Jamaica vs Cancun: Which Destination Should You Visit?

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When it comes to tropical getaways, options are plenty.

Whether you prefer a small and intimate vibe, or an all-inclusive mega-resort with practically everything but the kitchen sink, destinations like Jamaica and Cancun offer something for everyone.

Depending on your interests and budget, one of these two vacation spots will likely be the better choice for you.

So, which one is it going to be? Let us help you choose between Jamaica vs Cancun!

Keep reading to find out more about these places and see if any of these destinations tickle your fancy.

Is Jamaica or Cancun Better?

What is Jamaica Known For?

One of the Caribbean’s largest islands, Jamaica’s geographical diversity takes the spotlight.

You’re not limited to beach fun, nor do you have to travel hours to experience different landscapes.

Jungle waterfalls and coffee plantations are great alternative day-outs, especially when you’re traveling with family.

Meanwhile, romance is in the air as resorts lure you in with complimentary packages.
Friendly, dynamic and restful, Jamaica has something for everyone.

Cancun beach resort
Cancun Beachfront Resort

What is Cancun Known For?

Cancun is famously known as a contained holiday bubble, which is perfect for social butterflies and college tourists.

Beaches reign in the day, while foam parties and clubs take over in the night.

Most tourists sign up for this version of Cancun, although it’s not quite so one-dimensional.

When spring breakers are not in town, step away from luxury and out onto the Yucatan Peninsula – Cancun is a gateway into rich Mayan history.

Beaches

What Are the Beaches Like in Jamaica?

Jamaica’s beaches are dreamy. The white sand-on-blue ocean contrast is so sharp that some Jamaican beaches have starred in movies.

Best of all, there’s a beach for every activity, rather than having everyone lumped together.

For an unbroken expanse lined with resorts, shops and entertainment, we present the Seven Mile Beach.

More intertwined with locals and culture compared to Cancun, you can easily leave the ‘bubble’ for more authentic Jamaican vibes.

Music is banned at Frenchman’s Cove, which is featured in ‘Treasure Island’. Likewise, quiet reigns over Treasure Beach.

Negril is perfect for swimming, but you want the waves of Winifred Beach and Long Bay for surfing.

Underwater adventures are plenty too! Hit up Pellew Island and Montego Bay Marine Park to swim alongside lion fish, stingrays, turtles, and reefs teeming with life.

Cancun beachfront
Cancun Beachfront

What Are the Beaches Like in Cancun?

In contrast, most beaches in Cancun connect in a long, straight chain of white.

Beachfront resorts act as the laces to form the Hotel Zone, offering direct access to private and public strips of sand.

Hotel-owned beaches are generally stacked with amenities: lifeguards, rental shops, beach clubs and sunbeds.

Water sports are huge, especially on popular beaches like Playa Chacmool and Playa Forum.

Rolling waves are studded with surfers and wakeboarders, and more age-inclusive activities like paddleboarding.

Families and spring breakers alike set up camp on soft sand, some quietly building sandcastles while others chase around beach volleyballs.

Although you have to share the massive party room that is the Hotel Zone, Cancun beaches are diverse when it comes to things to do.

Does Jamaica or Cancun Have Better Beaches?

Jamaica beaches lead you on an impromptu treasure hunt.

Scattered around the island are beaches for everything: choose to hide away in a private cove, mingle on swim-friendly beaches, or go further offshore for amazing diving opportunities.

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READ NEXT
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Things to Do

Things to Do in Jamaica

Jamaica is an outdoor paradise that takes you from ocean to peak.

The Blue Mountains range is a striking 7,400 feet, serving up world-famous coffee beans and cafés to taste.

Of course, you can hike a scenic trail instead, weaving around tropical waterfalls and multiple rivers.

Speaking of water, Jamaica’s 180 feet-long Blue Lagoon is a legend. For a bite of danger, sign up for a crocodile safari.

There’s also your regular beach day, although real beauty lies underwater.

One of the best things to do in Jamaica is snorkeling and scuba diving, thanks to multiple diving sites.

Just offshore Montego Bay is Stingray City; the name gives the main attraction away.

Shallow Middle Shoal Reef is best for beginners, while Montego Bay Marine Park lets you swim with angelfish and turtles.

Other popular excursions include low-key cultural immersion.

Neighborhood tours at Fort Charles recount its English ownership and how it survived the 1692 earthquake.

The Museums of History and Ethnography teach you about Port Royal, now submerged below 40 feet of water.

Don’t forget The Bob Marley experience, as reggae and music are an essential element of Jamaican culture.

Those with extra time may also visit Rastafari Indigenous Village, where you can make traditional drums and cuisine.

