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Caribbean vacations seem to be at the top of just about everyone’s bucket list. Turquoise water, palm trees, white sand–all the stuff you only know to exist on computer screensavers. For everyone who is ready to pull the trigger on a vacation of a lifetime but unsure of where to go, we answer the question what are the best Caribbean islands?
1. Puerto Rico
The island lacks little. Historical sites, excellent food choices, and neighborhoods with vibrant nightlife options are plentiful. And of course, the beaches are excellent. From surfing beaches with solid swells to calmer seas ideal for snorkeling, Puerto Rican beaches fit the bill. Not to mention, Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. territory means there’s no passport requirement and you don’t have to exchange your dollars.
2. Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic might offer the most diverse range of activities of all the Caribbean islands. From mountains to deserts to beaches, you won’t get hit by the beach boredom that occasionally plagues Caribbean travelers. The country’s economy is the largest in the Caribbean and has shown rapid growth over the past few years.
If you are truly looking to get away and you want a slower pace, Vieques is perfect. An island with a population under 10,000, you won’t find the super resorts or crowds that plague some of the other Caribbean islands. Relaxing on the beach by day and kayaking in the bioluminescent Mosquito Bay at night is not a bad combination.
4. Saint Barthélemy (St. Barts)
Another option for the “escape the crowd” type, St. Barthelemy is one of the more upscale Caribbean islands, with excellent dining and shopping. Endless beach options give it an edge over other islands.
5. Trinidad and Tobago
Both islands offer plenty of activities–both by night and by day. Fill your days with rainforest hiking and scuba diving, and keep things going at night exploring the island’s nightlife. It’s also the wealthiest Caribbean country by the measure of per capita GDP.
6. St. Maarten/St. Martin
The double name isn’t just us making sure we spell it right, this island is actually divided right down the middle. The northern portion is a French-controlled territory known as Saint Martin and below it is the Dutch territory of Sint Maarten. Easily the most famous place on this island is Maho Beach. The beach is directly next to an airport runway, so it is a popular place to take a picture of a massive jet only a number of feet above sunbathers.
While the majority of tourism is centralized in a couple of locations, people forget that much of the island is seemingly unexplored. A trip off the beaten track to Aruba’s Arikok National Park or Arashi Beach is well worth it. However, the resorts around the bigger cities like Oranjestad are still stunning and it is not uncommon for friendly flamingos to frequent the beaches.
8. The Bay Islands
Honduras’s Bay Islands are made of three different island groups the Swan Islands, Cayos Cochinos, and the more well known Islas de la Bahia (Roatan, Utila, and Guanaja). None of the main three islands are densely populated, but rather have cool beachside villages or clusters of nice resorts. All three, especially Guanaja, are well known for scuba diving. While mainland Honduras gets questions about its safety, Roatan and the others are a charming, safe place to visit.
One of France’s overseas territories, Martinique makes a name for itself for having a couple of the most picturesque waterfront towns in the Caribbean. Saint Pierre, before it was leveled by a volcano was called “The Paris of the Caribbean”, luckily the town has made a comeback and its palm-lined boulevard and church are a sight to behold. Meanwhile, from Les Anses d’Arlet’s dock looking towards town is one of the better photo ops on the island.
10. Saint Lucia
Saint Lucia’s Pitons, sharp volcanic peaks, present the finest views in the Caribbean. The striking convergence of lush green peaks with white sand and turquoise waters is a mesmerizing site. Jade Mountain Resort is one of the most luxurious places to stay in the Caribbean and comes highly recommended.
Arguably the Caribbean’s most famous island for connections to James Bond, really fast Olympians, Bob Marley, rasta, and unlikely bobsledders Jamaica’s widespread popularity doesn’t prevent it from making our list. While it may seem like not a single inch of sand on the whole island hasn’t been claimed by a resort, Jamaica’s culture sets it apart. The sounds of reggae, the taste of jerk chicken, and the friendly embrace of its people, migrating off of the trodden circuit of resorts to experience the local version of Jamaica is an amazing opportunity.
Often overshadowed by the other Dutch Antilles, Curaçao has been making a strong push to draw more tourists. This effort centers around Willemstad, the capital of Curaçao. Willemsted, the colonial 17th century town has been protected as a UNESCO World Hertiage Site and it is easy to see why. The gorgeous pastel, water front buildings give tourists a lively hub for activity including bars, restaurants, and plenty of places to book tours or activities.
Beating to the rythym of salsa, the heart of Cuba is without a doubt centered in its capital Havana. With a changing foreign policy, the city is quickly changing, but still has its old timey charm, which is emphasized by car models 50 years old and plazas of people gathered around games of dominoes or radios belting out baseball statistics. Havana may be the biggest draw, but Cuba is a huge island with beaches that seem forgotten in favor of the city life. Tourists can easily build a whole trip around the country once they look to visit more than Havana.