Introduction to the islands in the
Travellers come to Anguilla for the natural beauty and quiet atmosphere, the 33 sparkling strands, art galleries, and other historical and cultural offerings.
For seaside experiences, the beach options are seemingly endless: Rendezvous Bay, Cove Bay and Mead’s Bay beckon with long curved strands of sand. Smaller pocket beaches include Limestone Bay, known for its snorkeling, and Little Bay, reached only by boat. Captain’s Bay and Junk’s Hole Bay are more remote. Shoal Bay East is undoubtedly the island’s most popular beach while Scrub Island, Prickly Pear and Dog Island are excellent snorkelling destinations.
Activities on land include horseback riding, bird watching (there are 136 species), biking and sampling spirits at the Pyrat Rum Distillery. Visit the Arawak “spirit eyes” petroglyphs in the caverns at Big Springs Heritage Site and the 1,000-year-old artifacts at the Heritage Collection Museum. Art aficionados will enjoy touring Anguilla’s 16 galleries, which feature a mix of local and Caribbean crafts, woodcarving, hand-blown glass and fine art.
At the MoonSplash Music Festival in March, Bankie Banx serves up three days of music, food and fun. In May, a regatta features seven yacht races over three days. Carnival in August is beloved for parades, calypso competitions and traditional wooden-boat racing. November’s Tranquility Jazz Festival brings performances by regional and international musicial
Antigua & Barbuda
Antigua has an amazing 365 strands of sand, giving visitors a different choice for every day of the year. Begin your exploration at Nelson’s Dockyard. Part of a national park, it’s the only existing Georgian naval dockyard in the world, built in 1725 and once England’s most important naval outpost in the Caribbean. Along the waterfront, buildings are signposted with their dates of origin and former uses, from the Sawpit Shed to the Copper and Lumber Store. In the erstwhile Naval Officer’s House, a museum gives the history of the area.
The dockyard comes alive in April with Antigua’s annual Sailing Week. More than 1,500 sailors compete in this high-speed competition that makes a roundtrip from Dockyard to Dickenson Bay and back. April also features the Classic Yacht Regatta: traditional craft built of wood and steel make this a show that’s more about beauty than speed. American Sailing Week is a June event filled with instructional clinics, races and day sails.
St. John’s, the island’s animated main town, rises from the harbor, backed by a twin-spired cathedral. Visit the Antigua and Barbuda Museum and view artifacts like ancient stone pendants and flint knives, displays on cassava, and for sports lovers the cricket bat of Sir Vivian Richards, a beloved island athlete. Stop in Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine for a moment’s respite. At Redcliffe Quay, a series of historic buildings have been transformed into a little retail village. Originally a slave-trading yard, the buildings were used by merchants and innkeepers after emancipation. In the countryside, almost a hundred towers that are the remnants of Antigua’s sugar mills dot the countryside where over 150 sugar-producing plantations once stood. At Betty’s Hope, founded in the 1650s, twin mills have been restored to working condition.
If it’s utter peace and quiet you’re after, then head to drowsy Barbuda, the lesser-known of the two islands. It feels untouched by progress, with the principal inhabitants being the graceful frigate birds. Take a boat ride through the Frigate Bird Sanctuary in Codrington Lagoon and see these unique birds, which spend most of their time in the air because they can’t walk or swim. On Barbuda, you’re unlikely to see more than a dozen other human beings during your repose.
Aruba offers long gleaming beaches, many water sports activities, and is a favourite port for cruise ships, but visitors also lodge here to take advantage of upscale restaurants, lively nightclubs, and some of the best windsurfing in the world. Oranjestad is the island’s capital, and the bustling city has a distinct Dutch feel with colorful buildings painted in historical Antillean style. Shopping is abundant, with duty-free stores offering jewellery, perfume, linen, alcohol and designer clothing. Discos and nightclubs abound and gaming is on offer at 11 resort casinos.
Most of the beaches are found along Aruba’s Northwest coast. There are two main resort areas – one with low-rise buildings, the other with high-rises – with a series of glorious beaches: Druif, Eagle and Palm, with much of it fronted by a pedestrian walkway. The Palm Beach area offers parasailing, glass-bottom boat rides, excursions aboard the submarine Atlantis, and high-octane turbocharged jet boat rides. Just north of Palm Beach is a world-renowned windsurfing and kite-surfing mecca.
Scuba diving is popular, offering good visibility, coral reefs and wrecks – most notably the Antilla, a German freighter sunk during World War II, which is the largest in the Caribbean. For golfers there is Tierra del Sol, an 18-hole championship golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones II, and the nine-hole Divi Links near Oranjestad. Half-day horseback tours take visitors along beaches and into the cunuku.
Aruba is noteworthy for its arid interior cunuku, or countryside. Casibari and Ayo boast curious rock formations. At the Fontein cave, visitors find natural stone pillars and Amerindian paintings. Nearby, the Guadirikiri caves are home to hundreds of bats. Bus tours are popular but visitors can also tour the cunuku in a convoy of Range Rovers or ATV’s. In addition to the geological scenery, there is the Chapel of Alto Vista, built in 1750 by Spanish missionaries, and the Bushiribana gold mine ruins. Also explore the summit of 541-foot Mount Hooiberg; Arikok National Park, a 13 square-mile preserve filled with iguanas, rabbits, migratory birds, goats and donkeys; and Jabaribari, home to parakeets.
Approximately 700 islands, spread over nearly 100,000 square miles of ocean, constitute The Bahamas. The term Out Islands (or Family Islands) refer to all of the islands except New Providence, home to Nassau and Paradise Island, and Grand Bahama, home to Freeport/Lucaya. There are flights to all of the island centers from Nassau. It’s also possible to charter a plane, take a high-speed catamaran ferry, or hop aboard a chartered sailboat or motorboat.
Home to the Bahamas capital of Nassau and the resort development of Paradise Island, New Providence Island is the most visited Bahamian island, thanks to its international airport and busy cruise ship dock. Freeport/Lucaya on Grand Bahama Island is a popular destination offering excellent golf courses including ones designed by Dick Wilson, Joe Lee and Robert Trent Jones Jr.
