Jamaica and Barbados are two of our most popular Caribbean destinations, and with good reason – they both offer some of the very best beaches, services, and cultural experience in all the Caribbean. But while there are definite similarities between the two, there are also enough differences to ensure that one will likely be preferable to the other for you, depending on what kind of traveler you are. Read on to find out which is the better fit for your travel style.
Are there any similarities between Jamaica and Barbados?
There are certainly some major similarities between Jamaica and Barbados to consider first. For one, both are considered prime examples of Caribbean culture. In fact, that’s why the two are often favored by travelers who want to experience authentic Caribbean culture directly. From festivals to art and music, there is a definite island vibe offered on both that you just won’t get on islands that are solely catered towards tourism. That said, while there is a lot of overlap, there are also important distinctions in terms of how this culture is expressed and can be experienced, which we will look at.
Similarly, both islands also have a long, and somewhat parallel, history. That results in having a high number of historic sites, as well as stories and more personal histories, to appreciate. Both are former British colonies, and there’s no denying the heritage of that (somewhat troubled) history wherever you go. And just like the Dominican, it is full of Spanish colonial architecture, so you will also find British colonial architecture throughout Jamaica and Barbados (with the latter’s Bridgetown even being a UNESCO Heritage Site for this very reason). This history extends to the culture of both as well, and you’ll find things like afternoon tea are institutions on both islands as a result.
Both Jamaica and Barbados are also top watersports islands in the Caribbean. From catamarans to jet skis, wakeboarding to kitesurfing, and snorkeling to scuba diving, there are all sorts of watersports to enjoy in Jamaica or Barbados, year-round, regardless of your skill level. That said, there’s a slight edge to Jamaica in terms of sailing, especially if you consider the famous Montego Bay regatta every year.
Lastly, Jamaica and Barbados are also both well connected to major North American and European airports, though you’ll certainly find more direct flights to Jamaica if you are outside of a few major cities in the US and Canada (namely New York, Miami, and Toronto). While Jamaica has two major airports to choose from (Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston and Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay), Barbados has one (Grantley Adams International Airport near Oistins). That said, it’s relatively easy to find connecting flights to Barbados, including through Jamaica itself.
Comparing Jamaica and Barbados
The Ideal Time to Visit
The Ideal Time to Visit Jamaica
The best time to visit Jamaica depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for the mildest temperatures and want to make sure that restaurants, resorts and activities are fully open and fully-staffed (with minimal construction), then peak season from December – April is the ideal time to visit. Conversely, if you’re looking for the best deals or to avoid crowds, then I suggest visiting from May – August, which is a sweet spot between peak season and hurricane season with mild temperatures, great prices, and small crowds.
The Ideal Time to Visit Barbados
The ideal time to visit Barbados is similar to Jamaica’s in terms of crowds, temperatures, and rates. Peak season from mid-December to April has the best temperatures, while shoulder season from mid-April to June is known for having the best deals. August also features the Crop Over festival in Barbados, which has the kind of beautiful costumes, live music and street parades normally associated with Carnival week, though with much less tourists and much better deals. Because Barbados is further south than Jamaica, temperatures also fluctuate less in the summer compared to the winter, making it a great choice for the late Summer / early Fall months.
Jamaica has several landmark beaches that are often vibrant scenes with a lot of variety, and that’s something that sets Jamaica’s beaches apart from others in the Caribbean. 7-Mile Beach in Negril is a great example – as the name suggests, it’s miles upon miles of gorgeous white sand beach, with calm, clear waters. It’s dotted with resorts and villas of all sizes, as well as shops, restaurants, and all manner of beach goers. If you’re looking for something a little quieter, though, then Doctor’s Cave Beach or Frenchman’s Cove in Montego Bay offer the kind of picturesque relaxation that inspires so many to visit the Caribbean in the first place.
As we profiled in our list of the best beaches in Barbados, the island has a wealth of beautiful beaches to suit any preference. Its west coast is known as the Platinum Coast precisely because its beaches are so beautiful, with standouts like Mullin’s Bay and Payne’s Bay Beach offering the softest sand, clearest water, and nicest sunsets you can imagine. The South and East coast also feature beaches with a little more action, with some, like Bathesba Beach, offering great surfing. Regardless of where you choose, beaches are overall a little quieter on Barbados compared to Jamaica, which can be a plus or minus, depending on your preference.