Blue Mountain Jamaica
Aerial View of Blue Mountain in Jamaica

Things to Do in Cancun

Cancun is 45% beach, 45% urban comforts, and 10% historical wanderings.

Currying favors with its Caribbean beaches and great weather, the Mexican city invites you to spend long days outdoors.

While families tend to stay on sandy grounds, younger and more adventurous groups can jet-ski or scuba dive – perhaps explore the 300 square-mile Banco Chinchorro reef.

The Underwater Museum of Art is incredible for underwater explorers.

Pool time is also guaranteed, although your hotel experience features plenty of other entertainment.

Activity teams host parties of all themes and sizes, whether at the pool or on-site nightclubs.

The flashy Hotel Zone strip also offers a range of shopping opportunities, so you’re not limited to spring break parties.

Your urban experiences are as wholesome and wild as you prefer.

Cancun also acts as a door to the Yucatan Peninsula, where white-sand beaches give way to lush jungles.

Start your historical trip with the Mayan Museum of Cancun and San Miguelito archaeological site nearby. Intrigued?

Day trips to ancient Caoba, Chichen Itza and other Mayan marvels are easily arranged.

Combine any of these architectural visits with a dip in Mexico’s famous cenotes to seal the deal.

Are There More Things to Do in Jamaica or Cancun?

Both Jamaica and Cancun have fantastic watersports and cultural activities.

They offer historical excursions in their own style too; Cancun through large-scale sites and Jamaica through interpersonal experiences. 

Cancun is best if you prefer urban, more commercialized things to do; while Jamaica’s more authentic setting brings you closer to local culture.

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Nightlife

Nightlife in Jamaica

Jamaica’s nightlife in a nutshell: relaxed. The mellow nature of nightlife in Jamaica means you’ll either be laidback drinking rum, or dancing wildly.

Caribbean culture comes to play in socializing too. There are more opportunities for locals and tourists to mingle here.

Two main party centers stand out. At Montego Bay, night shore parties encourage both drinking and dancing, but hardcore dancers are spoiled by the clubs.

Reggae jamming until 4AM is a local pastime. At Negril, a popular nightlife spot for tourists, you can enjoy early evening cocktails at beachside bars.

The vacation hotspot also features several big nightclubs, where dance-crazy The Jungle Nightclub is truly wild.

The Jungle Nightclub of Negril Jamaica
Photo by The Jungle Nightclub of Negril Jamaica

Nightlife in Cancun

Cancun is a literal spring break icon – there’s nowhere quite like it.

Nightlife in Cancun is often described as chaotic and debauched, peaking in the months of March and April.

If you’re wondering who made it possible; it’s thanks to the all-inclusive resorts and their collection of nightclubs and bars.

For those that have just turned legal to more mature crowds, there’s plenty of nightlife options.

Foam parties and beachside festivals are a huge pull for younger crowds, as are lit clubs like Coco Bongo and Mandala.

Those past the age of never-ending revelry can settle into classy lounges or casual pubs instead. Bar hopping tours are also a favorite.

Too crazy for you? You can always sign up for a sunset cruise or romantic dinner instead.

Does Jamaica or Cancun Have Better Nightlife?

It wholly depends on your definition of ‘epic’, but Cancun has been crowned party king for a very long time.

Nightlife is guaranteed, whether that’s grabbing drinks at a sleek bar or whirling across the dance floor. Let’s not forget the nighttime pool parties either!

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Dining & Restaurants

Dining in Jamaica

Jamaica’s dining scene is centered on traditional Jamaican foods – you won’t be disappointed!

Jerk chicken is a must, as are fried plantain, saltfish, curried goat and the national dish of ackee.

Local cuisine may make your eyes water (spice factor is high), but your tastebuds will be very, very pleased.

Street food to fine dining, Jamaica’s savory options come in a broad range.

Resort town Ocho Rios is best for seafood, while snazzy Negril offers high-end restaurants with amazing sunset views.

You can also plot your food journey around local beers beer and Jamaica’s much-loved rum.

For coffee beans and cafés, the Blue Mountain Culinary Trail is a treat for everybody.

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Dining in Cancun

American influences are strong in Cancun, especially within the Hotel Zone.

Most restaurants within the resorts cater to the international crowd, meaning foreign cuisines and international chains.

The higher prices are offset by the all-inclusive packages, but expect anything extra to be priced more than downtown eats. Still, you might find the waterfront views worth it.

Casual diners hunkering for authentic Mexican cuisine should hit up downtown Cancun instead.

And what’s a trip here without checking out all the best taco spots in Cancun?

Local eateries stay open until midnight, mingling with live music bars and hole-in-the-wall jaunts.

While it offers a fair share of swanky rooftop lounges and fine dining, you can expect prices to be a little more reasonable.

