Sun, sea, and sand are part of the appeal of Jamaica and Punta Cana (a town in the eastern part of the Dominican Republic), making them two of the most popular vacation destinations in the Caribbean. So loved are they that millions of travelers go there every year to experience paradise in true form.
There are many similarities between Jamaica and Punta Cana, such as the fact that both have lots of beautiful beaches, lush landscapes, friendly people, and tons of adventure tours to try. There are also key differences, which include their native languages, culture, and history. In this post, we’ll discuss a little bit of everything to help you decide which of these destinations will be best for your Caribbean getaway.
Pictured: The stunning white sands of Seven Mile Beach in Negril are just one of many reasons to enjoy a sunny Caribbean vacation in Jamaica. Unlimited cocktails at awesome all-inclusive resorts like Sandals Negril are another!
Jamaica is filled with some amazingly picturesque white-sand beaches. If you're looking to sunbathe, snorkel, swim and explore, Jamaica has an option for you.
Here are some of our favorite beaches in Jamaica:
● Seven Mile Beach (Negril) - This beach stretches four miles along the coastline, with a scenic view that would look amazing on your socials. There is plenty of room for everyone to explore its pristine white sands and cool waters. Seven Mile Beach is easily one of the best beaches in the world and it has received many accolades over the years.
● Bloody Bay (Negril) - This public beach found in northern Negril is a popular attraction for visitors looking to mingle, swim and engage in water sports. The calm and clear waters of Bloody Bay make it safe for children and divers to explore the coral reef and marine life nearby. This beach is right next to Seven Mile Beach in Negril.
● Doctor's Cave Beach (Montego Bay) - Located in Montego Bay, Jamaica, Doctor’s Cave Beach is calm and soothing and its waters are believed by some to have healing powers. For a small fee of $6 USD, you can visit this private beach and enjoy many water sports, bounce around on the water trampolines, sunbathe, or go for a dip.
● Frenchman's Cove (Port Antonio) - This small but beautiful beach can be accessed for a small entrance fee of $12 USD for adults and $6 USD for children under 12. In addition to swimming and sunbathing, you’ll be able to dine at the beach bar and grill nearby that serves up some delicious meals.
Expert tip: Love diving? You can go snorkeling in Montego Bay or stay at a Sandals all-inclusive resort for free snorkeling and scuba diving (up to 2 tanks per day)!
If you're looking for soft white sands, turquoise waters, and cool beach backdrops, the beaches of Punta Cana won’t disappoint. There are quite a few beaches to choose from when vacationing in Punta Cana but you should need to be aware that this resort town lies in the Atlantic Ocean. This means its waters are typically rougher than some other Caribbean islands like Jamaica
Here are our picks of the best beaches in Punta Cana:
● Playa Blanca - White sands, calm waters, and water sports are part of the appeal of this beach, which is located next to a resort in Punta Cana. There are bar and restaurant options near the beach that will make your beach day feel complete.
● Playa Juanillo - Fresh coconuts, hammocks, and calm, clear waters are some of what you can expect at Playa Juanillo. This beach is perfect for sunbathing, swimming, wading, and general relaxation. It’s also just a 15-minute drive from the Punta Cana International Airport (PUJ).
● Bavaro Beach- Simply gorgeous, Bavaro Beach is where to go if you love swimming in the ocean and fun beach activities. Long, romantic walks on the beach are also possible here and you’ll walk past plenty of coconut trees, restaurants, and some hotels along the way.
● Arena Gorda Beach – This long and spacious stretch of sand can be found near Bavaro Beach. There are lots of palm trees for shade and it's quite clean, free of seaweed, and great for swimming.
Jamaica and Punta Cana are known for their unique natural attractions, beautiful landscapes, warm climates, and fun activities. Diving is one of the activities both islands offer, and here's what you can expect to find while diving at each:
Compared to Punta Cana, Jamaica has many more snorkeling locations throughout the island that can provide a bit more flexibility for beginner and more advanced snorkelers. While Montego Bay on the north coast has excellent options for those just starting out, Negril has options for snorkelers of all skill levels. As you prepare for your dive in Jamaica, remember to take the time to get accustomed to your equipment (if you’re using rental gear), avoid touching the reefs and marine animals, and only swim where you are comfortable.
