If you’re wondering whether to choose Jamaica or Puerto Rico for your Caribbean vacation, this post is for you. Both islands have a lot to offer to visitors in terms of beaches, nature, and activities, but have very different vibes.
Puerto Rico is a U.S state and hence is Americanized, but nonetheless is Spanish-speaking with a strong Latin feel. Jamaica, on the other hand, has a British heritage. It has less developed with more lush vegetation, but also more visible poverty.
What travelers say
- Puerto Rico and Jamaica are similar in size and weather and Caribbean scenery and beaches. However, they have very different cultures since Puerto Rico has a Latin flair while Jamaica is English-speaking with British history.
- Compared to Puerto Rico, Jamaica has a much broader all-inclusive resort offering. Travelers suggest choosing Jamaica for a primarily AI experience.
- If your main goal is to explore and really immerse in the island and culture, Puerto Rico is easier, safer, and more convenient
- Jamaica has gorgeous areas, namely the resort area where most visitors stay. The people are charming but there is also extreme poverty and slums in some areas.
- PR is Americanized, being a U.S state, and hence has high rises and many U.S chain stores in the cities, particularly between San Juan and Luquillo. For an American, no visa is required and they find the same laws and money facilities.
- Jamaican has a rich and lively, exotic Rastafarian and reggae subculture (vs salsa in Puerto Rico) all over the island which is best explored outside the resorts. Jamaica is a little rough around the edges but an incredibly beautiful island.
- Jamaica has tourist attractions in most parts of the island except for a few areas. Puerto Rico, on the other hand, is mostly developed along the shores, with familiar U.S stores and businesses, but largely undeveloped in the inland parts.
Vibe & people
In Puerto Rico, San Juan is a nice, highly developed and sophisticated city with a lot of activities, sophisticated nightlife, and fine dining for every budget.
Travelers generally love the Old San Juan area which has cobblestone streets, colonial sights and architecture (big Spanish forts), nice restaurants and bars, quality handcrafts shopping, etc. Outside the old town, however, there are lots of tall building and large hotel chains.
In Puerto Rico, it’s easy to rent a car to tour the island, however in some areas, you’ll encounter highly congested traffic. Puerto Ricans generally drive recklessly. You may also drive across a few rundown and unsafe looking areas.
People traveling to Jamaica like the ample white sand beaches, the reggae music, and the hip vibe. It’s both a family-friendly and singles-friendly place and a popular honeymoon destination for young couples, namely African Americans.
However, Jamaica may not be for everyone due to the deep poverty which is very visible in some areas. Some travelers feel exploring the island outside of the resort area isn’t so safe. For example, while the Montego Bay area is nice, the areas between the city and the piers is rundown and unsafe looking.
If you choose to explore Jamaica outside a resort, expect to find a third world country and leave your valuables at your hotel. The people on the streets are quite pushy and touchy and constantly try to sell you things. However, if you go with an open mind and choose the places you visit, you’ll likely meet very charming people with a unique culture.
Many travelers who go to Jamaica choose either Montego Bay or Negril for their stay. Compared to San Juan in Puerto Rico, Negril is not as clustered into a relatively small and walkable urban center. Negril has a more relaxed and easy-going vibe with less hectic activity.
Some travelers prefer the Negril village or town appeal over San Juan’s real city feel. Negril offers less of a city vacation and is more about the beach and cliffs.
Overall, in both islands, many travelers feel the real beauty is getting to know the people and their culture.
Sights & activities
Puerto Rico is very tourist-friendly with lots of activities. Besides the old town, San Juan is also a good place for doing action sports such as windsurfing and kitesurfing.
Outside of San Juan, Puerto Rico has beautiful scenery, spectacular dry and humid rainforest (Guánica and El Yunque), waterfalls, bioluminescent lagoons (glowing due to living organisms), caves with underground rivers, gorgeous unspoiled beaches, zip lines across forests. Puerto Rico’s tropical forest is a U.S reserve. The Biobay tour is often recommended.