The Outdoor Excursions
Jamaica’s Outdoor Excursions
As one of the largest landmasses in the Caribbean, Jamaica is home to a good number of outdoor excursions that simply aren’t available in Barbados. This includes things like climbing Dunn’s River Falls, hiking in the beautiful Blue Mountains, ziplining through the jungle, or going on an ATV safari. And though there are golf courses in Barbados, Montego Bay is home to several award-winning golf courses that are considered the best in the Caribbean, including the Tryall Club, Half Moon and Rose Hall courses.
Barbados’s Outdoor Excursions
Barbados is much drier and flatter than Jamaica. As a result, outdoor excursions are much more focused on the beach and water activities. Snorkeling is one such activity thanks to the crystal-clear waters in places like Bell Buoy Reef (by Accra Beach), which is known for its angelfish and parrot fish, or Carlisle Bay Marine Park, which features several different wrecks to explore. Harrison’s Cave and Animal Flower Cave are also popular excursions, as are various bike tours, nature hikes, and garden visits which your Rental Escapes concierge can help arrange.
Jamaica is home to famous dishes like ackee and saltfish, the national dish, jerk chicken and pork. Jamaican cuisine in general is heavy on spice, but Jamaican cooks are also accustomed to catering to palettes from around the world as well. Plus, most villas feature private chefs, ensuring you get to experience the local fresh seafood and produce any way you like. And from fine dining to lobster pits, the island is also home to some of the very best places to eat in the Caribbean, as seen in our recent list of the best restaurants in Jamaica.
Barbados cuisine (also known as Bajan cuisine) has African, Portuguese, Indian, Irish, Creole and British influences, making it very diverse. The national dish is cou-cou and fried flying fish, though other fish, especially kingfish, swordfish, mahi mahi and red snapper, are very popular as well, often served with Bajan pepper sauce. This is especially so at the Oistins Fish Fry every Friday and Saturday night, where locals and tourists get together to enjoy the freshest catches grilled over sizzling barbecues while local bands play in the background. At the higher end, Bajan cuisine has seen a renaissance as of late thanks to talented chefs bringing back what they’ve learned abroad to elevate the island’s restaurant scene. Barbados is making a run for the coveted title of “Culinary Capital of the Caribbean” thanks to these chefs, and it will be interesting to see how the scene evolves over the next few years.
Shopping in Jamaica
Deal hunters will love shopping in Jamaica. From jewelry to artwork, you can find one-of-a-kind pieces from local artisans at affordable prices, and you can spend knowing that you’re supporting a local economy that depends on business from tourists. Shopping spots like Main Street Jamaica (formerly known as the Shops at Rose Hall) also offer a great selection of duty-free perfume, sunglasses, souvenirs, liquor, and, of course, Blue Mountain coffee.
Shopping in Barbados
Shopping in Barbados has a bit more of an upscale vibe when compared to Jamaica. The Limegrove Lifestyle Centre, for example, features upscale boutiques from brands like Cartier, Ralph Lauren, Bulgari, and Michael Kors. You can also take advantage of great duty-free shopping at the Bridgetown Duty Free.
Nightlife in Jamaica
Montego Bay is one of the best destinations for nightlife in all the Caribbean. The Hip Strip on Gloucester Avenue is home to several bars, nightclubs and restaurants where local DJs, reggae bands and jazz trios are always putting on live performances, while music venues like Pier 1 also routinely host some of the hottest dancehall artists. And if you like gambling, there’s Coral Cliff, a fully featured casino with live entertainment, bars and restaurants, and even a huge arcade (Zeppelin’s Fun Factory) for the kids.
Nightlife in Barbados
Barbados is a more family-focused destination, so there may not be as much nightlife as Jamaica. And you definitely won’t find any casinos, since gambling is illegal, though there are a few slot machine arcades that operate late into the night in Bridgetown and Holetown. That said, Barbados nightlife has its own unique scene many travelers actually prefer compared to larger islands like Jamaica. Bars and clubs are decidedly more low-key, with Holetown being host to a good number of swanky, upmarket bars and restaurants that are close to one another. If you’re looking for something bigger, Harbor Lights in Bridgetown offers a unique take on the standard beach bar and nightclub, while the St Lawrence Gap is home to a thriving bar hopping scene where you’ll often find tourists and locals hanging out together.