Grand Bahama Island is the headquarters of UNEXSO, the Underwater Explorers Society, providing numerous scuba opportunities. The Lucayan National Park offers such birds as flamingos, red legged thrushes and the rare Bahama parrot. The largest of the Bahamas’ islands, Andros, boasts freshwater creeks, lakes, mangrove swamps, and miles of unspoilt beaches. The island boasts the second-largest reef in the Western Hemisphere and fishing for bonefish is the island’s biggest tourist industry. The Berry Islands, home to Chub Cay and Billfish capital of The Bahamas. Bimini is a popular destination for first-rate big-game fishing. Inagua is home to more than 80,000 flamingos and other exotic birds. Long Island is known for broad beaches on its west coast and rocky cliffs on the east.
Cat Island’s deserted beaches make for a total getaway. The Abacos and their string of cays are known for their sheltered waters and easy boating. The Exumas have a lot to offer both above and below the surface of the water. At the north end lies the astounding Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. Great Exuma, in the south, is home to lodgings and restaurants and Stocking Island, with its untouched beaches separated by towering, rocky cliffs. Eleuthera is 100 miles long but just a few yards wide at some points. At the Glass Window Bridge, you can see the Bahama Bank on one side and the Atlantic on the other. Harbour Island offers good snorkeling and fishing on the bayside and is famous for a 3 mile pink sand beach.
Whether you seek soft beaches, powerful surf, refined sophistication or the up-tempo, festive feel, Barbados has something for everyone. It is the easternmost of the Lesser Antilles islands and, as such, enjoys the graces of two oceans – the Caribbean Sea on its west side and the Atlantic Ocean at its eastern end. The two bodies of water converge on the island’s southern shores, where smaller hotels – and legions of windsurfers – await.
The local Bajans, as they are known, display a brawn inherited from both 3 1 ⁄2 centuries of British rule and the faith and endurance of the former slaves who populated the island to cultivate sugarcane. A wealth of traditions have influenced every facet of life, from music and dance to cuisine and herbal “bush” medicine.
Barbados offers luxurious hotels, inns and villas lining many beaches. Visit the famous Millionaires’ Playground (a.k.a. Platinum Coast). Barbados’ premier festival, Crop Over, which traditionally celebrated the end of the sugar season, lasts for five weeks and includes markets, carnival shows, calypso concerts and colorful parades. Other special events also draw visitors: Holders Season, held in March, is internationally renowned for its series of opera, theater and music performances. The Barbados Jazz Festival has live performances seven nights in a row, each held a different island venue.
The island offers much to see and do: Broad Street in Bridgetown, the island’s capital city, is home to several large department stores and duty-free shops offering prices that can be 20 to 40 percent lower those than back home. Sunbury Plantation House, which dates from 1660, houses a collection of antiques, including carriages and farm implements. Other homes worth touring include St. Nicholas Abbey and the Francia Plantation. Take a tram ride through Harrison’s Cave to view stalactites, stalagmites, waterfalls and pools. Stroll through Andromeda Gardens, or tee off at one of three golf courses, including the Green Monkey, at the rebuilt Sandy Lane resort. The Garrison Savannah horse races are a hot ticket and other popular sports include cricket (the national sport), tennis, squash and polo.
Bermuda sits far north of the Caribbean Sea – about 650 miles off the coast of North Carolina – but this archipelago of 120 islands and islets has a Caribbean soul. Blessed by the Gulf Stream, Bermuda’s translucent waters and pink sand beaches rival those of more tropical climes.
Bermuda had no indigenous residents when a British ship, the Sea Venture, wrecked on treacherous reefs in 1609, forcing its Virginia-bound passengers and crew to eke out an existence. That incident forged an enduring link between Great Britain and Bermuda, which remains a stalwart member of the Commonwealth.
Recreational opportunities abound in Bermuda. It’s a mecca for scuba divers who flock here to explore more than 300 shipwrecks that dot the nearby reefs. Bermuda boasts eight golf courses; while many are private, visitors can often arrange to play them or take advantage of the public courses. Visit Bermuda’s wealth of historic sights, especially the atmospheric town of St. George’s and the Royal Naval Dockyard, a 19th century fortress featuring the Maritime Museum, the Commissioner’s House and the Bermuda Arts Centre. Other island highlights are the Botanical Gardens, the Underwater Exploration Institute and the Crystal Caves.
As one of the most densely populated destinations in the world, behind only such places as Hong Kong and Vatican City, Bermuda strictly regulates automobiles – one car per household – and tourists cannot rent cars. The most popular method of getting around is via moped, while others are well served by taxis and buses.
Bonaire is known primarily as a spectacular dive site, ringed by a series of offshore reefs. But Bonaire is also a landlubber’s destination, with a developing art and dining scene, and a slew of land-based activities. In the main town, Kralendijk, visit Cinnamon Art Gallery, founded by a trio of artists or any number of fine restaurants featuring French, Italian, Argentine and creative cuisines. Still, Bonaire is a long way from becoming an urban mecca. Here, the flamingo population rivals the human one, building size is strictly limited, and the circumference of the island is a protected marine park.
Stones marked with the names of dive sites can be seen from the coastal roads and a ‘two minutes’ swim (literally) will reveal a reef teeming with marine life. Drive-through dive stations allow divers to refill their tanks before heading out to other alluring spots.
Amazing as the diving is, there’s much more to do on Bonaire. Sign up with the Mangrove Info and Kayak Center for a kayaking session through the pristine mangrove system – one of the few left in the world. Drive north up the west coast past a prime flamingo-viewing lake called Goto Mere. Spend a day in Washington-Slagbaai National Park amidst more than 13,000 acres of flora and fauna. See rock formations like Seru Bentana (Sky Window), and spot any number of birds and beasts at the Pos Mangel watering hole. The park has many beaches, some of which are very small.
