It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that both Jamaica and the Bahamas are among the most visited countries in the Caribbean. Both tropical islands offer gorgeous beaches, luxurious resorts, and plenty of sunshine, all within easy reach of the mainland United States. That said, there’s lots that set these Caribbean heavyweight contenders apart from one another, too. Read on to determine which is the right Caribbean island destination for you: Jamaica or the Bahamas?
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Getting to Jamaica and The Bahamas
If you’re coming from the east or southeastern United States, getting to both Jamaica and the Bahamas is a breeze. Both are well-connected to major US airports, but as a considerably larger country in terms of population, Jamaica offers more flight options, making it easier to get to from Europe or South America. But don’t sleep on the Bahamas. Flight times from Miami to Nassau are a scant 45 minutes.
Jamaica: Jamaica is home to three major airports: Norman Manley International Airport just outside of Kingston, Montego Bay’s Sangster International Airport, and Ian Fleming International Airport (yep, named after the James Bond author) near Ocho Rios. Most Jamaican visitors fly into either Kingston or Montego Bay, though some smaller commercial aircraft do take passengers straight to Ocho Rios. Montego Bay gets the majority of the tourist flights, owing to its own popularity and its proximity to hotspots such as Negril. From Montego Bay, you can get direct flights not only to the U.S., Canada, and elsewhere in the Caribbean, but also to farther-off destinations, such as Lima and even Moscow. However, many such flights only operate seasonally. If you’d rather skip the big city in favor of sandier climes, flying into Kingston is your best bet if you want to escape the tourist masses and head up to the more chilled-out Port Antonio, home of the oft-photographed Blue Lagoon.
The Bahamas: The main airport in the Bahamas, Lynden Pindling International Airport, is located in its capital city of Nassau on New Providence Island. Regular commercial and charter flights operate from across the Eastern seaboard, and if you’re coming from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or New York, you’ll have ample options to choose from. There are also a number of seasonal flights in operation from spots such as Boston, Montreal, and even Frankfurt in Germany, and BA operates a year-round flight from Heathrow. If you’d rather skip Nassau altogether, you can also fly directly to many smaller airports from the US. Exuma International Airport has year-round flights from Atlanta and Miami, while the Grand Bahama International Airport in Freeport offers connections to a number of cities in the Southeast.
Top Hotels in Jamaica and the Bahamas
Hotels in both Jamaica and the Bahamas run the gamut, from budget-friendly properties aimed at the spring break set to timeshares with kitchens to some of the most gorgeous luxury hotels in the Caribbean. However, all-inclusive resorts reign supreme in both destinations.
Our Jamaica Hotel Picks:
Families rave about Hotel Riu Montego Bay, with its dedicated kids’ club and lots of free watersports. If you’ve got a bit more cash to drop, Round Hill Hotel and Villas, is a swankier alternative with villas designed by Ralph Lauren himself, plus a kids’ club and the option to hire your own private nanny. Though frankly, you may want to leave the kids at home — adults-only hotels in Jamaica are some of the Caribbean’s finest. Options include Excellence Oyster Bay , which offers swank rooms, many with plunge pools or jetted tubs, and Secrets St James Montego Bay, with swim-up rooms and tons of free activities. Couples looking for something a bit more subdued and intimate could consider The Caves, a 12-room boutique property built on a sea-facing cliff.
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Our Bahamas Hotel Picks:
Many of the best resorts in the Bahamas are in Nassau or on nearby Paradise Island. Couples looking for an easy, all-inclusive getaway can opt for the tried and tested Sandals Royal Bahamian Spa Resort & Offshore Island or opt for a stay at Cable Beach’s Breezes Resort & Spa Bahamas (which is only open to guests ages 14 and up). Those looking for an adults-only resort on Paradise Island nearby should consider Hotel Riu Palace Paradise Island, which offers all sorts of free water sports and easy access to the casino and entertainment at Atlantis. If you’ve got kids in tow, you’re better off booking a room at The Cove at Atlantis, which offers easy access to Atlantis and its Aquaventure waterpark, but is in a quieter, more secluded stretch of the beach. An excellent alternative for families on Grand Bahama Island, Viva Wyndham Fortuna Beach-An All Inclusive Resort offers gorgeous white-sand beaches and tons of family-friendly activities (including trapeze instruction) at mid-range prices.
