, butterfly fish, squid, parrot fish, urchins, sharks, jacks, groupers, turtles, lionfish and more.
Sea life you might encounter while snorkeling in The Bahamas, include lobsters, crabs, snappers, eels, stingrays, hard corals, soft corals, squid, angel fish, parrot fish, trumpet fish, trigger fish, goat fish, urchins, squirrel fish, tangs, butterfly fish, sharks, barracudas, jacks, anemones, groupers, flounder, octopi, turtles, jellyfish, lionfish and more.
Snorkeling can be amazing all over the world, but in the Caribbean, you have some of the best, with Jamaica and The Bahamas ranking above most. Though Jamaica may have some amazing beaches and reefs, the snorkeling in the Bahamas, especially in the out islands, is slightly better. Some areas of the Bahamas, where the snorkeling is best, you will see gorgeous reefs plentiful with many different species of fish and marine life. Along with the diversity, the easy access, and number of islands with reefs in The Bahamas, lets these 700 Bahamian islands take the top prize in this category.
Jamaica might not be known as a popular scuba diving destination, but there is plenty to see! Turtles, nurse sharks, dolphins, rays and sea horses are spotted on a regular basis. Most popular diving spots in Jamaica can be found around Montego Bay (great dive sites for beginners!) and Negril. Popular dive spots include the Arch (Montego Bay), the Wreck (an old DC3 plane wreck, Montego Bay), Middle Shoal reef (Negril), Shark’s Reef (Negril), Throne Room (Negril), Surprise Reef (Negril) and Devil’s reef (Ocho Rios).
In the Bahamas there are lots of locations to choose from when it comes to diving, as there are many islands offering varied experiences. Some of the top diving sites include Runway Wall (Nassau), the James Bond Wrecks (Nassau), Bahama Mama (Nassau), Current Cut (Eleuthera), Tiger Beach (Grand Bahama), Victory Reef (Bimini) and the Andros Barrier Reef (Andros).
The diving in the Bahamas is spectacular, and ranges from drop-offs and underwater caves to wrecks and shark dives.
Tip: Stay at Sandals Royal Bahamian, an all-inclusive resort located in Nassau. Scuba diving is included in your stay, including state-of-the-art equipment! Plus, you will have access to a private offshore island to relax in between dives!
Hands down the Bahamas come out on top when it comes to scuba diving, although Negril has some amazing dive sites as well. The Bahamas simply have a bigger variety of things to see. From James Bond wrecks to underwater caves, from colorful coral reefs to shark spotting – scuba diving in the Bahamas is pretty amazing.
In Jamaica you’ll find plenty of boating events, like the Montego Bay Yacht Club Easter Regatta in March/April every year. Tour companies like Island Routes offer a wide range of fishing tours, including deep sea fishing. Fish you can expect to catch, include Blue Marlin, Sailfish, Wahoo, Mahi-Mahi, Grouper, Mutton and Yellowtail Snapper and Jack Crevalle.
Billfish angling is extremely popular in The Bahamas, with several tournaments being hosted annually. There are also several boating events and regattas which happen throughout the year, the most popular being the Bacardi Billfish Tournament in March and The Bahamas Billfish Championship held between April and June.
Fish you can expect to catch while in the Bahamas are the Blue and White Marlin, Red Snapper, Nassau Grouper, Blackfin and Yellowfin Tuna, Sailfish, Mahi-Mahi, Amberjack and Wahoo.
Want to learn more about fishing in Nassau, the Bahamas? Check out our 'Definitive Guide to fishing in Nassau'.
Since Nassau (capital of the Bahamas) is only a 15-minute boat ride from the deep waters, it means that you can get into the deep and plentiful waters in almost no-time. There are many fishing tournaments year around that can take you on some of the most exciting and challenging fishing adventures you can find anywhere. The Bahamas tops Jamaica, when it comes to fishing.
Bamboo river rafting in Jamaica is a popular couples' experience. Explore the “Rafter’s Village” aboard a 30-foot, bamboo raft, which is an experience unlike any other. Sip on your welcome drink and take in the amazing sights as you bob down one of Jamaica’s many rivers.
Jamaica has some pretty impressive waterfalls like the Dunn River’s Falls. Grab your water shoes and GoPro for this adventure. You can either go for a wet and adventurous climb up the Falls, or walk beside it, taking in the spectacular beauty. Reach Falls in St Thomas, and Secret Falls in Ocho Rios are two other waterfalls you’re sure to love!
