If you have your sights set on a winter escape that promises a dash of adventure, a healthy dose of a new culture, plus oh-so-dreamy beach days spent doing absolutely nothing — choosing between Barbados and Jamaica is no easy task. Luckily, we’ve done all the heavy lifting for you, so all you have to do is read on to discover which island fits you best.
What to do
Barbados: From surfing to kite surfing and snorkeling to scuba diving, if you spend one day on a Barbados beach you’ll quickly understand why it’s a hotspot for the aquatic adventurer. The island’s Atlantic coast, in particular, is home to amazing swell from October to March. What’s more, the sea’s most beloved swimming companions — hawksbill and leatherback turtles — are found by the dozen, especially at Worthing Beach and Paynes Bay Beach where they have a reputation for coming up and greeting visitors right on the sand. We recommend taking a Catamaran tour where a captain can guide you to the best spots for snorkeling with turtles (plus, there’s usually rum punch on board!)
Barbados is just as exciting on dry land. For starters, it’s home to a handful of elegant country clubs like Sandy Lane. Rooted in the island’s British traditions, at Sandy Lane you can play a morning tennis match or a round of golf, followed by famous tea and scones in their fabulous parlor. If you’re more of a nature explorer, there’s an abundance of wildlife to witness, beginning with the green monkeys at the Barbados Wildlife Reserve. After you visit the monkeys, you can experience Barbados from down under at Harrison’s Cave, home to gullies, sinkholes and taverns which you can explore by tram (headlamps are a must!) Green thumbs will love the Andromeda Botanical Gardens, a lush sanctuary home to 600 species of plants and the world’s tallest talipot palm tree.
Jamaica: Like Barbados, the activities in Jamaica take full advantage of the tropical environment. Golfing enthusiasts will love the courses at Tryall Club and Rose Hall, where the setting is so pretty you won’t mind if your game isn’t so sharp. Water adventures range from swimming with sea creatures at Dolphin Cove, climbing majestic waterfalls at the picturesque Dunn’s River Falls (pictured left) and snorkeling right off the beach.
For the culture buffs, a visit to the National Gallery of Jamaica in Kingston is a must. The museum houses an eclectic mix of works, ranging from Taino artifacts to contemporary Jamaican artists that showcase the uniqueness of Jamaican culture. Afterwards, venture to the Bob Marley Museum where you’ll find everything from platinum discs to the broken down bike he once used to deliver records. The next day, continue on your hunt for Jamaican celebrities with a zip through the jungle at Mystic Mountain in Ochos Rios, designed to mimic bobsledding in honor of the celebrated Jamaican Bobsled team — but instead of on ice, you’re gliding through the rainforest.
The Verdict: There’s options aplenty on both islands — but if you’re more of a watersports enthusiast than culture aficionado, you should choose Barbados. Otherwise, book a your plane ticket to Jamaica and immerse yourself in Jamaican history and culture.
What to Eat
Barbados: The food scene in Barbados is all about variety; whether you’re a fan of laid-back beach bars or white tablecloth dining rooms, you’ll leave the island with a satisfied appetite. Our favorite spot for local flavors is at the renowned Oistins, a small fishing village that transforms into a lively fish fry market on Friday evenings. In addition to the scrumptious seafood (mahi mahi, flying fish, lionfish, to name a few), you can shop for souvenirs and listen to live music — don’t forget your dancing shoes!
For a more formal yet equally delicious affair, head to The Cliff — a celeb-approved eatery that awards stunning sea views from every table (pictured right). Each night there’s a set menu designed by Chef Paul Owens consisting of the island’s best fresh produce with a creative twist and spectacular presentations. For laid-back “by the beach” vibes with tasty food, we love JuJu’s. Here, you can relax under a colorful umbrella, bite into fresh tuna, and wash it down with rum punch, all with your toes in the sand.
Jamaica: Simply put, Jamaica is the place to go if your ideal evening out is a casual beach bar; cold beer in hand and spicy jerk chicken in the other. Casual picnic tables reign supreme here, and the result is relaxed, friendly places — like the famous Scotchies — where time doesn’t exist and you feel more comfortable than ever wearing your flip-flops and sarong to dinner.
That said, Jamaica is also home to a host of incredible chefs that you can enjoy in the comfort of your villa. Whether you’re planning a special occasion or the thought of not cooking for a week (and eating five-star meals) appeals to you, you can turn your own back terrace into whatever type of restaurant you desire. We recommend giving the chef a carte blanche so you can experience colorful local dishes like Jamaican Fish Pot.
The Verdict: If you like to have your plate full of options (with a healthy dose of fresh seafood), head to Barbados. But if eating is all about enjoying good food at home, you’ll be delighted by the vibrant flavours of Jamaica.
Where to Stay
Barbados: Imagine classic colonial houses with a playful Caribbean palette right on the ocean, and you have the second home you’ve always dreamed of. One of our all-time favorites in Barbados is Fustic House, originally built in 1794. This historic home has mint green accents throughout, like the double doors that open up to the courtyard garden and the storybook shutters on the mullioned windows. Ideal for a wedding, or a romantic couple’s getaway, Fustic House is a stylish step back in time.
The island is also home to swoon-worthy homes that can only be described as mansions, such as Cove Spring House. Complete with its own private beach, the outdoor space at Cove Spring House is as spectacular as the thoughtfully-designed interiors: breezy verandas and Balinese loungers line the oversize pool to make for one of the best outdoor areas in all of Barbados. Inside, 10 bedrooms, a home theater and a fully equipped gym await. If the grandness isn’t so much your style, there are more relaxed style homes in Barbados like Blue Point, right on Mullins Bay Beach, with inviting indoor-outdoor living spaces and simple decor for laid-back luxury.
Jamaica: Planning a family getaway? If you’re traveling with both little ones and extended family, Jamaica has several homes that will fit just what you’re looking for. Sundown on Discovery Bay, for example, even comes with a full jungle gym so the kids can play all day long. What’s more, its own private stretch of sand has everything from kayaks and beach loungers to all the must-haves for sand castle making. Our favorite part, of course, is the excellent staff: a butler, private chef and 2 housekeepers promise your schedule is wide-open for quality time with loved ones.
If a stylish private home is up your alley, you’ll love the lazy days by the pool and spectacular sunsets at Flower Hill. The home is ideal for a destination wedding, too: how about a ceremony overlooking the ocean, followed by dinner on the beautifully manicured property? Yes please! And those who love resort amenities, there’s something for you too: villas at Tryall Club provide all the activities you love — tennis, golf, fitness facilities, restaurants — plus the privacy of your own home. Consider it the best of both worlds.
The Verdict: If historic architecture and having your own mansion on the beach is enticing, the villas in Barbados are sure to please. However, if your idea of the perfect vacation means not lifting a finger and wandering right from your bedroom to find breakfast waiting, Jamaica is waiting for you.