Your All-Time, Best-Ever Guide to the Caribbean

Just in time for our annual Caribbean Sale! Want to know which island you should visit, and why? What to see? Who’s known for the best food, and who’s known for the best diving? Read on! 

Caribbean beach with palm trees

There are thousands of islands in the Caribbean, and there’s a lot they have in common. Warm weather. Gorgeous beaches. Incredibly blue waters. But this guide isn’t about what makes them all the same, it's about what sets them each apart. 

 

So this is it – your all-time, best-ever guide to the Caribbean!

 

Antigua

  • Basically…

You can still see traces of English heritage in this former British colony, but the powder white beaches and shockingly clear water are pure Caribbean.

  • What sets it apart?

Antigua has 365 beaches, one for every day of the year.

  • If you only see one thing…

Visit Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbour, the one-time base for the British Navy that dates back to 1745. There are shops and restaurants to explore, and the Dockyard Museum if you want to learn more about Antigua’s nautical history.

  • If you only eat one thing…

Tuck into smoky barbecue and sweet rum punch to the lively strains of steel band and reggae music at Shirley Heights.

 

Aruba

  • Basically…

Think postcard-perfect beaches and jewel-colored water besides glitzy casinos, killer nightlife, and Dutch-influenced gingerbread architecture.

  • What sets it apart?

Its incredible weather. With a year-round average temperature of 82⁰F and an average yearly rainfall below 20 inches, you're practically guaranteed it’s going to be perfect. And hurricanes? Forget about it – Aruba is miles from the hurricane belt.

  • If you only see one thing…

Take a trip to Aruba’s desert-like Arikok National Wildlife Park, which is littered with cactuses and windswept divi-divi trees.

  • If you only eat one thing…

Aruba has some of the best places to eat in the Caribbean, from hole-in-the-wall beachside bars to gourmet French restaurants. You’ll find fantastic food wherever you turn, so make sure to sample at least a few different spots.

 

The Bahamas

  • Basically…

Enjoy all the gambling, golfing, nightclubs, and spas you can handle on Bahama’s three main islands, or just take in the isolated talcum beaches of its 697 secluded Out Islands.

  • What sets it apart?

There’s so much to do here. With this many things to see and experience (and eat, and drink, and buy…), you’re practically guaranteed to never be bored.

  • If you only see one thing…

Go see the gargantuan Marine Habitat at Atlantis, which includes an open air aquarium where you can walk labyrinthine underwater tunnels and come practically nose to nose with over 14,000 fish.

  • If you only eat one thing…

Make it straight-from-the-fryer conch fritters – deep-fried balls of chewy conch and pillowy batter, served with a spicy dipping sauce.

 

Barbados

  • Basically…

Charming Barbados blends English culture with a perfect climate and some of the best beaches in the world (like white-sand Crane Beach, named one of the top 10 best beaches in the world by Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous).

  • What sets it apart?

Barbadians have strong ties to their English roots – think sunhats and polo matches, crisp tennis whites, British accents, and afternoon cricket games.

  • If you only see one thing…

Barbados is the "birthplace of rum," so you can tour the world's oldest distiller, Mount Gay Rum, which opened in 1703. Plus – most importantly – you can visit the Mount Gay bar for a tasting.

  • If you only eat one thing…

Be sure to try the flying fish, which actually has a place of honor on Barbadian currency. It’s normally served lightly fried with a side of sizzlingly hot dipping sauce. Try it with a glass (or two) of cold rum punch.

 

Bermuda

  • Basically…

Bermuda is equal parts unmistakable British influence and pure Caribbean soul, with sun-soaked afternoons under perfect skies, horse-drawn carriages, and the smell of flowering bougainvillea in the air.

  • What sets it apart?

Its pale, pink-sand beaches. Also, obviously, Bermuda shorts.

  • If you only see one thing…

If you feel like taking a break from the beach, take a walk around pretty, historic Hamilton. There are perfectly manicured gardens, English pubs, and charming shops selling Wedgwood china, English cashmere, and Irish linens.

  • If you only eat one thing…

Sit down to afternoon tea, which normally includes finger sandwiches, scones, or pastries in addition to fresh-brewed tea.

 

Bonaire

  • Basically…

All crystal waters and stunning coral reefs, this is an island whose entire coastline has been declared a marine sanctuary. Drive-through scuba tank refilling stations are a way of life here, and pink flamingos outnumber the residents.

  • What sets it apart?

Its spectacular diving. Bonaire includes more than 80 dive sites and 250-foot underwater visibility.