Make an adventure out of it; take a boat out to Pelican Bar which is located just about a mile offshore from Treasure beach. Have a bite, some cold beers or a cocktail, take lots of pictures, and be sure to go for a swim!
You can’t go wrong with an ATV on a beautiful and rugged Caribbean island. Explore the sights and sounds of Jamaica on four wheels, in areas like Negril, Sandy Bay, Montego Bay, and Ocho Rios.
Oceans are considered magical for a reason, and you’ll see this for yourself while on a scenic catamaran tour in Jamaica. Enjoy great drinks, music, and maybe even the best sunset of your life!
Expert Tip: Try a party cruise with snorkeling, or a romantic private catamaran tour for your honeymoon vacation!
Other fun adventures while in Jamaica include ziplining, horseback riding, hiking and biking, cliff diving, safari tours, and more!
The Bahamas is all about the beach life. Nowhere in the Caribbean will you have so many beautiful beaches in such close proximity, and at your disposal. You can choose between pink and white sand slices of paradise, and beaches to relax, or beaches where you can interact with nature; think swimming pigs, roaming iguanas, friendly stingrays, and playful dolphins!
If you’re in The Bahamas, chances are you’ll venture out on at least one relaxing boat tour to another island. Ferries and water taxis are relatively low cost, so you can take full advantage of this to explore the best the islands have to offer.
The Bahamas leaves Jamaica in the dust with this one. The adorable swimming pigs in Exuma are not to be missed. They will literally swim out to meet you as you arrive to Big Major Cay (Pig Island) by boat, and if you’re travelling with kids, you’ll win some major points for this activity.
Learn more about the swimming pigs.
Caves, mangroves, and a pretty amazing beach. Gold Rock Beach, located within this park is especially beautiful at low-tide. Some people describe it as magical. Some tours to Lucayan Park included kayaking, hiking, and cave explorations.
Nature lovers will appreciate this 25-acre sanctuary managed by The Bahamas National Trust (BNT) and the Leon Levy Foundation. You can learn about the history of Eleuthera, and indulge in a most peaceful space amid the flora and fauna.
The narrowest point of the island of Eleuthera, The Glass Window Bridge is a sight to behold. It is literally a strip of land between wide bodies of water, one the Atlantic Ocean, and the other, Eleuthera’s beautiful blue waters. You won’t find this in many other places, so take a deep breath, and save the memories for later.
Jamaica has the edge on tours when activities are considered. As there are no waterfalls, and a general absence of rivers and mountains in the Bahamas, there are simply more adventurous things you can do in Jamaica. That being said, if you are just looking for a relaxed beach vacation including a boat trip or two – the Bahamas has all you need.
Bigger island, wider range of shopping opportunities. While in Jamaica, check out places like The Shoppes at Rose Hall in Montego Bay, Island Village in Ocho Rios, and Time Square Shopping Mall in Negril.
In Kingston, Ocho Rios and Montego Bay you’ll find plenty of options for shopping, from art galleries like the National Gallery of Jamaica and The Art Centre, to craft markets like the Kingston craft market, which is often described as “a true representation of Jamaican culture”.
Take home with you: Blue Mountain Coffee, Oil Paintings, Jamaican Dolls, Local Rum (Jamaican White Overproof Rum), Jamaican spices.
Did you know: The Blue Mountains in Jamaica are among the highest peaks in the Caribbean! Some visitors fly to Jamaica just to sample coffee grown in the Blue Mountain region.
If you’re looking for souvenir or gift items while in The Bahamas, check out the Nassau Straw Market. Bahamian artisans use sisal, also known as Agave sisalana, as part of their crafting process. It is widely cultivated in The Bahamas, as are palm leaves. Once they are dried, both are used to create intricate items – everything from weaving baskets and fans, to hats and purses. Sometimes you’ll find colorful fabrics incorporated in these designs, which amounts to a pretty neat finish. Among those treasures, you’ll also find things like handmade crafts, shell jewelry, and wood carvings.
The various booths at the Bahama Crafts Centre (Paradise Island) feature locally made items including Junkanoo art, steel drums, and jewelry. The Crafts Centre is located near Marina Village on Paradise Island. Marina Village is also worth scoping for interesting shopping finds.
