Few places compare to the Caribbean when it comes to sun, sea, sand and surf.
The bluest of blues and turquoise waters make for some of the world’s best beaches. It is paradise. No hurries, no worries, just relax – it’s no wonder around 30 million people a year head to the Caribbean for a respite.
While the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and the Bahamas are hot spots, the Caribbean is also home to locales without hordes of tourists and some where there is more wildlife than people. So, if you’re in the mood for the beauty without the bustle, here’s where to go.
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1. Kamalame Cay, the Bahamas
Best for a luxurious private island getaway
Some things are worth waiting for. Get to Nassau, hop on a commuter flight, take a cab to the dock and board a water taxi that takes you to Kamalame Cay, a private island in Andros in the Bahamas. The resort is near the world’s third-largest barrier reef with acres of coconut palm groves and vegetation that competes with the bluest sea for what is most awesome.
If you want an island escape, this might just be it. The bungalows, villas, cottages, and beach houses are spread out for miles. Wheel around in your golf cart on white sand roads and it’s mostly you and Mother Nature with just enough people to have a little atmosphere. Activities include everything from deep-sea fishing and kayaking to playing tennis and cycling. If you’re in chill mode, watch a movie at the alfresco cinema, climb in a hammock along the beach or head to the Bahamas’ only overwater spa. You’re also in good hands at the Great House restaurant, where the conch fritters, Asian barbecue spareribs, and the coconut green vegetable curry are crowd-pleasers.
Make sure you venture back to Andros, with its underwater cave systems and the highest concentration of blue holes in the world. One of the most popular is Captain Bill’s Blue Hole in Blue Holes National Park. After a short drive, make your way through the pine forest, get up your nerve and jump from the platform into the fresh water. For a quieter experience, head to the Androsia Batik Factory where you can learn about the art of batik-making and try your hand at it.
Bluefields is a chilled out spot on Jamaica’s south coast © dimarik / Getty Images
2. Bluefields, Jamaica
Best for solitude
When you think Jamaica, Montego Bay and Negril probably come to mind. Skip the masses and head to Bluefields on the south coast instead. You can still arrange dive tours, deep-sea fishing, glass-bottom boat cruises but along this hilly stretch of coast, you’re more likely to hear the cicadas’ concert than anything loud and late.
While you’re in the area, take a tour of the Bluefields Organic Fruit Farm where you’ll learn a bit about organic farming and Jamaican agricultural history. Decide which island treats – perhaps coconuts, pineapples, naseberries, avocados, gineps, star apples or garden cherries – you want to take back to your hotel or the beach to enjoy.
Also nearby in Belmont Falls in a small yard off the main road is the monument that pays tribute to reggae legend Peter Tosh who spent his early years there. Tosh, one of the original Wailers, in reggae music history is not far behind icon Bob Marley. For an authentic Jamaican experience, mix it up with locals at Bluefields Beach Park where, at the weekends, families will be picnicking and the reggae music will be blasting.
Planning tip: If after all that peace and solitude you want to liven things up a little, Negril is an hour away. Here you’ll find hipster haunts like Rick’s Café where you can dance and watch folks jump from cliffs into the sea.
3. South Caicos, Turks and Caicos
Best for finding your zen
Providenciales gets all the glory, but South Caicos is a Caribbean gem worth your time. Fly into Providenciales and take a 30-minute flight to South Caicos. Location is everything. Don’t look for bars and mega resorts, but wild donkeys and salt flats with pink flamingos.
Let nature soothe your soul. There are two beaches here with possible dolphin- and humpback whale-sightings. Visit Iguana Island and the aquarium, a protected reef ideal for snorkeling, and get a glimpse of local life in old town Cockburn. For fun and fantastic food, make your way to Triple J’s, a backyard barbecue restaurant only open on the weekends. It’s a friendly spot where the music is pumping. Fill up on jerk pork, chicken, ribs, grilled lobster, fish and conch, and of course peas and rice.
Take an excursion to Long Cay, part of the Admiral Cockburn Land and Sea National Park, a protected area full of ospreys, egrets, herons and more. Long Cay is also where you’ll find tons of Rock Iguanas. South Caicos is typically pretty windy and there are many flat water and bay kiting locations, so kiteboarders will have plenty of reasons to be psyched.
Planning tip: Consider spending a day in Providenciales. There are new hot spots like the BLT Steakhouse at the Ritz-Carlton and the uber-luxe MRVL Spa for next-level pampering.
Bonaire has nearly 90 dive sites to experience © Orietta Gaspari / Getty Images
Best for diving
Bonaire, one of the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao), doesn’t get the buzz of the other two. But divers know this part of the Dutch Caribbean is where the action is, with nearly 90 dive sites, coral reefs, and sea caves. Iguanas, parrots, and other critters call Bonaire home, and Gotomeer is a saltwater lagoon on the island’s northern end where you’ll see flamingos.