  • If you only see one thing…

Visit Gotomeer, a saltwater lagoon bustling with crowds of flamingos (also known as a “flamboyance” of flamingos. True story).

  • If you only eat one thing…

Try the goat stew. Seriously.

 

British Virgin Islands

  • Basically…

Yacht-filled harbors dot the shores of this tiny spray of islands, and sailboats drift from tiny, palm-fringed beach to tiny, palm-fringed beach.

  • What sets it apart?

With calm waters and steady breezes, the British Virgin Islands have some of the best sailing and boating in the world.

  • If you only see one thing…

Take a trip to rugged Norman Isle, which (rumor has it) inspired Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island.

  • If you only eat one thing…

Enjoy the endlessly available fresh-caught seafood and lobster.

 

Cayman Islands

  • Basically…

Think stunning diving, lavish accommodations, excellent restaurants, upscale shopping boutiques, and dazzling white-sand beaches ringed with crystal-clear waters.

  • What sets it apart?

The Cayman Islands are only about an hour from Miami, and their Seven Mile Beach has been called the “Miami Beach of the Caribbean.” So… it’s kind of like Miami, if Miami were a beautiful Caribbean island.

  • If you only see one thing…

If you’re a little squeamish, you can see Green Sea Turtles as adorably tiny babies and enormous adults at the Cayman Turtle Farm. Otherwise, head to Stingray City for shallow diving among the stingrays.

  • If you only eat one thing…

Make it a picnic at Owen Island.  Pack a basket, hop a rowboat, and settle down anywhere along its 11 acres of white sand beaches and blue lagoon.

 

Curaçao

  • Basically…

If you didn’t know better, you’d think you touched down in some quaint European harbor city. But then you round the corner and – bam! – suddenly it's all sugar beaches, spray-soaked rocky coves, and glassy waters sheltering vibrant coral reefs.

  • What sets it apart?

Curacao is known for its signature liqueur, Curacao, made from the oil of dried laraha orange peel and tinted a signature blue color.

  • If you only see one thing…

Take a trip to Willemstad to see the pastel gingerbread architecture, lazy windmills, and waterfront cafés.

  • If you only eat one thing…

Hit the local marketplaces for fresh watermelon and fragrant, dripping papaya.

 

Dominican Republic

  • Basically…

The Dominican Republic’s biggest draw may be its postcard-perfect waters and bone-white beaches, but there’s a lot more it does to perfection. Like…professional baseball and hand-rolled cigars. Spanish Colonial cities and sleepy fishing villages. Lazy, palm-shaded afternoons and diving between shipwrecks.

  • What sets it apart?

Its resorts. This is an island that knows its way around a resort, with just about everything under the sun being offered SOMEWHERE: lagoon swimming pools with shaded swim-up bars, water sports centers packed with canoes, gourmet dining, tennis courts, golf…and so on. You get the idea.

  • If you only see one thing…

Walk the UNESCO World Heritage streets of Old Santo Domingo and explore the Catedral Primada de América, the oldest cathedral in the Americas.

  • If you only eat one thing…

If you’ve never had mamajuana, put it on your agenda. It’s basically tree bark and herbs soaked with red wine, rum, and honey, and it’s the island’s unofficial national drink. 

 

Grenada

  • Basically…

Grenada has managed to stay one of the Caribbean's best-kept secrets despite the absolute picture-perfectness of its thick rainforest canopy, blue lagoons, and secluded black- and white-sand beaches.

  • What sets it apart?

Known as the “Spice Island,” Grenada is the producer of some of the world's best spices.

  • If you only see one thing…

Hit the local market for one (or all) of the following: cinnamon, allspice, cloves, ginger, citrus peels, vanilla, coffee, nutmeg, and organic cocoa.

  • If you only eat one thing…

Try their “oil down,” which is basically a pot of meat and vegetables simmered  in fragrant coconut milk.
 

Jamaica

  • Basically…

Jamaica's like the rock star of the Caribbean – everyone knows its name, and for good reason. Its three most famous beaches? Trendy Montego Bay, carefree Negril, and luxurious Ocho Rios.  

  • What sets it apart

Its awesome African culture, which pulses with reggae and Rastafarians, and is spiced with its own unique Jamaican flavor.

  • If you only see one thing…

Visit the Bob Marley museum. Everyone will ask if you saw it, and you want to be able to say yes.

  • If you only eat one thing…

Tear into some jerk chicken, washed down with a cold bottle of Red Stripe.

