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Jamaica vs. The Bahamas: Which Island Should You Visit?

Two of the most popular destinations in the Caribbean are Jamaica and The Bahamas—for good reason. If you’re considering one of these two locations for your romantic getaway, this article will help you choose between them.

Is The Bahamas better than Jamaica? Or is Jamaica better than The Bahamas? Both are beautiful Caribbean islands with plenty to offer. When trying to choose between Jamaica and The Bahamas, you need to consider what type of trip you want and what activities you’re interested in. While both destinations will give you a wonderful tropical vacation, they do have some important differences.

What’s the difference between The Bahamas and Jamaica, you ask? There are several; here are a few of the main ones. Jamaica tends to have more of a vibrant nightlife and party scene, while The Bahamas is more laidback. However, The Bahamas has casinos, while Jamaica does not. The Bahamas, since it is made up of multiple islands, has many more beaches to choose from and is a popular place to island-hop. Jamaica has mountains and rainforests, so it offers more land-based activities than The Bahamas.

If you’re coming from the United States and want to spend the least amount of time traveling, then The Bahamas is your pick—flights from Miami, Florida, to Nassau take just 45 minutes.

Read on to learn more about the differences between Jamaica and The Bahamas and figure out which one is right for you.

Location and Accessibility

Hosting 6.5 million tourists every year, The Bahamas is a popular beach destination composed of more than 700 islands and cays located in the Atlantic Ocean, just 180 miles from Miami.

The main airport is located in the capital city of Nassau and you can find direct flights there from Miami for $200, from New York for $400, and from Europe for $800. There are also ferries that take you from Fort Lauderdale to Freeport in just 2.5 hours for around $100 each way. If you’re heading to the Out Islands, you can fly directly into Exuma International Airport. Grand Bahama International Airport in Freeport offers flights from many cities in the southeastern U.S.

Jamaica is about 500 miles south of The Bahamas. One of the biggest islands in the Caribbean, it has a mountainous interior ringed by the coastline. Jamaica has three major airports; most visitors fly into Montego Bay or Kingston, and there are plenty of flights from the U.S. and Europe.

Average roundtrip flights from New York to Jamaica start at around $300-$400. From Miami, flights start at about $200-$300, and from Europe, about $800.

When to Visit The Bahamas

The climate in The Bahamas is mild year-round and mostly dry—340 days of sunshine a year—so you are pretty much guaranteed good beach weather there. However, the summer can be hot and humid. May to October are the wettest months of the year.

Since The Bahamas are within the hurricane belt, it’s important to be smart about when to go. Peak hurricane season goes from July to November, so avoid these months if you can.

Considering that the high season is from December to February (with top prices and bigger crowds), March and April are the best months to visit The Bahamas. This area is a popular spring break destination among Americans, so if you want a relaxed holiday try to avoid those weeks if possible. Temperatures in the Bahamas from December to April range from a low of 63 to a high of 82 degrees Fahrenheit.

When to Visit Jamaica

In Jamaica, the peak season is December to April, as the weather is cooler than (lows of 70 to highs of 84 degrees Fahrenheit). This is the most popular time for tourists to visit, so if you want fewer crowds, schedule your trip outside of that time frame. However, Jamaica is also in the hurricane belt, so take that into consideration.

Jamaica has two rainy seasons: May to June and September to November.

If you like to “go where it’s warm” in the winter, Jamaica will give you a slightly warmer welcome—its high temperatures in January and February are about 82 degrees vs. 77 in The Bahamas.

The Bahamas vs. Jamaica: Attractions and Activities

Sights in The Bahamas worth seeing are the city of Nassau with its colonial heritage, including Parliament Square, Christ Church Cathedral, and three British forts built in the 1700s; the Cloisters, a monastery from France that is being reassembled on Paradise Island; and Lucayan National Park, with one of the longest cave systems in the world.

Landmarks and historical sites in Jamaica include Spanish Town Square; 18th-century Rose Hall Great House; Devon House, a mansion in Kingston built by Jamaica’s first millionaire; and National Heroes Park.

