The southern Caribbean is a teal delight, with an occasional peppering of unique islands.
They have varying terrains and culture, making each a surprising find for intrepid travelers and cruisers who go beyond the typical ports of Mexico and the Bahamas.
We’ve been to Puerto Rico, Aruba, Curacao, and Turks and Caicos once, and twice visited St. Martin, St. Thomas, St. John, St. Kitts, St. Lucia and Barbados.
Our two faves, hands down, are St. Kitts, St. Lucia and Barbados. Aruba and Curacao are also nice, and we enjoyed our extended stays in Puerto Rico – both before and after Hurricane Maria.
Here’s a quick sampling of the highlights of each:
1. Puerto Rico: Puerto Rico is resilient in how it bounces back from hurricanes and earthquakes. It has a historic downtown that has an old world flair, Spanish forts, and a rainforest – El Yunque National Forest – that’s out of this world tropical.
2. Curacao: This island is arid and its cove-like beaches carved out of cliffs are full of coral and warm, warm Caribbean water. What we loved most? Swimming with turtles, seeing flamingos in the wild, and walking into the colorful downtown over the floating bridge.
3. Turks and Caicos: This chain of gorgeous islands is high on beautiful beaches and low on tourism and things to do other than watersports. That’s OK – we found relaxing on a beach away from the crowds and petting wild horses and donkeys to be more than enough for a day here.
4. Aruba: Aruba is a hot, desert-like island that’s full of casinos, resorts and water-oriented activities. We’d recommend snorkeling shipwrecks and reefs.
5. St. Thomas: This island is full of sunshine and things to do. From a pirate and shipwreck museum with a dead ringer for Jack Sparrow roaming the place, to jet-skiing through the turquoise waters, there is plenty to keep you occupied. Our faves: Skyride to Paradise Point (here’s a link) and hanging out at local (not the popular bay) beaches.
6. St. John: Just off of St. Thomas, this U.S. Virgin Island is more off the grid than its big brother, and much more relaxing. Our fave: riding in open-air buses to local beaches around this national park.
7. Barbados: Barbados is oven hot and arid, yet has so much to offer – green monkeys in the wild, botanical gardens, beaches with turtles and great beaches. We particularly enjoy Barbados Wildlife Reserve at monkey feeding time (early afternoon), Harrison’s Cave (here’s a link), Hunte’s Garden, Mount Gay Rum tour (or just stay in the bar and get a rum punch that’ll knock your socks off) and Bathsheba beach’s wild Atlantic waves.
8. St. Kitts: St. Kitts has jungles, sugar cane fields and also more arid foothills that descend into turquoise bays and black and powder white sand beaches. We recommend holding baby monkeys (yes, we know… but holding one is awesome), Caribelle Batik, Carambola Beach Club, and Wingfield Estate‘s 17th century sugar plantation ruins.
9. St. Lucia: This island nation is a tropical, mountainous paradise that has gorgeous beaches and residents who make phenomenal handcrafted goods. Drive over to a view of the Pitons, with stops at a banana plantation and market by the water, and a return stop at Marigot Bay for a ferry across to the beach.
10. St. Martin: St. Martin is split between the Dutch and the French side and the poverty and decimation from hurricanes is evident on both sides of this island. Water sports are recommended, or pulling up a chair at Mullet Bay for a day in the sun on island time. The best we’ve found? Parrot Ville Bird Sanctuary (here’s a link).