Cuba has surpassed Jamaica in the number of annual visitors, largely due to the easing of U.S. restrictions on travel to the island nation. While Cuba sits just 150 miles north of Jamaica, there are no direct flights between the two countries, nor are there ferries. As new villa owners in Montego Bay, Jamaica, we found ourselves wondering how this might affect our business. But, after our recent trip to Havana, the real question is, “Why must these islands compete?”
These two countries offer two very different experiences, both worth having. There are talks about making air travel easier between the two countries (right now, you have to travel through Panama City or Mexico City), and there is already a weeklong cruise that departs Montego Bay and stops in three Cuban cities—Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba. Our suggestion: If you are from the United States, experience Cuba now before the restrictions are back in place and visit Jamaica on your next trip to the Caribbean.
We put together these “top 5 reasons to visit” lists based on our experiences in both places.
Top 5 Reasons to Visit Jamaica
5. Warm and friendly vibe
4. Bamboo rafting, waterfall climbing, cliff jumping
3. Bob Marley and reggae music
2. Amazing beaches
1. The best food in the Caribbean
Image: Fried fish, lobster and festival dish at Hellshire Beach in Kingston
Top 5 Reasons to Visit Cuba
5. Cool cars
4. Spanish architecture
3. Afro-Cuban culture
2. Rumba and salsa
1. Revolutionary history
Image: A rumba live performance at a club in Old Havana
Father and son matrix moves against a backdrop of powdery sand and clear blue water.
Montego Bay, Jamaica
Nothing cooler than driving in a car that was on the road in 1955.
To be fair, we did not go to the beach while we were in Havana. As American travelers, we knew that our government would frown upon us drinking mojitos while lounging at the beach all day. That is because to visit Cuba, you have to go for one of 12 approved reasons. Going to the beach is not one of them. So, Cuba might have spectacular beaches, but we didn’t feel free to visit them.
In terms of disappointments, the food in Cuba was surprisingly bland. We have done a lot of Caribbean travel, and nowhere seems to compare to the food in Jamaica. It’s why we abandon our commitment to a diet of fish and vegetables when we are there. Who can give up oxtails, jerk pork and curried mutton?
So, go to Cuba to learn about the revolutionary history and to dance rumba and salsa with the best of them. Go to Jamaica to enjoy white sand beaches and mouth-watering food. But whatever you do, make your way to both islands as soon as you can.