Caribbean Islands: An Introduction
When most people envision a tropical beach vacation, the Caribbean springs to mind. With hundreds of islands scattered mostly across the far western portion of the North Atlantic – which is known as the Caribbean Sea – the region boasts an amazing year-round climate, countless miles of white sand beaches, gorgeous coral reefs, shimmering, crystal-clear water, incredible biodiversity and much more. It’s little wonder, then, that people flock here when they need to get away from it all.
The Caribbean is the place to go when you need a break from the fast, hectic pace of everyday life. In this part of the world, time slows to a crawl. The culture is laid back, accepting and incredibly friendly to visitors, so you are sure to feel welcome wherever you go. Of the hundreds of islands in the region, only a handful are regularly visited by tourists. Each sovereign state and territory has its own unique culture, and there are advantages to visiting each one. So, where should you go? How can you possibly narrow things down? A great first step is familiarizing yourself with the most popular destinations. Once you’ve found one that suits your fancy, dig a little more deeply to create the ultimate Caribbean vacation itinerary.
An Overview of the Caribbean
The region that makes up what is known as the Caribbean is sometimes also referred to as the Islands of the Caribbean, or the West Indies. A massive archipelago, the Caribbean can be subdivided into a few different regions: the Lucayan Archipelago, the Greater Antilles, the Lesser Antilles and the ABC Islands. There are 13 sovereign states and 17 dependent territories in the Caribbean, and English, Spanish, French, Dutch and Antillean creole are the predominant languages.
Geography and Climate
The Caribbean sprawls across more than 1.06 million square miles and is primarily located between North America and South America. Most of the islands are located in the Caribbean Sea, but quite a few are technically located in the North Atlantic. The most popular and most visited region in the Caribbean is the Greater Antilles, which includes Jamaica, Cuba and the Dominican Republic. The Lucayan Archipelago is located in the northern part of the region while the Lesser Antilles are to the east. The western- and southernmost portion includes numerous smaller islands that mostly belong to countries in Central America and South America.
In addition to boasting incredible scenery, the Caribbean is blessed with amazing weather. Though the climate varies, it is overwhelmingly tropical, with most areas enjoying sunny, warm weather throughout the year. Rainfall varies according to factors like water currents, island size and elevation, but the rainy season typically falls during the second half of the year, with the dry season falling during the first half. For this reason, late winter through early spring tends to be the most popular time to vacation in this tropical paradise.
The Caribbean is a true melting pot. It was originally inhabited by Arawak Indians. Later, Caribs, a rival tribe, invaded. They are also the inspiration for the name of the Caribbean Sea and the region as a whole, though their culture is almost entirely extinct now.
Through the centuries, a bevy of European nations has swept through the Caribbean. They colonized most of the major islands here, and many of those islands remain under the control of countries like the U.K., the Netherlands and France. However, several others have since won their independence.
The racial makeup of the Caribbean is incredibly diverse. People of African ancestry tend to make up the majority in the French Caribbean, Dutch Caribbean and Anglophone Caribbean. Asians make up a significant minority in the region as well. Most inhabitants are of mixed race backgrounds, and their ancestries include Dutch, English, Italian, Portuguese and Italian. Mulattoes, people of African and European descent, make up a significant minority in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. In most of the larger islands across the Caribbean, people of African descent make up the majority.
This melting pot of cultures and ethnicities makes the Caribbean a wonderfully diverse and fascinating place. While most come here for the great weather and incredible beaches, the region is jam-packed with incredible cultural and historical attractions as well, and they are well worth checking out.
Languages and Religion
Because of the diversity of the region and the many cultures that have come and go through the years, dozens of languages are spoken across the Caribbean. However, the predominating languages are Spanish, English, French, Dutch and various creole dialects. Fortunately for travelers from the U.S., English is spoken widely across the region, so there’s typically no language barrier to worry about. Still, before visiting a country here, do some research about the languages that are most commonly spoken to ensure that you are as prepared as possible for your visit.
As for religion, Christianity is practiced across the majority of the region. In fact, it is the official religion of several territories and countries here.