Here are some of the best dive sites for snorkeling and scuba diving in Jamaica:
● Negril Coral Reef - Just about two miles off the coast of Negril lies the Negril Coral Reef. This reef is home to groupers, stingrays, jellyfish, and a wide variety of coral and sponge formations. A boat trip can get you to this location.
● Montego Bay Marine Park - Since this marine park is protected by a trust, the reefs are in good condition and many marine animals such as stingrays and sea turtles can be found there. If you’re lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of dolphins or nurse sharks.
● Ocho Rios Marine Park - Snorkeling at the Ocho Rios Marine Park can be a fulfilling experience. On a dive here, you may spot grouper, scorpionfish, snapper, eagle rays, nurse sharks, and a variety of corals and sponges.
● Runaway Bay - This is one of Jamaica’s top snorkeling spots because of its wade-out offshore snorkeling and diving. There are some impressive coral reefs near shore in this area, particularly at Cardiff Hall Beach and North Coast Beach. In this area, snorkelers are likely to see parrotfish, barracuda, stingrays, angelfish, and French grunts.
While diving is certainly offered in Punta Cana, this may not be the most exciting place to snorkel or scuba dive. If you’re an experienced snorkeller, you may want to keep an open mind or focus on other types of water sports. However, if you’re a beginner, some of the available snorkeling options might interest you since they’re easy to maneuver with shallow waters and tour guides to help you out.
Here are some of the best snorkeling spots in Punta Canta:
● Isla Saona - A boat trip from Punta Canta will take you to the small island of Saona. In just a one-day trip, you can explore both the shallow and deep reefs and swim among the marine life. Sightings here can include turtles and stingrays. The water tends to be calm in this area, which makes snorkeling fun and safer to do.
● Isla Catalina –You’ll need to take a boat from the Dominican Republic to get to Catalina Island. There you will find two beaches, a vast natural park, and beautiful coral reefs filled with marine life. The translucent waters of the beaches here are ideal for shallow and deep dives.
Fishing can be an unforgettable experience in both Punta Cana and Jamaica. With the fishing tours or charters available on either island, you might reel in some big catches including mahi-mahi, yellowfin tuna, and perhaps even sailfish. In Jamaica, the best fishing sites can be found in Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, and Negril, whereas, in Punta Cana, Cap Cana, Caba Engano, and Laguna de Nisibon are highly recommended.
Here are some more details about fishing in both countries:
Fishing in Jamaica can be a very rewarding experience. Anglers can expect to catch a variety of fish in the waters around this island. Even if you only venture out a few miles offshore from Jamaica, you can catch wahoo, tuna, blue marlin, mahi-mahi, and sailfish!
In terms of where to fish in Jamaica, Ocho Rios, Port Antonio, Negril, and Montego Bay are popular options. Montego Bay, in particular, is great for deep-sea fishing. Between the months of September and October, anglers can surely catch some mahi-mahi, barracuda, and tuna in this area. The Cayman Trench is another good spot to catch tuna, and, in Falmouth, anglers can catch cog, flounder, bass, mackerel, and even sharks. It is also possible to go shore and reef fishing right from the beaches or docks in Jamaica. Using this method, you might catch snapper, grouper, yellowtail, and amberjack.
The best time of year to visit Jamaica for a fishing trip depends on the type of fish you’re looking for. For example, the best time to catch bonefish in Jamaica is between the months of September to January. January to May is great for catching yellowfin and mahi-mahi. Grouper can be caught throughout the year, while tuna is most plentiful from March to April/May.
Expert tip: If you want to go fishing in Jamaica, Island Routes offers some amazing fishing excursions including the Deep Sea Sport Fishing Montego Bay.
Punta Cana is the ideal place to try your hand at any type of fishing, whether it be bill fishing, deep-sea fishing, or even in-shore fishing. The warm temperatures of this destination (60-90°F) also work in favor of anglers looking for their next big catch. Many anglers have set records here with catches like a 480lb yellowfin tuna (2019). A record for the most blue marlins caught in a day was also set in Punta Cana (2016).