The Craft Cottage (Nassau) is an art lover’s dream, as you’ll not only be able to purchase cool items like soaps, clothing, and art, but you might even be able to meet some of the creators and artists who frequently stop by this location. While in Nassau, it’s also worth taking time to peruse the art pieces at the Doongalik Studios Art Gallery.
Crystal Court Shops in Paradise Island, Marathon Mall in Nassau, and Port Lucaya Market Place in Freeport are also interesting places to shop.
Take home with you: Jams and jellies, cigars, Junkanoo art, rum, and batik-style clothes.
While both Jamaica and The Bahamas have lots of places to shop for souvenirs, Jamaica comes out on top. You will find more places for you to buy souvenirs from and the US Dollar goes a longer way.
Jamaicans sure know how to party, and if a party experience is what you seek, you’ll find yourself right at home on these shores. If you choose to venture outside of the resorts, great places to go for a night out include Rick’s Café (Negril), Collette’s Bar (Negril), Floyd’s Pelican Bar (Treasure Beach) and Usain Bolt's Tracks and Records (Kingston and Montego Bay). Montego Bay is your best bet, if you are looking for a night out.
Picture: Seaside fireplace at Sandals Montego Bay.
That’s not to say the people from The Bahamas fall behind in that category. Both islands play host to spectacular carnival parades annually, drawing thousands of visitors to their shores. Places to go include The Daiquiri Shack, Tiki Bikini Hut, Senor Frog’s (all in Nassau) and Nippers Beach Bar (Abaco). Nassau is the place to be in the Bahamas for a good night out.
No clear winner here. In both locations it is your safest bet to stay inside the resort area. All-inclusive resorts often offer unlimited drinks until late and have plenty of live music and other forms of entertainment. Whether you’re in the Bahamas or Jamaica, you’ll find lots to do in and out of your resort!
Picture: Entertainment you can expect at Sandals all-inclusive resorts.
Jamaica is not a casino destination, according to the island’s tourism minister, and may never be. It is however a destination where casino gaming is available. There are plenty of gaming lounges that you can check out around Jamaica, including in Montego Bay.
You’ll find casinos in The Bahamas, but you won’t find many locals taking a chance, as local laws prevent nationals from gambling. As a visitor you will be free to indulge. Most casinos in The Bahamas are located within hotels or resorts.
With Jamaica not having any casinos, The Bahamas gets the default vote. However, there are casinos in Nassau that are world class, so if you have the bravery for putting your money on the table, you can win big here.
Jamaica’s architecture is unique and historic. Still today you’ll find places with very distinct Jamaican Georgian Architecture, which combines ancient Georgian elements with more modern and functional aspects that suit the Jamaican landscape. Jamaican Georgian architecture at one point became the go-to as far as construction went, with everything from public buildings, to private homes, dawning elements from this style.
The Jamaican Vernacular architecture style, brought to the island by tenant farms and indentured laborers mostly from Scotland, is another still existing feature you may spot in some places while traversing the island. This style is described as ‘more down-to-Earth’, particularly for those who could not afford the Jamaican Georgian design. House with this style can be compared to the bothies of 18th century Scotland.
Changes to local infrastructure in Jamaica happened during this period, as British tradition made way for influences by the Spanish who brought in their own preferences, like larger verandas and balconies. This was adopted by some, but as time wore on, climatic suitability trumped everything else. More modern designs followed, and soon the 20th century led to taller buildings, and more international designs, some of which still contained Georgian detail.
Not so popular nowadays in The Bahamas, but you’ll still find a few signature Clapboard Cottages in islands like Harbour Island and Spanish Wells. As a signature, Clapboard Cottages were from the earliest days angled in order to let the trade winds in. Added to this, windows tended to be larger, and ceilings higher, which keep residents cool. Other features included awning-style push-out shutters, shaded windows, and low stilts.
With traditionally thick walls, shuttered windows, and light paint to reflect the sun, old colonial buildings are now mostly used to house government buildings in the islands of The Bahamas. You’ll find quite a few of these quaint and British inspired buildings throughout the islands.
Susceptible to tropical storms, it is important that all infrastructure in The Bahamas is built to withstand possible strong wind. Carefully considered elements of modern villas in The Bahamas keep this in mind with their tiled roofs and stone walls. The modern Bahamian Villas are as sturdy, as they are beautiful!
This is a bit of a toss-up when it comes to architecture of the two countries, as both have some amazing historical heritages, preserved by both countries.