The Sights to See
Sights to See in Jamaica
One of the most compelling reasons to visit Jamaica is its vibrant culture. Sites like the Rastafari Indigenous Village just outside of Montego Bay give visitors the chance to witness how the religion is practiced firsthand, as well as experience cultural artifacts like the music and cuisine. Speaking of music, the Bob Marley Museum is another famous cultural destination just outside of Kingston. Devon House and Port Royal are also famous historic sites in Kingston, while Montego Bay is home to the Rosehall Great House, all of which are splendid examples of Jamaican architecture.
Sights to See in Barbados
No sightseeing tour in Barbados is complete without exploring historic Bridgetown. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Bridgetown offers a picturesque glimpse into the colonial past of the Caribbean, with sites like St Nicholas Abbey, a Jacobian plantation house, offering particularly poignant, yet picturesque, insight. It also features the beautiful Chamberlain Bridge and gorgeous neo-Gothic Parliament buildings. Just south of Bridgetown is the Garrison Savannah Historic Area, which features the George Washington House (the former residence of US President George Washington) and the Garrison racetrack, where the who’s who of Barbados then and now would come to race their mighty mares.
The Family Friendliness
Family Friendliness in Jamaica
Resorts like the Tryall Club and Round Hill are very family friendly. From nanny service to private chefs that can cook all your kids’ favorite foods, these resorts specialize in making sure that families have an unforgettable holiday. Outside the resorts and in general, Jamaicans are very friendly people and love kids, and you’ll find all sorts of shops, restaurants, arcades, and other businesses that cater directly to families, while activities like zip lining are often set up to ensure that kids get maximum enjoyment.
Family Friendliness in Barbados
Barbados is certainly a family friendly destination, though maybe in a different way when compared to Jamaica. Things in general are more laid-back and independent in Barbados, and that includes with regards to kids. That said, you can still get top-notch nanny services for any private villa, and staff in general are usually great with kids. In terms of activities, attractions like the Barbados Wildlife Reserve and Harrison’s Cave are very popular with families and make a special effort to appeal to youngsters as well.
Safety in Jamaica
While Jamaica’s crime rate is high on paper, it is generally concentrated in the inner-city parts of Kingston. Jamaica is considered safe for tourists, but there are certain precautions you may want to take when compared to Barbados. For one, it is suggested to hire a private driver, rather than to rent a car, as driving can be tricky on the island. As with other foreign destinations, it is also not suggested to go wandering around strange neighborhoods alone at night. While you can experience Jamaica safely without remaining confined to a resort, it’s best to have a local guide on hand, which your Rental Escapes concierge can help arrange. LGBTQ+ travelers are also encouraged to avoid public displays of affection. Many also complain of aggressive peddlers on the beach, though that’s not really a safety concern – a firm but polite “no” will almost always do the trick. With all this said, security is taken seriously in Jamaica, and you’ll find that resorts and villas often have top-notch security teams, while the police go above and beyond to make sure that tourists stay safe.
Safety in Barbados
Barbados is one of the safest destinations in the Caribbean. Travelers have no problem leaving their resorts and villas and exploring on their own, and the people are well-regarded for being polite and helpful. Though it’s not necessarily a safety concern, there are also much less beach peddlers when compared to Jamaica as well, and they are much less aggressive. If you’re the type of traveler that loves to go wherever they want, whenever they want, then Barbados is a great choice for you.
Accommodations in Jamaica
Jamaican villas tend to be large, fully staffed, and are often found in resorts / country clubs such as the Tryall Club and Round Hill. This offers the best balance between the space and privacy of a villa, and the service and amenities of a 5-star resort. The staff is almost always a highlight – from butlers to maids to private chefs, they really go above and beyond and make the trip unforgettable. Check out our list of the top 10 staffed Jamaica luxury villas to see our top picks.
Accommodations in Barbados
Barbados villas tend to be more free-standing affairs, though there are also a good number of apartment / condo rentals to choose from. Many are indeed fully staffed as well, and it is somewhat easier to find options that are directly on the beach when compared to Jamaica. Many are also beachfront on quiet strips, which allows for the ultimate in privacy and relaxation.
Which Should you Choose?
Ultimately, your choice between Barbados and Jamaica will depend on factors like who you’re traveling with, whether you prefer to stay in a luxury resort or explore the island independently, and the kind of activities, nightlife, and cultural experiences you value most. No matter which island you choose, though, Rental Escapes has a wide selection of villas for you to choose from, and your concierge can ensure that you experience the best that each island has to offer. Just let your reservation specialist know exactly what you’re looking for, and they can suggest a villa that is perfectly situated and equipped to meet your travel preferences. Contact us today to receive your personalized recommendation!