There are several ways you can go fishing in Punta Cana, including taking boat charters, shore fishing, or fishing from a lagoon. Boat fishing is the best option because it is usually done through charters and with the help of tour guides. Plus, when taking a charter or fishing tour, your fishing license will usually be organized for you.
If you’re up for a bit of inshore fishing, this can be done off the docks or near the reefs by the beach. Catches in these areas can include mackerel and barracuda. Common catches with lagoon fishing in Punta Cana are grouper, permits, soldierfish, tilapia, angelfish, and more.
Both Jamaica and Punta Cana are excellent destinations for fun adventures and excursions. They both have unique attractions, diverse landscapes, lush vegetation, and thriving flora and fauna that make them appealing to those who want to get out and explore. Here are tours and excursions that Jamaica and Punta Cana have to offer:
Pictured: Serene, exotic, and one-of-a-kind ... Dunn's River Falls is a must-see attraction. Start your adventure at one of the nearby resorts in Ocho Rios, including Sandals Ochi, Sandals Royal Plantation, and the newly re-imagined Sandals Dunn's River, where you can arrange this experience.
Jamaica is mostly mountainous with a limestone plateau that stretches across two-thirds of the country. Adventurous hikers often explore the rugged terrain of the mountains while other visitors are in awe over the caverns, streams, and limestone formations. The island’s diverse topography has transformed it into a land of natural attractions and one of the most exciting islands to explore.
Some of our favorite adventure tours in Jamaica include:
● Dunn's River Falls – Dunn's River Falls is one of the biggest attractions in Ocho Rios. This is undoubtedly due to the wonderful sight of the water falling into a natural pool and into the Caribbean Sea. It is possible to hike to another waterfall (Secret Falls) or go cliff jumping or rope swinging over the cool, clear water of the falls.
● ATV safari in the jungle – A guided tour through the lush rainforests of Jamaica is an experience you do not want to miss. The Island Routes ATV Safari Montego Bay will take you through the countryside so you can experience some of the hidden gems this island has to offer.
● Bobsledding – Bobsledding through Jamaica’s tropical forest will give you a scenic view of the island. This adventure happens at Mystic Mountain and includes taking a chairlift (SkyExplorer) to the top of the mountain ahead of an exhilarating bobsledding experience.
● Party cruise – Aside from all these adventures, how can you visit Jamaica without enjoying a party or two? Catamaran party cruises are popular in Negril, Ocho Rios, and Montego Bay. This is the ultimate way to have some fun with great music and good food out on the ocean!
Expert tip: There’s lots more adventure in store on this island including these 43 wonderful things to do in Jamaica.
Punta Cana has a tropical landscape filled with rich greenery and picturesque beaches that stretch for miles across the town. Fun things to do in Punta Cana include water sports, going on ATV tours, zip lining, and more.
Here are some of our favorite adventure tours in Punta Cana:
● Zip lining - Prepare to be both excited and exhilarated as you zip line through the rainforest, across rivers, and right past the amazing plant and animal life of Punta Cana.
● Whale watching - Get up close to these wonderful animals by booking a whale watching tour in Samana Bay. The whale watching season in Punta Cana opens in December and ends in March. Humpback whale sightings are likely.
● Scape Park – This 24-acre park has eight natural wonders that are meant to be explored and enjoyed. You can go for a swim in the lagoons, explore the caves, go zip lining or interact with the parrots, iguanas, and monkeys that have made Scape Park their home.
● Horseback riding – This is a fun way to discover Punta Cana’s landscape and enjoy the view of the coastline. A horseback riding tour will take you through the lush vegetation of Punta Cana or for a dip in the ocean.
No visit to an island is complete without a shopping trip or two. Both Jamaica and Punta Cana have several options if you’re shopping for handmade or modern-day merchandise. However, luxury shoppers will find that Jamaica has a whole lot more options to choose from.