Both countries have similar styles like the colonial style of the Bahamas and the Georgian style of Jamaica. Both countries have their own colonial fortifications that beg to be explored and both have plantation-styled homes on estates that can be visited.
However, if there was one deciding factor, Jamaica wins being a much larger, individual landmass, and as the population centers are all connected and easily accessible, and there is more to see, in terms of man-made structures.
At this mansion in Kingston attributed to Jamaica’s very first millionaire George Stiebel, you’ll be able to embark on guided tours, or check out the in-house bakery, ice cream parlour, restaurant, or shops. Devon House is also a very popular wedding venue.
Here you’ll find Edna Manley’s statue of National Hero Paul Bogle – a historic monument, fitting for a place so rich in history that is commonly associated with the Morant Bay Rebellion, an important moment in Jamaican history.
A botanical garden and one of the most expansive open spaces in Kingston. You’ll find a range of monuments here, and the burial ground of some of the most prominent Jamaican national heroes and leaders.
Tours, golf, weddings, events, and more. All of these are available at this Jamaican Georgian style mansion located in Montego Bay. Rose Hall was built in the 1770s, and first belonged to colonist Fulke Rose, and later in the 1800s, to John Palmer.
There are a number of 18th century buildings in this area which has Spanish origins. It was previously known as Villa de la Vega, and was once the capital of Jamaica.
Fort Montague, Fort Charlotte, and Fort Fincastle are all located in New Providence Island in The Bahamas. At all three locations you’ll have opportunities to tour the British-colonial era forts built in the 1700.
Marked by its typical colonial design Parliament Square in downtown Nassau stands out in a charming and mysterious way. Full of history, the buildings here were constructed in 1815. Today, they typically host government meetings.
A major landmark in the Fort Fincastle Historic Complex in downtown Nassau, the 66 steps here are made of solid limestone. They are named in honor of Queen Victoria (Britain, 1837 to 1901).
The Cloisters Paradise Island is a breath of fresh air. The Cloisters, which was first part of a French Monastery in France, has a history of being disassembled and re-assembled. The structure has found a resting place in The Bahamas’ Paradise Island. At this location you’ll also find the expansive Versailles Gardens, which is particularly lush, and loved by all who visit.
Tip: There’s a great view of Nassau’s Harbor from this location which is also popular for weddings.
Like most islands in the Caribbean, Bahamas’ Government House is the residence of the Governor General (GG) of The Bahamas. The building itself is from the colonial era, and previously was home to the Governor of The Bahamas. The GG’s residence is open for scheduled tours.
Built in 1670, this church is the oldest in The Bahamas. Known to be the ‘Mother’ of all Anglican churches in the islands, Christ Church Cathedral was notoriously destroyed and rebuilt several times.
Though Jamaica has an abundance of landmarks that you can and should visit, there is a distinct advantage in The Bahamas, especially if you are looking to see many in a short period of time, like in the nation's capital of Nassau. Many of Jamaica's landmarks can be hours apart to see them apart, while in Nassau you can do a whirl-wind tour of over a dozen just by walking.
Both Nassau and Jamaica are considered third world developing countries. A quick comparison finds that Nassau, the capital of The Bahamas, is more developed than most parts of Jamaica. This balances off because most of the out islands in The Bahamas are less developed, and some even untouched. The Bahamas takes pride in sustainable development and pays attention to preservation concepts within the development of infrastructure.
Picture: Mountainous landscape of Jamaica.
Jamaica is one major island, unlike The Bahamas which is a tropical archipelago made up of 700 different islands of varying sizes. It is one of the biggest islands in the Caribbean and features lots of mountains and rainforests; with beautiful beaches that are especially popular for snorkeling and scuba diving for their numerous reefs. Jamaica is nearer to the Equator than The Bahamas, which means the waters here are slightly warmer. Jamaica can be found about 500 miles south of The Bahamas.
Peak season in Jamaica is from December to April, much like in The Bahamas. The weather tends to be cooler then, and the island busier than most other times of years as this is a popular time to travel. If you’re planning to travel in peak season, you’ll need to book your trip in advance in both islands. Peak season temperatures in Jamaica range from lows of 70°F to highs of 84°F.
Want to find out more about Jamaica’s weather? Check out our 'Best Time visit Jamaica' article.
