The Top 10 Islands In The Caribbean
There are so many pristine islands in the Caribbean, how does one choose? Do you go to Barbados for calypso, cricket and Bajan food? Or St. Lucia with its gorgeous mountain peaks and intoxicating creole culture? Many American flock to the U.S. Virgin islands where you don't need a passport to escape to these island shangri las. Of course there's Jamaica, the epitome of roots, rock and reggae; the bank-packed Cayman islands are popular for those offshore investments - while Dominica is one eco-adventure lover's valhalla. Every Caribbean island has a unique character and flavor all to its own. Food, music, beaches, history, extreme cultural diversity - what's not to love about the Caribbean? Let's take a look at some of the islands to see if any particular destination or two are calling your name.
In the northern Caribbean, there's the Bahamas, a very short flight from Miami. The Bahamas is a great place to bring children, with Paradise Island's Atlantis Resort and the various water activities perfect for the entire family. The Bahamian culture is rich, with its booty-shakin' music and Junkanoo celebrations. And, some of the Caribbean's loveliest beaches are found on Nassau. Grand Bahama Island is a more affordable option where the vibe is chill and the beaches less crowded. The main towns are Freeport and Lucaya.
Here you'll find everything you need from an International Bazaar, a perfume factory, the Port Lucaya Marketplace, a local fish fry, restaurants, boutiques, dive shops, bars, hotels for all budgets - the place is brimming with activities if you wish to stay busy. If you prefer to take to Mother Nature, a treasure trove of possibilities is within a stone's throw from the beach.
Traveling south we reach Rastafarian culture, reggae music and turquoise blue waters sparkling in the middle of the Caribbean sea. This is Jamaica, mon - where you can do just about anything you please. It's the perfect destination to let go of all your cares and worries. The sun is shinin', the weather is sweet - make you want to move your dancin' feet. Bob Marley said it best, and you can do all this and more on the beautiful island of Jamaica. Culturally and historically, Jamaica is different. It's African roots are strong and in fact, the Jamaican capital of Kingston was once the epicenter of a slave trade where African slaves were dropped off in exchange for rum and sugar.
Today, the Africans are drinking that rum and enjoying their laid back culture on an island of sand, sea and mountains. These mountains (the Blue mountains) produce world-class coffee and you'll want to sample a cup every morning as you watch the sun rise. That is, if you're up that early. Jamaica's nightlife is part if its draw and the music scene here is vibrant. In fact, Jamaica produces an insanely large amount of talented musicians so you'll want to take in a show or two during your visit.
Moving further east, we land in Puerto Rico, another fascinating island to visit, with its architecturally stunning old town of San Juan, its upbeat and hip-gyrating salsa culture and acres of natural beauty, including miles and miles of golden beaches and the El Junque National Park, a tropical rain forest with flora, fauna, waterfalls, wildlife and more. Many top chefs have moved to Puerto Rico to open restaurants, so the food scene here is on the rise. The beaches are great fun, and for a fascinating water adventure, take a nighttime kayaking tour through the Bioluminescent Bay, where water comes to life with glowing dinoflagellates that thrive in the largely unpolluted bay.
U.S. Virgin Islands
Just east of Puerto Rico are the Virgin Islands. St. John, one of the cleanest and most pristine of the U.S. Virgin Islands is a beloved place of natural beauty for many. The millionaire, Laurence Rockefeller fell in love with the place in the early 1950s and purchased much of the land, built the beautiful Caneel Bay Resort and sold much of the land to the U.S. government. Now that land is a national park, and two-thirds of the entire island plus 5650 underwater acres are national park.
Just a bit further down the string of islands are Antigua and its smaller cousin, Barbuda. Antigua is a beautiful little tropical island floating in the middle of the Leeward Islands in the Eastern Caribbean, just seventeen miles north of the equator. As you can imagine, warm, tropical waters and an endless string of white sand beaches make Antigua a quintessential Caribbean paradise. It's known as the sunniest of the Eastern Caribbean islands with average annual rainfalls of only 45 inches. Temperatures year-round fall in a picture perfect range of 75 degrees in the winter to 85 degrees in the summer months. Antigua was discovered in 1784 by Admiral Horatio Nelson and remains one of Britain's most beloved tropical gems in the New World.