As we mentioned earlier, Jamaica has more options for luxury shopping than Punta Cana. Shoppes at Rose Hall is one such location where you’ll find international brands of jewelry brands, fashion, and other items. There’s also a gift shop there with perfume stores and a Shade Shack that carries a variety of designer sunglasses. One of the popular stores, A Reggae Walk, sells merchandise featuring Jamaican reggae icon, Bob Marley. So, there's pretty much something for everyone!
If you want souvenirs or handcrafted items, you can get those at the local markets in town. The Kingston Craft Market has more than 100 shops that sell branded goods. You can also find some unique items at The Half Moon Shopping Village in Montego Bay and Musgrave Market.
Expert tip: Want to go home with some amazing keepsakes and gifts for friends and family? Here are 18 authentic souvenirs to bring home from sunny Jamaica.
Going shopping in Punta Cana means you’ll get to see both local products and international merchandise. At the local markets, you can get lots of authentic goods and friendly vendors expect you to haggle for the best price on the items. Places in the Punta Cana Village like Plaza Bavaro offer handmade jewelry and craft items that can be great for souvenirs.
BlueMall Puntacana is another option for shopping in Punta Cana. Here you’ll find many international brands. Shopping there can easily become a fun day out as you can roam through the high-end boutiques and sample local and international cuisine from the restaurants. Shopping in Punta Cana will be the most fun with good company!
Jamaica and Punta Cana both have a bustling nightlife marked by parties, clubs, discos, and casinos. You can’t go wrong by looking forward to the nightlife in either Jamaica or Punta Cana, as they’re both tied to the culture and the people of these destinations.
Jamaica is an island that is known for many things like its star athletes and, of course, its reggae music with legendary artists like Bob Marley having been born there. Both reggae and dancehall are a major part of Jamaican nightlife, from live musical sessions at Colette’s Bar and Bourbon Beach to the club life at Reggae Inferno and Pier 1.
If you’re simply looking for a fun night with a fantastic view, good food, and delicious drinks, you should stop by Ricks Café in Negril. The 35-foot cliffside and the beautiful sunsets are two of the main attractions at this famous spot. In the daytime, you can even try cliff jumping at Rick’s!
Regardless of your budget or the experience you are looking for, Punta Cana is sure to offer a party scene you can enjoy. If you’re looking to mingle and meet new people, take in a show or dance the night away, there is a location for you. The Smoke Room Disco is an affordable club while Coco Bongo hosts a variety of live shows. There’s sure to be music, dancers, and even acrobats! If you want a more private party, Legacy Disco is the place to go.
Want to try your luck at the tables or the slot machines? Make a stop at Hard Rock Casino in Punta Canta. There are about 40 gaming tables and well over 300 slots at this casino. The available games include baccarat, poker, and roulette, plus this casino is usually open all night long.
Jamaica and the Dominican Republic both have a rich history and culture that can be seen in the people, their language, and their way of life. The physical evidence of their histories can be found in the architecture of the various buildings and monuments of their respective countries.
Here are the historical sites & landmarks you can expect to find in Jamaica and Punta Cana:
Jamaica is filled with historical buildings and sites, including colonial architecture that is protected as part of the island’s history. During a vacation on this island, you’ll be able to sign up for tours to visit some of these locations.
Some significant buildings and historical landmarks are:
● Rose Hall Great House - This 18th-century house in Montego Bay is set on over 6,000 acres of land. There’s a Jamaican golf course designed by Robert von Hagge and Ricky Baril on this property as well. Rose Hall Great House is famous for the tale of Annee Palmer and its spectacular Georgian style of architecture that accentuates the beauty of the building. This Great House has a scenic view of the Caribbean Sea and it is surrounded by beautiful tropical gardens.
● The Bob Marley Museum - The Bob Marley Museum in Nine Mile, Jamaica is the former home of the musical icon, Bob Marley, who died in 1981. The house has a 19th-century style architecture and you can see photos of Bob Marley, view his guitars and other personal items, and admire some pretty impressive murals while there. This museum also houses a gift shop, record shop, and theater.
● Falmouth Courthouse -This courthouse, which was built in 1815, is another Georgian-style building located in Trelawny. It is the epitome of classic Jamaican architecture with grand columns and portico, fanlights, jalousies, shingled walls, and other unique features. It now serves as a courthouse and a parish council building, as well as a town hall.