Peak season is the most popular time to travel to most destinations, and the same goes for The Bahamas. The islands are the least rainy around this time, with temperatures still moderate as opposed to traveling in the summertime. Another plus is that the peak traveling months, from December to April. The average temperature during the high season ranges from lows of 63°F to highs of 82°F in The Bahamas.
This means your chances for an idyllic and sunny Caribbean vacation are sky high!
For more info, check out our ‘Best time to visit the Bahamas’ article.
It is hard to deny that The Bahamas are gorgeous. The beaches, the crystal-clear waters, its sunsets and even the plants you can see all around the islands.
However, Jamaica comes out on top here. Also, with beautiful waters and beautiful white sand beaches, Jamaica has rich and lush mountain ranges that can't be found in the comparatively flat Bahamian islands. There is something to be said about being able to trek through jungle-like forests to come upon gorgeous rivers and naturally occurring waterfalls.
On top of that, Jamaica's high temperatures are around 5 degrees Fahrenheit higher in the months of December until April, compared to the Bahamas. It all depends on what temperatures you are used to at home, but some travellers prefer Jamaica especially in the months of January and February, for this very reason. In these months high temperatures in Jamaica reach 82 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to 77 in the Bahamas.
Contrary to popular belief, not everyone in the island of Jamaica, or in the Caribbean for that matter, is Rastafarian, and hangs out on a lush beautiful beach all day.
As a very mixed culture, Jamaicans are known as generally hard-working people, much like most of the residents across the islands in the Caribbean.
Some of the major ethnic groups which influenced the diverse races in Jamaica include: the Tainos from South America, the Spanish (in the days of Columbus), Africans, the British, Indians, the Chinese, and people from the Middle East (Libya and Syria).
People from The Bahamas are known as Bahamians, and most are also mixed, due to the colorful histories of the islands, which include back and forth battles for dominion, and the times of slavery.
The Bahamas is 91 percent afro-Caribbean, with about 5 percent of the population being made up of mostly white natives. Two percent of the population identifies as ‘mixed’ while the rest is unspecified.
Bahamians tend to be a bit more reserved than Jamaicans, due to differences in culture. Some visitors might interpret this as rude, but as long as you are friendly and give it time, most will become more open. Generally speaking, both Bahamians and Jamaicans are friendly people, and will go out of their way to show you all the reasons you should (and will) fall in love with their beautiful islands!
Jamaicans and their culture are vibrant and dynamic, and this can be seen in everything Jamaican – from the people, to the food, to the entertainment you’ll find.
Jamaica is frequently associated with Reggae and dancehall music, and rightly so. The island is the root of these genres, with artistes like Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff, and in recent times Sean Paul and Shaggy. Not only is this island home to some of the best of music, but the same goes for sports, with icons like Olympians Usain Bolt, Shelly Ann Fraiser and others.
On a wider scale, aspects of African traditions can be seen in Jamaican culture, in terms of the music produced on this island, as well as in art, dance, and local theatre. Ethnically diverse, the culture is quite mixed in Jamaica, so if you visit the island, expect to be pleasantly surprised!
Bahamian culture has noticeable African, British and American elements and influences. With a history rich in piracy to its reformation into privateering, to slavery and its abolishment, the culture in The Bahamas has been shaped in ways that even a storybook would be hard-pressed to match. These elements are infused in its cultural traditions and events, and the way of life of the people. One of the biggest cultural celebrations in The Bahamas is the Caribbean carnival called Junkanoo, a street parade with costumes, music, dance, usually held in the early hours of Boxing Day, or New Year’s Eve.
The festival itself, much like the people of this territory, is lighthearted, fun, and exciting.
If you are looking for a place that is steeped in musical heritage, where the people are hardworking and full of soul, then Jamaica wins here. However, if you are looking to explore lands and seas that where the culture was carved from a more rugged, mystical set of events, where survival was a daily struggle for most, then The Bahamas tip the scales and come out on top.
Though Jamaicans speak English, for many, even some people from the Caribbean, it may be difficult to understand their dialect, which is also known as Patois (Patwa). Patwa is an English-based creole dialect that most Jamaicans speak naturally, though nearly everyone can revert to proper English before you can bat an eyelid.
The Bahamas is predominantly an English-speaking island, though some people are fluent in Haitian-Creole, and Bahamian English which incorporates African influences and island dialect. Some say Jamaicans and Bahamians have similarities of speech, but you’ll have to decide for yourself.