Heading south down the east coast, visit the tiny village of Rincon. Catch the panorama from Seru Largu, a hilltop viewpoint. Drive south to the salt pans, signs of the salt industry that still thrives here. Just below the white mountains of salt rising from purple “lakes”, you’ll find the Flamingo Refuge. You can stand roadside and (very quietly) observe these elegant and shy creatures. Park yourself close by on Pink Beach, and at sunset you can see them lighting up the sky as they wing their way on their nightly trip to Venezuela.
British Virgin Islands
Known internationally as a sailors’ paradise, the 60-plus islands of the British Virgin Islands also offer landlubbers all the charms of the natural Caribbean and few of the hassles. A necklace of islands and cays strung along Sir Francis Drake Channel between Puerto Rico and St. Kitts, the BVIs have an unspoilt setting, a high standard of living and a low-key atmosphere. Many of the islands are rich with indigenous fauna, including red-legged tortoises and Anegada iguanas.
Tortola is the largest island, and its capital, Road Town, hosts governmental offices, banks, shops,a ferry service and an international cruise-ship dock. It’s alsothe main location for charter boats. The north shore of Tortola is peppered with coves and isolated beaches like Brewer’s Bay and Smuggler’s Cove. The more populous Cane Garden Bay offers many restaurants and bars. The hilly roadways make for a four-wheel-drive challenge but provide spectacular views.
Mountainous Virgin Gorda, with secluded beaches and natural attractions, is the site of the Baths, where monumental granite boulders dominate the beach, creating numerous tide pools and great snorkeling. Jost Van Dyke thrives on its waterside reputation for festivity and provides excellent protected anchorages for yachters. Out to the northeast, day trippers visit Anegada and 18-mile-long Horseshoe Reef – one of the world’s longest – to spend the day bird-watching and snorkeling. Norman Island, supposedly the Treasure Island of Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous story, has no inhabitants other than a couple of restaurants. Here, the Caves is a famous snorkeling spot; the Indians and Marina Cay are also popular. Necker Island is privately owned by Sir Richard Branson, and largely undeveloped Peter Island hosts a resort that welcomes all for lunch and beaching. Guana Island is an officially designated wildlife sanctuary for species like the masked booby.
The BVI Spring Regatta & Sailing Festival is a seven-day event in April, attracting an average of 135 yachts. Divers explore the 200-odd shipwrecks, especially Rhone Marine Park near Salt Island, where the HMS Rhone sank in the 1860s. Game fishing is popular, and surfers gather each day off Tortola’s Apple Bay looking for one of the Caribbean’s best rides. Hikers enjoy walking the Ridge Road to Sage Mountain, a 92-acre park.
Like three brilliant siblings, Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman each have their own charms while sharing familial traits. A British Overseas Territory, the trio makes up a one of a kind vacation spot beloved by families, couples and watersport enthusiasts alike.
Grand Cayman’s capital, George Town, is a vibrant city centre, housing unique historic sites, a renowned National Gallery and Cayman’s National Museum. The downtown area also boasts some of the Caribbean’s very best duty-free shopping. Travellers can choose from fine European fashions and top designer labels, artisanal crafts such as Caymanite jewellery, antiques and treasure coin jewelry.
The perfect family holiday destination, Grand Cayman is full of adventures. At Boatswain’s Beach, site of the renowned Cayman Turtle Farm, children and parents alike can enjoy a fully interactive marine park–home to more than 16,000 endangered green sea turtles, exciting shark exhibits and a fabulous snorkel lagoon. At Stingray City, families can touch and feed stingrays, while snorkeling over magnificent coral reefs filled with colourful tropical fish.
With dozens of world-class dining options and a host of luxury accommodations, Cayman is also the perfect setting for a destination wedding, honeymoon or romantic weekend getaway. Whether it be relaxing at Seven Mile Beach or experiencing exhilarating dives, Grand Cayman has it all.
If you’re looking for a remote retreat, Cayman Brac is only 45 minutes away. A nature lover’s paradise, this small island is lined with walking and hiking trails and is home to nearly 200 species of birds. Cayman Brac is also the site of the only dive-accessible Russian warship in the Western Hemisphere.
Little Cayman, just five miles from Cayman Brac, is the quintessential island escape. Fewer than 150 people live here year-round, and the bonefishing and diving are spectacular. There are more than 50 walls, wrecks and other dive sites teeming with tropical fish and coral. Bloody Bay Wall off Little Cayman and the Great Wall off North Cayman, draw divers from all over the world.
For some, Cayman is a diver’s dream offering clear waters, famous wrecks, and diverse aquatic life. For others, it’s a fun, educational and enriching family holiday. For others still, it’s the perfect romantic getaway. The Cayman Islands truly has something for everyone.
There are few more fascinating destinations in the Caribbean than its largest and most populous island, Cuba – not least because it has been a socialist republic since the 1959 revolution, when Fidel Castro seized power. This last remaining vestige of state socialism, 90 miles south of Key West, Florida, was once the last stronghold of Spanish power in the region.
Cuba’s rich artistic heritage ranges from pre-Columbian cultures to the splendors of Spanish colonialism and the internationally acclaimed art of today. It is also a place of great natural beauty, with three magnificent mountain ranges and fertile plains where sugar cane and tobacco grow. And it has some of the best beaches in the world.
A quarter of Cuba’s 11 million people live in and around Havana, which lays claim to being the most beautiful city in the Caribbean. Old Havana, with its square mile of colonial palaces, handsome plazas and charming cobbled alleys was, along with Mexico City and Lima, one of the three richest Spanish cities outside Spain. It has been designated by UNESCO as a city of world heritage.
Cuba has an easy-going, multi-racial population whose greatest enthusiasm is reserved for music. It is the home of the modern rumba, actually of African origin, the mamba, the cha-cha-cha and the salsa. Cuban jazz is also excellent. Wherever you go on the island, music will go with you.
Travel can be an adventure. Transport is cheap and convivial. Cuba is the only place on earth where hitchhiking is regulated by the state – in the nicest possible way. Each town has a hitch-hiking point manned by an official in yellow trousers who supervises the hitchers, registers their destinations and loads them on to any state or private car that happens to be heading in the right direction. Tourists are absolved from the obligation to take on hitch-hikers.