Attractions and Things to Do
In addition to having a diverse population, the Caribbean boasts a diverse array of terrains and topographies. Not surprisingly, attractions involving the water tend to be the most popular. Sun worshipping, or just laying out on the beach in the sun, is among the most popular pastimes here. However, visitors also enjoy snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, windsurfing, diving, sailing and other water-related activities.
Depending on where you go in the Caribbean, you can also avail yourself of numerous other fun activities. A few examples include horseback riding, biking, hiking, rock climbing and spelunking, or exploring caves. Several major cities are located in the Caribbean, so it’s easy to find fun things to do throughout the region. Historical and cultural attractions include forts, plantations, museums, lighthouses and much more. Many cities, towns and villages boast amazing colonial and Victorian architecture too.
The Lucayan Archipelago
Although it’s considered to be part of the Caribbean, the Lucayan Archipelago is technically located in the western part of the North Atlantic. It’s north of the equator and the Antilles and east-southeast of Florida. It is comprised of the Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas. Its proximity to the U.S. makes it a very popular vacation destination for American tourists.
The Bahamas are made up of more than 2,000 islands. They are located north of the Greater Antilles and southeast of Florida. A significant percentage of those islands are technically cays, or coral reef islands, and most are uninhabited. The name “Bahamas” comes from Spanish, and it roughly translates to mean “shallow water.” More than 300,000 people live here, making it a relatively populous country. Since winning its independence from the U.K. in 1973, the Bahamas have flourished. Tourism, in particular, is the main thing driving the economy here, so locals tend to cater to visitors and are very welcoming.
It is believed that Christopher Columbus arrived on the Bahamian island of San Salvador in 1492. At the time, it was populated by Arawak Indians. The British first arrived in 1647, and the Bahamas officially became a colony in 1783.
Due to its long history with Great Britain, the Bahamas continues to be highly anglicized. English is the official language, and Christianity is practiced by nearly everyone who lives there. Indeed, the country is very religious and boasts the highest ratio of churches in the Caribbean.
Though the Bahamas consist of thousands of islands, only a handful get any real attention from tourists. New Providence Island is home to Nassau, the capital. It’s also where you’ll find the world-famous Atlantis resort. Grand Bahama is best known for its amazing underwater cave systems. Many cruise lines own and operate private resort islands as well.
Most of the islands in the Bahamas are long, flat coral reef formations. Smatterings of small, rounded hills appear here and there in some areas. The highest point, Mt. Alvernia, is 63 meters high.
If you’d like to visit the Bahamas, the best time is generally between late December and early May. You can fill your days boating around the islands, noshing on cracked conch, swilling local rum and splashing about in the year-round 80-degree waters. You can also check out art galleries, casinos, forts, museums, monuments and much more. The official currency is the Bahamian dollar, but American currency is widely accepted too.
The Turks and Caicos make up the other part of the Lucayan Archipelago. This British Overseas Territory is made up of around 40 islands and cays; 12 of them are inhabited. The name of the territory comes from Grand Turk Island and Providenciales, which is otherwise known as Caicos. The population hovers around 31,000 people, but the main islands aren’t too sparsely populated because they are relatively small.
The official currency of the Turks and Caicos is the U.S. dollar, which is convenient for traveling Americans. Though English is the official language, Haitian creole and Spanish are widely spoken too. The country enjoys a warm, pleasant climate. Compared with many Caribbean islands, it is remarkably arid, and an average of only around 50 inches of rain falls per year. The majority of the precipitation occurs during the summer months, which is also the danger zone for hurricanes.
Most people visiting Turks and Caicos arrive via cruise ship or plane. If you fly into the country, you will likely arrive at Providenciales International Airport, which is near the capital city of Cockburn Town. The islands are crammed with fun things to see and do, including casinos, scuba diving, sailing, birdwatching, whale watching and golfing. The cuisine is eclectic, and rum punch is the drink of choice.
The Greater Antilles
As the most-visited region in the Caribbean, the Greater Antilles sees a massive influx of tourists every year. It also accounts for more than 94 percent of the total landmass of the West Indies and more than 90 percent of its population, so it is a major standout in the region. The Greater Antilles consist of Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and the Cayman Islands. Thanks to its proximity to North America, it is a convenient option for anyone who wants to experience the best that the Caribbean has to offer.