The vast majority of both the Jamaicans and Bahamians speak English. If you are visiting any of these Caribbean island getaways, you should have no problem with communication.
Hands down the Jamaican dialect is as the more complex to understand, especially Patwa, which if you do not speak it, it is like a completely different language, but there is a beauty in their accent that is warm, welcoming and invites you to relax and just enjoy the moment.
With the language in The Bahamas there are many unique words spoken in the local dialect that are fun and entertaining, especially when you learn them for the first time. Don't be shy to test it out and ask a local to speak Bahamian with you.
One thing’s for sure, Caribbean people love delicious food. If you travel to any destination in the Caribbean you’ll notice just how much attention natives pay to ensuring the correct proportions of seasoning are added to meats especially, to ensure the richness of flavors and an almost sensual experience of the palette.
As popular as it is in Jamaica, some people might even believe ackee and saltfish is the only thing Jamaicans eat. This dish is quite flavorful, but it is just one of many delectable delights you can find on this island.
Many Jamaicans credit steamed fish and okra, another culinary favorite, for their athletic prowess and other talents. This dish is healthy and tasty, so it’s a win either way!
Other popular menu items include the world-renowned Jamaican jerk chicken, pork or seafood, curried goat, rundown, rice and beans (made with coconut milk and red beans), and more.
Picture: Jamaican rice and peas, fried plantain and jerk chicken.
Callaloo, a savory dish made from boiling down leaf vegetables (amaranth, taro or xanthosomo) in water is a culinary experience that must be had, as is ‘Bammy’ a yummy cassava-based (yucca) flat bread. Scotch bonnet peppers are a secret ingredient in many dishes, adding the spice that brings Jamaican foods to life.
Jamaican Patties are also popular and have made their debut into the international arena. These yellow, flaky pastries are often filled with chicken curry, beef, or vegetables, but you can also find cheese and lobster patties which are amazing, to say the least!
Picture: Jamaican acee and saltfish with festival and callaloo.
In Jamaica you’ll also find soursop of all varieties, even soursop juice. Soursop, a white, fleshy fruit rich in health benefits, is the fruit of the Annona muricata, evergreen tree.
Last but not least, the local Red Stripe beer is a celebrity in itself, and one sip is all the introduction you need!
The Bahamas is famous for its conch dishes, which include but are not limited to Conch Salad, Conch Fritters, Cracked Conch, Conch Chowder, Conch Burgers, and more. Conch is a good source of protein, and other vitamins and minerals. Conch Salad is best enjoyed on a breezy Bahamian beach!
Caribbean people love fried fish and chicken, and Bahamians fall right into that stereotype. Except in this case, the food is so delicious that it isn’t even a bad thing!
Picture: Bahamian Conch Fritters.
In The Bahamas you’ll also find their version of Peas & Rice, which can include pigeon peas, ham (or bacon), tomato paste, thyme, salt, pepper and other seasonings. It’s a very different dish from Jamaican Rice and Beans, but also incredibly tasty!
If you’re spending some time in The Bahamas, it is highly recommended that you seek out some Minced Lobster, which is otherworldly, if you can find someone who makes it.
Picture: Bahamian peas and rice, fried plantain, coleslaw and steamed chicken.
Other popular dishes include Baked Macaroni and Cheese, Stewed/Baked Chicken, and ‘Switcha.’ The latter is similar to lemonade and is perfect with lots of ice on a hot Bahamian day.
Where beverages are concerned, you’ll also want to try ‘Sky Juice’, a cocktail made with fresh coconut water, gin, and condensed milk. It’ll give you a ‘kick’ that’s purely Caribbean. Also try local Bahamian beer, Kalik, which locals say is supposed to symbolize a cowbell ring! Sands is another popular local brew.
There is a soul in Jamaican cooking that is unmatched. What they do well they do extremely well, and there is an abundance of chefs in Jamaica that are magicians when it comes to mutton, chicken and pork.
Reggae, dancehall, and a little bit of Soca are the trending genres of Jamaica, but it’s not all you can expect to listen to while in Jamaica. Jamaicans are quite cultured when it comes to music preferences, and you’ll notice this as you scan through radio stations in your rental, or if you decide to check out the local bars or clubs.