While Bahamian islands are fairly flat, Jamaica has lush green jungle and mountains, so if you like adventurous activities such as ziplining, hiking, river rafting, and swimming in waterfalls, this is the better option for you. Two great options are exploring Holywell National Park or hiking the Blue Mountain Peak Trail past waterfalls and coffee plantations to the top of Jamaica’s highest mountain. Dunn’s River Falls, Reach Falls, and Secret Falls are some of the best waterfalls in Jamaica.

The Bahamas does offer some natural excursions, though they are definitely more peaceful activities! For example, you can hike through mangrove forests, explore caves, and kayak in Lucayan National Park on Grand Bahama. Or, visit Leon Levy Native Plant Reserve on Eleuthera, a 25-acre sanctuary, and marvel at the Glass Window Bridge, also on Eleuthera.

Fishing is good in both Jamaica and The Bahamas, and you can easily charter boats to go deep-sea fishing. Billfish angling is especially popular in The Bahamas, with several tournaments held there each year.

There are also plenty of boating events and regattas in both areas, including the Montego Bay Yacht Club Easter Regatta in Jamaica (March/April) and the Long Island Regatta in The Bahamas (June).

Since The Bahamas has hundreds of islands, it’s the perfect Caribbean destination if you like to island-hop. Whether you bring your own boat, charter one, go on a tour, or take a ferry or water taxi, you’ll have plenty of options to explore gorgeous beaches and see incredible sights—not to mention swim with pigs (Big Major Cay, Exumas)!

Pig on the beach in the Bahamas

If you enjoy shopping, Jamaica offers more opportunities, including The Shoppes at Rose Hall in Montego Bay, Island Village in Ocho Rios, and the Kingston craft market. Be sure to get some of the famous Blue Mountain coffee to bring home! Shopping in The Bahamas tends to be more local and lowkey, such as the Nassau Straw Market, the Craft Cottage in Nassau, or the Bahama Craft Centre on Paradise Island.

Jamaica vs. The Bahamas: Beaches

With 635 miles of coastline, Jamaica has plenty of lovely beaches, but the islands of The Bahamas offer 3,542 miles of coastline, so you have a much bigger assortment of beaches, making the Bahamas a fantastic choice for beach lovers.

Some of the best beaches in The Bahamas are Cable Beach in Nassau, Pink Sand Beach in Harbour Island, Cabbage Beach in Paradise Island, and Tahiti and Great Guana Cay Beach in Abacos. Gold Rock Beach in Grand Bahama is also beautiful and popular. Since there are so many islands to choose from, you can even find some fairly remote, uncrowded beaches in The Bahamas.

Many people think the best beach in Jamaica is Seven Mile Beach in Negril. It has everything you’d want in a Caribbean beach: sparkling white sands, good snorkeling in clear waters, and a great sunset view. (FYI, the waters off Jamaica are slightly warmer than those around The Bahamas.) Frenchman’s Cove in Port Antonio is a lagoon-style beach with pristine sand and calm turquoise water.

Bloody Bay also has calm waters that are great for paddleboarding, snorkeling, and swimming. Montego Bay, Doctor’s Cave Beach, and Treasure Beach are good spots for snorkeling in Jamaica as well.

If you’re really into snorkeling or scuba diving, however, The Bahamas offers some of the world’s best diving spots in incredibly clear water. There are even underwater caves and James Bond wrecks (old sets from James Bond movies, just off Nassau) to explore. Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park is a fantastic location for snorkeling, as are Gold Rock Beach, Rose Island Beach, Cable Beach, and the Goulding Cay Reefs.

That’s not to say that you can’t enjoy great scuba diving in Jamaica, though. Montego Bay has good spots for beginners and features several options such as the Arch and an old DC3 plane wreck. Other popular spots are Middle Shoal Reef, Shark’s Reef, Throne Room, and Surprise Reef near Negril, as well as Devil’s Reef near Ocho Rios.

Jamaica vs. The Bahamas: Accommodations and Cost

Jamaica is known as one of the most affordable islands in the Caribbean. There is a wide range of places to stay on the island, and food can be very inexpensive—it averages about 20% cheaper than in The Bahamas. Also, the Jamaican dollar offers great value against the American dollar, so you can really maximize your budget.