Is Jamaica or Cancun Better for Food?

You’ll find that both Jamaica and Cancun have a generous selection of restaurants.

Views and unique dining spots are prevalent in both destinations, although local flavors differ.

Cancun does favor international tastes, so if you’re looking for authentic local cuisine, Jamaica may tip the scales.

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Accommodations

Where to Stay in Jamaica

Jamaica has one distinct advantage when it comes to accommodations: direct beach access at different price points.

Many expect to shell out a lot of money for all-inclusive resorts, but Jamaica’s Montego Bay and Negril resort clusters cater to low-end and luxury budgets.

You do get what you pay for, but it makes holiday planning much more forgiving.

3-star hotels with basic amenities come at $130 average, while all-inclusive resorts tend between $300-500 per night.

The ultra-luxe offer packages start from $1000, but expect to pay even more during peak seasons.

Do note that these packages are often promoted at bulk. Couples and families benefit from this, but solo travelers will save up more bucks at smaller inns and hotels.

Ocho Rios Jamaica
Resort in Ocho Rios Jamaica

Where to Stay in Cancun

When holiday destinations like Cancun dedicate an entire Hotel Zone for tourists, well; you expect the good stuff.

Indeed, the long avenue is one massive resort complex after another.

Each of these features rooms of all styles and (hopefully) private balconies, as well as VIP beach access.

All-inclusive packages are the norm, covering all dining, drinks, and day-night entertainment costs.

Expect to shell out $300 per night for standard amenities and $2000 for all the shingles and bells.

Per rules of holiday accommodation – the further from the fun, the cheaper it gets.

Downtown offers a more budget-friendly range of lodgings, from shared hostels to boutique hotels.

Backpackers can easily find $25 beds, while friend groups may prefer to rent a vacation condo and split the $450 nightly average.

Is It Better to Stay in Jamaica or Cancun?

Cancun offers a much sweeter range of accommodation options, with hostels starting on the down-low.

This makes travel much more accessible for younger crowds, without taking away the amenity-filled options that adult travelers look for.

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Cost & Budget

Like most Caribbean getaways, the majority of your expenses for Jamaica and Cancun go into accommodation.

Keep in mind that getting an all-inclusive package can significantly cut down on costs, as do booking in the off-season.

Tip: Check out this guide to see if an all-inclusive resort is really worth it in Cancun.

Average Budget for 1 Week in Jamaica

The average one-week Jamaica trip budget for two is approximately $4000. Here’s the breakdown:

Flight Cost – Depending on departure location and time of the year, economy round-trip costs around $200-400 per person.

Note that international flights from Europe costs around $800. Booking offseason will net you good deals.

Accommodation – Low-tier hotels with basic amenities are around $130 per night. All-inclusive resorts fall within a $300-$500 price range, although ultra-luxe boutiques can run up to multiple thousands per night.

Expect accommodation costs to average $2800 a week.

Food – Beach shacks could be as cheap as $5 while a gourmet three-course could cost $300 per couple. Generally, food in Jamaica is budget-friendly, averaging $20 per person a day.

The average weekly food costs for two amounts to $280.

Activities – Complimentary activities such as watersports and land sports come with the all-inclusive package, but tours out could start around $49 per person (nighttime cruise) to $250 per person (full day speedboat trip).

Entry tickets to natural reserves are $25. If you’re doing at least two tours, expect to spend around $328 for two.

Montego Bay Overwater bungalows
Montego Bay Overwater bungalows

Average Budget for 1 Week in Cancun

The average one-week Cancun trip budget for two is approximately $3200.

Flight Cost – Depending on departure location and time of the year, economy round-trip costs around $150-350 per person.

Note that international flights (not from the States) may cost a lot more.

Accommodation – Depending on amenities, hostels in Cancun are priced between $25 and $50 per night.

A standard hotel room may come at $300-$400; all-inclusive stays tiered slightly higher. For luxury suites with ocean-facing views and VIP services, expect to pay $2000.

Accommodation costs an average of $2800 a week.

Food – Food is cheap in Mexico! Breakfast and street eats average $3; lunch and dinner average $13.

The average weekly food cost for two amounts to $420.

Activities – Most entertainment are included in your hotel package. Extreme adventure tours and historical digs, however, come at $60 and up.

Club night outs also eat at your budget at $30 per entry. If you’re doing at least two major tours, expect to spend around $300 for two.

Is Jamaica or Cancun Cheaper to Visit?

It all boils down to travel preferences. Cancun is slightly more competitive on flights, and budget accommodation can be extremely cheap.

Jamaica actually offers a wider range of all-inclusive price points, although ultra-luxe suites beat out Cancun’s offers.

Generally, the two destinations balance out, especially if you try for an all-inclusive stay.

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