However, Reggae and Dancehall music genres are gigantic in this territory, as this is the land in which they originated. You’ll find loads of studios in Jamaica which are buzzing with artistes, both established and aspiring, as everyone works on getting the next hit. It is common in Jamaica for one producer to create a particular ‘riddim’ or beat, and for a number of artistes to lay their music on that same beat. Of course, only the most popular reach international airwaves.
On the Reggae scene, Bob Marley, even in his death is King of Reggae music. Some visitors travel to Jamaica just to visit the land of his birth, and his childhood home. While in Jamaica, Reggae buffs can visit the popular Bob Marley Museum where they can enjoy everything Bob Marley. Tour options include the ‘Combo “One Love” Tour’, the ‘Bob Marley Home Tour’ and ‘Bob Marley’s “Making of the Music” Tour’, the latter of which allows participants to tour the legendary Tuff Gong recording studio.
Music in The Bahamas is lower key than that of Jamaica, as Jamaica comparatively sets the bar higher than most other Caribbean countries are able to go.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t expect to hear good music, as Soca and Calypso are popular in The Bahamas, especial around carnival which happens in May annually. ‘Rake and scrape’ music is part of Bahamian tradition too, and it is said to have originated from Cat Island. This genre commonly incorporates Concertinas, Goombay drums, and a Handsaw. Rake and Scrape tunes are mostly instrumental, and the rake and scrape effect is achieved by bending a saw, and scarping a small object, like a screwdriver, against the saw.
Varied cultural influences have played a part in what Bahamian music is today. Since the 1950s, however, music in The Bahamas has been influenced significantly by American culture, and by many of the other ethnic groups coming to Bahamian shores.
Artistes from The Bahamas who have reached the heights of international fame include The Baha Men (Who Let the Dogs Out?), Ronnie Butler and Kirkland Bodie.
When it comes to producing new and original music in their own style Jamaica wins with little doubt. Jamaicans are the pioneers and kings of Reggae, they are unmatched in such genres. The Bahamas, though there are some noteworthy musicians in calypso, rake and scrape and other forms of music, there tends to be a heavy reliance on American influences, when it comes to general music played across the land. Here you will not be surprised when you hear common, even old top-40's style music played in many places you go.
In Jamaica, some of the most popular areas are Montego Bay, Negril and Ocho Rios.
Sandals has two all-inclusive resorts in Montego Bay, including the newly renovated Sandals Montego Bay (the first Sandals!) and Sandals Royal Caribbean (comes with an exotic private island).
You’ll find two all-inclusive resorts in Ocho Rios: Sandals Ochi (comes with tropical gardens and a golf course) and Sandals Royal Plantation (secluded boutique resort, oceanfront butler suites only).
Sandals Negril is located on the beautiful Seven Mile Beach, offering an amazing beach vacation and incredible sunsets. Sandals South Coast features Jamaica’s largest pool, plus all rooms are beachfront with oceanview.
Picture: Sandals Montego Bay in Jamaica.
No matter which of these resort you stay in, you can play at all 6!* That means you will have access to all restaurants, bars, swimming pools and beaches these amazing resorts have on offer.
See all Sandals all-inclusive resorts in Jamaica.
Some of the more popular islands in The Bahamas include New Providence Island (Nassau), Paradise Island, Abaco, the Exumas, Eleuthera & Harbor Island.
If you’re staying Sandals Emerald Bay on Exuma, you can expect a beautiful large beach with soft white sand – truly paradise. The food is incredible, and the resort comes with an award-winning Greg Norman's Championship golf course.
Picture: Sandals Emerald Bay in Exuma, the Bahamas.
If you prefer to stay in Nassau, Sandals Royal Bahamian is a treat and a great resort for scuba diving. On top of that, this resort will give you access to a secluded private offshore island. Don’t forget to visit Kimonos, one of the amazing restaurants Sandals Royal Bahamian has on offer.
Both resorts are all-inclusive beachfront resorts and great for destination weddings and honeymoons!
See all Sandals all-inclusive resorts in the Bahamas.
While you won’t find Uber or LYFT in The Bahamas or Jamaica, there are ways to get around without much hassle. You can take a taxi, or a ‘jitney’ in The Bahamas, the latter of which is the local term for a bus. In Jamaica, you can take a street van or taxi to get to your destination. You can also catch a shuttle to and from your hotel or resort of choice via the local airports in both territories. If you book your vacation with resorts like Sandals, your all-inclusive package will come with complementary shuttle transportation both ways.