There’s fun to be had at Washington-Slagbaai National Park, be it hiking to the tallest peak at Mt Brandaris, cliff-jumping into turquoise waters at Boka Slagbaii or chilling in the tide pool at Boka Kokolishi. Windsurf and kayak through mangroves. For a unique golfing experience, play on Bonaire’s natural golf desert course (where wild goats and donkeys roam). When hunger calls, you can find everything from a food truck on the beach to fine dining in Sebastian’s.
5. Nevis, St Kitts and Nevis
Best for hikers
Nevis, in the Leeward Islands, is one of the Caribbean’s best kept secrets. The smaller of the dual-island nation of St Kitts and Nevis, its mystique is the inactive volcano, mountains, often shrouded in mist, and the Nevis Peak at more than 975m (3200ft). The beaches are beautiful and uncrowded where wild donkeys, goats, and green vervet monkeys roam. Take an adventurous climb up Mt Nevis or a less intense hike to rainforest waterfalls.
Don’t miss the Botanical Gardens of Nevis, home to tropical plants from around the world and stunning artwork. The Nevis Equestrian Centre offers rides that include beaches, trails, and villages. The fishing is good in these parts too, where barracuda, sailfish, and blue marlin are plentiful.
Dine at The Rocks that sits 300m (1000ft) above sea level on the grounds of the Golden Rock Inn, where you can enjoy magnificent sea views, cascading ponds, and lush gardens. For a history lesson, there’s Hamilton House, the Georgian style building in Charlestown where Alexander Hamilton was born and raised, now the Museum of Nevis History.
Consider staying at the Four Seasons Resort on Pinney’s Beach. Sit seaside, nestled by rocks watching the sunset at the resort’s Mango restaurant. Another good choice is The Hermitage at the foot of a rainforest covered mountain.
Planning tip: Spend a day on the sister island of St Kitts where you can hike Mt Liamuiga Volcano and check out Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park.
Hire a guide to get the best out of your time in Dominica © David Madison / Getty Images
Best for nature lovers
Not to be confused with the Dominican Republic, Dominica is one of the most unique Caribbean islands. Nicknamed “The nature island of the Caribbean”, the thrills are loggerhead turtles, whales, hot springs, boiling lakes, mountains, waterfalls, and black sand beaches.
Morne Trois Pitons National Park is a national treasure with spots like Trafalgar Falls. Morne Trois Pitons is an active volcano, one of nine in Dominica. Trek the park’s trails with views of mountains and the rainforest. Kayak and snorkel in Soufriere-Scott’s Head Marine Reserve. For a wellness themed retreat there’s Jungle Bay on nearly 20 acres of lush landscape. Revitalize yourself at the Bamboo Spa with the signature Jungle Bay Massage with coconut, castor and bay essential oils.
Planning tip: Have the concierge hook you up with a local guide. Dominica has many nooks and crannies you might not discover on your own.
Best for bird-watchers
Trinidad is beloved for its iconic carnival, but sister island Tobago is often overlooked. This less-traveled paradise is a must for bird-watchers. Tobago has one of the highest densities of bird species in the world, with more than 200 varieties. Tobago’s Unesco World Heritage Site, Main Ridge Forest Reserve is the oldest protected forest in the western hemisphere, with nine trails to keep hikers happy.
You’ll hear great music in the birthplace of the steel pan drum. Soak up the sounds on a Sunday night at the legendary street party, Buccoo Sunday School in Buccoo. Those with a sweet tooth might want to book a tour of the Tobago Cocoa Estate. The island’s best beaches include Buccoo Bay and Englishman’s Bay, or cool off with a bold jump into Argyle Falls, Tobago’s highest waterfall.
8. Canouan, St Vincent and the Grenadines
Best for turtle lovers
Here, tortoises outnumber people. What you will find plenty of on this 3.5-mile island in St Vincent and the Grenadines, is boats, incredible ones at the Sandy Lane Yacht Club. Canouan has bragging rights for being surrounded by the Caribbean’s largest living coral reef and there’s good fly-fishing and kitesurfing here too. Check into the Mandarin Oriental, Canouan and you may feel like you’re in a private-island sanctuary, a secret escape, with just 26 suites and 13 villas on the 1200-acre estate that’s on Godahl Beach. Spend time on the 18-hole golf course or relaxing in the spa. Snorkeling in lagoons and hiking up Mt. Royal make for more fun.
Planning tip: The Mandarin has a six-seat resort jet that can be booked as a shared or private charter from Barbados, St Lucia, Grenada, Martinique, and St Vincent airports.