It’s possible to find hotel rooms for under $100 a night here—even mid-range hotels—and top-end resorts tend to cost about $300/night. Jamaica is home to dozens of all-inclusive resorts like Sandals and Beaches Resorts, which can provide good value. The least expensive Sandals resort is located here, Sandals Ochi in Ocho Rios. There are plenty of swanky, upscale options as well, such as The Caves, a world-famous boutique resort with 12 romantic cottages set on a cliffside overlooking the sea.

The Bahamas has a higher cost of living, making it a bit more expensive, and one Bahamian dollar is equal to one American dollar, so your money won’t stretch as far here. There are also fewer places to stay for travelers on a budget; accommodations in The Bahamas tend to be more luxurious and upscale.

However, there is some variety, and you can find inexpensive options for around $100 a night. An upscale beach resort starts at about $300 a day. Staying in mid-range hotels and eating in good restaurants will set you back at around $150 per person per day.

There are plenty of all-inclusive resorts in The Bahamas as well. Small Hope Bay Lodge on Andros Island is an intimate eco-friendly resort with beachfront cottages; Sandals Emerald Bay is a luxurious option on Great Exuma in the Out Islands.

Cuisine in The Bahamas and Jamaica

Bahamian cuisine has southern American and Caribbean influences and—not surprisingly—features a lot of fresh seafood. The most popular seafood in the Bahamas is the conch, a large mollusk that can be served in different ways: salad (raw conch with lime juice, tomato, onion, and vegetables), fritters (deep-fried and mixed with spices), and in stews and soups. Other must-tries are lobster, baked crab, and souse (stew with lime, hot chili pepper, vegetables, and chicken).

Coconut water is a popular beverage in The Bahamas, as is Switcha, which is a lemonade-type drink made with limes. Cocktails tend to be rum-based; well-known ones include the Yellow Bird and Goombay Smash. The local beers are delicious.

Jamaican cuisine also features a lot of seafood. Its national dish is called ackee and saltfish and combines the country’s national fruit, ackee, with salted cod. Jerk chicken or pork is a deliciously spicy native Jamaican dish that has made its way around the world. Jamaica’s local beer, Red Stripe, is also popular around the world.

Jamaica vs. The Bahamas: Nightlife

Jamaica offers a livelier scene at night; The Bahamas tend to be more laidback. But that’s not to say you can’t find plenty of nightlife choices in The Bahamas, from casinos on Paradise Island to popular bars like Señor Frog’s, the Daiquiri Shack, and Tiki Bikini Hut in Nassau (which is the main spot for most Bahamian nightlife). A fun, more relaxed option is the world-famous Nipper’s Beach Bar in Abaco. The Bahamas also holds summer festivals that feature local music.

Jamaica is the place to be if you like to party. Especially in Montego Bay, you’ll find plenty of hot spots to drink and dance the night away. Popular bars and nightclubs include Collette’s Bar (Negril), Usain Bolt’s Tracks and Records (Kingston and Montego Bay), and Floyd’s Pelican Bar (Treasure Beach).

Culture in The Bahamas and Jamaica

Both Jamaica and The Bahamas have a rich history and mix of cultural influences. The residents of both areas are friendly, although Bahamians tend to be somewhat more reserved than Jamaicans.

The Bahamas tends to feel more American, since it’s so close to the United States. Its culture also has a strong British influence, as well as African. The Heritage Museum of the Bahamas, in Nassau, will give you a good overview. You can also visit for Junkanoo, a Caribbean carnival that features street parades with music and dancing on Boxing Day (December 25) and New Year’s Day.

Jamaica delivers more of a mixed, Caribbean vibe; its cultural influences include the Tainos people from South America, the Spanish, Africans, the British, Indians, the Chinese, and people from the Middle East.

Reggae music is one of the most famous cultural contributions of Jamaica, made popular by icons such as Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. Bob Marley was a member of the unique local religion Rastafarianism, which started in the 1930s. You can visit the Rastafarian Indigenous Village near Montego Bay to learn more about it. There is also a Bob Marley Museum in Kingston.

Now that you know more about Jamaica vs. The Bahamas, which will you choose for your next Caribbean getaway?

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