St. Kitts and Nevis
Then there's the lesser-known islands St. Kitts and Nevis, which attracts the rich and famous. Nevis is the quieter of the two islands with its lush landscape and opulence of natural beauty. It provides visitors with such seclusion you may never want to leave. There's not even a single streetlight on the entire island. St. Kitts is home to Basseterre, a bustling town of hotels and restaurants. Frigate Bay is a popular spot for all sorts of water activities. The Brimstone Hill Fortress was named a UNESCO world heritage site in 1999. Built by slaves under the reign of the British, this military complex gives travelers a sneak peek into the less than paradisical history of the Caribbean.
Guadeloupe consists of two islands strung together by a mangrove swamp. An island that marries French and Caribbean culture, Guadeloupe is home to a laundry list of little beach towns, each with their own character. Guadeloupe is also home to the Jacques Cousteau underwater reserve. Dominica, St. Lucia and Martinique are all accessible by boat. Opt for this means of transport if you're coming to or going from one of Guadeloupe's neighboring islands.
Dominica is known as the nature island, where hiking, waterfalls, jungles, bird-watching, swimming holes, diving, snorkeling and kayaking abound. The ancient forests of the Morne Trois Pitons National Park is a site travelers to Dominica really shouldn't miss. There's the mystical Boiling Lake and awe-inspiring Trafalgar Falls, a duo of twin waterfalls which are easily accessible to tourists.
Martinique, another French-influenced paradise, is best for foodies, beach lovers and francophiles. It's an island where elegant Gallic culture meets Caribbean chill. The island was formed by a volcano, so there's plenty of hiking and some mountainous terrain on the northern part of the island. Surfers typically find themselves catching waves at Presqu'ile de Caravelle. You'll want to dine and shop in the sophisticated harbor town of Fort-de-France, then take a day trip to lounge on one of the most beautiful beaches in all of the Caribbean - Les Salines, which lies on the southern tip of the island where land is largely undeveloped.
Just south of Martinique lies the beautiful island of St. Lucia, a mountainous masterpiece of natural wonder, and home to volcanic mountains, rain forests and the iconic Pitons that majestically rise from the sea to touch the heavens. Sure, the beaches and hot springs are lovely, but it's the West Indian culture that really cease to amaze on St. Lucia. Take a catamaran trip to Anse Chastanet, a cozy bay where you'll feel a world away from civilization.
Barbados, just a bit south and to the east of St. Lucia, is an intelligent, developed island in the southern Caribbean and also the most British of all of them. There's cricket, which is the island's passionate national past time. There's afternoon tea - another national favorite. There's also fancy dinners to which one dresses to impress. And yet, with over 70 miles of pristine coastline, Barbados is still distinctly Caribbean in nature. One might call it a sort of sophisticated Caribbean island. The people are well-educated (with a 98% literacy rate) and its capital Bridgetown is cosmopolitan and many of its people well-heeled. Barbados is one unique island, and most definitely worth-seeing.
Trinidad and Tobago
South of Barbados lies Trinidad and Tobago, the dual island-nation where its version of Carnival, or Mardi Gras, is world-famous. Soca music, white-sand beaches that almost touch South America, the limbo, calypso, chutney music and steel pan - these are all native to these sweet and spicy isles, which are also some of the wealthiest in the Caribbean sea due to petroleum and gas reserves.
Aruba, part of the Netherlands, lies in the southern Caribbean Sea, a mere eighteen miles from Venezuela. It was believed to be originally settled by the Caquetios Amerinds of the Arawak tribe who came to the island from Venezuela in their escape from the Caribs. Today, it is home to a population of mixed ethnicity - 80% black/white and Caribbean Amerindian and 20% other ethnicities. Dutch is the official language, along with Papiamento, a creole language heard on Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire. Culturally speaking, Aruba is diverse, with over ninety different nationalities living here.
Curacao is a bedazzling island in the Dutch Antilles, where the bustling capital of Willemstad offers beautiful architecture and lovely museums. Check out the Museum Kura Hulanda, part of the Kura Hulanda Hotel. This is one of the best museums in all of the Caribbean. It documents the gruesome history of the Caribbean slave trade. When you've had enough of the busy traffic and gritty urban life of Willemstad, head to Curacao's west coast beaches known for their excellent scuba diving.
Bonaire is known the world over for windsurfing and diving. Its entire coral reefed coastline is a national park and much of the island is dedicated to diving. The island has a small-town feel so be prepared to feel right at home. It's much sleepier than its Dutch Antilles neighbors so come here when you're looking for a place to unwind for a few days.
Vacations to the Caribbean are as vast and varied as the many cultures and landscapes that dot its palm-fringed beaches. No matter where you choose to unload your care and worries, you won't be disappointed. Enjoy the Caribbean and its many, many wonders!
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