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Jamaica or Dominican Republic: Which Caribbean Island is Better?

Jamaica or Dominican Republic

Jamaica or Dominican Republic is a decision between two truly amazing Caribbean nations. Both have those picture-perfect, white-sand beaches that almost everyone who comes to this part of the world is dreaming of, but they back them up with jungle-covered mountains and enthralling towns that pump with life and character.

On the one hand, there is Jamaica, the birthplace of reggae music and home to jerk. It’s widely seen as a perfect escape for honeymooners, with the stunning northern coastline that’s dotted with luxurious hotels aplenty, from Negril to Ocho Rios. Then there is the Dominican Republic. One half of te largest island in the Caribbean, it has plenty of sugar sands and lux resorts, but also rugged mountains scented with tobacco crop and untouched regions where whales swim in the seas. It’s also anchored on Santo Domingo, one of the oldest settlements in the whole New World!

This guide to Jamaica or Dominican Republic will run through several aspects of these two tempting destinations. From the ease of getting there in the first place to the sorts of beaches that beckon, the fantastic food to the hotels, we will help you decide which country is better for your next Caribbean adventure…

Jamaica or Dominican Republic for ease of travel

Getting to Jamaica or Dominican Republic
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Jamaica has long been a popular holiday destination for honeymooners and travelers from all over the globe. That means that you shouldn’t find it too hard to get there, especially since most visitors don’t need a visa to enter. There are two major airports on the island: Kingston and Montego Bay. The latter has more direct long-haul routes, especially from the US and Europe. Plus, it’s closer to the stunning Ocho Rios and Negril beaches, so more attractive for most travelers.

Although some of the roads in Jamaica are not the best quality, driving is the easiest way to get around the island. You’re never too far from anywhere, and car rentals are relatively cheap. If you’re not up for hitting the Jamaican roads, though, you can use one of the minibuses or buses – just bear in mind that they’re not always the most comfortable and that the timetables may be confusing. Taxis are also an option. They rarely use meters, so make sure you agree on the price beforehand, though.  

When it comes to the Dominican Republic, it’s a country that shares a land border with Haiti on Hispaniola Island. That said, it’s not common to travel there overland, and most people fly into one of the major international airports. Punta Cana International Airport is by far the most popular on, with the best overseas connections and proximity to the beaches. But many people fly into Santo Domingo, Puerto Plata, or Santiago De Los Caballeros, too.

Although DR is much larger than Jamaica, the roads there also leave much to desire. But the bus network is better, so you don’t need to rent a car. Many tourists also travel by guagua, which are unofficial, shared taxis. They’re often packed with tourists and locals, so be prepared for an uncomfortable but interesting ride.

Winner: Dominican Republic.

Jamaica or Dominican Republic for beaches

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The number one reason people love the Caribbean is stunning beaches, and Jamaica has no shortage of them. From long stretches of pristine white sands at Negril’s Seven Mile Beach to the turquoise waters of Frenchman’s Cove, there aren’t many places that can beat this one’s shoreline. Ocho Rios and Doctor’s Cave also offer picture-perfect sands with plenty of luxurious hotels in the background. The north coast is generally where you want to be for the best beaches and resorts. The south coast is less developed, with mangroves and fishing villages rather than pristine sands.

But the Dominican Republic can easily rival Jamaica’s sugar sands with its postcard-perfect beaches along the east and north coasts. From cotton-colored sands backed by swaying palms in Playa Grande and Playa Los Mino to the crystal-clear aqua at Punta Cana’s iconic Bavaro Beach, DR’s beaches are top notch. The idyllic Playa Rincón is also up there with the most beautiful beaches in the region, with nearly two miles of unspoiled soft sands. That said, the most popular resorts are located around Punta Cana, the south coast is less developed, with wild, rugged beaches rather than luxury retreats.

Winner: Jamaica, but only just.