Hotels in this story
Beaches in Jamaica and The Bahamas
Both Jamaica and the Bahamas are beach destinations with sparkling and swimmable Caribbean Seas, though each island has its own unique beach flavor.
Jamaica Beaches: Jamaica’s beaches are reason alone to visit the island, with plenty of stretches of white sand to plonk down on. Among the most popular include Negril’s Seven-Mile Beach, Montego Bay’s cozy Doctor’s Cave Beach (which has great facilities, including showers), and the cruise tripper-favorite: Turtle Beach in Ocho Rios. For something more subdued, make your way to Port Antonio, where you’ll find quiet beaches such as Frenchman’s Cove, which come with fewer facilities — and tourists.
Bahamas Beaches: As a nation of small islands, the Bahamas has a ridiculous amount of beach space to choose from, whether you’re into waves or quiet coves. The most popular include Cable Beach, with its white sands and water so turquoise that they look fake, and pretty Cabbage Beach on Paradise Island, popular for water sports. If you plan to head further out into the island chain, the little island of Bimini offers some amazing sandscapes, particularly on popular Radio Beach, with its calm waters. For something extra Instagramable, head to Big Major Cay in Exuma where you can go swimming with local resident pigs. Though, whether you should visit is subject to some serious ethical concerns.
Activities in Jamaica and The Bahamas
Both Jamaica and the Bahamas offer a good variety of water sports activities, beaches, and nightlife, but if you’re more into cultural activities, Jamaica is the solid winner. Bahamas feels more like a resort island that’s a paradise built for tourists. Jamaica has more people living there, and a proud culture dedicated to historical preservation.
Jamaica: Jamaica offers a ton of activities, enough to warrant multiple trips. Although many people forego the capital of Kingston altogether, it’s worth a trip if you’re interested in art, history, or reggae music. You can visit Bob Marley’s house and the famous Trenchtown neighborhood, see the works of Jamaican artist Edna Manley at the National Gallery of Jamaica, or immerse yourself in history at the 17th-century Fort Charles. If you’re sticking to the beach areas up north, you can break away for a day trip to the purportedly haunted Rose Hall Great House, visit Bob Marley’s birthplace, take a nighttime boat ride in the Luminous Lagoon, or head up to Dunn’s River Falls for a cooling and adventurous dip.
The Bahamas: Activities in the Bahamas are more centered around beach life, though Nassau does offers some historic attractions. Head up to the Fort Fincastle Historic Complex for great views out over the city (pro-tip: it’s best accessed by climbing up the 66-step Queen’s Staircase). On nearby Paradise Island, you’ll find Atlantis Resort, known for its casino, thrilling Aquaventure waterpark, and endless aquariums.
Weather in Jamaica and The Bahamas
It’s definitely worth taking the weather into consideration when planning a trip to Bahamas or Jamaica. While there’s not a ton of difference in terms of what each of the two Caribbean countries offer, climate-wise, there are a few key differences.
Jamaica: Weather can vary quite a bit in Jamaica, which you’re most likely to notice if you plan to spend time inland or hit up a lot of different destinations on the island. Most coastal areas are in the 70s or 80s throughout the year, though some of the inland, mountainous areas (such as the coffee-growing Blue Mountains) can get way cooler. Rainfall peaks on the island in the summer months and into the autumn, and it’s generally rainiest in October and November.
The Bahamas: The Bahamas offers pleasant weather year round, usually in the high 70s or low 80s (Fahrenheit, of course), though it can get cool at night (bring a sweater). Although the Bahamas doesn’t get tons of storms, tropical cyclones and rainfall are more likely during the summer and early autumn.
Perhaps the quirkiest hotel in Negril (and we mean that in the best possible way), The Caves offers only 12 rooms and suites, most with ocean views and some with outdoor showers. There’s also a small pool and a staircase that leads down to the sea, but the real highlight here is the chance to sit down to a five-course dinner, served inside intimate dining areas built inside cliffside grottos. And yes, the experience is included in room rates.
The chicest section of the Atlantis Resort, this tower property caters to families and couples in equal measure, with excellent dining options, multiple pools, a lovely stretch of beach, and beautiful views from many of the 600-odd rooms. Families will appreciate the free access to Atlantis facilities such as the waterpark and aquariums. Couples and those who want to party can head straight to the adults-only pool for DJ music and outdoor gambling.
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