 

Puerto Rico

  • Basically…

Between colonial Old San Juan, the endless gold sands and thick green jungles, and the thumping resorts and casinos, Puerto Rico offers just about every kind of Caribbean vacation rolled into one.

  • What sets it apart

The fact that you don’t need a passport to visit.

  • If you only see one thing…

Vieques Island's Bioluminescent Bay, at night. Microorganisms in the water make it glow in bright streaks of neon blue when it’s disturbed..

  • If you only eat one thing…

Grab a bowl of mofongo – fried mashed plantains mixed with garlic, olive oil, and crackling bits of pork.

 

St. Barths

  • Basically…

This is an island of cloudless afternoons and balmy tropical evenings, crisp Champagne and velvety foie gras. It’s an island of models and millionaires, of duck confit and airy soufflés prepared by French chefs.

  • What sets it apart

It’s luxe and sophisticated, and known as the "Cannes of the Caribbean" for its habit of attracting the rich and famous.

  • If you only see one thing…

Head to the capital city of Gustavia, where you can go duty-free shopping (or window shopping) for Cartier diamonds and Hermés scarves

  • If you only eat one thing…

A perfectly paired wine? Crisp Champagne? Inspired gourmet French cuisine (the island draws graduates from some of the finest schools in France)? You almost literally can’t go wrong.

 

St. Kitts & Nevis

  • Basically…

While both of these sister islands have thick rainforests and volcanic craters, tiny St. Kitts is a mix of abandoned sugarcane fields and budding luxury properties, while even tinier Nevis is pristine beaches and hibiscus-traced coastlines.

  • What sets it apart

With frequent ferry service between the two sister islands, you can treat yourself to two vacations in one.

  • If you only see one thing…

That depends on the island. If you’re on St. Kitts, see luxurious Christophe Harbour for boutique shopping or a leisurely lunch. If you’re in Nevis, make it yourself applying more sunscreen.

  • If you only eat one thing…

Enjoy fresh seafood flavored with West Indian curry.

 

St. Lucia

  • Basically…

St. Lucia looks like it could belong in the South Pacific, with gloriously isolated white- and black-sand beaches snaking along dramatic coastlines. Lush interior rainforests are blanketed with prehistoric-looking giant ferns and wild orchids, and colored with the cries of tropical birds.

  • What sets it apart

The jagged Twin Pitons, which soar 2,400 feet into the cloudless Caribbean sky along the island’s southwest shore.

  • If you only see one thing…

Visit the dormant, still-steaming Soufriere Volcano, and the hot springs bubbling just a few feet away. Bonus: the black mineral-rich mud is worshipped for its healing powers.

  • If you only eat one thing…

Make it Creole-inspired seafood dishes, with fresh fruits like mangoes and coconuts

 

St. Maarten/St. Martin

  • Basically…

This island is split in half, which each side claimed by a different country. Dutch-owned St. Maarten is full of nightlife and bustling casinos, while the cosmopolitan, French-owned St. Martin is all fashionable boutiques and French-inspired restaurants.

  • What sets it apart

This colorful eastern Caribbean island is split into two sides – Dutch-owned St. Maarten and French-owned St. Martin – which means you can experience two trips in one.

  • If you only see one thing…

That depends on the island you’re visiting. You can either grab a cappuccino and stroll the boutiques of Marigot on St. Martin, or try your luck at one of the glitzy casinos on St. Maarten.

  • If you only eat one thing…

These islands are two of the gourmet capitals of the Caribbean, blending the best from French, Dutch, and Caribbean cuisine. Think buttery French croissants, fresh-caught seafood, juicy tropical fruits, and spicy Creole dishes like avocado with shredded codfish.

 

US Virgin Islands

  • Basically…?

The USVI’s most well-known islands are St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas. Americanized St. Thomas is famous for its duty-free shopping, while nearby St. John is an unspoiled paradise of pristine beaches and protected national parkland. Laid-back St. Croix is the furthest off the beaten path, home to pretty towns, historic plantations, and lush rainforests.

  • What sets it apart

Having basically three island choices in one trip, each surrounded by the emerald Caribbean and splendid beaches, where white sails glide the waters and a calypso lilt fills the air.

  • If you only see one thing…

St. Tomas’s duty-free status makes Charlotte Amalie the place to buy everything from liquor to jewelry to Swiss watches.

  • If you only eat one thing…

Get yourself a Johnnycake, a savory hybrid of cake and unleavened bread that’s fried until crusty and golden brown.

 

 

Want to learn more, including some of the best places to stay? Check out our Caribbean brochure for more information!

 

By Megan Ranney

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