The best way to get around in Jamaica is by red plate taxis, as they are the only licensed taxies in Jamaica. If you haven’t made arrangements to get to your hotel (airport transfer is included when staying at any Sandals resort), you’ll find taxis just outside airports including Montego Bay’s Sangster International Airport (MBJ). Getting buses is a little more challenging in Jamaica, especially when you need them most. In some places you’ll have to wait anywhere from 10 mins, to a half hour or more, so you’re better off either spending on a rental car, or catching a cab.
In the Bahamas you can catch a jitney from the country’s main airports, Lynden Pindling International Airport (NAS) in Nassau and Freeport’s Grand Bahama International Airport (FPO) to your destination. Jitneys cost $1-2 (Bahamian or US). Taxis can be found just outside the airport, downtown, or just outside your hotel or resort. You can expect to pay $32 from the airport to downtown Nassau, $22 to Cable Beach and $38 to Paradise Island, plus relevant toll fees.
In both The Bahamas and in Jamaica, be careful to negotiate taxi prices, and ask ahead of time what the flat rate will be for your trip. This helps to avoid being overcharged.
The Bahamas wins in this area as it is generally much easier, as there are more opportunities, as well as public transportation, to help you get around. In Jamaica you will be mostly left to hiring taxis, or traveling by foot to get to where you need to go.
Most vendors in both Jamaica and the Bahamas will accept American Dollars (USD). The locals in Jamaica generally pay with Jamaican Dollars (JAM), where in the Bahamas payments are made with Bahamian Dollars (BSD). However, it’s not uncommon for people to pay with a mix of both currencies. The Bahamian Dollar is 1:1 with the American Dollar, which makes it easier to get a grasp of the value of the local currency.
When it comes to purchasing power, you will find the American Dollar goes a long way in Jamaica. When you are going out for dinner and drinks, expect Jamaica to be ~ 20% cheaper than the Bahamas. When shopping for clothes, you’ll find you pay on average twice as much in the Bahamas as in Jamaica. You will find peddlers in both Jamaica, and the Bahamas. A simple “no thank you” will suffice in most cases.
The economies of both Jamaica and The Bahamas are quite different at a glance, and although the Bahamas is the richest country in the West Indies, and third Wealthiest in the Americas, for your wallet, you will find that Jamaica will give you superior value for your US dollar.
In general, you will find the cost of living in the Bahamas to be quite a bit higher, making things such as food, drinks and shopping more expensive than in Jamaica.
Don’t want to worry about bringing your wallet? Book a all-inclusive vacation and everything is taken care of. See the full list of inclusions at Sandals all-inclusive resorts.
Generally, Jamaica is a safe place to travel to. As with any other trip, you’ll need to stay alert, especially if you are visiting the destination for the first time. Take some time to get your bearings right, and get as much information as you can before heading out to various places. Stick to recommended areas for your own safety. In Jamaica, as in most other countries, it is best not to head into places that are unfamiliar late at night, especially those in urban areas. A bit of common sense and you’ll be on your way to a peaceful vacation.
The Bahamas is largely promoted as a tourist island, and quite a few visitors have reported that they feel slightly safer there outside of the resorts (compared to Jamaica). As a result of the island’s intensive touristic thrust, the Bahamian government places priority on ensuring the islands are safe, and you’ll notice this by the police presence which is on most days visible in downtown areas. To stay safe in The Bahamas, and any other vacation destination, do not stray too far into secluded areas.
In general, you can say the Bahamas is a slightly safer place to travel to, than Jamaica. However, you can expect to return home safely from both destinations – especially if you are staying at a resort.
All-inclusive resorts are by design sectioned off from public access, with 24-hour strict private security. At Sandals, resort management performs background on potential staff during the hiring process, and the resorts work hard with local law enforcement and government agencies, in conjunction with the likes of local US Embassies, to ensure maximum safety and support for the guests.
There you have it, the best of both of these beautiful Caribbean islands. We’re happy to provide these details on the things that make the islands as unique as they are. Ultimately, the final decision is up to you. Who knows, you may one day have ticked both islands off your list, but for now, go with the island that best suits your idea of a Caribbean vacation!
Expert tip: Get a better 'feel' for both countries by looking at some of these amazing pictures of Jamaica and the Bahamas that should give a good idea of what to expect. Which paradise speaks most to you?