Barbados and Jamaica are two of the most popular islands in the Caribbean – and for good reason. Both islands boast dreamy beaches, fantastic food and lots to see and do. But which one suits you best?
Choosing between Barbados and Jamaica is no easy task, so we’ve compared them side-by-side to help you make your mind up. Whether you want to know where’s best for beaches, shopping, attractions or nightlife, you’ll find all the answers here.
Barbados vs Jamaica
Barbados is one of the most prosperous islands in the Caribbean and it’s hailed as the ‘island that has it all’. In addition to its world-class beaches where you’re likely to spot a celebrity or two, you’ll find family friendly restaurants, buzzing nightlife and the Unesco World Heritage-listed capital of Bridgetown.
The island has a beautiful interior dotted with sugar plantations and botanical gardens. And, in contrast to the pristine beaches along the Platinum Coast, the Atlantic-pummelled east coast is wild and ruggedly beautiful.
Size-wise, there’s a big difference between Jamaica and Barbados. In fact, Barbados measures 166 square miles which is 26 times smaller than its West Indies counterpart. Although small in size, Barbados is large when it comes to character. Steeped in history, culture and tradition the island exudes a natural charm, and the Bajan people are renowned for their warmth and hospitality.
The currency is Barbadian dollars (BDS) and the rate is permanently fixed at BDS $2 for every $1 US dollar. Although most establishments accept US currency, you should aim to pay in Barbados dollars as your money will go further.
In terms of getting to Barbados, all airlines fly into the Grantley Adams International Airport in Christchurch. If you’re visiting Barbados from the UK the flight time is around 8.5 hours from London, while if you’re flying in from New York it’s about half of that.
Located in the West Indies, just a short flight from Florida, Jamaica is the Caribbean island that is said to come with its own soundtrack. The birthplace of reggae music, Jamaica has jaw-dropping beaches, all-inclusive resorts and a distinct take-it-easy vibe.
The island is rich in natural wonders which include white-sand beaches, verdant mountains and world-famous waterfalls. Its cities bubble with life both day and night, and wherever you stay you’re sure to find music and merry-making nearby.
In terms of size, Jamaica has a total area of 4,243 square miles which is about the size of the US state of Connecticut. Jamaica has a population of around 2.9 million people which makes it the fourth most populous country in the entire Caribbean.
The island’s currency is the Jamaican dollar, and while most hotels and tourist shops accept both Jamaican and US dollars, you’re likely to get a better rate if you pay in local cash.
The flight duration to Jamaica is around 10 hours from London, 5 hours from LA and 4 hours from New York.
Should I pick Barbados or Jamaica for my holiday?
Things to see and do
You can happily laze the days away on either island, but when it comes to things to see and do there is a difference between Barbados and Jamaica. Here are some of the highlights of each island:
For starters, Barbados is home to a handful of elegant beach resorts like Sandy Lane on the affluent west coast. Rooted in the island’s British traditions, at Sandy Lane you can play a spot of morning tennis or tee off on a world-class golf course, followed by tea and scones in the plush parlor. You can unwind in the spa’s luxurious hydrotherapy pools, or take the kids to the private beach for some family friendly watersports including kayaking, Hobie Cat sailing and banana boat rides.
Barbados is one of the safest Caribbean islands so you could and should get out and explore. Located in the central uplands of the island is Harrison’s Cave, home to sinkholes, gullies and stalactite caverns which you can explore by tram. You can meet green monkeys at the Barbados Wildlife Reserve, and you can snorkel with leatherback turtles at the Folkestone Marine Park.
The verdict: Whether you want to visit the beaches, explore historic sites or shop ’til you drop in the island’s capital, the list of things to do in Barbados could go on and on. Its smaller size means Barbados is super-easy to get around. And with its warm, welcoming vibe, the island is one of the best places to visit for a family vacation.
Like Barbados, there are heaps of things to see and do in Jamaica. Golfing enthusiasts will love the Rose Hall estate in Montego Bay, with its great golf course and restored plantation house. Montego Bay (or Mo’ Bay as the locals call it) is home to a handful of the island’s best beaches, as well as a lively ‘Hip Strip’ of shops, restaurants, bars and nightlife.
Recommended villas in Barbados
4 bedrooms – sleeps 8
Mullins Beach 3
8 bedrooms – sleeps 16
4 bedrooms – sleeps 8
Another tourist area is the cruise capital of Ocho Rios which was once a quaint fishing village and has since become one of the island’s most popular vacation destinations. It has some knock-out beaches and some great casual restaurants and beach bars. Its most famous attraction though is the Dunn’s River Falls waterfall which sees thousands of visitors each year.
