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Island Guide: Jamaica vs. Barbados


April 30, 2019 • By Margeaux Gerwin

Both islands offer pristine beaches, fine dining and luxurious accommodations. But each has its own atmosphere and distinct characteristics that cater to different styles of tropical island vacation. Which Caribbean island is best for your travel preferences?

Jamaica is known for reggae music, its easy-going atmosphere and spanning landscapes, offering the adventurous visitor plenty to explore. Barbados is known for its boutique hotels, intimate culinary scene and authentic island culture for the reserved and relaxed guest. Keep reading to learn more about which Caribbean destination you should visit next.

Jamaica

The island nation of Jamaica is located in the West Indies about 700 miles off the coast of Florida. Historically a valuable colony due to its sugar production, Jamaica finally became independent from England in 1962. Jamaica’s largest city and capital is Kingston, which is thought to be the birthplace of reggae music and has a relaxing, “no worries” atmosphere. Aside from music, the country is known for its beautiful beaches, golf resorts and the popular natural attraction, Dunn’s River Falls.

Dunn River Falls, Jamaica
Photo Credit: Lakeisha Bennett

Attractions and Activities

Dunn’s River Falls

Dunn’s River Falls is located on the North coast of Jamaica near the town of Ochos Rios. It is one of seven natural waterfalls in The Americas that flows directly into the ocean. Thousands of visitors are attracted to the site every year to climb the step-like falls with a guide. The activity takes about an hour, and you’re able to explore the lagoons and surrounding greenery while venturing up the scenic falls.

Dunn's River Falls

Jamaican Golf

Jamaica is also known for its world-class golf! Montego Bay, Jamaica’s second largest city, is a popular spot among golf enthusiasts. According to Golf Digest, Montego Bay has become the Caribbean’s premier golf destination, boasting multiple, newly-renovated courses for guests to play during their visit. The top three courses to play, also mentioned by Golf Digest, include The Tryall Club, The Ritz-Carlton White Witch G Course and the Wyndham Rose Hall Cinnamon Hill Ocean Course. To book a tee time, rates per player for 18 holes range from $115-$200 for all three courses.

Accommodations and Dining

The easy-going atmosphere, accommodation selection and culinary scene are one-of-a-kind in Jamaica. All-inclusive resorts tend to be more popular here. Many of the all-inclusive resorts are located around Montego Bay for easy access to golf courses and water activities. Because the larger resorts include their own restaurants, independent dining options are fewer. But there are still plenty of casual, family-friendly places to choose from in Jamaica! Fresh seafood is always delicious and available throughout the island. Popular Jamaican dishes often include Ackee, a Jamaican fruit, that is usually paired with cod.

Jamaica vs Barbados

Travel Options

Jamaica is 4,243 square miles and is much larger than many other Caribbean islands. It is fairly easy to get to from the U.S. mainland, thanks to its two international airports. Norman Manley International Airport is located in Kingston, on the Southeast side of the island, and Sangster International Airport is located in Montego Bay, on the Northwest side. If you’re staying at a resort, you’ll most likely fly into Sangster. Flight time from New York City to Jamaica is about 4 hours. Jamaica is a great Caribbean destination for the active and adventurous traveler. To view THIRDHOME Exchange and Rental luxury properties, click below.

Barbados

Offering 60 miles of coastline and located in the eastern Caribbean, is the island nation of Barbados. Like Jamaica, it was also a British colony until its independence in 1966. Due to their relatively recent independence, Barbadian culture remained intertwined with British culture, and many English pastimes were popularized on the island. Traditions such as afternoon tea and cricket matches are still popular among locals. Barbados is known for its luxury boutique hotels, colonial history and unique culture. It is thought to be one of the most prosperous Caribbean islands, touting the 2nd largest GDP per capita among its Caribbean peers.

Jamaica vs. Barbados

Attractions and Activities

Harrison’s Cave

A popular tourist attraction among outdoor explorers offers an experience unlike many others in the Caribbean: Harrison’s Cave. Visitors are able to venture into the caverns below Mount Hillaby. The cave was discovered in 1785, but its plethora of small passageways and nooks underneath the island weren’t fully mapped until the mid-1970s. Both walking tours and a moving tram are available for explorers wanting to take part in the subterranean experience.

Harrison's Cave

Folkestone Marine Park

Family-friendly activities besides lounging beachside are easily accessible in Barbados due to its smaller size. Barbados is known to have one of the lowest crime rates and some of the friendliest locals in the Caribbean. So if you’re wanting to explore the island a bit, activities are always close by and locals are happy to help point you in the right direction. A great option for families is Folkestone Marine Park. It is located on the west coast and is a fabulous spot to snorkel and interact with wildlife. An artificial reef was created by the shipwrecked Stavronikita, a Greek freighter that sank in 1956. Paddle boarding, diving and kayaking are also popular activities in the area.

Accommodations and Dining

Barbados is known for its high-end hotels that offer a unique and authentic island holiday like no other. Large, all-inclusive resorts are not common in Barbados, as affluent, low capacity hotels with intimidate atmospheres populate the island. Sunsets on the west coast of the island are unparalleled. This is especially true when dining at one of many boutique waterfront restaurants in western Barbados. A Caribbean sunset paired with local Barbadian cuisine is a match made in heaven. Barbadian food features a mix of African, Indian, Irish, Creole and British inspiration; a unique combination you won’t want to miss out on.

Travel Options

Barbados is only 166 square miles, about 26 times smaller than Jamaica! Grantley Adams International Airport is the only airport on the island and is located in Christchurch, on the southern coast. It’s important to note that when visiting Barbados, the exchange rate between Barbadian dollars and U.S. dollars is fixed at $2 BBD to every $1 USD. Barbados is a frequently visited destination by smaller groups, families and couples that are looking for a more relaxed yet luxurious stay. Click below to view THIRDHOME luxury Exchange and Rental properties in Barbados.

So, which Caribbean island is best for you?

Jamaica and Barbados are both luxurious and fabulous island destinations but are different in their respective ways. Any beachgoer would love to be on either coastline this very minute! But, it truly comes down to your own travel preferences. Jamaica is a great option for non-family travelers or large groups that are looking for an island escape with plenty of amenities. Visitors to Jamaica can expect multiple luxury golf resorts and accommodations. Traveling families and couples looking for a more intimate getaway should visit Barbados. Known for its safe atmosphere and friendly locals, visitors can expect an authentic island escape and child-friendly activities in Barbados. In the end, both Caribbean islands offer opportunities to create unforgettable travel memories.

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