Caribbean holidays

Experience Caribbean

Best Places to Visit

With 28 countries and nearly 7,000 individual islands, it's not surprising that the Caribbean has something for everyone.

A former British colony, The Bahamas has retained a lot of its British heritage. The capital Nassau is known for its luxury resorts, with a number of casinos and golf courses on offer. In recent years, the Bahamas has started 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 stunning beaches sitting alongside designer shops and all-inclusive resorts. This is a perfect combination for many tourists looking for a memorable break and a souvenir of their trip too. 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 for the rich and famous. Although they are not the most idyllic islands in the Caribbean for scenery, the clear waters and stunning marine life make them a perfect destination for snorkelling and diving enthusiasts.

St. Barts is another destination that is popular with A-listers; however, mere mortals are also welcomed to visit the pristine beaches. The best way to enjoy Jamaica's beautiful Caribbean beaches and heritage is on an all-inclusive hotel package.

Although many 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 that you will certainly remember for many years to come. As always with island nations, water sports rank high on the list of activities, so head to the coast to experience everything from scuba diving and snorkelling to surfing, sailing and even the option of a submarine tour in some locations.

Top Landmarks

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 spot. One of the best-known countries for snorkelling is the Bahamas, particularly around the capital of Nassau. Here, there is an abundance of colourful wildlife and stunning reefs. Belize is another excellent diving location, boasting the longest reef in the Caribbean.

However, the Caribbean is known for more than just its crystal clear waters. The El Yunque Rainforest in Puerto Rico is perfect for taking in the natural beauty, with many species of plants and exotic wildlife to explore. 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 and the Vinales Valley – the latter a breath-taking landscape of limestone mountains.

In Haiti, there is the National History Park where those seeking national heritage will find Citadel le Laferriere, San Souci Palace and the Ramiers buildings. Two of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Entertainment

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 favourite 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 famous cocktail.

Jamaica has an incredible live music scene, and nearly 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.

Dining Out

Thanks to the historical 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 some staple ingredients that are common to the region's nations. Beans, bell peppers, chickpeas and tomatoes feature heavily, along with coconut, and most dishes are 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 many vegetables alongside goat meat, it is a hearty and flavoursome meal. Pelau is popular in many Caribbean countries, too. Sometimes referred to as cook-up, this chicken or beef stew is mixed with caramelised sugar and several spices, and then served up with a healthy portion of rice. Callaloo, a mixed vegetable dish that often contains okra, is served on many Caribbean islands and is cooked with a range of spices that differ depending on the country.

Beach

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.

Romance

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.

Family

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.

Adventure

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.

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Need to know

Language

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. Depending on your destination there will be a wide-scope of regional dialects, but it's fair to expect English to be understood widely, especially in the main tourist resorts.

Currency

Several currencies are used throughout the islands; however, the US dollar remains the most widely used – even where it isn’t the official currency. 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. If you're wary of spending on plastic abroad, a foreign currency card is an alternative, and these can be purchased prepaid before travel and topped up as you go.

Visas

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 the 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.

Climate

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 and is far more likely to see wet weather. During the summer months, 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.

Main Airports

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 regular flights. Holidaymakers planning to visit several islands can fly into a big destination and then move from island to island by boat. Flying directly to any of the Caribbean countries from the UK is possible.

Flight Options

From London-Gatwick to Cuba, there are weekly flights from 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 many 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.

Travel Advice

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 skyrocket so it can be cheaper to fly to one of the smaller islands such as Barbados during this period.

Other Transport Options

Visitors can fly to the United States and then sail to the islands. There are several 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.

Getting Around

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.

Bus

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.

Car

Budget and Europcar both provide rentals 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.

Air

Flying between Caribbean countries is possible, with the majority having 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.

MAP

FACTS

  1. The Caribbean includes the islands found entirely within the Caribbean Sea, along with those on the edge of the North Atlantic, and the Caribbean coastlines of mainland countries such as Belize and Venezuela too.
  2. A group of ten English-speaking territories formed the Federation of the West Indies from 1958 to 1962, and these communities continue to form the West Indies cricket team despite the short-lived nature of the federation itself.
  3. The two different ways to stress the pronunciation in the word ‘Caribbean’ - either CaribBEan or CarRIBBean - are both used in the region, and neither is more 'right' or 'wrong' than the other.

FACTS

  1. The Caribbean includes the islands found entirely within the Caribbean Sea, along with those on the edge of the North Atlantic, and the Caribbean coastlines of mainland countries such as Belize and Venezuela too.
  2. A group of ten English-speaking territories formed the Federation of the West Indies from 1958 to 1962, and these communities continue to form the West Indies cricket team despite the short-lived nature of the federation itself.
  3. The two different ways to stress the pronunciation in the word ‘Caribbean’ - either CaribBEan or CarRIBBean - are both used in the region, and neither is more 'right' or 'wrong' than the other.

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