For a quieter vibe there are some great places to stay in the areas of Runaway Bay and Discovery Bay. These quaint towns are ideal for family vacations and are super-relaxed, even by Caribbean standards. You’ll find miles of sugar-white beaches, as well as a golf club and a handful of casual restaurants and bars.
The verdict: While Jamaica is a great place for a family vacation, it’s also a top spot for music and nightlife. Jamaica is much bigger than Barbados so there’s a wider variety of things to do, although you may need a longer vacation to take it all in. Group excursions are more of a big thing in Jamaica. It’s also particularly popular with the all-inclusive crowd.
Eating and drinking
The food scene in Barbados is all about variety, whether you’re a fan of laid-back beach bars or fine-dining restaurants.
A favorite spot for local flavors is the renowned fishing village of Oistin’s which transforms into a lively fish fry market on Friday nights. In addition to the tasty seafood dinners, you can shop for souvenirs and get-down to the live music with the locals.
For a more formal affair, head to one of the island’s white tablecloth dining rooms like Tides and The Cliff.
If you’ve got the kids in tow, you might want to opt for the more casual options including fast food venues, beach BBQs and family restaurants where you can dine on all manner of local and international cuisine.
With its many all-inclusive resorts, independent restaurants are a bit thinner on the groud in Jamaica. That said, there are still some great venues offering hearty Jamaican fare.
Scotchies is one of a trio of famous ‘jerk centers’ on the island, each set in an attractive tropical garden with tables in gazebos and a bar to one side. You pay in advance, then hand over your ticket at the barbeque and your cooked meat will be hacked into bitesize chunks and heaped onto a paper plate. Beware of adding hot pepper sauce though, the jerk seasoning is spicy enough!
Jamaica is also home to a host of private chefs who are happy to come to your villa and cook 5-star meals for you and your guests. You can turn your terrace or dining room into whatever type of restaurant you wish, and give the chef carte blanche to prepare a variety of colorful Jamaican dishes.
The verdict: If you’re comparing Barbados vs Jamaica for their dining options it’s a tricky one to call. Barbados has a great choice of family friendly restaurants plus a big fish-fry scene. Jamaica is the place to head if your ideal evening is a casual beach bar with a cold beer in one hand and a plate of jerk chicken in the other.
When to go
The sun shines all year round in the Caribbean and there really is no ‘best’ time to go, but conditions and prices do vary depending on the time of year. As a general rule, the peak season on both islands are the winter months when you can expect dry and sunny weather. Be aware though that it’s likely to be much busier and your vacation will be more expensive.
Also be aware that the official hurricane season in the Caribbean runs from June to November. Believe it or not, many people choose to visit during the hurricane season as it’s a cheaper time to travel, and the odds of a storm-free vacation are still good.
There are a few shoulder seasons too (late spring and late autumn) when you’re likely to get the best of both seasons.
The verdict: In terms of the weather, there isn’t a huge difference between Barbados and Jamaica. The best time to go will ultimately come down to your personal preferences.
Where to stay
Both islands have a great selection of swoon-worthy villas to choose from, including beachfront homes with their own private pools. Here are some of our favorites:
Recommended condos in Barbados
Mullins Beach 6
2 bedrooms – sleeps 4
3 bedrooms – sleeps 7
3 bedrooms – sleeps 6
Sandy Lane 14: This elegant 5-bedroom home is located in the plush Sandy Lane resort. It can be rented as a three, four or five bedroom villa and offers luxury accommodation in the island’s most exclusive setting.
Christchurch 33: This classic 3-bedroom townhouse is located on the south coast of Barbados just a stone’s throw from the beach. It’s a short drive from Bridetown and is in close proximity to golf, shopping and many other amenities.
Runaway Bay 3: Perfect for special occasions, this 3-bedroom vacation home has a beautiful beach garden with a gazebo. It also has a private swimming pool, luxury living areas and direct access to the beach.
Montego Bay 40: This lavish mansion comes complete with a team of staff including a cook, a butler, housekeepers and a night watchman. It has 2 private pools and there are huge living spaces both indoors and out. It’s located close to the beach, and has golf, tennis and a gym nearby.
The verdict: Both Barbados and Jamaica come out on top when it comes to luxury villas. You’ll find plush resorts aplenty on both islands, as well as independent villas with fantastic amenities on-site and nearby.
If you can’t decide between Barbados or Jamaica for a holiday, why not visit them both on a multi-center trip?
There are regular flights between the islands, with a flight duration of just 3 hours. If you’re flying from Barbados to Jamaica you can book a one-way flight from the Grantley Adams International Airport in Christchurch to the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay for around $250.
If you’re thinking of booking a vacation and you can’t decide between Barbados and Jamaica then contact our travel experts for advice. Additionally, our dedicated concierge team can arrange any added extras you need such as great-value car hire.