Think Caribbean and you think beach holiday. And you certainly won’t find a better destination for lounging in the sand, preferably with something rum-based nearby. That isn’t nearly all that these islands have to offer though. Rain forests and mountains for starters; distinctive island cultures that only have providing a good time in common; and exciting towns and cities with some fascinating history.
You’ve got a picture of the perfect Caribbean island in your head already – the palm tree-fringed, white-sand beach, the funky little beach bar under the trees, yachts sailing by on the deep blue sea. The good news is that you’ve got it just right; the Caribbean more than lives up to the most demanding expectations.
You might want to replace that tin-shack bar in your fantasy with a big, luxurious, all-inclusive resort hotel. And that’s easily enough done. The islands of the Caribbean are very used to welcoming guests, and they do it style. High quality customer service and endless pampering is top of the agenda here.
But if you’re worried about the effect all that good living is going to have on the beach body you spent months working to perfect, you can throw in a very healthy dose of activities while you’re at it. The islands all have excellent water sports on tap. Diving’s a particular favourite because the underwater picture here is as colourful as the one above the waves. There are also inland adventures to be had, from off-roading or zip-wiring through unspoiled jungle to climbing extinct volcanoes and canyoning in mountain streams.
The Caribbean’s far from being one-dimensional. There are more than 7,000 islands in the group. Though only 13 of them are inhabited island nations, they are a colourful cocktail of distinctive cultures, unique environments, and long, storied histories.
Top Caribbean Destinations
The Dominican Republic is the most popular island with visitors. It’s a perfect mix of beach resort luxury, tropical rainforest paradise, and pretty colonial towns. Trinidad is the capital of carnival, where a party of some sort is never far from breaking out. To Jamaica’s beautiful beaches are added a super-laid-back attitude and the rich musical culture. Antigua fits the desert island dream to a tee.
Cuba – just opening up to America again – is the Caribbean’s biggest, most populated island, an intriguing cultural stew of cuisines, cultures and rhythms that – along with the rum – will leave you intoxicated.
As holiday destinations the islands of the Caribbean offer something for everyone. They’re a brilliant family destination with loads of attractions and days out for kids. For romantic souls there’s nothing like a Caribbean sunset to tick the box. You might want to return for your honeymoon or even to get married on the beach. But if a beach towel, a book and a planter’s punch is all you need, you’ll never find anywhere better to lie back and soak in relaxation.
Dazzling Dominican Republic
What a lot of choices this diverse little box of treasures hold. The beaches and resort hotels at the likes of Punta Cana are all-inclusive paradises. Kick off your sandals for a pair of boots and you could be hiking through rain forest or up Pico Duarte, the Caribbean’s tallest mountain. Historic rum factories are uncorked around Puerto Plata. Santo Domingo, the island’s capital, was the first port of call for Christopher Columbus on his way to the New World and is a beautiful UNESCO-protected historic town.
The Dominican Republic is made for family or his-and-her beach breaks, with big resort hotels offering brilliant value and all-inclusive facilities with perfect sands and crystal-clear waters.
Jungle tumbles down the dramatic mountains in the interior. Head for the hills and get ready to explore an unspoiled new world and release your inner Bear Grylls with rainforest adventure sports.
Get ready to change your desert island preconceptions in beautiful Santo Domingo, where modern high rises stand side-by-side with the oldest European buildings in the Caribbean. It’s lively, laid-back, and enormous fun.
Food is an obsession with the Dominican locals, and if you’re a visitor you should be no different. Super-fresh fish, spicy meat stews, straight-from-the-tree fruit juice and some of the best rum and coffee in the world are highlights.
Santo Domingo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with 16th-century churches, plazas and forts, standing over a beautiful port. There are good museums to explain the island’s place in world history too.
There’s more UNESCO protection for the pristine Eastern National Park (Parque Nacional del Este), an internationally important land and sea wildlife reserve full of colourful species from pelicans to dolphins.
With its long-established British links, Jamaica’s a top destination for UK sun seekers. They’ve got good reason to love it. The beaches are classically Caribbean with white sand, palm trees, coral reefs and blue waters. Then there are the forests, mountains, waterfalls and banana plantations – pure beauty. Finally, the people, the music, the food, the culture; they’re all as wonderful, welcoming and worth exploring as you’ve been led to believe.
Lying back on a perfect island beach. Seven Mile Beach in Negril has room to spread out. Montego Bay is busy with beach bars and water sports. You can surf at Boston Bay Beach in Port Antonio, or lose yourself on Winnifred Beach, a favourite with the locals as well as seclusion-seeking visitors.
Climbing the Blue Mountain Peak is just one inland adventure to experience on this stunningly beautiful island. The Blue Hole springs at Ocho Rios, the Dunn’s River Falls, the cliffs at Negril - Jamaica is packed with natural wonders to discover.
Dancing the night away is expected in the home of reggae. There’s more to Jamaican musical and party culture than Bob Marley though. But from African-inspired folk songs or church gospel to booming dancehall beats and street sound systems, everything’s got passion and rhythm.
Eating like royalty is every Jamaican’s birth right! The cuisine is spicy and international – mixing African, European and Latin American flavours. With fantastic local produce – yam, plantain, fish, goat, fruit – to conjure with, Jamaican food is as rich and diverse as the island’s landscapes.
Beaches and Culture
From jumping Montego Bay to fashionable Seven Mile Beach or isolated Treasure Beach, Jamaica’s coastline is one of the best for sun and sand in the world. And guess what you’ll find at Reggae Beach?
Jamaica has a proud cultural heritage with music just the best known of its exports. Historic houses and capital-city museums celebrate everyone from Noel Coward to Bob Marley. The best way to understand it all is just to dive in and immerse yourself.
The twin islands of Antigua and smaller Barbuda are as beautiful as any in the Caribbean. The reefs around the shore make the islands’ diving really rewarding. Smaller and less-developed than some of the islands but with 365 beaches, Antigua has room for everyone on its sands.
Everything that makes the Caribbean great – a good choice of top-quality resorts; party people; beaches and jungles; a beautiful historic capital – can be found in spades in Barbados. Bridgetown has UNESCO World Heritage Status, but the beaches and wild interior don’t need any certification to confirm their timeless beauty.
The times are changing in Cuba. But it’s the years of time standing relatively still that give the crumbling, colourful facades and classic American motors of Havana much of its charm. Elsewhere there are resorts and beaches to match any in the region, and a rum, a cigar and some Afro-Cuban beats are the icing on a colourful cake.
Trinidad (busy and relatively built up) and Tobago (chilled and empty) are a beautiful contrast. Party in Port of Spain or zip wire through Tobago’s protected forests before lying back on the pink tinged sands.
St Lucia is a supremely romantic island, its mountains and waterfalls stealing the hearts of many a visitor. Brilliant beach-front resorts include the famous Sandals brand. A party can always be found in Gros Islet, and peace and quiet is the hallmark or Choc Bay.