Whether you’re planning a tropical family vacation, or a romantic honeymoon getaway, these amazing Caribbean destinations are sure to offer a dream vacation you’ll remember for years.
The Dominican Republic is located on the eastern side of a large island known as Hispaniola, just east of Cuba. It has the Atlantic Ocean to its north and the Caribbean Sea off of its southern shores. Its landscape offers a wide range of scenery including tropical rain forests, pristine beaches, arid desert plains, dramatic mountain ranges and mangrove swamps. Tourism is thriving in the Dominican Republic and has helped contribute to the country’s fast growing economy. Its capital city of Santo Domingo on the southern shore offers a wide variety of activities ranging from relaxing on the beaches to enjoying its rich cultural heritage. The main tourist regions are Santo Domingo, Boca Chica, Juan Dolio and La Romana on the southern coast, Punta Cana on the eastern tip, and Puerto Plata or Samaná on the northern coast. The native language in the Dominican Republic is Spanish, however, many locals in Santo Domingo and other tourist areas are bilingual and can speak English. The weather is warm all year round and particularly humid in the summer months from June to September. Visitors should remember that the island is in the hurricane belt and is prone to storms from June to October, as are many other Caribbean destinations. The Dominican Republic is one of the best Caribbean islands in terms of value. It offers many options for tourists, including beach activities, water sports, mountain biking, expeditions, fishing and boat cruises. There are a wide variety of accommodations, particularly in the busier tourist areas such as Puerto Plata and Punta Cana, including a good supply of reasonably cheap vacation rentals.
Jamaica is a relatively large Caribbean island just south of Cuba. It’s the third most populous Anglophone nation in the Americas with just under 3 million people. The climate is tropical and humid with highland regions experiencing more temperate climates and some dryer southern coastal areas. The main tourist areas are Negril, located on the western tip of the island, Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, Runaway Bay and Port Antonio all on the northern coast. The capital city of Kingston has fewer beach resorts but can be interesting to visit nonetheless. The primary entry points are Norman Manley International Airport (KIN) in Kingston and Donald Sangster International Airport (MBJ) in Montego Bay. Driving can be a bit tricky in Jamaica due to roads that are not always in great condition, combined with left hand driving which may be unfamiliar to some visitors. Locals use Route taxis as their preferred mode of transportation or buses which are a cheap and an easy way to get around. Jamaicans speak English and have a distinctive dialect called “Patois” which has elements of English, French and Spanish. The official currency is the Jamaican dollar but US dollars are often accepted in tourist areas. If you enjoy discovering local culture and cuisine, you’ll undoubtedly enjoy Jamaica’s famous jerk sauce and meats, or pepper shrimps and flakey saltfish. Jamaica offers a vast opportunity for travelers to experience a relaxing beach holiday at one of the many top rated resorts, or an exciting array of leisure activities and cultural exploration.
Puerto Rico is one of the most highly visited Carribean destinations, particularly by Americans. It’s a commonwealth territory of the United States, but its culture is very distinct and Caribbean. Its heritage is Spanish with some African and native influences. Spanish is the mother tongue of most Puerto Ricans, however, English is often spoken in popular tourist regions or resort hotels. Temperatures are normally in the 70F (21C) to 90F (32C) range but are lower in the mountains. Being in the heart of the Caribbean, the region is subject to rainy weather during the hurricane season from June to November. The main island offers an abundance of resort hotels with gorgeous beaches just about anywhere along the coast. Some popular destinations include the capital city of San Juan on the northern coast, Ponce on the southern coast, or Mayaguez on the western end of the island. The Puerto Rican territory includes a number of satellite islands such as Vieques and Culebra which can also be a great choice for vacations. The island is an ideal destination due to its warm weather and abundance of cultural and leisure activities. It’s also popular for scuba diving and snorkeling, with some of the best snorkeling to be found around the islands of Culebra and Vieques. Puerto Rico is recognized as one of the best Caribbean vacation spots for food lovers, as it offers the most diverse culinary fare in the region. The currency is US dollars and resident travelers from within the United States don’t require a passport to enter Puerto Rico, just a government issued ID such as a driver’s license.
