Caribbean holidaysThe sample prices are per person based on two people travelling!
Spanish is the official language of Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, while French is spoken in Haiti and St Martin. However, by far the most commonly spoken language is English, which is the official language of 24 Caribbean nations, including Jamaica, the Bahamas and Barbados.
Several currencies are used; however, the US dollar is the official currency on a number of Caribbean islands and even those islands where it isn’t the official currency often accept them. There are ATMs across all of the major islands, but the most common place to find them is in the national capital. Visitors may struggle to find an ATM at remote beach resorts, but most hotels of size have them and all accept foreign cards.
UK nationals do not require a visa to visit any of the Caribbean islands; however, the length of stay granted varies depending on the country. Islands such as Belize permit a 30-day stay, while three months are given to British citizens visiting the Cayman Islands. In a majority of cases, there is no visa charge, with the exception of the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, which charge between US$10 and US$15 for an entry card.
Although each island has a slightly different climate, they all boast plenty of sun, long summers and mild winters. Aruba is dry with a desert-like landscape, while Dominica has plenty of lush green scenery but is far more likely to see wet weather. During the summer, April to September, the hottest spot is the British Virgin Islands, with temperatures around 31ºC. In winter, November to January, Aruba is the warmest country, with temperatures never falling below 24ºC.
All of the islands in the Caribbean have airports; however, the main airports in Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico have the most weekly flights. Holidaymakers planning to visit a number of islands can fly into a big destination and then move from island to island by boat. Flying direct to any of the Caribbean countries from the UK is possible as all have charted flights.
From London-Gatwick to Cuba, there are weekly flights with Virgin Atlantic and Air Jamaica. Air Jamaica also offer flights from London-Gatwick direct to Jamaica. Virgin Atlantic flies from London-Gatwick and Manchester to Grenada, Barbados and Saint Lucia. British Airways flies to a number of the islands from both London-Gatwick and Manchester, including Trinidad and Tobago. Direct flights from London take around 8 hours to Barbados and 10 hours to Cuba.
Cuba is the largest and most populated island in the Caribbean, so there are more flights here throughout the year than to the other islands. In peak season, June to August, fares can sky rocket so it can be cheaper to fly to one of the smaller islands such as Barbados during this period. Virgin Atlantic and British Airways sometimes have off-season deals, while local airlines such as Air Jamaica are cheaper on the whole.
Visitors can fly to the United States and then sail to the islands. There are a number of cruises, such as Royal Caribbean International Cruises, that leave Fort Lauderdale in Florida and dock in the Bahamas. There are also many local ferries that run between the island nations so it is easy to island hop.
The best way of getting around varies from island to island. The larger islands, such as Cuba and Puerto Rico, have good bus services with extensive networks. Many Caribbean countries have wide-ranging, reasonably well-maintained road networks; however, the Bahamas is made up of many islands, meaning boat is often the best way to get between places. Flights between the Caribbean countries are reasonably priced.
Flying within Caribbean countries is usually only an option between islands, with the majority having just one airport. It is also possible to fly from one Caribbean nation to another. Caribbean Airlines flies to and from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, St Lucia, Barbados and Antigua. It offers a Caribbean ticket which allows for a number of stopovers in different Caribbean countries.
All of the large islands have bus companies that cover the country, such as Viazul, the bus service in Cuba. Viazul is a reliable company with comfortable, air-conditioned vehicles. However, Anguilla, as one of the smaller Caribbean islands, has no public transport service. Buses are typically cheap but slow, yet they are a good way to take in the scenery.
Budget and Europcar both rent cars on all of the major Caribbean islands, but local companies often have the best deals. Rental places can be found at all of the airports and in many of the big towns; however, it isn’t possible to take a car from one island to another without prior permission. Visitors should be aware that the side traffic drives on is not consistent across the Caribbean.
With 28 countries and nearly 7,000 individual islands, it’s not surprising that the Caribbean has something for everyone.
The Bahamas was formally a British colony and has retained a very British feel. The capital Nassau is known for its luxury resorts, with a number of casinos and golf courses on offer. In recent years, the Bahamas is starting to focus on eco-tourism, meaning natural spots on Grand Bahama are becoming popular among wildlife enthusiasts.
The US Virgin Islands offer a more upmarket vacation, with the standard stunning beaches on offer alongside designer shops and all-inclusive resorts. The exception to this is St John, one of the smallest islands in the group. The entire island is a national park with a laid-back feel - perfect for a taste of seclusion.
The British Virgin Islands have more rugged scenery, with mountains and lush forests providing an interesting background to the white sandy beaches.
Due to their notoriously lenient tax laws, the Cayman Islands have become the playground of the rich and famous. Although they are not the best islands in the Caribbean for scenery, the clear waters and plentiful marine life make them perfect places for snorkelling and diving enthusiasts.
St Barts is another destination that is popular with A-listers; however, mere mortals can also visit and enjoy celebrity spotting on the pristine beaches here. The best way to enjoy Jamaica’s beautiful Caribbean beaches and heritage is with an all-inclusive hotel package.
Although all of the islands offer fantastic carnivals and events, Trinidad and Tobago is known as the number one place to enjoy the traditional and world-renowned Caribbean celebrations in late February and early March. Visitors should pack their body-paint and feathered headdress if they plan to join in the parade.
The Rio Camuy Cave Park in Puerto Rico is a must-visit. Here, visitors can dive into the underwater caves which have been formed over thousands of years. The water is warm and inviting, and the experience is one of a kind.