Near the end of 2014, reports swirled that the long-time embargo and other restrictions placed on this massive island nation by the U.S. were finally being lifted. If that comes to pass, Cuba should start enjoying a massive influx of American visitors in the years to come. Despite the strained relations between the two nations, however, Cuba has long been a popular vacation spot.
Cuba holds the distinction of being the largest island in the Caribbean. It’s situated between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, and it’s about 90 miles south of Key West, Florida. As far as its location in the Caribbean, it is east of Mexico, northwest of Jamaica, west of Haiti and between the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas. The capital is Havana, the official currency is the Cuban peso and the official language is Spanish.
In addition to Havana, major cities in Cuba include Baracoa, which is known for its amazing beaches; Trinidad, which is famous for its colonial architecture; Varadero, another beach resort area; Pinar del Rio, home to the country’s most prominent cigar manufacturing facilities; and Santiago de Cuba, a lovely town on the Caribbean coast.
Most people who come to Cuba arrive at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana. If you’re planning a trip here, the best time to visit is between December and April. Summertime tends to be oppressively hot and humid, and it is also when major storms and hurricanes tend to roll through.
While visiting Cuba, be sure to hit some of the most popular attractions. The Havana Malecon, or boardwalk, is a great place to stroll, sightsee and people-watch. Havana Viejo lets you catch a glimpse of Cuba as it was many years ago. Of course, the country is studded with incredible beaches, so there are plenty of opportunities for outdoor fun. In terms of cuisine, the government owns and operates all restaurants, so the food is disappointingly bland. However, be sure to sip on a mojito or Cuba Libre, which is essentially rum and Coke, and don’t leave before purchasing cigars, coffee and rum.
With its gorgeous coral reefs and shimmering, clear, turquoise waters, the Cayman Islands have long been a popular playground for travelers. The islands are particularly popular among divers, and excellent scuba diving and snorkeling sites abound.
This UK overseas territory has a population of around 55,500 people. Its capital is George Town, which is located on Grand Cayman, the largest island. The Cayman Island dollar is the official currency, but American money is widely accepted. English is the predominant language, but many here speak local creole dialects.
In addition to Grand Cayman, the Cayman Islands consist of Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, which is where you’ll find The Bluff. The highest point in the Cayman Islands, The Bluff soars up to 141 feet. That may not sound very tall, but it stands out a lot due to the overwhelmingly flat terrain of the country.
Most people who fly into the Cayman Islands arrive at Owens Roberts International Airport in George Town. They then scatter across the three main islands to enjoy a variety of exciting attractions. Seven Mile Beach is not to be missed, and Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park is another popular spot. If you visit, be sure to check out Boatswain’s Beach, which boasts an amazing turtle farm.
The cuisine of the Caymans is dominated by conch, fish and turtle. Because hurricane season runs from June to November, it’s generally best to visit between December and May. Most of the hotels here are located on Grand Cayman, so it’s a good jumping-off point for other attractions around the islands.
Stretching across two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola, you’ll find the Dominican Republic. The other third of the island is taken up by the country of Haiti.
With the Caribbean Sea to the south and the North Atlantic Ocean to the north, the Dominican Republic is conveniently located for travelers from North America. Many arrive on cruise ships, but plenty of others fly in and arrive at Punta Cana International Airport.
The capital, Santo Domingo, offers a wide range of attractions and things to do. The Dominican peso is the official currency, but American currency is widely accepted. Spanish is the official language, but many residents speak English fluently as well.
The terrain of the Dominican Republic is incredibly diverse, with arid deserts, tropical rainforests, mangrove swamps and alpine ranges. Beaches abound too, and most of the best luxury resorts are situated on the north and east coasts. Depending on where you go, you’ll find colonial architecture, sugar plantations, quaint villages, mountain retreats and much more.