● Devon House – This mansion was built in 1881 for Jamaica’s first black millionaire, George Stiebel. Now a National Heritage Site, the building houses a bakery, shops, and other restaurants. There is also a well-known ice cream shop there called I-Scream, which is a favorite among many. Tours are available at this estate for those who want to learn more about its history.
In Punta Cana, you can get familiar with some of the popular historical sites and landmarks with a couple of tours. These can serve as a quick lesson in the history of Punta Cana and the Dominican Republic as a whole.
Some of our favorite historical sites & landmarks in Punta Cana include:
● Santo Domingo - This is the capital city of the Dominican Republic. It was the first European/Spanish colony in the Americas and, in 1990, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city of Santo Domingo still has colonial architecture and streets lined with cobblestone, which serves as a testament to its history. In fact, the architecture has been preserved as part of the cultural heritage of the land.
● The Basilica Cathedral Nuestra Señora de La Altagracia (Higuey) - This is a famous 16th-century religious building about 40 minutes from Punta Cana. It was built in 1976 and has since become famous for its unique architecture. This religious sanctuary has an arch that is 225 feet high, five bells, and an altar with a framed portrait of the Virgin Mary.
Jamaica and Punta Cana are located in the tropics, which means they’re both relatively warm throughout the year. While temperatures in these destinations are more or less consistent, Punta Cana can sometimes be a bit cloudier. Water temperatures in Punta Cana are usually about 82°F, which makes it a bit cooler than Jamaica. In Jamaica, water temperatures are usually warmest in August, at around 85.8°F.
Typically, Jamaica is pretty hot throughout the year and like many Caribbean islands, it has two seasons. The dry season runs from December to May, while the wet season runs from June to November. Punta Cana’s rainy season is from May to November while the dry season starts in December and ends in April.
Expert tip: While Jamaica is sunny through most of the year, the best time to visit Jamaica is from November to mid-December when temperatures average 80°F.
Jamaica and Punta Cana both have unique cultural histories with foundations in their ancestry and colonization.
Jamaica was once a British colony that was home to many slaves from West Africa. This is one of the reasons why Jamaican culture and traditions tend to mirror British and West African customs. Britain’s influence is seen in the architecture of older, Georgian-style buildings, while the West African influence can be seen in the local cuisine. Also, like most Caribbean people, Jamaicans love to season their food with lots of herbs and spices, a practice they inherited from their African forefathers. Jamaican culture also includes their creole language, the local dialect, and reggae music, which can usually be heard all across the island.
Meanwhile, Punta Cana is part of the Dominican Republic and has Spanish and African roots with a history that also includes early Taino settlers. Their local cuisine reflects the influences of their ancestry while their music and dancing styles, like the bachata and the merengue, speak specifically to their Spanish roots.
Now for the fun part! Both of these destinations have amazing food options you’ll love. The cuisine in both Jamaica and Punta Cana is linked to their cultural roots in the same way that their music and language are. In Punta Cana, ceviche is a perfect example of this connection. This is a dish featuring fresh seafood and lime juice that is popular in Punta Cana and other parts of Latin America. You probably won’t be able to find this type of dish in Jamaica, as typical Jamaican food is prepared differently. What you will find in Jamaica, though, is lots of stews and soups with all types of meat and seafood, rice, vegetables, and various herbs and spices for seasonings.
The cuisine in Punta Cana has Spanish and Taino influences, while Jamaica’s food has strong African influences. On each of these islands, there are some dishes that you simply must try.
Starting with Jamaica:
● Jerk chicken - This is a grilled, spicy meat dish with a smokey flavor that is popular throughout Jamaica and other Caribbean islands. It is sold at restaurants but it is also popular at roadside vendors like food trucks. It can be served with sides like rice & peas, vegetables, and plantain.
● Ackee & saltfish - This is the national dish of Jamaica and it is made by boiling the ackee, which is a fruit endemic to West Africa. The ackee must then be cooked with salt fish, onions, spices, and tomatoes. This dish is usually eaten for breakfast.