It’s a great time to visit Cuba, if you can. It is a vibrant island with resorts and beaches, some extensive – and the fact that it does not always provide the fully-honed and polished version of modern-day tourism suits many of its visitors just fine.
Curaçao is one of the Caribbean’s most sophisticated capitals. Don’t miss the Maritime Museum, the Sea Aquarium, and the Curaçao Postal Museum to see bright Antillean stamps. Visit the Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue, the Caribbean’s oldest continuously operating synagogue, with a fine display on the island’s Jewish history. The winter-time Curaçao Carnival boasts parades with floats, Jump Ups (outdoors), Jump Ins (indoors) and outrageous costumes. Serious divers come for the spring Curaçao Dive Festival to participate in a weeks’ worth of workshops such as Underwater Digital Photography.
The western shores have a series of beautiful beaches, each one occupying a separate cove: popular Daaibooi, tiny Playa Lagun, and Knip, which opens onto a large bay of luminous water.
Also in the west is Christoffel Park. Drive, hike, or ride a horse through kadushi cactus, tamarind, divi-divi trees and lignum vitae trees, the road curving upward to amazing vistas of Mount Christoffel.
Curaçao also hosts a jazz festival, a gospel festival, a food festival and a kite competition. The locally famous Jazz Night at Blues Restaurant on a pier overlooking the sea is not to be missed. Classy, joyful and mellow, it’s the perfect summary of what’s so appealing about Curaçao.
In 2005, rugged, jungle-filled Dominica became the first nation to be certified by Green Globe 21 for sustainable development. Nature-oriented visitors appreciate Dominica’s rich culture and history, and this locale has a great deal to offer travelers with a quest for adventure. Located between Guadeloupe and Martinique, Dominica’s mountains soar to nearly 5,000 feet, yielding a thriving rainforest, hundreds of rivers and waterfalls, rare orchids and colorful birds. Geothermal activity results in colorful hot springs, bubbling mud pools, small geysers and Boiling Lake, the second largest lake of its kind in the world. The sites are found in Morne Trois Pitons National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Hikers can trek to Victoria Falls, and Middleham Falls, a narrow plume of water falling 200 feet from a cliff notch. A strenuous excursion to Morne Diablotin (Devil’s Mountain) reaps glimpses of two endemic parrots, the jaco and the sisserou. Non hikers can ride the Rainforest Aerial Tram, which offers a 70-minute journey through the treetop canopy. Mountain biking, horseback riding, river tubing and jeep safaris are other ways of enjoying Dominica’s natural gifts.
The offshore marine environment is equally fascinating, as healthy reefs, extraordinary formations and 100-foot visibility draw scuba divers. Dominica’s waters host 22 species of whales and dolphins, making it a prime whale-watching destination throughout the winter. Beaches are mostly black sand, with a few golden strands in the northeast.
For history lovers, the capital, Roseau and Fort Shirley are fun to explore. At the Kalingo Barana Aute, visitors can watch as Kalinago Indians carve the trunk of a Gommier tree into a canoe. Cultural performances, storytelling and “spiritual cleansings” are part of the outing. Tours of a rum distillery and the Rosalie slave plantation estate are also popular. Local restaurants serve predominantly native Creole cuisine; mountain chicken (frog legs) is the national dish. The World Creole Music Festival takes place in October, and Mas Dominik, the island’s carnival, features calypso and steel pan competitions, a soca music festival, jump-ups and a costume parade.
Famed for forests fragrant with cinnamon, allspice, cocoa and nutmeg, Grenada is actually a three-island nation including Carriacou and Petite Martinique in the Grenadine chain of islands. Carriacou is a mecca for scuba divers and snorkelers and on Petite Martinique, many inhabitants build boats or make their living by fishing.
Back on the main island, this former British colony offers charming architecture, 300-year-old churches and narrow streets. Fort George and Fort Frederick date back to the 18th century. Restaurants and resorts centres line Grand Anse, a popular 2-mile stretch of sand. South and East of Grand Anse,other beaches line the coves of L’Anse Aux Epines, an upscale residential community. Head north to view Grenada’s rich agricultural and natural bounty. At Gouyave visit one of the nutmeg-processing stations or stop at the Grenada Chocolate Company, a tiny solar-powered cottage factory featuring antique machinery. The nearby historic River Antoine Rum Distillery is the Caribbean’s only water-powered mill still operating. Visit the plantation home Morne Fendue, a 1908 structure that serves lunch and now has guest rooms.
Sailing has long been an integral part of Grenada’s lifestyle. Visitors can hire charter companies for day excursions or weekly charters with crew or bareboat. Game fishing is big sport here and late January heralds the three-day Spice Island Billfish Tournament. Hiking trails with breathtaking scenery challenge walkers of all ability levels. Savour the delights of Bay Gardens, one of many well-kept botanical sites. Active visitors can also sign up for whale- and dolphin-watching expeditions, and can kayak in the quiet waters of Egmont Harbour.
Annual celebrations include Independence Day in February, Grensave International Food and Drink Extravaganza, and St. Patrick’s Day Festival in March. In April, big-drum, string-band music and quadrille dancing take center stage at the Carriacou Maroon Music Festival. Visit in May for the Grenada Drum Festival. In December, delve into the three-day carol-singing festivities of the Carriacou Parang Festival.
Part of the French West Indies, Guadeloupe has it all: rainforests, waterfalls, sandy beaches and charming villages. Guadeloupe is really two butterfly-shaped islands connected by a narrow channel. The left “wing” is Grande-Terre, and the right “wing” is Basse-Terre. Offshore, on smaller surrounding islands, you can step into societies that have changed little over the centuries. On Terre-de-Haut, part of the Iles des Saintes, you’ll find pristine beaches and families descended from Breton sailors. Marie-Galante in the southeast, has spectacular beaches and produces some of the Caribbean’s best rum – remnants of colonial sugar mills are quaint reminders of the island’s past as a sugar producer. To the northeast, La Désirade is a recommended day trip for its untouched landscape and beaches.