Due to the prevalence of storms and hurricanes from June through October, it’s generally best to visit the Dominican Republic between November and May. Most people stay in Santo Domingo, Punta Cana or Higuey. The cuisine here is dominated by standard Caribbean fare like beans, rice, seafood and tropical fruit, so you’re sure to eat like a king while you’re here.
Due to ongoing unrest and strife in this tiny country, which makes up the other one-third of the island of Hispaniola, few people travel to Haiti for vacation these days. That’s a shame because the country boasts an amazing tropical and semi-arid climate, with hurricane season running from June through November. The terrain here is overwhelmingly mountainous, but there’s a broad, flat central plain to the north.
French and African fare dominates the cuisine in Haiti. If you fly into the country, you’re likely to arrive at Aeroport Toussant L’Ouverture Airport in Port-au-Prince. If you really want to visit Haiti but are concerned about the continued unrest, consider visiting Labadee, a fenced-off resort area that’s popular with tourists.
In many ways, Jamaica epitomizes what the Caribbean is all about. This gorgeous island nation is situated west of Hispaniola and south of Cuba. The capital city, Kingston, is a wonderfully cosmopolitan place and offers a variety of great cultural and historical attractions, as well as an amazing nightlife. English is the primary language, but many locals also speak Jamaican creole. The currency of this nation, which boasts a population of around 2.8 million people, is the Jamaican dollar, but you can generally use American money too.
Jamaica’s climate is tropical, and the heat and humidity can be oppressive at times. However, the interior, with its higher elevations, tends to be more temperate. Major cities include Kingston, Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Negril, and two major airports serve this bustling country: Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston and Donald Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay.
If you’re a reggae fan, Bob Marley’s birthplace and gravesite in Nine Mile is not to be missed. Dunn’s River Falls, which soar down a whopping 600 feet, are absolutely stunning. Vacationers here spend their time basking in the sun, splashing in the surf, golfing, fishing, hiking, scuba diving, snorkeling, horseback riding, camping and enjoying a variety of other activities. In terms of cuisine, ackee and saltfish is a mainstay. Jerk chicken, of course, is something every visitor must try. As with other nations in the Greater Antilles, hurricane season runs from about June through December, so it’s best to visit during the first half of the year.
Because it is an official territory of the United States, Puerto Rico is a convenient vacation destination for American travelers. Spanish and English are the main languages on this large island, which boasts a population of around 4 million people. Roman Catholicism is, far and away, the predominant religion, and residents of Puerto Rico tend to be very devout.
Puerto Rico has a lovely tropical marine climate, so the weather tends to be consistently mild and pleasant throughout the year. The main exception is hurricane season, which falls between June and November here. The terrain is overwhelmingly mountainous, with a band of coastal plains to the north.
If you travel to Puerto Rico, you’re likely to arrive by plane at Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in Carolina. Other major cities in Puerto Rico include San Juan, the capital; Ponce, the second-largest city; and Rincon, the surfing capital of the Caribbean.
Puerto Rico is bursting with amazing natural scenery, including bioluminescent bays and gorgeous white-sand beaches. Staying busy is a snap thanks to fun activities like golfing, snorkeling, scuba diving and gambling. The cuisine here is dominated by plantains and pork, and rum is the alcoholic beverage of choice. Be sure to tour a rum distillery while you’re here, if you’re lucky enough to visit.
The Lesser Antilles
The majority of the islands in the Lesser Antilles form the border between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic. They are located in the northern part of the West Indies and are made up of much smaller islands than those of the Greater Antilles. The islands here are further divided into three regions:
The Leeward Islands
Hundreds of tiny islands, including various territories and sovereign states, make up the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean. They are located in the hurricane band of the Caribbean, so it is generally best not to plan a vacation here between July and October.
Because it has no major airport, the British Overseas Territory of Anguilla is usually accessed by ferry boats and cruise ships. The territory, which is north of St. Martin, has flat, low-lying terrain. Its tallest point, Crocus Hill, is only 65 meters high. Anguilla boasts some of the most beautiful white-sand beaches in the Caribbean. People come here for glass-bottom boat rides, scuba diving, snorkeling and for simply kicking back and relaxing. In The Valley, its capital city, you’ll find art galleries, upscale restaurants and other fun things to see and do. From historic plantation houses to an abundance of limestone caves, Anguilla is bursting with surprises.