● Pepper pot soup - This hot creole soup is made with meat, okra, green vegetables, peppers, beef, and coconut milk. It is typically served with a side dish of dumplings. This nutritious delicacy is an all-time favorite for Jamaicans.
And for Punta Cana:
● La Bandera - La Bandera, which means “the flag” in English, is also known as el Plato del dia (dish of the day). It is Punta Cana’s national dish. This dish is inspired by the colors of the flag of the Dominican Republic, which are white, red, and blue. It consists of white rice, red beans, and stewed meat.
● Mofongo - Fried plantains with garlic and pork skin/chicharrones that are ground together and shaped into small balls, then served with shrimp or avocados.
● Ceviche - In this dish, a small portion of raw seafood is prepared in lime juice or other citrus juice and topped with onions, peppers, and herbs like cilantro. Fried plantain may also be served with ceviche.
Finding transportation in Jamaica is not a problem since there is a public bus transport system that is affordable and can take you to most of the places you might like to go. There are also options for private bus transportation in Jamaica. Other options for getting around the island include cabs, car rentals, and even catching a domestic flight between cities (if you don't mind spending a bit more).
If you choose to use public buses in Jamaica, keep in mind that this mode of transportation will take longer to get you to your destination. Sometimes the buses fill up quickly, so you should also leave early enough that you can get on a bus to your destination without running late. The ferry service and the metro systems in Kingston and Montego Bay are other modes of transport that are available.
Unlike Jamaica, Punta Cana does not have as many options for transportation. There is a public bus system but their schedules are irregular, and therefore, unreliable. If you can’t get where you’re going on foot, you should definitely consider renting a vehicle. Expect, however, to encounter quite a bit of traffic as you drive through Punta Cana. Other transportation options to consider would be renting a taxi or a motoconchos, which is a taxi motorcycle.
The official language spoken in Punta Cana is Spanish, while English is the official language of Jamaica. With that said, many locals in Punta Cana, including those at the hotels, do speak English. In Jamaica, you may discover that many locals have a unique dialect and speak Jamaican patois. This is a variation of their creole language that is inspired by their African roots. However, locals will usually communicate with visitors using standard English.
Both Jamaica and Punta Cana are heavily dependent upon tourism for revenue. Visitors to either destination need not worry about encountering any issues with currency, as both accept the U.S. dollar and the majority of credit cards. However, based on the exchange rate, the U.S. dollar has a higher value in Jamaica, which means you get more for your money. If you’re in the Dominican Republic and you want to eat out, it may cost you as much as 70% more to do so than it would in Jamaica. Fortunately, transportation and entertainment are a bit more affordable.
Punta Cana and Jamaica are considered safe places to visit, especially if you stay within your resort and enjoy the services offered there. Most resorts have their own security personnel and protocols in place. If you choose to get out to explore, like in any other destination, it is important to practice good judgment by avoiding isolated locations and remaining alert. If you’re interested in visiting a particular location, you may want to mention it to the staff at your resort so that they can provide you with some guidance and information.
Pictured: Fitted with luxurious features like an outdoor Tranquility Soaking Tub for two, over-water hammocks, and glass vision floor panels, the over-the-water bungalows at Sandals Royal Caribbean foster the kind of intimate connection that Jamaica is famous for delivering.
Jamaica and Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic both have a lot to offer. With the information contained in this article, you can look well beyond the surface of these amazing destinations to discover what they’re truly about. We hope that this comparison brings you that much closer to making a decision, which at the end of the day, will be all up to you. Once you decide on the type of experience you want to have on your vacation, you’ll be able to choose the right place to go. Then, it’ll be time to book your fabulous stay at an all-inclusive resort!
All-inclusive resorts in Jamaica are some of the most luxurious in the Caribbean. At these resorts, you won’t have to think about food, drinks, entertainment, or anything other than making the most of your Caribbean getaway. Plus, there are adults-only resorts like Sandals that cater specifically to couples and resorts like Beaches that cater specifically to kids, groups, singles, everyone!
Whether your next vacation leads you to Punta Cana or Jamaica, be ready to make memories with the ones you love on your Caribbean getaway.