Unique Features of Caribbean Islands
The Caribbean, often referred to as a paradise on Earth, is a region renowned for its stunning beaches, crystal clear waters, vibrant culture, and diverse landscapes. This tropical haven comprises numerous islands, each with its own unique charm and character. Let’s explore the highlights of various islands to discover the key differences that make each of them a distinctive destination for travelers seeking sun, sea, adventure and relaxation.
JAMAICA – the island of reggae and rhythms
Jamaica, birthplace of reggae music and home to the legendary Bob Marley, is a vibrant and lively island. Visitors can explore the bustling streets of Kingston, unwind on the stunning beaches of Montego Bay, or hike in the Blue Mountains. The island’s culture is rich and welcoming, with a blend of Afro-Caribbean influences and a laid-back attitude. The Blue Lagoon on the northeastern side of the island is fed by the salt water of the Caribbean and underwater freshwater streams causing the color of the lagoon to shift from bright turquoise to a rich jade green. Well known to locals, it has yet to be invaded by hordes of tourists. Hiking the 600 foot cascading waterfall at Dunns River Falls is a must, although you won’t be alone as it’s on everyone’s list. For a little historical adventure, visit Rose Hall in Montego Bay for a glimpse into the plantation’s past including the legend of the plantation’s resident ghost, Annie Palmer. You’ll have to take a boat if you want to visit Floyd’s Pelican Bar for seafood, as fresh as it gets. And of course, there’s Margaritaville and Rick’s Cafe where you can watch the cliff divers sail off the Negril Cliffs to the clear pool 85 feet below. Try it yourself if you’re up for an adrenaline rush. Jamaica is also an excellent choice if you want to snorkel or dive in the coral reefs in the Montego Bay area.
BAHAMAS – a water wonderland
The Bahamas, an archipelago of over 700 islands and cays, is a water lover’s dream. Here you’ll have some of the world’s most spectacular diving and snorkeling opportunities with crystal clear waters revealing colorful marine life. The Andros Barrier Reef is the third largest in the world, sheltering hundreds of species of fish and other sea creatures. Visit Ocean Atlas, the world’s largest underwater statue, accessible to snorkelers and divers alike. The capital, Nassau, hosts Junkanoo parades, celebrating Bahamian history and culture. You can also take a food tour in Nassau that will introduce you to island classics like conch fritters, rum cake, and chicken souse. The Outer Islands are more secluded and laid back, but where else can you swim with pigs (Exuma), relax on a pink sand beach (Harbour Island), go birdwatching to see pink flamingos and many other species (Great Inagua Island), explore shipwrecks and experience iguana encounters (Long Island), and visit the Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve (Eleuthera).
Cuba – take a step back in time
Old Havana (La Habana Vieja) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with plazas and squares and cobblestoned streets brimming with pedestrians (no motorized vehicles allowed), markets, shops and restaurants. You’ll want to walk the Malecon for beautiful sunset views and experience the nightlife with demonstrations of salsa dancing and heart pounding musical entertainment. Visiting the Vinales Valley, you’ll see Cuba’s dramatic karst rock formations contrasted with vast tobacco farms producing the fine tobacco used in iconic Cuban cigars.The resort town of Varadero is popular with those seeking water sports along the sugar sand beach.
Don’t forget to book a classic car tour to really take you back in time, driving vintage beauties like Chevy Bel Airs, Thunderbirds and foreign cars too. Barbados has its rum punch – Cuba has the rum mojito and the cuba libre which you can enjoy with local favorites – tostones and ropa vieja (fried plantains and spicy shredded beef and beans.)
Dominican Republic – natural beauty and outdoor adventure
Hiking is one of the more popular things to do in the Dominican Republic as there are so many varied landscapes to explore. The Samana Peninsula is home to the El Limon Waterfall which can be reached by hiking through the jungle where you’ll encounter animals and birds to entertain you along the way. Another option is to reach the falls on a guided tour by horseback. A hike to the top of Pico Duarte gives you a stunning view of surrounding islands, as it is the highest peak in the Caribbean. The Los Haitises National Park can be reached by boat where you can hike limestone formations and mangrove plantations and explore caves carved out by the ocean. The Punta Cana Eco Park is another popular attraction where native animals and birds are protected and can be observed in a more controlled environment. Visit Santo Domingo in the Zona Colonial, the first European settlement in the Caribbean. A meal of plantains is popular here also – their version (Mofongo) is a savory dish of mashed plantains with garlic and other ingredients. Sancocho is the island’s signature soup, hearty and delicious, especially when washed down with a Cibao Pale Ale!