The more sophisticated Grande-Terre boasts white sand beaches and rolling hills. The island’s biggest town, Pointe-à-Pitre, is a European-style shopping village offering goods with ‘made in France’ labels – and at savings of an estimated 20 to 30 percent. Museums abound here. Saint-John Perse and the Schoelcher Museum are housed in colonial manors. The Edgar Clerc archaeological museum enlightens visitors about Guadeloupe’s Amerindian ancestors. Culture buffs might seek out the zoological garden, the orchid garden, or coffee and cocoa plantations.
Basse-Terre is a draw for nature lovers. An astounding volcano, La Soufrière, which lies sleeping at its center, is the Eastern Caribbean’s highest point at 4,813 feet. Drive or hike through the nearby rain forests in the 74,100 acre Parc National de Guadeloupe, or spend a day on Grand Anse, one of the island’s best beaches, known for especially soft sand. The wildlife is awe-inspiring. In the air, you might spot sugar birds, cow herons, black woodpeckers, moor hen sand brown gannets.
French imports make dining on Guadeloupe a pleasure; the destination boasts more than 200 restaurants, some on the front porches of local homes. Lunch, or le déjeuner, is the main meal of the day. Start with a rum drink, then try creole creations such as stuffed land crabs, stewed conch and curry dishes. French wines are commonly served with the meal.
Three offshore islands make super day trips. Friendly residents greet visitors in small fishing villages.
Haiti, once one of the most popular vacation destinations in the Caribbean, is now one of the least-visited destinations due to its political instability and a lack of tourism infrastructure. The U.S. State Department maintains travel warnings to keep visitors aware of the potential dangers and American travellers should contact the U.S. Embassy upon arrival. A car with a driver or escorted day tours is advisable. For intrepid travellers intrigued by the country’s cultural offerings and natural beauty, Haiti offers fascinating castles, history, architecture, art, music and spiritual traditions.
Haiti shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. The capital, Port-au-Prince, is located in the central region on the Gulf of Gonâve. Points of interest here include the Musée de Pantheon, Place des Héros, and the Basilica of Notre Dame. Inside the Musée Nationale is a treasure-trove of historical relics such as the pistol used by King Henri Christophe in 1820, which he used to end his life rather than face a coup. Visitors can also see an anchor allegedly salvaged from Christopher Columbus’ famous Santa Maria.
The Museum of Haitian Art features the nation’s famed art naïf paintings. Fine art galleries are located in Pétionville in the hills above the city, where most visitors choose to stay. This upscale district is home to international embassies, trendy restaurants, boutiques and nightclubs. The Barbancourt Rum Distillery is another popular attraction, in operation since 1765 and based in a hillside castle.
The northern peninsula is filled with forts and ruins to explore. The formidable Citadelle crowns the 3,000 foot Pic la Ferriere and in the valley sits Sans Souci, an elegant but ruined palace built in 1810. The two structures are part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Five additional forts overlook Cap-Haïtien harbour and the coastline. The southern peninsula’s high mountains and thundering waterfalls attract nature lovers. Visit Bassin Bleu, a triple waterfall with deep pools, and Pic de Macaya, a 7,700 foot mountain populated by rare orchids and birds. Étang Saumâtre, a blue saltwater lake, delights with more than 100 species of waterfowl plus flamingos and American crocodile.
Jamaica is surely one of the Caribbean’s most iconic destinations. The scenery offers everything from fish-filled coral reefs and white-sand beaches to breathtaking waterfalls and cloud-shrouded rainforests. The music is infectious, and the people represent one of the most diverse populations in the Caribbean, drawing from African, Chinese, Indian, British and German heritage.
Jamaica is the Caribbean’s third largest island with six main tourist regions – Montego Bay, Negril, Mandeville and The South Coast, Kingston, Port Antonio and Ocho Rios. There are numerous tranquil places to visit: The 7,402 foot Blue Mountain Peak is a challenge to allserious island trekkers, and bird watching is increasingly popular with more than 200 native species, including at least 25 species that are endemic. Jamaica is also reputedly home to more than 3,000 species of flowering plants, some 720 of which are found nowhere else. Jamaica is rich with formal gardens, too, such as Hope Botanical Gardens, Shaw Park Gardens, Coyaba River Garden and the Cranbrook Flower Forest.
Ocho Rios is a prime port for cruise ships but also boasts a succession of bays and beaches. Most notable are Runaway Bay, and Discovery Bay. Just inland lies Dunn’s River Falls – a much photographed attraction. Montego Bay is a mecca for watersports lovers including sailing, scuba diving, jet skiing, parasailing, sport fishing and glass-bottom boat excursions. For shoppers, Gloucester Avenue (dubbed the “Hip Strip”) is lined with duty-free shops, souvenir arcades, restaurants and bars. Negril became known in the 1960’s and 1970’s as an idyllic escape for the backpack crowd, and still enjoys a low-key demeanor. Perched on limestone bluffs, Negril’s West End is home to numerous small resorts snuggled into the craggy cliffs.
Visit the many plantation great houses such as Rose Hall and Greenwood Great House. Tour the rum distillery at Hampden Great House. Like many Caribbean islands with a sugar plantation heritage, Jamaica showcases numerous fine rums, including Appleton, which offers a top-shelf label of aged rums. Another favorite treat is Tia Maria, a coffee-flavored rum liqueur.
Martinique is the definition of a refined French-Caribbean island – fashionable and elegant, with an abundance of flora. Filled with ruins and monuments, Martinique has been French, with few interruptions, since 1635, and offers gorgeous beaches, great food and a live volcano. Banana farming, cane raising, the rum business and tourism are all important to the island.
Napoleon’s empress Josephine hailed from Martinique, as did Aimée Dubuc de Rivery, who was kidnapped at sea and made Sultana Validé, mother of Turkey’s Sultan Mahmoud II. Its many small museums focus on curiosities such as dolls, banana farming and ancient island civilizations. Hikers and horseback riders will find plenty of guided adventures among the steep, lush hillsides. Windsurfers and board surfers will welcome the challenges of the choppy Atlantic side of the island.