Aruba is one of the southernmost Caribbean islands, situated just north of the coast of Venezuela. Its climate is much dryer than the typical Caribbean island and is a safe choice during the rainy season as it tends to remain clear all year round. The island is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands along with Curaçao and Sint Maarten (Saint Martin). It’s main entry point, Queen Beatrix International Airport, is located near the capital city of Oranjestad. The island is a bit warmer than most other Carribean locations, with an average yearly temperature of 78F (26C) to 88F (31C) which is perfect for sun seekers who enjoy their beach holidays warm. The majority of tourist resorts in Aruba are located on its western shore in an area known as the Palm Beach District, but there are several hotels or villas around the southern coast. The beaches in Aruba are recognized as some of the most beautiful in the world, in particular, Eagle Beach with its picture perfect white sands. Thanks to its popularity for tourism, there are always plenty of great travel deals available for a last minute Aruba vacations. The dining options are also very good in Aruba with many restaurant offering fine dining in a casual beach setting. Aruba is a great choice for family vacations as it offers various fun activities such as the butterfly farm or Philips Animal Garden. Arikok National Park provides a beautiful exploration escape and the northern side of the island offers some of the best windsurfing locations in the world.
The Bahamas is located southeast of the coast of Florida and made up of around 2000 islands and cays. Many of the islands or cays are uninhabited and the vast majority of tourist accommodations are located near Nassau, the capital of The Bahamas, or on Grand Bahama Island where the city of Freeport is located. For those seeking a quieter and more isolated vacation experience, private island resorts, or less populated islands such as Eleuthera will be a better choice. The main points of entry are its two international airports, Grand Bahama International Airport (FPO) in Freeport and Lynden Pindling International Airport (NAS) in Nassau. The temperature is warm all year round and averages about 80F (27C). The local currency is the Bahamian Dollar which is tied to the US dollar at 1 for 1. Most tourist areas accept US dollars directly, so no exchange is necessary when traveling from the US. The Bahamas is renowned for its beautiful pink sand beaches which contain seashell fragments giving it its vibrant color. The waters are shallow in most areas and ideal for water activities such as kite boarding, kayaking, snorkeling or fishing. While beaches are definitely its main attraction, The Bahamas offers much more in terms of sightseeing and exploration, for example, the many forts and monuments located around the city of Nassau or its art galleries. For more adventurous travelers, there are several great opportunities for exploration such as Clifton Heritage nature walks and various cave tours on Nassau and other islands.
US Virgin Islands
The US Virgin Islands are composed of three separate islands just east of Puerto Rico in the heart of the Caribbean. The islands are an organized territory of the United States, so US citizens enjoy the convenience of domestic travel. The official language is English but visitors may notice the local dialect which can include elements of Spanish or Creole. The weather in the islands is tropical with very little seasonal variation and is tempered by the easterly trade winds. The rainy season is from May to November. The three islands, Saint Croix, Saint John and Saint Thomas have a good selection of beach resorts or private vacation rentals. Most flights are into St-Thomas or St-Croix and there are several ferries to St John. In contrast to all other US territories, vehicular traffic in the US Virgin Islands moves on the left hand side and driving on the islands can be confusing due to the lack of signage. Saint Thomas island is home to the bustling capital city of Charlotte Amalie where it’s not uncommon to find several cruise ships docked at its deep sea port. Saint Croix is the largest of the three islands and is known for its abundance of local artists, culinary delights and cultural attractions. St John is the quietest of the three islands and is home to the beautiful Virgin Islands National Park where boat charters are a good way to enjoy the natural splendor of the island from a unique perspective.
Saint Martin is one of the most popular Caribbean islands and is split into two jurisdictions, the northern part belonging to France and the southern part to The Netherlands (known as Sint Maartin). Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM) on the Dutch side is one of the busiest airports in the region, particularly during high season from December through April. Its airport is famous for its dramatic takeoffs and landings due to the close proximity of a beach directly under the main runway. Philipsburg, the Dutch side’s capital city, is recognized as one of the best shopping towns in the Caribbean and is very popular with cruise ship operators. There are no border controls enforced between the two sides, so tourists are free to explore the entire island without hindrance. Driving is on the right side, and the island is easy to navigate. While the two official languages spoken on the island are Dutch and French, most residents also speak English. The island provides many excellent shopping venues on both sides, but the Dutch side is a better option for nightlife, having several casinos. The French side offers more of the island’s natural wonders such as Pic Paradis summit, the highest point on the island which offers spectacular vistas. Saint Martin is surrounded by many beautiful beaches, most of which are adjacent to resort hotels. The French side is known for its clothing-optional beach, specifically Orient Beach and the neighboring nudist resort, Club Orient. While most beaches do require bathing attire, it’s not uncommon for women to go topless.