Antigua and Barbuda
With its location off the coast of South America and east-southeast of Puerto Rico, Antigua and Barbuda is a wildly popular tourist destination. English is predominately spoken here, and the official currency is the East Caribbean dollar. The majority of the tourist attractions, including the finest luxury resorts, are located on the island of Antigua. That’s where you’ll find the capital city, St. John’s, as well as the main airport: V.C. Bird International Airport. Sailing regattas are held here annually and are well worth checking out. Fishing is also a very popular activity. If you visit, make sure to sample some of the local fare, including fungie, which is kind of like polenta, and pepperpot, a spicy pork stew. As with so many other Caribbean nations, rum is produced here in abundance.
Saint Martin is the northern region of an island nation divided between France and the Netherlands. Saint Martin is a French territory covering about two-thirds of the island located in the Leeward Island region. It is well known for its nude beaches and high-end, trendy shops.
Sint Martin is the southern region of the island nation, Saint Martin, divided between France and the Netherlands. Sint Maarten is the Netherlands territory covering about one-third of the island. It is known for its nightlife, beaches, casinos, and its native rum-based drinks. The main transportation onto the island is through the Princess Juliana International Airport.
British Virgin Islands
It should come as no surprise that English is the official language of the British Virgin Islands, or BVIs, as they are known by locals. The terrain of many of the more than 40 islands and keys is incredibly flat. In fact, Anegada is known as the Drowned Island because its elevation is so exceedingly low. Other islands feature steep volcanic terrain, so there’s a little bit of something for everyone. No major airport serves the territory, and most people arrive via charter flights out of Puerto Rico. One of the best ways to experience the BVIs is by renting a sailboat or motorboat. Just don’t do so during hurricane season. Surfing is wildly popular here, and Josiah’s and Apple Bay beaches afford the best opportunities. As for cuisine, fresh seafood and locally produced rum are par for the course.
Saint Barthélemy is a small island less than ten square miles located north of Saint Kitts and southeast of Saint Martin. It is a French territory with a mixture of people speaking French and Creole. Saint Barthelemy is a popular tourist attraction especially for the rich and famous. The island has an exquisite landscape of hills, valleys and mountains with numerous beaches dotting the coastline. Gustavia, the capital, is the location of the island’s airport. The nearest international airport is located on Sint Maarten, the Princess Juliana International Airport.
Mount Scenery is the active volcano of the island and is located in The Bottom which is the capital city of Saba. The island is especially known for its ecotourism, having exceptional scuba diving, climbing and hiking.
Sint Eustatius is a small island located in the northern Leeward Islands portion of the West Indies, south of Sint Maarten and northwest of Saint Kitts and Nevis. In Oranjestad, the capital of Sint Eustatius, there are a variety of historical sites to visit.
St. Kitts and Nevis
Sandwiched between Puerto Rico and Trinidad and Tobago, St. Kitts and Nevis offers a compelling mix of West Indian, French and English influences. Numerous ancient British forts dot the landscape, so history buffs are sure to have a field day. The islands roughly form the shape of a baseball and bat, and the channel between them is known as The Narrows. At 1,156 meters, Mount Liamuiga is the highest point here, and it’s well worth it to hike to its summit to take in the amazing views. From scenic railway rides to wonderfully secluded, tranquil beaches, it’s easy to see why St. Kitts and Nevis is such a popular destination.
U.S. Virgin Islands
This charming string of islands is situated between the North Atlantic and the Caribbean, and it’s to the east of Puerto Rico. Its capital city, Charlotte Amalie, is brimming with unique and interesting historical and cultural attractions. The official currency is the U.S. dollar, which is a nice perk for American travelers. English is also the official language. Its terrain alternates between hilly, rugged and downright mountainous landscapes, and stunning white-sand beaches abound. St. Croix, the largest island, tends to be the most popular with visitors. If you visit in April – and you should because that’s when the weather is at its very best – be sure to check out the St. Croix Food and Wine Experience.