The capital, Fort-de-France, offers chic shops, the flowered Park Savanne, the Bibliothèque Schoelcher, and the Saint-Louis Cathedral, built in 1895. Restaurants are among the best in the islands. Pointe du Bout is the island’s main resort area, offering hotels, golf, shopping and casino nightlife. North along the coast is St. Pierre, which was destroyed, along with its 30,000 residents, in 1902 when Mont Pelée erupted. The Museum of Vulcanology there displays chilling lava-coated mementoes. Carbet, a quaint fishing village, was briefly home for French painter Paul Gauguin, and inland is Morne Rouge, site of MacIntosh Plantation, cultivator of Martinique’s well-known flower, the anthurium. Be sure to tour one of Martinique’s 12 fine rum distilleries. The island boasts France’s official appellation for producing agricultural Rhum (a label like Cognac or Champagne).
Long known as the Caribbean’s Emerald Isle for its Irish heritage and lush rainforests, Montserrat welcomes visitors with a green shamrock-shaped stamp in their passport. In fact Montserrat is the only Caribbean island that observes St. Patrick’s Day as an official holiday, with musical concerts, masquerades and other traditional activities.
The volcano is the star attraction, most easily viewed from the Montserrat Volcano Observatory. Tours are conducted by scientists several days a week. The ruins of Plymouth are today a ghost town under a blanket of ash. Daytime access to the former capital is possible with a police escort, arranged through hotels or the tourist office.
Volcanic activity continues on and off, but Montserrat’s northern third remains a safe landing, with the volcano monitored round-the-clock by a team of scientists that keep the island’s current 4,700 residents aware of Mother Nature’s inner rumblings. In summary, Montserrat makes for an unusual holiday.
Montserrat also offers many of the Caribbean’s traditional activities. Most of the beaches are of the blacksand variety, but tawny Rendezvous Bay can be reached by a trail over a bluff or by hiring a boat. Lime Kiln Bay is a prime snorkeling location, and there’s also good diving. An expanding network of hiking trails accesses rainforests, old banana plantations and views from sea cliffs. Local forest rangers help visitors track the threatened Montserrat oriole, the national bird, and other rare species.
Puerto Rico is an island getaway with something for everyone – stunning beaches, uncompromising luxury, adventurous outdoor activities and flavourfull nightlife. Puerto Rico also boasts 23 golf courses, many championship-level, countless tennis courts, horseback riding outfitters, deep-sea fishing opportunities, watersports of all types, and 17 spas.
The beach at Isla Verde, which fronts the Atlantic Ocean, is just a five-minute cab ride from San Juan airport, and boasts a line of major hotels, a beautiful powder-white beach, crystal waters and easy access to Old San Juan and other cultural, dining, shopping and dancing attractions.Another popular destination is Condado Beach, with a natural rock barrier protecting Condado Lagoon. The 21 x 4 mile island of Vieques is no longer a proving ground for the US military, and the underdeveloped islet now offers postcard-perfect strands of sand, winding roads through forests chock full of tropical birds – and wild horses, quaint inns, a major resort and a laidback pace.
San Juan, founded by the Spanish in 1521, is the oldest city in the United States, but Old San Juan is even more ancient. The remains of Juan Ponce de León, who founded the original settlement, rest in the San Juan Cathedral, a 1540 structure of Gothic architecture. Old San Juan comprises seven square blocks of cobbled streets and colonial architecture – ideal for walking. Highlights are El Morro and San Cristóbal, huge stone fortresses that guarded the city from attack by enemy nations and pirates. Some of the best museum can be found here; the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture; La Casa del Libro; and the Las Américas Museum.
San Juan offers a stylish shopping, dining and nightlife scene, while on the southwest coast is the city of Ponce and the seaside town of La Parguera, famous for its bioluminescent bay. Porta Del Sol, on the west coast, is known for its low-key ambience and Rincón is a charming city popular with windsurfers. A zoo enchants visitors of all ages in Mayagüez. El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest managed by the U.S. Forest Service, and combines three types of forests (rain, montane and dwarf). The area boasts two waterfalls and 50 varieties of ferns, 20 types of orchids, and dozens of species of birds and frogs.
The locals refer to this 11.8 square-mile island in the Netherlands Antilles chain as Statia. Though small, the island reveals a surprisingly rich past to travellers. During the 1700s, Statia’s capital, Oranjestad, was a trading hub for slaves, sugar, cotton and commodities from Europe and the Far East. At its peak, the island’s population reached 18,000, and Oranjestad was perhaps the richest port in all the region. However, in 1776 the government brought the wrath of England upon the tiny nation after recognising the newly independent United States by firing an 11-gun salute to a passing warship. The decline began, and today the sleepy island has under 3,000 inhabitants.
More than 100 sunken trading ships off the shores of Statia make this a diving mecca; submerged anchors, cannons and pottery shards create a silent testimony to the island’s story. However there are things to do above the water too: visitors can take a half-day hike to the 2,000 foot Quill, a classically shaped volcano with a forest-filled crater. Orchids, fruit trees and ferns thrive in this unique environment.
In Oranjestad, there are quaint and noteworthy buildings to visit: Fort Oranje, which was built by the French in 1629, will appeal to history buffs; the Dutch Reformed Church, has a tall tower that offers a bird’s-eye view of town, and the St. Eustatius Historical Foundation Museum is filled with relics from both the pre-Columbian period, and the colonial period. These items are especially interesting since Statia changed hands between the French, Dutch and English a whopping 22 times. You’ll find, among countless other items, colonial furniture, nautical instruments and blue glass trading beads made by the Dutch West Indian Company.
Accommodations are in the form of small inns and guesthouses. Dining is also a low-key affair, with seafood, Creole and Dutch dishes available at several informal restaurants.
St Kitts & Nevis
St. Kitts and Nevis are mountainous siblings representing two sides of one handsome coin, and sharing a St. Kitts-based government.
Nevis, the smaller of the two, boasts important historic sights: Nevis is the birthplace of American statesman Alexander Hamilton, and his former home is now a museum; Great Britain’s famed naval hero Admiral Horatio Nelson met and married Nevisian Fanny Brice here in 1787, and their marriage license is recorded at Fig Tree Church. Visitors partake in watersports on Pinney’s Beach (home of the Four Seasons) and Oualie Beach, plus there’s mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking, diving and snorkelling trips. The local botanical garden contains one of the largest collections of palms in the region, and the Four Seasons golf course and tennis facilities are among the Caribbean’s finest. “Liming” – relaxing – at the various beach bars is worth a few lazy afternoons, while evenings are best spent on gourmet dining.
