Jamaica vs the Bahamas: which to choose?

It’s cold out there. A Caribbean getaway has never sounded better. We get it. 

As you weigh your options in paradise, we’re sure you’ll be drawn to two island nations that have a special hold on visitors’ imaginations: Jamaica and the Bahamas. Yet since we’re equally drawn to the two countries’ stunning beaches, perfect weather and lively nightlife, recommending one over the other is above our pay grade.

Enter a pair of passionately partisan writers, here to make the case for why each of their picks makes the better choice.

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It really is better in the Bahamas – here’s why

Born-and-bred Miami native Jackie Gutierrez-Jones has traveled extensively in the nearby Bahamas, and once lived there part time for several years.

Growing up in Miami, the Caribbean was my backyard. Since road trips to other states required hours and hours of driving (not to mention extraordinary amounts of patience), there was no reason not to catch a quick ferry or flight over twinkling turquoise ocean waters to reach an island paradise in as little as 45 minutes.

I’ll take “Island Hopping” for $200.

Each of those islands became a tropical playground for me, where the sun – ever closer to the equator – would bake the impossibly clear salt water onto my skin and into my hair. This was tingling, crunchy, warmth that I longed to bottle up and take with me everywhere. And no islands quite captivated me like the Bahamas. Indeed, when my husband’s career path brought me to the island as an adult for six months out of the year, I found it heart-wrenching every time I had to leave.

An aerial view of the beach and sea with the Atlantis Resort in the distance, Paradise Island, the Bahamas, CaribbeanThe idyllic islands of the Bahamas play host to superb resorts – including the world-famous Atlantis © Shutterstock / Paulharding00

I hear you – yes, you in the back, sipping a Red Stripe. “But, but, but… Jamaica!” And I can’t knock those mountain views, waterfall hikes and languid afternoons nursing a hangover with a pile of Jamaican patties. There’s also a lit nightlife scene, set to homegrown reggae sounds and dancehall. I’ll give you that.

And while it’s great Jamaica boasts 49 different islands, can we talk about the Bahamas’ more than 3000 islands, cays and inlets, some 30 of them inhabited? You can spend a week hopping from island to island, taking in some of the most crystalline waters you’ve ever seen in your life (oh, hi, Exumas), and barely scratch the surface.

All that island hopping works up an appetite. Luckily, the Bahamas boasts a roster of celebrity chefs that would make Michelin blush: Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Marcus Samuelsson, Daniel Boulud, Nobu Matsuhisa, Jose Andres and other culinary stars want to feed you – and well. If you’re not the fancy type, follow your nose to the conch shacks in Bimini or the Fish Fry in Nassau – and try to convince me that the fried fish and conch salad there doesn’t stand far above any other island’s offerings. And don’t forget to chase it all down with a bottle of our local beer, Kalik (pronounced “klick”). 

Do any of Jamaica’s islands boast a 154-acre resort devoted to the lost city of Atlantis? One where you can swim with sharks, play a little blackjack and throw yourself down a 200-foot body slide in the course of one afternoon? I think not. 

If diving and snorkeling tickle your fancy, the waters surrounding Bahamian islands edge out anything you’ll find in Jamaica. The sea is clearer, and the stunning reefs attract some of the brightest, most visually stunning marine life in the entire Caribbean.

Sky-juice stalls at Arawak Cay Fish Fry, Nassau, New Providence, the Bahamas, CaribbeanFriend fish and conch salad gets washed down with “sky juice” (coconut milk with gin) at the nightly Fish Fry in Nassau © Shutterstock / Paulharding00

Think of planning your trip around Junkanoo. It’s like Brazil’s Carnival or New Orleans’ Mardi Gras – only with the colors turned up to 11 (on a scale of 10). 

Two more words: sky juice. If you know, you know. And I’ve already said too much. 

It’s Jamaica or nowhere

A born Jamaican, Heidi Hanna is a passionate adventurer on her home island, often off exploring with her husband and two children. Though she has lived in other countries, Jamaica will always be home to her.

Close your eyes, and imagine that dream island vacation. You might conjure up several destinations – but nowhere else is “no weh nuh betta than yard.” As a Jamaican who has both traveled all over the world and explored the nooks and crannies of her home country, I couldn’t agree with this beloved local saying more. 

Three women running into sea, rear view, Frenchman’s Cove, Port Antonio, Jamaica, CaribbeanThe jungle reaches right up to the ocean in sublime Frenchmen’s Cove © Buena Vista Images / Getty Images © Buena Vista Images / Getty Images

The Bahamas has beautiful beaches, sure – but if your list of island vacation must-haves includes more than just stunning sand and surf, then I’m afraid the Bahamas is already edged out. For once you get a taste of the irie Jamaican lifestyle, you will keep coming back for more. 

If you’re a consummate beach bum, you’re in luck. Visit the famous Seven Mile Beach in Negril for amazing sunsets, Doctor’s Cave Beach in Montego Bay for crystal-clear water and powdery white sand, and Frenchmen’s Cove in Portland, a jungle paradise where the ocean meets the river. 

But why not travel deeper into the interior of the country? Go hiking and camping in the lush Blue Mountains, where you can escape the Caribbean heat and take in amazing views. Spend a few hours floating down the Rio Grande, relaxing on your bamboo raft as you dip your feet into the cool river water and sip an ice-cold Red Stripe. There are also enough majestic waterfalls to keep you exploring the island for years. (Hey you, over there in the Bahamas: how’s beach day going…again?)

Feel your body swaying? That’s the sweet sound of reggae music – and if nature is the heart of our country, music is the soul. It’s a big Jamaican export, yes – but it was born here, and sounds better here. Picture yourself sitting on a bar stool with a rum punch in hand, watching the sun go down and jammin’ to some sweet Bob Marley vibes. I bet your friends in the Bahamas are nursing a Kalik and wishing they were singing along to “One Love” in Jamaica right now. 

A crowd enjoying reggae/dancehall music at a street party in Tivoli Gardens, Kingston, Jamaica, CaribbeanKingston, Jamaica – June 26, 2008: Crowd enjoying reggae/dancehall music and dancing at ghetto street party, called “Passa Passa”, Tivoli Gardens. ©peeterv/Getty Images

If you like to party, come down for Sumfest, the largest music festival in the Caribbean, to dance the night away with Grammy-winning artists like Sean Paul, Koffee, Shaggy, Buju Banton and others. Expect very late nights – maybe with just enough time to enjoy a morning cup of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee before you lie out on the morning sun. (Guess who’s going to the beach again today?) 

The Bahamas might entice you with Michelin-starred restaurants and tasty conch – but Jamaica will win over your heart (or at least your stomach) with its celebrated street food. (Does it even count as a trip to Jamaica if you don’t eat something jerked?) Simple eateries are where you get to eat the best local food and interact with real Jamaicans over pan chicken, curried goat, peppered shrimp, ackee and saltfish (our national dish), roast breadfruit, pepper-pot soup, escovitch fish…you get the idea.

Jamaica just feels right, doesn’t it?  You know you’ve made the right choice. Now, open your eyes…


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