This British territory is part of the Lesser Antilles chain located in the Leeward Islands. Montserrat is a very small island covering only 40 square miles in the vast Caribbean. The small island is home to many exotic and rare plants and animals. The island is a beautiful place to relax and enjoy a variety of water and land activities. Many visitors come to see Soufriere Hills, the volcano that erupted in 1995 wiping out Plymouth and the surrounding area. Due to its small size, major transportation is done from Antigua. Montserrat offers ferry and helicopter services between the islands.
Located in the Leeward Islands, Guadeloupe has two main islands with numerous smaller ones. Though Basse-Terre is the capital of the island, the main tourist area is located in Grande-Terre. Visitors are attracted to the coral reefs and numerous beaches of black, white and gold. The island is a territory of France with a mixture of European, African and Indian culture. The main transport onto the island is through the Guadeloupe Airport as well as a number of boats and ferries.
The Windward Islands
While planning your Caribbean getaway, don’t overlook the Windward Islands of the Lesser Antilles. These include vacation hotspots like the Barbados, St. Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago, and cruise ships stop in ports of call throughout the region.
Dominica is an island nation located in the Lesser Antilles area south of Guadeloupe and northwest of Martinique. Known for its luscious rainforests and warm, tropical climate, Dominica is a popular vacation spot that offers a wide variety of water and land activities. Roseau, the capital of Dominica, is located on the west coast. It has a mixture of French colonial and modern architecture, breathtaking waterfalls and relaxing thermal springs. The official language is English and the currency is the East Caribbean dollar. The main transportation to the island is the Canefield Airport located close to Portsmouth, and the Melville Hall Airport located close to Roseau.
Sainte Anne is the popular city on this Windward Island located south of Dominica. Sainte Anne is the centerpiece of beautiful beaches, rainforests and exotic scenery. The weather is just as beautiful as the scenery with a typical tropical climate. Though, the best time to visit is between December and April. The main way onto the highly populated island is through the Martinque Aime Cesaire International Airport.
This lovely island is located in the Caribbean Sea northeast of Venezuela. The word “Barbados” means “bearded ones,” and it refers to the fig trees that explorers were drawn in by during their excursions to the region several centuries ago. Barbados is often referred to as “Little Britain” due to its strong historical ties to the U.K. Indeed, the British first settled it way back in 1627. Since then, the island has flourished as a premier vacation destination. Tourism helps keep its economy afloat. Most of the resorts are on the west coast. In addition to boasting several amazing beaches, Barbados offers rum distilleries, caves, surfing, scuba diving, catamaran cruises, golf and much more. The cuisine here is incredibly eclectic; be sure to try flying fish, which features a very spicy sauce, and pepperpot, a delectable pork stew. You will most likely arrive either via boat or by plane at Sir Grantley Adams International Airport, which is near the capital city of Bridgetown.
Nicknamed “The Spice Isle,” Grenada has far more to offer than just sandy white beaches. It’s actually made up of several small islands, and they are located southwest of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and northeast of Trinidad and Tobago. The nickname is derived by the many spices that are produced here, including nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, cocoa and cloves. English is the official language, the East Caribbean dollar is the official currency, and St. George’s is the capital. With average year-round temperatures between 75 and 87 degrees and cooling trade winds, Grenada is a lovely place to visit at many times of year. Airplane travelers typically arrive at Maurice Bishop International Airport and can then take ferries to various islands, including Grenada, Carriacou and Petit Martinique. Grenada is awash with amazing things to see, including waterfalls, lakes, forts, spice estates, spice gardens, floral gardens, plantation houses and rum distilleries. Activities include hiking, sailing, snorkeling and diving. Before leaving, make sure to buy some nutmeg, rum, chocolate and vanilla, which is sublime and incredibly affordable.