The history is no less rich on St. Kitts, which Christopher Columbus named St. Christopher after the patron saint of travellers, and the appellation was eventually shortened to St. Kitts. Nine forts guarded the island’s coastline, none more impressive than the massive Brimstone Hill Fortress; it is a wonderfully preserved UNESCO World Heritage Site today and well worth exploration. For beaches and watersports, head south to Frigate Bay, where most of the hotel rooms are located, or just beyond, to the Southeast Peninsula, where the island’s best white-sand coves ring the peninsula’s rolling hills and salt ponds. Watch for green vervet monkeys scampering across the road, dodging into bushes or looking for a handout at Turtle Beach.
Bird-watchers will delight in St. Kitts’ treetops, where one might spot brown boobies, magnificent frigate birds, cattle egrets, black-faced grass quits and black-whiskered vireos. Golfers enjoy the 18-hole course at the St. Kitts Royal Golf Club, where some holes overlook the Atlantic Ocean, others the Caribbean Sea. Scuba enthusiasts, from beginners to experienced divers, will enjoy St. Kitts’ wrecks, reefs, walls and caves.
In 2005 the island ceased production of sugarcane, although much of St. Kitts is still robed in waving stalks of majestic cane. The narrow-gauge railway tracks that ran through the fields to haul the cut harvest to the factory have been converted into a 17.5 mile scenic train ride offered from October to May, allowing visitors to experience a memorable and historic excursion – it’s the only train operating in the Caribbean outside Cuba.
St. Lucia’s iconic Pitons – a pair of volcanic spires that vault upward from the Caribbean Sea – define one of the region’s most romantic destinations. Though the trademark vistas that surround the Pitons are perhaps the most memorable, St. Lucia delivers robust, varied scenery from head to toe. Simply put, the island looks the way the Caribbean is supposed to look.
Castries, the island’s capital, is a busy hub of island commerce and culture. An active cruise-ship port, visitors can invest a few hours at one of two duty-free shopping pavilions along the waterfront. Artists showcase paintings and sculptures in several galleries. Just a few steps fromthe harbour is the market, where vendors have gathered for more than 100 years to sell a bounty of fresh produce alongside fishermen hawking king mackerel, mahi-mahi and wahoo.
Most of St. Lucia’s resorts are found north of the capital along the west coast where there are several white sand beaches, notably Rodney Bay. With accommodations ranging from massive all-inclusive to luxury resorts to family-run inns, there’s something for almost any taste or budget. Nearby Rodney Bay Marina serves as home base for many of the charter yachts heading south to the Grenadines. While the whitesand beaches are found in the north, few come to St. Lucia without touring the south, where the island’s natural attractions are concentrated. The drive down the west coast to the town of Soufrière at the base of Petit Piton, the shorter and steeper of the twin pinnacles, is one of the most scenic in all the Caribbean.
St. Lucia’s spectacle continues below sea level, where the underwater landscape often mirrors the mountain slopes above. Much of the coastline is under the protection of the Soufrière Marine Management Area, which prohibits fishing. The result is a submerged fantasy of colorful fish and some of the most pristine coral reefs in the Caribbean.
St. Maarten is an island with a split personality, thanks to an international border between its two sides: Dutch St. Maarten to the south, French St. Martin to the north. Its capital, Philipsburg – a popular stop for cruise ships – began as a Dutch trading center, and forts around the city are reminders of its strategic importance in St. Maarten’s history. Fort Amsterdam, built in 1631, was the first Dutch military outpost in the Caribbean; the Spanish captured the fort soon after it was completed and kept it until 1648, when they abandoned it. Fort Willem, today topped by a television transmission tower, is great for a hike.
Today tourism is king; bustling Front Street in Philipsburg beckons bargain hunters with 500 duty-free shops. There are 36 sugary sand beaches to visit; one favorite strip is Cupecoy Bay Beach near the Dutch-French border, and windsurfers head to busy Maho Bay Beach, located near the airport. One of St. Maarten’s more private strands is Simpson Bay Beach. Simpson Bay Lagoon is enclosed, making the water a natural for water skiing. Dawn Beach, Oyster Pond and Guana Bay are favourites for snorkeling and windsurfing.
Divers can explore an 1801 British frigate, the coral-covered HMS Proselyte, which sits a mile off the coast. Visitors can lounge on the beach or spend time mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking, playing tennis, or participating in watersports. Adventurers may want to try kiteboarding and operators on the island can also arrange for parasailing, windsurfing and Wave Runner excursions with instruction. Sailing is very popular; experience the thrill of the daily 12-Metre Challenge, a three-hour staged version of the America’s Cup race. Sailors of every skill level can serve as a member of the crew aboard the boats.
Visit the St. Maarten Park, a part of the St. Maarten Zoological and Botanical Garden, filled with Caribbean and South American animals, plants and birds. Spot sleek ocelots and bush dogs, parrots, toucans and owls, boa constrictors and marine toads, even land crabs and giant land snails. After dark, dinner is an international affair, with more than 300 restaurants offering French, Dutch, Caribbean, Italian, Chinese, Indonesian, creole and West Indian menus. Later in the evening, consider visiting one of 12 casinos. Gaming on St. Maarten is “European mode,” quiet and sophisticated.
The pleasures of St. Martin are legendary, from its haute cuisine to its golden beaches. When you enter St. Martin, you’ve entered France, and not just figuratively speaking. St. Martin is as much a part of France as Marseilles or Nice, and a flight here from Paris is a domestic flight.
Visit the capital Marigot on market day, when, in front of the harbourside bistros and boutiques, vendors fill the parking lots with goods from home-brewed alcohol to burlap sacks overflowing with cinnamon, nutmeg and chili peppers. St. Martin is action-packed but also laid back. Orient Beach, perhaps the Caribbean’s best-known clothing optional strand, is also its premier location for watersports from windsurfing and jet skiing to “parascending” on a boat-towed parachute.