St. Lucia – a secluded, romantic getaway
It’s not a surprise that many newlyweds choose St. Lucia for their honeymoon. Beautiful luxury resorts featuring private suites and pools abound on the island. Hiking the Pitons (twin volcanic peaks that are iconic symbols of the island) can be a bit daunting even for experienced climbers, but once accomplished the views are amazing. Less demanding are the Tet Paul Nature Trail and the Pigeon Island National Landmark, the home of 18th century Fort Rodney. You can get up close to an active volcano at Sulphur Springs to enjoy a healing mud bath. If the rotten egg sulphur smell turns you off, you can try the soothing mineral baths at Diamond Falls Botanical Gardens, featuring a rainbow colored waterfall and stunning tropical foliage. Spend an afternoon at Marigot Beach where several Hollywood movies have been filmed. Reduit Bay is another popular beach with more in the way of amenities like water sports, bars and beach bistros. And the food? Specialties are salted cod for breakfast, Callaloo soup, spicy and creamy, for lunch, and Piton beer at every meal accompanied by baskets of fresh cassava bread.
Grenada – the spice (and chocolate!) island
Grenada’s capital city, St. George’s, has been called the most beautiful harbor town in the Caribbean. The brightly colored buildings and colonial charm make a walking tour through the narrow streets a pleasant change from non-stop beach days. Visit the Belmont Estate for a spice plantation tour. Ginger, pimento, turmeric and nutmeg are all grown and harvested here. The estate has its dark side as many enslaved people were held on the plantation to work the sugar crop until emancipation in 1834. Close by is the Grenada Chocolate Company where you can watch the process of producing their world famous chocolate bars from beginning to end. Back at the beach, visit the Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park which can be viewed by divers, snorkelers and passengers on glass bottom boats. Close by is Grand Anse Beach, a two mile white sand beach overlooking the calm waters of a sheltered bay. The Grand Etang National Park and Forest Reserve is a great place to see exotic rainforest animals like armadillos, mona monkeys and mockingbirds. Favorite Grenadian food specialties include “oil down” (one pot meal with breadfruit, meat and coconut milk), roti (curried meat wrap), and nutmeg ice cream. And to drink? Some River Antoine rum, produced in strengths of 138-150 proof! Enjoy in moderation!
Puerto Rico – American convenience, Caribbean charm
Old San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico, dates back to the 16th century when the Spanish Empire held control of the city. Beautiful Spanish architecture is evidenced in popular landmarks like the 17th century forts El Morro and Castillo San Cristobal. Take a boat tour of San Juan Bay to view the impressive skyline while being entertained by onboard musicians. Visit a few of the public plazas like Plaza de Armas where the locals hang out to enjoy street food, street music, and bargain shopping. The Botanical Garden at the University of Puerto Rico is a good place to step away from crowds and connect with nature in the impressive Japanese garden and sculpture garden. Even better, visit El Yunque National Forest for hikes through a verdant rainforest on a treetop walkway and photo ops at the many waterfalls and panoramic views of surrounding islands. Visit the nearby islands of Culebra and Vieques where the bays light up at night with bioluminescent microorganisms. The remote beaches on these small islands are perfect for snorkeling and just plain relaxing. The Puerto Ricans (like the Dominicans) enjoy mofongo as well as lechon (roast pig) and the side dish arroz con gandules (rice and pigeon peas). Have a pina colada made with Puerto Rican rum as you watch the sunset over Flamenco Beach on Culebra.
Each of these Caribbean islands offers a unique blend of natural beauty, cultural richness, and mouthwatering cuisine, making them a paradise for travelers seeking diverse experiences. Whether you’re exploring historic Havana in Cuba, hiking to waterfalls in Grenada, or relaxing on the beaches of Barbados, you’ll find something to delight your senses in the Caribbean.