This lovely British commonwealth is located off the coast of Central America and north of Trinidad and Tobago. The Twin Pitons, matching, cone-shaped peaks, are its most treasured and well-known landmarks. The capital is Castries, the official currency is the East Caribbean dollar, and the primary language spoken here is English. Unique attractions like a drive-in volcano, sulfur springs and lush rainforests are sure to keep you busy, and you can’t beat the amazing beaches. While there, be sure to hike to the summit of Gros Piton, sample some rum punch and sample coal pot, a popular local stew. Be on the lookout for community barbecues featuring pork, chicken and an array of amazing dishes.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines
This island cluster lies within the Lesser Antilles south of St. Lucia and west of Barbados. The island cluster is 150 square miles with the main land consisting of St. Vincent while the northern two-thirds of the region is made up of the Grenadines. The island cluster lies within the Hurricane Belt with hurricanes being the most prevalent during the rainy season which lasts between June and November. The dry, warm season lasts between January and May. The island terrain is divided as well. The windward side is steep and rocky. The leeward side has numerous beaches and bays that offer a variety of water activities and beautiful scenic views.
Trinidad and Tobago
Although it’s the most industrialized nation in the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago is still bursting with amazing scenery and a wide array of incredible attractions. Because tourism isn’t a pivotal part of the economy here, the country features huge expanses of pristine, virtually untouched wilderness. English is the primary language, the Trinidad and Tobago dollar is the main currency and Port-of-Spain is the capital city. The population here is incredibly diverse, even for the Caribbean, and residents all live together in harmony. Three mountain ranges sprawl across the country, affording plenty of opportunities to hike, bike and have fun. Trinidad and Tobago is best known for its beaches, coral reefs, forts, golf courses and, of all things, goat racing. Sample some hot and spicy rotis, flatbreads stuffed with various fillings, and give the locally produced rum a try too.
This last batch of islands rounds up the Lesser Antilles. One of the top perks of vacationing here is that they are out of the dreaded hurricane belt, so you can more safely plan a trip here virtually any time of year. The name of this group of islands comes from the first initial of the three territories and states of which it is comprised: Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao.
Situated just 15 miles north of the Venezuelan coast, the flat, river-less island of Aruba is widely regarded as one of the most peaceful and beautiful locations in the Caribbean. The temperature here tends to hover around 80 degrees all year, and Atlantic trade winds help to keep people cool and comfortable. The southwest coast of the island boasts warm waters and some of the finest beaches in the region. The northeast coast faces the Atlantic, has mostly rocky terrain and fairly rough seas that aren’t conducive to swimming or water sports. Dutch is the official language, but English and Spanish are widely spoken too. This sunny little island has a population of around 72,000 people, and its capital is Oranjestad. As you explore the island, you’ll find aloe factories, rock formations, butterfly and bird sanctuaries, caves and shipwrecks. Popular activities include lounging on the beach, scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, fishing and horseback riding. The cuisine here is eclectic, and popular dishes include baked cheese, iguana soup and ostrich burgers. As for drinks, imported Dutch beer tends to be the most popular option.
The flat, tiny island of Bonaire is often overlooked by Caribbean vacationers, and that’s a shame. Like Aruba, it boasts an amazing climate, and it’s safely out of the hurricane band. The “rainy season” runs from October to January, but total precipitation is low. Dutch and English are widely spoken here, and the official currency is the U.S. dollar, which is a nice perk. Attractions include salt flats, ancient rock art, historic buildings and exquisite beaches. Be on the lookout for flamingoes and iguanas, which are found in abundance. For food, don’t miss the rock lobster or conch.
With a population of around 142,000 people, Curacao is more populated than its neighbors. Visitors are dazzled not only by its incredible beaches but by the traditional Dutch architecture with bright, pastel colors. In addition to natural attractions, the territory is home to the Queen Juliana Bridge. At 185 feet in height, it’s one of the tallest bridges in the world and by far the tallest in the Caribbean. If you get a chance, drive across it to take in great views of St. Anna Bay. Curacao is home to aquariums, national parks, ostrich farms, forts and many amazing scuba-diving spots. The cuisine here is flavored by European, East Asian and West Indian influences, so dining out is a lot of fun. With year-round warm temperatures, gentle breezes and low humidity, Curacao is a great place to visit year-round.
