Cancun vs Jamaica: The Caribbean is famous for its beautiful white sand beaches, turquoise waters, and beautiful weather. One of the most popular vacation destinations in the world, the Caribbean attracts tens of millions of visitors each year. But which country or city in the Caribbean is the best? If you are considering Cancun vs Jamaica for your next vacation, here are the factors you should take into account when deciding which one is the best vacation destination for you.
Located on the northeastern coast of Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula
Located in the Caribbean, south of Cuba
Beautiful white sandy beaches along the Hotel Zone
Gorgeous beaches throughout the country, including Seven Mile Beach in Negril and Doctor's Cave Beach in Montego Bay
Moderate to high cost for accommodation and dining
Moderate to high cost for accommodation and dining
Mayan ruins (such as Chichen Itza and Tulum)
Dunn's River Falls
Culture and History
Rich Mayan heritage and ancient ruins
Vibrant reggae culture, Rastafarian influence, and colonial history
Snorkeling, scuba diving, water sports, and sailing
Hiking, river rafting, horseback riding, and zip-lining
Cancun International Airport (major international hub)
Sangster International Airport (major international hub)
History and Culture
One of the most significant differences between Cancun and Jamaica is the history and culture of the two locations. Cancun’s history begins relatively recently. Throughout the colonial and modern era, Cancun was very sparsely inhabited, with only a small fishing village of about 100 people in the area up until 1970.
Throughout the 1970s, the Mexican federal government invested significant funds into developing the area into a resort city. The government funded the development of Cancun’s first nine hotels, and began heavily advertising the area. By the 1980s and 90s, Cancun had become a major resort city, attracting millions of visitors each year. Because Cancun was largely uninhabited until the 1970s, and was created by the federal government for the purpose of attracting tourism, the city can sometimes feel like a tourist bubble, separate from the “real” Mexico.
Jamaica, on the other hand, has a long, rich history. Inhabited continuously since ancient times, the island was full of thriving agrarian and fishing villages, with a total population estimated to be around 60,000 when Christopher Columbus arrived in 1494. Throughout the colonial period, the island changed hands from the Spanish to the English, and became heavily populated with enslaved Africans, Jewish refugees, and Irish political prisoners, as well as the indigenous population and English and Spanish settlers.
These varied groups all contributed to the modern culture of Jamaica, which includes the Jamaican Patois language, reggae and ska music, the Rastafari movement, Jamaican cuisine, and more.
Cancun is a city that hardly needs any introduction. Famous throughout the world for its beautiful beaches, luxury all-inclusive resorts, and its nightlife, Cancun is a major tourist destination for travelers from the US and Canada, Latin America, and Europe.
The beaches in Cancun are known for their long, white sands and turquoise, tropical waters. Popular activities on the beaches and in the ocean include scuba diving and snorkeling, jet skiing, motorboating, paddleboarding, and flyboarding. Some of the nicest beaches in Cancun include:
Playa Delfines: Long beach with shallow, calm waters. Umbrellas and towels for rent, restaurants and resorts lining the beach, and frequent dolphin sightings just off the coast.
Mandala Beach: One of the most popular beaches in Cancun, with a beach club, pool, a bar, and a restaurant.
Playa Chac Mool: White sand beach with rock formations in the water. Calm waters and stunning view.
Playa Tortugas: Beautiful beach with soft sands, clear waters, and several piers. Great location for watersports.
Jamaica is an island nation with numerous cities that make great tourist destinations. Some of the most popular cities to visit in Jamaica include Negril, Kingston, Montego Bay, and Ocho Rios. Jamaica’s cities are quite different from one another, and the main attractions vary city by city. However, the biggest attraction in Jamaica unanimously is the beaches.
Jamaica’s beaches are absolutely beautiful, with white sands and shallow, light-blue or crystal clear waters. The beaches on the west side of the island, around Negril and Montego Bay are especially popular, as they are completely sheltered from the rougher Atlantic water, making them perfect for swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, sailing, and more. Some of Jamaica’s nicest beaches include:
Doctor’s Cave Beach: A tranquil beach in Montego Bay with warm waters, shade from the palm trees, and umbrellas and chairs for rent.
Boston Bay Beach: A beach on Jamaica’s north coast with waters that are perfect for surfing.
Seven Mile Beach: An iconic beach in Negril where you can swim, horseback ride, snorkel, stroll, or relax in the sun.
Bloody Bay: A tranquil, secluded yet accessible beach in Negril.
Hellshire Beach: A popular beach near Portmore in the south of Jamaica. Great for swimming, and plenty of great restaurants and hotels in the area.
Activities and Attractions
Aside from the beaches, both Cancun and Jamaica have plenty to offer. Cancun is renowned for its tours, day trips, and excursions. Popular day trip and tour destinations include:
Chichen Itza and El Rey – A two and a half hour drive outside of Cancun are the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza. One of the most famous archeological sites in the world, Chichen Itza features Mayan pyramids, sculptures, pillars, causeways, and more. The ruins are well worth taking a day to explore, but if you are not willing or not able to make the trip, you can also visit the ruins of El Rey, which is a smaller but impressive archeological site right in Cancun’s hotel zone.
