Escaping to the Caribbean for Christmas and swapping snow for sun, sand and tropical drinks sounds like a great way to bring some joy to the holiday season.
December weather in the Caribbean is particularly dry, with a “Christmas breeze” that locals wait for all year. From proximity and nonstop flights to affordable lodging, unique cultural festivities and an ideal party/relaxation balance, here are five Caribbean destinations to spend Christmas this year.
Get more travel inspiration, tips and exclusive offers sent straight to your inbox with our weekly newsletter. Trade-in snow for sand and warm waters during this holiday season © SW Kunst / Getty Images
1. Jamaica: fresh sorrel, fruit cake and reggae fests
The best part of Christmas in Jamaica is the food. The markets are livelier than ever with the season’s favorite fruit – sorrel – in high demand. Feast on seasonal specialties like curried goat or ham with rice and beans, fruit cake and sorrel juice made with a hint of ginger and rum.
Top 15 beaches in Jamaica
Introducing the Dominican Republic
2. Dominican Republic: waterfalls, free concerts and nightlife
The season is particularly festive in the Dominican Republic, where Christmas holidays are celebrated through music, shopping and food. In Santo Domingo, shopping malls are beautifully decorated and host indoor arts and crafts markets featuring locally made products.
In the Zona Colonial, you’ll find live music daily, with free concerts beside Plaza Espana’s giant Christmas tree every weekend evening.
In Puerto Plata, beaches and resorts are less crowded and outdoor adventures are plentiful. Hike to waterfalls in the countryside, tour a chocolate factory and witness the Christmas Eve tradition of pig roasting overnight. Dancing merengue and bachata until sunrise is also tradition so head to a few local bars or nightclubs for a little practice.
Sample Christmas dishes on or off your resort — pasteles en hoja are like tamales, made with plantain dough, stuffed and wrapped in a green plantain leaf. And don’t forget to sample Dominican ponche.
Tobacco Caye is a perfect destination to escape the colder temps © Simon Dannhauer / Getty Images
3. Belize: rainforests, culture and cayes
Christmas in Belize is a chance to experience some of its unique cultural events, while island hopping and hiking in rainforests. Lodging also remains reasonably priced, as more tourists visit in January and February.
Stay at a riverside lodge in Burrell Boom or in Crooked Tree Village, outside Belize City, for a traditional Kriol Christmas dinner of turkey with cranberry jelly, rice and beans, ham, potato salad, black cake and rum popo. On Boxing Day, head to the Burrell Boom horse races or to the Brukdong Bram celebration in Gales Point.
In Dangriga, Christmastime draws junkanu and charikanari dancers to the streets. Charikanari is a hunting dance; participants wear headdresses resembling a cow’s head, with real horns, and hunt a “two foot” cow, dancing and teasing the crowds in the street.
Afterwards, hop to affordable Tobacco Caye for snorkeling and relaxation along Belize’s Barrier Reef.
Head to the Bahamas during the holidays to celebrate the country’s biggest festivals of the year © Marc Guitard / Getty Images
4. The Bahamas: Junkanoo, shopping and seclusion
The Bahamas’ annual Christmas Junkanoo Festival on Boxing Day is one of the best reasons to visit. The colorful parade in Nassau, the largest of all on the archipelago, welcomes everyone on the islands to dress up and dance in the streets.
Christmas shopping attracts arts-and-crafts vendors from around the islands to Nassau. Visit Festival Place at Prince George Wharf for locally made items. Port Lucaya Market on Grand Bahama also just reopened. When you’re ready to escape the crowds, hop over to Eleuthera, Bimini or any of the Out Islands except for the Abacos, which remain closed after Hurricane Dorian.
Add proximity to the US, numerous nonstop flights, plus the chance to contribute to The Bahamas’ recovering tourism industry and Christmas in the Bahamas is a no brainer.
Top 5 road trips in The Bahamas
Christmas is a major holiday in Puerto Rico © TexPhoto / Getty Images
5. Puerto Rico: parties, old world charm and wild beaches
For either parties or seclusion at an affordable price, head to Puerto Rico. It’s an easy flight from the US, with no passport required for US citizens.
Overnight in Old San Juan explore its charming streets for shopping, history and food and dance away to live salsa or bomba.
Vieques is an easy hop on the ferry from Fajardo; arrive early to ensure availability. You should also book your rooms and car rentals in advance. Continue the holiday party vibe on the busier side of Vieques in Esmeralda, or escape into the hills near wild black sand beaches.
The best of Caribbean islands