Top spots for relaxing, exploring, and making treasured memories
If you’re going on a Caribbean vacation, there’s a very good chance you’re going to have a great time indulging in a mix of adventure, relaxation, and plain old fun in the sun. It’s a place to decompress, discover, and reconnect with nature — and with yourself — in an inspired aquatic environment that draws visitors of all types from around the world. But even though the Caribbean may be referred to singularly, it is anything but one-note. Each country, coast, and corner of this sprawling paradise has a different feel. Here are just 10 of the most popular ports in the Caribbean to explore during your adventure.
Known for its warm, welcoming people and spectacular scenery, Jamaica is a place that’s equally amenable to relaxing and letting loose. Beach-wise, it’s hard to beat, with powdery white sands lining so much of its north shore, from Seven Mile Beach and the cliffs of Negril, to James Bond Beach and the resorts of Montego Bay. The jungles of Ocho Rios and the Blue Mountains provide a look at nature at its most luxe and exotic. And when it’s time for a little fun, there’s plenty to be had, from Kingston’s rum bars to the fine restaurants of Mo’Bay. Finally, learn about a cultural icon at Nine Mile, Bob Marley’s birthplace.
Geographically, Turks and Caicos can best be described as a collection of tiny jewels: 300 little inlets in the middle of the Lucayan Archipelago. The most popular area, Providenciales, is known for its casual-yet-luxe environment. Centered around the white sands of Grace Bay, it houses five-star hotels and resorts as well as a host of activities for all types, from scuba divers (who can visit the spectacular coral gardens) to lovers of historic artifacts (pirate carvings from the 19th century abound), to those looking for memorable scenery (Chalk Sound, a turquoise lagoon, is nothing if not breathtaking). Turks and Caicos is especially popular with honeymooning couples as well as those celebrating an anniversary, with good reason; how could such a lush natural scene not be romantic?
The Bahamas’ sheer size is perhaps the main reason why this country is known to have something for travelers of every age, taste, and type: from boating to beach-going to casinos, resorts, nightlife, and an enormous range of activities (including world-class diving opportunities and an extensive ecotourism culture), the Bahamas is a beautiful place either to stay awhile or for a quick visit (it’s a popular stop on cruises to the Caribbean). The Out Islands are a particularly popular getaway for those not looking to go far — including Bimini, just 53 miles or a two-and-a-half-hour ferry ride from Miami — and The Abacos, with their spectacularly crystal-clear waters.
St. Martin/Sint Maarten
This Caribbean island is known for its fascinating duality: separated by an international border into a French and a Dutch side, it possesses influences of both cultures, and each side has its own set of charms. St. Maarten, the Dutch side in the south, bustles with lively casinos, buzzing boardwalks, and plenty of exciting nightlife. The French side is a little more laid-back, with beaches, bays, and coves, but there’s still a major social scene with copious opportunities for cocktails and conversation along the shore.
St. Lucia might be small in size, but it’s a towering testament to the power of nature. From the 3,100-foot Mount Gimie to the Pitons — twin volcanic spires that are almost as tall but every bit as grand — nature here is at its most wild and wonderful. Bubbling springs, mud pools, and beaches like Reduit Beach (with its signature golden sands), makes it a perfect destination for those who want to experience nature at its most unspoiled, and who savor relaxation and exploration over gentrification.
You know Barbados is special after spending just a few minutes in its capital, Bridgetown. The garrison in its well-preserved old town area — a UNESCO World Heritage Site — holds numerous historic buildings, all well-preserved examples of British colonial architecture from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, in a serpentine layout that distinguishes their aesthetic from that of the Caribbean’s Spanish and Dutch colonial cities (which are in more of a grid pattern). Beyond the history, Barbados has plenty to offer adventure-seekers in the present-day: travelers can laze on the soft sands of Brandons Beach and Alleynes Bay, ride the waves in Bathsheda or Cattlewash (both world-class surfing destinations), or scuba dive at the reefs. And of course, no trip to Barbados is complete without heading to a local rum shack for cocktails powered by the country’s world-famous Mount Gay Rum (a tour to the brand’s distillery in Bridgetown is a beyond-worthwhile attraction in itself).
If you’re looking to take to the water, the U.S. Virgin Islands — which primarily include St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John — are a prime spot. A popular spot for cruise ships, yachts and excursion boats — and the travelers who frequent them looking for some aquatic inspiration — it’s one of the world’s most beautiful places to sail. A myriad of coves, inlets, and bays, all with cobalt blue waters, are backed by picturesque cliffs and forests, making for a beautiful place to spend some reflective time.
Consisting of four major islands (Virgin Gorda, Anegala, Tortola, and Jost Van Dyke) and 50 smaller ones, the British Virgin Islands have long been known as one of the world’s most exclusive spots for high-end sailing, but it’s way more than just a place to enjoy caviar and champagne while navigating crystalline waters. It’s also a place for lovers of nature and adventure, with ample opportunities for everything from scuba-diving to bird-watching to wind-surfing.
An overseas territory of France, St.-Barts houses some of the world’s most exclusive hotels, resorts, restaurants, stores — and overall experiences. There’s an unmistakably French flavor throughout (quite literally when it comes to the haute cuisine throughout the island). But not everyone stops at cocktails on exclusive beaches: there’s plenty of snorkeling, scuba diving, submarine touring, and more activities to be had, before getting dressed for a fantastic five-course dinner.
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Located in the middle of the Lesser Antilles, the two islands comprising the single Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis provides a perfect blend of exploration and relaxation. There’s a staggering amount of spectacular sights — volcanic hills, storied sugar plantations, colonial fortresses, and the majestic Mount Liamuiga. In the capital, Basseterre, stately fountains and English-style churches show the island’s colonial history as a British colony. Those who love diving will find few better spots for it in the world: the dive sites of the Monkey Shoals are world-renowned.
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