Cenotes – The Yucatan peninsula is home to a large number of unique geological formations known as cenotes. Very rare throughout most of the world, cenotes are swimmable, underwater caves and sinkholes that are popular spots for swimming, snorkeling, diving, and kayaking.
Underwater Museum of Art – Diving is one of the most popular activities in Cancun, and there is no better place to dive than at the Underwater Museum of Art. Featuring nearly 500 sculptures, the museum is a great place for experienced or novice divers and snorkelers to visit.
Nichupte Lagoon – A stunning, green lagoon on the east coast of Cancun. Great for swimming, boating, and other watersports, the lagoon is well worth visiting, especially for those who want a break from the beach.
Other popular attractions include the local shopping centers, taco and beer tours, golf courses like Playa Mujeres Golf Club, visiting Nichupte Lagoon, sunset sailing trips on the ocean, and more.
Jamaica has no shortage of attractions and activities for those who want a day (or more) away from the beach. Popular attractions in Jamaica include:
Martha Brae River – A scenic and slow-moving river on Jamaica’s north coast, popular for its relaxing bamboo raft rides though beautiful wilderness.
Dunn’s River Falls – A famous waterfall near Ocho Rios on Jamaica’s north coast. The Falls are one of Jamaica’s most popular tourist attractions, and are great to swim in and explore.
Bob Marley Museum – A museum at 56 Hope Road in Kingston Jamaica, in the former residence of the famous musician. Well worth the trip for Bob Marley fans.
Cancun and Jamaica are famous for their luxury all inclusive resorts, but both destinations also have plenty of other accommodations, including villas and apartments for rent, budget hotels and hostels, and chains.
The all inclusive resorts in both destinations are renowned for their luxury, and with beachfront access, fine dining, oceanside pools, private balconies and hot tubs, master suites, and more, it is more than possible to have a great vacation without ever leaving the resort.
In Cancun, some of the most popular resorts include:
Paradisus Cancun: Beautiful beachfront resort with suites overlooking the beach, gourmet dining in the multiple restaurants, lounges, and bars; spas, a gym, a golf course, indoor and outdoor pools, wine tasting tours, and more.
Le Blanc Spa Resort: Adults-only resort located directly on the beach, with spas, beautiful suites, fine dining in the restaurants and 24 hour room service, jacuzzis in the suites, and more.
Sun Palace: All-inclusive beachfront resort for couples. Excellent pools and spas, fine dining at the on-site restaurants, excellent wine and beer, and reserved spots on the beach.
The Ritz-Carlton, Cancun: A 5-star, beachfront resort that more than lives up to the illustrious Ritz-Carlton name. A pool, tennis courts, multiple fine dining establishments, make this one of Cancun’s most luxurious resorts.
In Jamaica, many of the all-inclusive resorts are located in Montego Bay and Negril, which are known to have the best swimming, diving and snorkeling sites on the island. Some of the most popular all-inclusive resorts include:
Sandals Montego Bay: Famous, five-star resort with access to some of the best beaches on the island, including a private beach; excellent accommodations; fine dining at the 13 restaurants on the resort; spas, pools, and excellent service.
Grand Palladium Jamaica Resort & Spa: Montego Bay all-inclusive resort with incredible pools, rooms, service; beachfront access; ten restaurants and eight bars; a spa and a gym.
Excellence Oyster Bay: Adults-only resort near Montego Bay with beautiful beaches and lagoons, eight restaurants and ten bars, excellent pools, a spa, fitness center, and luxury suites.
With three international airports, one in Kingston, one in Montego Bay, and one in Ocho Rios, all of which receive frequent flights from many major US and Canadian cities, getting to your destination in Jamaica is generally quite easy. The roads throughout the country are sometimes under-maintained, and the drivers can be more reckless than in the US or Canada, so driving long distances, especially through non-tourist heavy areas is generally not recommended. Especially if you plan to drive north to south or vice-versa through the middle of the island, as the only roads are often narrow and wind through the mountains.
In Cancun, the Cancun International Airport is one of the busiest in the Caribbean, and receives frequent direct flights from most major US and Canadian cities. Once you land, the Hotel Zone, where most accommodations are located, is an easy 30 minute drive away.
Staying in Cancun for one week costs around $1,205 USD per person. The average Jamaica vacation costs around $1,355 per person. Keep in mind that the true cost of either trip can vary significantly depending on where you are staying, when you are going, and what you plan on doing. You should plan and budget your trip to determine what your exact price will be, however, in general the cost between Cancun vs Jamaica is comparable.
The Bottom Line
If you are considering Cancun vs Jamaica for your next vacation destination, you have no bad choices. Both Cancun and Jamaica are premier Caribbean destinations, and the right choice for you will depend on what you want to see and experience. If you are interested in experiencing the unique culture and atmosphere of a historic Caribbean island, visiting excellent beaches, and eating great Caribbean food, then Jamaica is the destination for you.
On the other hand, if you are interested in staying in one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, with great nightlife, amazing tours to local cenotes and Mayan ruins, and fantastic beaches, then Cancun is the right destination.