Those seeking adventure can head to Jamaica. Here, visitors will find the Great River, which is perfect for tubing. Heading along the river, visitors can admire the natural flora and fauna, and stunning scenery that Jamaica is known for. It’s also possible to stop off at a bar along the way to enjoy some traditional Jamaican rum.
Snorkelling across the Caribbean is world-renowned and anyone keen to have a go will find it hard to end up in a bad location. One of the best known countries for snorkelling is the Bahamas, particularly around the capital of Nassau. Here, there is an abundance of wildlife and stunning reefs. Belize is another excellent diving location, boasting the longest reef in the Caribbean.
The Caribbean is known for more than just its crystal clear waters. The El Yunque Rainforest in Puerto Rico is perfect for taking in natural beauty, with many species of plants and no end of wildlife to enjoy. There are a number of easily navigated natural trails through the rainforest, many of which pass the famous Dunn River Falls, and natural pools where hikers can take a quick dip.
Cuba boasts many UNESCO World Heritage sites including the historic town of Havana along with the Vinales Valley, a breathtaking landscape of limestone mountains.
In Haiti, there is the National History Park where those seeking heritage will find Citadelle Laferriere, San Souci Palace and the Ramiers buildings, with the citadel and palace a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Entertainment in the Caribbean is all about the nightlife, and finding somewhere to dance the night away is easy. However, Havana, in Cuba, is easily the best place to find bars and clubs playing a wide variety of music. A popular place in Cuba is Disco Ayala. Famous for its mojitos, this cave bar hosts a number of cabaret shows, many with a pre-Columbian Indian theme.
Cuba is renowned for its rum, so having a few drinks of this famous export is a must. La Bodeguita del Medio, in Havana, is not only known for stocking plenty of the local produce, but for at one time being a popular haunt of famous figures including Fidel Castro, Nat King Cole and Ernest Hemmingway, all of whom have signed the walls of the bar. The bohemian atmosphere here is popular with locals and tourists alike, and the mojito is easily the most popular cocktail.
Jamaica has an amazing live music scene, and pretty much every bar here has live music every night of the week. MXIII in Negril, Jamaica, is the best place for reggae. This venue hosts legendary concerts, as does Hotel Samsara. There is a show every night of the week in peak season, with many big names performing. Many other styles of music are on offer too.
Gran Teatro, in Havana, Cuba, is home of the Cuban National Opera. Opened in 1838, this theatre has three concert halls which see performances throughout the year. The acclaimed ballet group, Nacional de Cuba, perform here and the venue also shows classic films.
There are cinemas in all of the countries in the Caribbean, and although the majority of films are shown in English, some are dubbed, so cinema-goers should check beforehand.
Thanks to the historic diversity across the Caribbean, the cuisine is a fusion incorporating African, Indian and European influences, along with Native Indian twists. Many dishes have been adapted over the years to create a distinct cuisine.
Although each Caribbean country has its own dishes and flavours to be sampled, there are a number of staple ingredients that are common across the region’s nations. Beans, bell peppers, chickpeas and tomatoes feature heavily, along with coconut, and most everything is served with rice. Curries are popular, and as all of the Caribbean countries are made up of islands, the seafood is a must-try.
A signature dish of many of the islands, including Montserrat and St Kitts, is Caribbean goat stew. Containing a number of vegetables alongside goat meat, it is a hearty meal. Pelau is popular in many Caribbean countries, too. Sometimes referred to as cook-up, this chicken or beef stew is mixed with caramalised sugar and a number of spices, and then served up with mountains of rice. Callaloo, a mixed vegetable dish that often contains okra, is served on many Caribbean islands and is cooked with different spices depending on the country.
The desserts are a real example of the mixed cuisines, with a prime example being black cake. A Caribbean take on the English Christmas pudding, this heavy dessert is well worth a try. Rum cake is popular too, especially in the Cayman Islands. Made using locally distilled rum, it’s enjoyed by locals along with tourists.
There are a number of fast food places in the big Caribbean countries, while spicy chicken places are especially popular. The widest selection of eateries is usually found in the capital or resorts, with most beach hotels having at least one restaurant.
It’s difficult to head to the Caribbean and not find a stunning stretch of beach to recline on. St Barts boasts pristine white sands, while many of the beaches in Jamaica are ideal for enjoying a beach barbeque, which may well turn into a beach party come sunset. Seven Mile Beach in the Cayman Islands is one of the longest stretches, and it is easy to feel as if you are the only soul around here.
Many of the small countries in the Caribbean are perfect for a romantic getaway, as the deserted islands mean you can find seclusion for the perfect holiday. Parrot Cay, in Turks and Caicos, is a private island with a mile-long beach, a number of ocean view villas and a world-renowned spa. This island is the final word in luxury and perfect for a romantic break.
The Bahamas’ Paradise Island is a perfect place for children to get up close with wildlife such as sea lions and stingrays. Parents can take in the huge Atlantis resort while kids enjoy the 11 pools, seven water slides and lazy river at the water park or Dolphin Cay and the Lagoon.
One of the best countries in the Caribbean for those seeking adventure has to be Belize. Here, it’s possible to zip line through the expansive jungle. There’s sea kayaking and white-water rafting along with mountain biking, rock climbing and caving. There is also the standard, stunning crystal clear water for scuba diving and snorkelling. Any thrill-seeker will be spoilt for choice.