Each year around 30 million tourists visit the Islands of the Caribbean, more than 50% of those visitors are from the United States, with the rest being made up of mostly Canadians and Europeans. The appeal is obvious, escaping the cold winter months to a warm neighbour that isn’t too far from home. But despite the distance, the Caribbean also offers lots of appeal for Aussie travellers.
The island nations of the Caribbean Sea present some of the world’s most stunning beaches, vibrant cultures and welcoming people. The string of islands stretching south west from Miami to the northern coast of Venezuela have beach weather year round; but they’re good for more than just a flop’n’ drop, with a long history resulting in a rich assortment of vibrant cultures and colonial traditions. Settled by various European nations, each destination is a unique mix of cultures resulting in distinct experiences from island to island. And despite the recent hurricanes ploughing through, the region still has plenty to offer, writes Ben Piper.
Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, is a charming city that brings together old-world elegance and the convenience of a modern day city. The laid-back vibe with a special island rhythm is something that has to be experienced to be understood. The streets are lined with beautiful colonial buildings, yet the beachside city offers all the modern day comforts you’d expect from such an active metropolis. But if you’re looking for something a little less urban, the Bahamas are made up of more than 700 different islands, all surrounded by some of the world’s most pristine beaches.
The Caymans offer a large selection of world class accommodation, nightlife and adventure. First settled by shipwrecked sailors, you can experience the colourful culture of the islands’ seafaring ancestors. Comprised of three islands, most of the population and activity is on the largest island Grand Cayman, where you’ll find much of the shopping, dining, nightlife and accommodation is all conveniently located and easy to explore. However all of the islands have stunning beaches, scenery, and natural beauty. Surrounded by healthy coral reefs and unique ocean topography they offer the ideal conditions for snorkelling and diving.
Arguably the most famous of all of the Caribbean islands, Jamaica offers a combination of big, bustling cities, to slow, small towns, but all of it is beautiful and uniquely Jamaican. The home of Bob Marley, Usain Bolt and the infamous Bobsleigh team, the main appeal of Jamaica is its diversity. This is reflected in the people, culture and destination. From the pristine beaches of the island’s north, to the rugged towering mountains of the south coast, to the reggae, rum and rafting in between, ‘Jamaica has it all!’ With countless cultural and natural attractions, not to mention the kind, laid back people, Jamaica is not one to miss.
Because Puerto Rico is a part of the US, it makes sense that it’s the regional hub for flights from the America, making it one of the most convenient Caribbean Islands to get to. The island is home to golf courses, casinos, a whole range of hotels, and of course hundreds of beaches, and there is no limit to the variety of activities on offer. With a long Spanish history, the capital San Juan has a distinct European feel with art galleries, boutiques and fine dining all within walking distance, but the rest of the island is unmistakably West Indian, with the lush mountains sprinkled with old world plantations and surrounded by almost 450km of coastline. Puerto Rico is the perfect mix of Latin flavour and Caribbean cool.
St Martin/St Maarten
St Martin is the smallest island in the world that is shared by two sovereignties, with the northern Half (St Martin) occupied by the French, and the southern (St Maarten) by the Dutch. This blend of very different European cultures and Caribbean charm creates a unique experience. The dining, which ranges from traditional French bistros to Caribbean rib houses serving chicken, ribs and fresh lobster, is second to none, as are the destination’s shopping and beaches.
The retreat of the rich and famous, “St Barths” as it’s known, can be described as small, sophisticated and sexy. The perfect place to wind down, with plenty of beautiful beaches, and some of the best dining options in the Caribbean, it’s impossible not to relax here. But the thing that makes it especially unique is its intrinsic French flair. Walking through the streets of the island’s capital Gustavia, you can smell fresh croissants wafting out of cafs and patisseries. ‘The Paris of the Caribbean’, St Barths offers the best in both elegance and relaxation.
Barbados offers two very different coastlines. The rugged eastern coast offers big waves and winds, making it a highly popular surfing and windsurfing destination for the adventurous traveller. Contrastingly the western coast offers pink sand beaches and gentle, clear waters for those who prefer a slower pace. In between is a lush rolling landscape with old sugar plantations and towns full of character. There are still very recognisable elements of British colonisation; from English architecture, to an unbridled passion for cricket, to Trafalgar Square in the capital city Bridgetown. The perfect mix of stately colonialism and island casual, Barbados is one destination you’ll never forget.
There’s plenty more to the Caribbean, with hundreds of islands, all with unique and colourful personalities. With such a diverse mix of sights, people, history and culture, there’s something here to suit anyone’s needs.