Federal Dependencies of Venezuela
The islands along the north coast of Venezuela and politically part of that country are also considered part of the Lesser Antilles:
Los Roques Archipelago
Los Roques is a paradise with a lot of adventure to be found on the 350 islands, islets and cays that make up the beautiful Los Roques Archipelago. The warm sand here is as soft as melted butter. The blue waves conceal busy underwater cities filled with bonefish, barracudas and sea turtles. Even though the archipelago is part of Venezuela, hints of a European past can still be tasted in the local cuisine and heard in the local music. Visitors embrace every opportunity to enjoy snorkeling, swimming and windsurfing near the glorious coral reefs and lagoons that shape the archipelago. In fact, Los Roques Archipelago possesses what is considered to be the most robust coral reef in the entire Caribbean. It’s no wonder why this shimmering destination has become a place where European and American visitors love to dock their yachts in still, shallow waters.
Margarita Island is the largest island in state of Nueva Esparta. Visitors who place their feet in the warm sand here walk in the footsteps of Christopher Columbus. The explorer became the first European ever to arrive on Margarita Island in 1498. La Restinga National Park is an enchanted lagoon on the island that is filled with mangroves. Porlamar and La Asunción are home to most of the island’s developments and tourism spots. In addition to the island’s 50 amazing beaches, popular attractions include the Church of the Virgin of El Valle, Fortin de la Galera, Faro Punta Ballena and several water parks.
Coche is the second of the three islands that form the state of Nueva Esparta. The steady winds here create ideal conditions for windsurfing and kiteboarding. Of course, the island’s breezes complement its high temperatures quite nicely. The hotels on Coche are known for providing comfort and luxury. With white sands, towering palm trees and beautifully landscaped resorts, Coche looks a lot like paradise.
Cubagua is the smallest island that makes up the state of Nueva Esparta. Like any good remote destination, Cubagua is free of paved streets and roads. Visitors flock here for snorkeling, swimming and mud baths. Ferries and chartered boats are guided here by the lighthouses at Punta Charagato and Punta Brasil. Aside from temporary fishermen, Cubagua is nearly devoid of people. Many visitors take advantage of the opportunity to enjoy leisurely days on the remote beaches here before admiring spectacular sunsets.
La Orchila is a glistening island off the coast of Venezuela’s mainland. The island is notable for being home to a beach with pink sand called Arena Rosada. Of course, the many other magnificent beaches here offer the classic mix of smooth sand and frothy blue waves that you picture when you think of a true tropical oasis. The island features a presidential retreat, military housing and a court built for bolas criollas. One thing you won’t find on La Orchila is a network of paved roads. The island’s natural beauty is kept intact by smooth dirt paths that allow for transportation without sullying the landscape.
La Tortuga is a dream come true for anybody who has fantasies of spending a holiday on an uninhabited island. Though the island has no permanent residents, its unending white sands can be explored and enjoyed by tourists until sunset. The shores here are so pristine that they often appear translucent. Visitors come here to swim in turquoise waves and enjoy the fact that nobody is around for miles. Despite the fact that there are no restaurants on the island, local fishermen will often offer to cook their fresh catches for tourists. Kitesurfing and windsurfing are particularly popular here. Just as you would expect from a remote oasis, La Tortuga lacks paved roads. The island can be reached by yacht or private plane.
Looking around at the untouched white sands, shiny tide pools and life-filled coral reefs on Blanquilla, it can be quite easy to feel like a castaway in a dramatic movie. The abundant mix of wildlife on this island is what makes Blanquilla a truly enchanted place to escape to. Technicolor parrots, wild donkeys and psychedelic iguanas roam the land. Angelfish, balloon fish and flying fish glide in the turquoise waters just beyond the shore. Fresh seafood can be purchased on the island. Though a lack of palm trees leaves visitors exposed to the radiant Caribbean sun, natural caves provide quiet and cool places of refuge. The rare and prized black coral found in the reefs here is used in local crafts and jewelry. Blanquilla is best accessed by way of a chartered boat.
and other smaller islands
We’ve only skimmed the surface of the amazing adventures that await you in the Caribbean. Whether you head to the Lesser Antilles, hightail it to the Lucayan Archipelago or plan a trip to the Greater Antilles, you’re sure to have the time of your life.
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