Jamaica or Dominican Republic for things to do

Santo Domingo Zona Colonial
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There are oodles of things to do in Jamaica, so you’ll never be bored on this idyllic island. For starters, there is no shortage of picture-perfect beaches, so get your sunnies on and top up your tan. For those that need a bit more action, there is plenty of amazing snorkeling and scuba diving spots, especially in the reefs around Negril. But even though the Caribbean is mostly associated with the white sands and turquoise waters, that’s not all in Jamaica. Head into the Blue Mountains and hike the peaks that rise above 2,000 meters high. Visit the gorgeous Dunn’s River Falls, a stone’s throw from Ocho Rios, and dip into the refreshing water. If you’re a fan of reggae, go to Nine Mile, the town where Bob Marley was born and buried!

But the Dominican Republic is not only about the beaches either, although there is no shortage of pristine sands on offer here too. If you stay along the north coast, test your skills surfing at Playa Encuentro, which has something for all levels. You can also take a trip a little further inland to swim in the Damajagua waterfalls. Those are 27 turquoise pools tucked between the hills. If you’re not so keen on watersports, visit Santo Domingo, the oldest city in the Caribbean. Take a stroll around the cobbled streets of Zona Colonial, a historical part of town that dates back to the 15th century.

Winner: Jamaica, but the Dominican Republic came close.

Jamaica or Dominican Republic for nightlife

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While Jamaica isn’t known for the wild nightlife scene of the likes of Cancun or San Juan, there is plenty to do there after the sun goes down. The capital, Kingston, is bustling with lively nightclubs and reggae bars. Dance in the iconic Dub Club or Fiction and sip a Red Stripe at Regency Bar and Lounge. For more international crowds, head to Montego Bay or Negril. Both have no shortage of beach bars and lounge clubs. But wherever you are in Jamaica, you’re never too far from the music. At the end of the day, Jamaica is the birthplace of reggae!

Then there is the Dominican Republic, the country that is home to some of the best nightlife in the Caribbean Isles. The locals love to dance and party, so you can rest assured that you won’t be bored after sunset. Santo Domingo is the best place to be if partying is on your agenda. The capital is buzzing with lively clubs and bars. Whether you’re after dancing all night at neon-lit dancefloors or drinking with your friends at glitzy bars, this city has it all. But there is also no shortage of vibrant nightlife in Punta Cana and Santiago de Los Caballeros, either.

Winner: Dominican Republic. Santo Domingo’s vibrant nightlife scene comes on top!

Jamaica or Dominican Republic for food

Food shack in Negril
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You shouldn’t leave Jamaica without tasting jerk! Whether it’s chicken, pork, beef, veggies, or fish, these marinated Jamaican treats are not to be missed. Jerk is a Jamaican method of cooking, usually meat, infused with a blend of local spices. You will see plenty of jerk shacks all over the island, and those roadside stalls tend to be the best. The national dish, though, is ackee and saltfish, a mix of nutty-flavored fruit and salty cod. But that’s not all, there is also Jamaican curry, oxtail, and stews. The list of delicious food goes on and on.

Dominican Republic cuisine has been heavily influenced by the mix of Spanish, indigenous Taíno, African, and Middle Eastern flavors. The country’s colonial history and migration is the reason for this eclectic cooking. Some of the best dishes to try while in DR include sancocho, a seven-meat stew, Mangú, mashed green plantains, and the national dish, la Bandera Dominicana (Dominican flag) which is made up of rice, stewed meat, and red beans.

Winner: Jamaica, for giving the world jerk!

Jamaica or Dominican Republic for hotels

Punta Cana
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The Dominican Republic is well known for luxury hotels and all-inclusive resorts, but there are also plenty of options for travelers on lower budgets. For those that have plenty of cash to splash, we recommend Tortuga Bay ($$$) in Punta Cana. This exclusive resort comes with a private, white-sand beach, infinity pool, hot tubs, and stylish rooms. However, this place is one of the priciest in DR! If your budget doesn’t stretch that far, Playa Paraiso en Magante ($) bungalows are a great option for a stay right on a beach. Lifestyle Crown Residence Suites ($$) in Puerto Plata is a good all-inclusive deal for families with children.

Jamaica’s north coast is dotted with beautiful honeymoon pads. One of those beautiful retreats is Jamaica Inn ($$$), set by a private stretch of sugar sands in Ocho Rios. This hotel may be pricy, but it comes with beautifully decorated, Caribbean-style suites overlooking the turquoise sea. Backpackers that want to hike Jamaica’s Blue Mountains will enjoy Prince Valley Guesthouse ($) that won’t break the bank. Azteca Villas ($$) is also a good value option for families with children.

