Another trend we’re seeing at Strawberry Holidays this month is people looking for winter sun with a Caribbean holiday. This is brilliant, because there is so much variety on a holiday in the Caribbean. There is so much more to it than white sands, turquoise waters and lush rainforest.
First, let’s get familiar with the geography. Overall the Caribbean is made up of over 7,000 islands! That number includes islets, and rock forms as well as reefs. The four largest islands are Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and Hispaniola. Which is actually divided politically into Haiti and Dominican Republic.
The Western Caribbean consists of islands due south of Florida, such as Grand Cayman and Jamaica; destinations on Mexico‘s Caribbean coast on or near the Yucatan Peninsula, such as Costa Maya, Cozumel and Progreso; and Central American destinations on the Caribbean, such as Belize and Honduras.
If you’re looking for adventure, the Western Caribbean should be your choice. Visit ancient ruins near Cozumel and Progreso in Mexico, snorkel around the reefs in Belize or Roatan, Honduras; or simply soak up the sun in the Cayman Islands and Jamaica.
Meanwhile, Eastern Caribbean voyages and holidays frequently feature the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, the Dominican Republic and the French West Indies, in addition to San Juan, Grand Turk, St. Kitts, Nevis, Antigua, Key West and St. Lucia — even though some of those ports are technically in the Atlantic or Southern Caribbean.
The Eastern Caribbean offers colonial charm alongside those Caribbean palm-fringed beaches.
Snorkelling or scuba diving
Take a short boat ride to Stingray City, Grand Cayman and you ride out to a sandbar where a school of stingray lives.
The stingray have become used to human touch because fishermen used to dump the entrails of their catch at that sandbar. Eventually, the fishermen started getting into the three-foot water and feeding them by hand.
Get into the water with snorkels and fins, watch them glide past and pick up the courage to touch their wings.
Swimming with sea turtles in Barbados requires snorkelling and being underwater to see them glide within inches of your feet. These giant turtles are remarkably peaceful.
Western Caribbean cruises or anyone simply visiting destinations such as Cozumel, Roatan or Belize will find plenty of snorkelling and diving experiences in one of the largest reefs in the world.
One of the most famous dive spots is the Great Blue Hole, a submarine sinkhole off the coast of Belize.
2. Wondrous Waterfalls
There are several Caribbean islands with layers of beautiful scenery that are revealed like the answer to a riddle: What’s blue on the outside, green in the middle, and blue on the inside? One such island is Puerto Rico. Surrounded by beautiful clear blue waters, Puerto Rico’s tropical forests and mountainous interior surround pristine waterfalls that spill into clear blue pools.
On Jamaica’s Daniels River, Somerset Falls are in a veritable botanical garden. A concrete walk to the falls takes you past the ruins of a Spanish aqueduct and Genesis Falls before reaching Hidden Falls. At Hidden Falls, you board a boat and travel beneath the tumbling water; more daring travellers can swim in a whirlpool or jump off the falls into a pool of water. A bar and restaurant specialising in local seafood is a great place to catch your breath.
Every Caribbean destination has shopping, and much of it is the same — T-shirts, coffee mugs and other tourist trinkets.
What makes a few destinations stand out is the cleanliness, size and festive atmosphere of the shopping district along with the quality of the restaurants.
Five of our favourites are:
- Philipsburg, St. Maarten
- Playa del Carmen near Cozumel, Mexico
- Nassau, Bahamas
- Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
- Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas
They all have the kind of shopping districts that can fill a vacationer’s entire day with browsing, eating and just hanging out. Playa del Carmen often has street entertainment too.
4. Zip lining over rain forests, especially in Costa Rica
It’s just plain scary to climb nearly 100 feet up a tree — people say sometimes it feels more like 1,000 feet — have a guide hook your harness to a wire and jump off the platform.
But then the fear turns to exhilaration as the trees rush past and a feeling of flying through the air takes over.
Some people turn around and climb back down rather than try it. We’ve done it, we lived through it and we now have yet another great memory.
Costa Rica has a reputation for being the birthplace of ziplining. Whether it is or not, many western Caribbean visitors give it a try because of the opportunity to explore the country’s famous rainforests and tropical life.
5. Find a private island
Well of course, Necker Island has re-opened this month (March 2019). Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands was badly damaged in last year’s hurricanes, but now the island has officially reopened and has welcomed back its first guests.
If you’re enjoying a cruise, many of the main cruise lines have their own private islands where you’ll spend a day.
- Castaway Cay, Bahamas – Disney Cruise Line.
- Half Moon Cay, Bahamas – Holland America Line.
- Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas – Norwegian Cruise Line.
- Princess Cays, Bahamas – Princess Cruises.
- CocoCay, Bahamas – Royal Caribbean – Opening 2019.
- Labadee, Hispaniola – Royal Caribbean.
These 7 private island resorts deliver sun, surf, sand, and seclusion, at off-the-path oases that you’ll have (practically) all to yourselves. It’s like being marooned on a desert island but with all of the amenities of a luxury resort, along with a doting staff. Each of these ultimate get-away-from-it-all island retreats are private paradises tailored for two—just be prepared to pay for the privilege of playing at castaways.
- Cotton House, Mustique
- Peter Island Resort & Spa, British Virgin Islands
- Cayo Espanto, Belize
- Parrot Cay Resort, Turks & Caicos
- Pine Cay, Turks & Caicos
- Guana Island, British Virgin Islands
- Palm Island, St. Vincent
Make no mistake about it. Ask someone their opinion for the best Caribbean holidays and they might be quick to talk about beaches. Yes, the beaches are mostly great, but it’s the unique attractions that make a holiday or cruise there memorable.
A beach is a beach. But swimming with stingrays, sea turtles, dolphins and the occasional barracuda is just awesome. Or learning all about the colonial and political history of this region.