Barbados is one of the most popular Caribbean destinations and is located just past the southeastern end of the Caribbean sea. The island covers about 166 square miles (430 square km) and is one of the more densely populated islands in the region. Most of the tourist accommodations can be found along the western shore or toward the southwestern end of the island around the capital city of Bridgetown. The country’s currency is the Barbadian dollar, which is linked to the US dollar at an exchange rate of 1.98 but most merchants accept US dollars directly. Sir Grantley Adams International Airport (BGI) is one of the main transit points for the South Caribbean and hosts a busy schedule of flights from North America and the UK. Driving in Barbados is on the left, but the best way to get around is with the extensive and well priced bus system as long as you’re headed along a main route. There are plenty of reasonably priced taxis on the island but it’s recommended to negotiate the price before getting in. English is the official language, and you’ll occasionally hear locals speaking a Creole dialect called Bajan. The southern end of the island is renowned for its ideal kite surfing conditions, with consistent winds blowing all year round, especially from January to June. The waters around Barbados are some of the clearest, making it an ideal destination for scuba diving. Snorkelers will enjoy the many interesting shipwrecks to explore, or be delighted by the amazing sea turtles that live around the island.
The Cayman Islands are well known as a tax haven for corporations, but the British territory is also a great vacation destination for sun seekers. Located in the southwest Caribbean, the islands offer beautiful clear waters perfect for snorkeling or scuba diving, particularly in Stingray City where tourists can swim with the stingrays. The climate is maritime tropical and relatively dry in the winter season. Grand Cayman is the largest of the three islands that make up the territory, and home to the largest concentration of businesses and hotels. However, the sister islands of Little Cayman and Cayman Brac also provide top rated accommodations and are a good choice for a relaxing beach vacation and snorkeling. George Town, the capital of the Cayman Islands is a busy port destination for cruise ships and offers a good variety of shopping and dining. One of the most popular attractions in Grand Cayman is its famous Seven Mile Beach. The beach is publicly accessible and can be walked its entire length past all of the major resorts. For a quieter afternoon on Grand Cayman, one need only head up to Rum Point on the northern end of the island to access some of the beautiful natural beaches enjoyed by locals. The less populated Little Cayman island is also good choice for those seeking a tranquil vacation and offers some of the best spots for diving. Cayman Brac appeals to the adventurous, offering good options for hiking, rock climbing, fishing and cave spelunking.
Last but certainly not least is Saint Lucia, perhaps one of the most breathtaking tropical destinations in the Caribbean. Surrounded by turquoise waters with the beautiful Piton Mountains as its backdrop, Saint Lucia truly has everything. With the Caribbean sea to the west and the Atlantic to the east, the tropical climate is moderated by northeast trade winds. Dry season is the busiest time for tourism and spans from January to April. The island is about 238 square miles (609 km) with a large portion dedicated to nature preserves and unspoiled tropical wildlife such as the Pigeon Island National Park. The most popular areas for tourism are the capital city of Castrie, Charlotte, the area around Marigot Bay and the town of Soufriere all located on the western side of the island. The international airport is located in Vieux Fort at the southern end of the island and also provides a few resort options. The official language is English, but the island has a strong French and Creole heritage. Saint Lucia is an excellent all around choice because it provides everything that anyone could want on their tropical vacation. It has perfect beaches, delicious cuisine and unique attractions like the Sulphur Springs, just south of Soufriere. For nature lovers, rainforest hikes are plentiful including the Piton Mountains which can be climbed easily in a day for spectacular views. Water activities, like snorkeling or scuba diving are second to none. This tropical paradise truly makes it possible to enjoy a secluded beach one day, experience a rainforest adventure the next, and top it off with great cuisine in world class accommodation.