Winner: The Dominican Republic for better deals on luxury stays.

Jamaica or Dominican Republic for prices

A beach in Dominican Republic
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If you’re looking for an all-inclusive holiday, you are more likely to find a better bargain in the Dominican Republic than in Jamaica, especially if you stay further away from the popular Punta Cana region. But overall, the prices in DR aren’t lower than those in Jamaica and both countries are way less pricy than the likes of Barbados or Antigua and Barbuda. 

The average daily budget for a Dominican Republic trip sits at around $115 per person. That could change dramatically depending on where you decide to stay. You can find basic rooms for as low as $15 a night, but the most luxury, beachfront resorts in Punta Cana can go beyond the $1,000 mark. A meal for two in a mid-range restaurant usually costs around $30.

It’s a similar story in Jamaica. The daily budget is a little lower, but there is not much in it – it’s only around $10 less than that in DR. That said, you won’t find budget accommodation that costs less than $20 a night, and the glitziest five-star resorts can cost well beyond $1,000 a night. Eating costs about the same as in the Dominican Republic, but there is no shortage of cheap food shacks if you venture outside the resorts.

Winner: Draw. There are minor differences in costs.

Jamaica or Dominican Republic for romance and honeymoons

A palm tree in the Dominican Republic
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The north shore of Jamaica has established itself as a bit of a honeymoon mecca. All the way from Negril to Ocho Rios, you can find five-star hotels with villas on the beach and butler service. They’ll often have EVERYTHING you need for a fantastic post-wedding trip right there on site, including a service that organizes outings around the island, to waterfalls or reggae towns in the Blue Mountains. Overall, we’d avoid the south coast of Jamaica if you’re coming for romance. It’s not got the pristine sands you’re likely to be after.

The Dominican Republic is a whole different beast. It’s main resort – and by extension, honeymoon – hub is the area of Punta Cana. It’s on the eastern edge of the island and is a purpose-built run of hotels right by the shore that are downright luxury, if sometimes a touch dated. You can go there, but we don’t think it beats the Jamaica north coast for romance overall. Where the DR could win out is for adventurous couples. This massive island is peppered with rainforest-clad mountains, whale-filled bays, and surf beaches. Active duos willing to push their boundaries might just find it a touch more rewarding.

Winner: Probably Jamaica but maybe not for ALL honeymooning couples.

Jamaica or Dominican Republic for towns and cities

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There are enthralling towns on both these islands. Each is large enough to have proper cities, with Kingston leading the way on Jamaica and Santo Domingo leading the way in the Dominican Republic. Let’s start with the latter: The oldest European city in the Western Hemisphere. Established way back in 1496 by none other than Bartholomew Columbus, bro of the great explorer, it’s centered on a gorgeous core of colonial palaces and forts that is a UNESCO site. And that’s just one city. Visit Santiago De Los Caballeros to see a moody tobacco town in the mountains. Hit Cabarete to chill with the kite surfers. There’s lots.

In Jamaica, the biggest city is Kingston. A gritty mass of reggae bars and government buildings, it’s split between the characterful Downtown and the more relaxed Uptown. Come to hop between the jazz joints and feel the pulse of life while sharing a Red Stripe with the locals. Up north, the town is Montego Bay. It’s a rambunctious spot where you can almost imagine pirates moored in the waters. The nerve center of that one is one the so-called Hip Strip, a beating run of jerk joints and rum bars.

Winner: Dominican Republic, solely for the history of Santo Domingo

Jamaica or Dominican Republic: The conclusion

If you’re planning your Caribbean adventure, you might be trying to decide between Jamaica or Dominican Republic. Well, the choice isn’t easy, because both have no shortage of breathtaking beaches with perfect aqua. If that’s your priority, neither will disappoint. The Dominican Republic is more of a resort destination with oodles of all-inclusive hotels that often come cheaper than in neighboring islands. It’s easier to get to with more airports and public transport on offer. But then there is Jamaica, with great food and music, the Blue Mountains, and waterfalls. And that’s on top of the stunning beaches…