Other popular attractions in Puerto Rico include the Arecibo Observatory (with the largest Radio Telescope in the world), the nearby spectacular Camuy Cave Park, children and art museums, including the renowned Ponce city museum, the Bayamón Science Park with its real size NASA rockets, and world record zip lines in Toro Verde.
It’s easy to rent a car and visit many nice small towns where you’ll likely come across street fests and parades and you’ll get a good taste of Puerto Rico’s tropical island feel. You can drive up to the mountains on the narrow roads for a different, off-the-beaten paths experience.
Jamaica also has activities to offer, including visits to the stunning Dunns River, Mayfield, and YS waterfalls, the picturesque Black River, the Rastafarian villages, the Bob Marley Museum, the Appleton Rum factory, forest zip lines, and cliff diving – you can watch impressive cliff-diving shows while having dinner or a drink e.g. at Rick’s Cafe in Negril.
Jamaica is a large island with lush and picturesque interior mountain ranges which are very easy to access and visit for tourists. The Blue Mountains have great hiking trails, panoramic views, and coffee plantations. You can also go bobsledding down Mystic Mountain.
Unlike in Puerto Rico, many travelers aren’t comfortable renting a car and driving on their own in Jamaica, namely due to road conditions and British left-side driving. You can, however, hire a private driver for a reasonable price.
Nature & outdoors
Jamaica has a broad choice of beaches around the island. Negril, for example, has 7 miles of beach, often viewed as one of the best in the world. Montego Bay has resorts and open public beaches like Buccaneer Beach on the strip, where many Jamaican families and vendors hang out. Doctor’s Cave Beach, on the other hand, is not as friendly and safe.
San Juan (Puerto Rico) also has beautiful beaches, though perhaps not as impressive as Negril’s (Jamaica). The better beaches in San Juan are public, so they have free access – unlike resort beaches.
Some of the best beaches in San Juan include Flamenco, Luquillo, Boquerón, and Isla Verde. Rincon and Isabela are nice beach towns with many expats – English is mainly spoken. Puerto Rico has many coral reefs great for diving and surfing.
Travelers looking for seclusion in Puerto Rico can choose to stay around the El Yunque rainforest or into the mountainous part in the center of the island.
Compared to Puerto Rico, many travelers feel Jamaica has a more green and lush landscape with more waterfalls and natural areas.
Puerto Rico has accommodations for all budgets, from Airbnbs to luxury hotels. Many travelers choose to stay in Isla Verde, Condado, or the Old San Juan area.
Isla Verde is a beautiful beach with a restaurant and bars strip and many condos for rent. The Marriott hotel, located on the beach, is often praised.
El Conquistador (El Fajardo) and the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Golf & Beach are large self-contained resorts a good distance from Old San Juan. Many travelers rave about the El Conquistador resort for its beauty and amenities. It has a private beach located on a private island accessed via a short and scenic ferry ride. The beach has pristine water and fine white sand. The resort itself is on a cliff with incredible views. It has nice large pools.
Some travelers prefer to stay in a resort outside of San Juan and drive to the city for sightseeing and nightlife.
Travelers also have a large choice of vacation rentals including nice affordable condos and beachfront houses.
Negril has a very long beach and abundant accommodation options ranging from little hotels to large resorts. Some travelers prefer to stay in Negril while avoiding resorts. Negril.com has some good inexpensive places to stay. Make sure you choose your location carefully as some areas of Negril can be a bit shady.
(1) Featured: “DSC_0324” (CC BY 2.0) by permanently scatterbrained
(2) “Corner Restaurant” (CC BY 2.0) by Prayitno / Thank you for (12 millions +) view
(3) “Montego Bay, Jamaica (4)” (CC BY 2.0) by Gail Frederick
(4) “Puerto Rico Vista” (CC BY 2.0) by trishhartmann
(5) “Duns Falls Jamacia.” (CC BY 2.0) by Rab,Driver of P300NJB @Grampian Continental..
(6) “PSH_6756” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by pshanson
(7) “PC3100021-Sandals White House, Jamaica” (CC BY 2.0) by Gail Frederick
(8) “Old town streets” (CC BY 2.0) by scotted400