For a different kind of adventure, visit Loterie Farm, where a former slave trail leads you upward to breadfruit trees descended from the original plants brought to the Caribbean aboard the H.M.S. Bounty. A trail leads to Pic Paradise, the island’s highest point.
You can feast at one of the Caribbean’s largest collection of restaurants, but you can also eat well even on a small budget. In the village of Grand Case, fine eateries line a beachside road, yet amid these culinary palaces lie the “lolos,” a series of wooden shacks overlooking the sea where you can feast on a mountain of stewed conch, fried fish, rice, beans and plantains — all for about $10. From the lowland area called Sandy Ground to Marigot and the less visited Nettle Bay, savvy cooks are waiting to tempt you. It’s a good idea to eat heartily, because your days will be spent in a variety of activities, from a visit to the Butterfly Farm — where such beauties as the Cambodian wood nymph and the Brazilian blue morpho turn your day into a fluttering parade of colour — to the Mont Vernon Plantation, where you’ll journey back through the history of rum production to view the life of days gone by.
St Vincent & The Grenadines
A necklace of 32 islands and cays, only nine of them inhabited, St. Vincent and the Grenadines is one of the most popular destinations in the world for leisure sailors. Snorkelers and divers are also drawn by the region’s many underwater attractions, especially the coral-luscious Tobago Cays.
St. Vincent, “the mainland,” is almost 18 miles long and made imposing by its seething giant, La Soufrière volcano, which last erupted in 1979. Guides lead hikes that wind through the surrounding forest for a close-up view. St. Vincent’s other natural attractions include the Falls of Baleine, spectacular cascades that are accessible only by boat, and theMesopotamia region, with rows upon rows of banana trees. Fort Charlotte, a 19th century British battlement atop a bluff in the capital of Kingstown, features an impressive interpretive display about the Carib culture. Downtown Kingstown is a bustling area, and visitors should see the Botanical Gardens, the oldest such gardens in the Caribbean (founded in 1763) featuring a breadfruit tree that was brought to the island by Capt. William Bligh after surviving the infamous mutiny aboard the Bounty.
Lying just a few miles south of St. Vincent, Bequia is a charming, sleepy port of call. Shops feature the works of model shipbuilders. Among the attractions are the Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary and a number of galleries and artisans’ shops. The whaling heritage runs strong on Bequia. Islanders still bring in one or two whales a year using the traditional methods involving a sailboat and a hand-thrown harpoon, taking the whales to the nearby uninhabited island of Petit Nevis for butchering and rendering. Mustique, just a few miles away, is a hideaway for the rich and famous. Canuoan is a hub for charter sailors, and Union Island is a good place to book a day trip to the nearby Tobago Cays, justly famous for their well protected shallow waters.
For those seeking total seclusion, Palm Island and Petit St. Vincent await. Both have one resort and welcome day-trippers for cocktails or meals.
Siblings Trinidad and Tobago are vastly different. Larger, boisterous Trinidad parlayed its oil-boom riches into one of the region’s most industrialised economies. And while its famous and lively Carnival is one of the world’s great street parties, the destination’s bountiful countryside, with vast forest preserves and marshland, remains off the chart for many travellers.
Sleepy Tobago, on the other hand, just 21 miles away, is a haven for those seeking the quintessential Caribbean vacation with cozy resorts, picture-postcard beaches and a stunning marine environment. Since both islands were once part of the South Americanmainland, they offer a far more diverse variety of plant and animal species than those found elsewhere in the Caribbean.
The famous Trinidad Carnival typically falls in February, but those who arrive at other times can still enjoy the lively beat of calypso and soca music, and the city’s many nightclubs offer a lively mix of the throbbing island beat. Despite its proximity to Venezuela, life on Trinidad is defined more by its colonial roots – African, Indian, Chinese, British and French – than by Latin American culture. The island’s ethnic diversity is particularly evident in Trini food.
Escape the capital to the beaches along the north coast, or the vast forest in the interior. The Asa Wright Nature Centre & Lodge draws birdwatchers with its oilbirds, the only nocturnal fruit-eating birds extant. At the CaroniBird Sanctuary, boat tours bring visitors within viewing distance of the rare scarlet ibis, and the Nariva Swamp features howler monkeys. Divers will find the world’s largest known brain coral, as well as rocky canyons and deep caves populated with barracudas, dolphins, whale sharks, orange ball anemones, porpoises and manta rays.
Turks & Caicos Islands
The Turks and Caicos Islands, archipelagos comprised of 40 low-lying and mostly undeveloped islands boast miles of white powdery beaches, superb diving, accommodations, and gourmet restaurants. Much of the underwater excitement is found off the Turks, where wall dives are outstanding, and along West Caicos and Provo. Sport fishing is a big international draw, and the mangrove salt flats offer a prime habitat for bonefish.
Providenciales (known as Provo) is the hub for tourism. The island’s crowning glory is Grace Bay, a 12 mile stretch of velvety sand. Also on Provo, bird watchers enjoy acres of inland lakes frequented by white herons and pink flamingos. Just a dozen miles from Provo is North Caicos, which receives the most rainfall, making it notably greener with tall trees and lush vegetation. The southern part of North Caicos is swampy, with broad estuaries that are home to a vast colony of West Indian flamingoes. North Caicos is popular with holiday-home buyers, especially around Whitby, with its stunning seven mile beach.
On Middle Caicos, you can sign up with a local guide and head for a settlement called Conch Bar where a labyrinth of caves are home to limestone formations and resident bat populations. Elsewhere, recent archaeological excavations have uncovered ancient Lucayan artifacts dating back more than 1,200 years. Uninhabited West Caicos and East Caicos are lined with fine beaches accessible by boat, and South Caicos was once a salt-producing island. Today it has a fishing port and a yachting centre, along with miles of deserted beaches.
The capital and centre of government lies east of the Columbus Passage on Grand Turk, where visitors can tour several restored churches and the Turks and Caicos National Museum. From January to March, visitors flock to nearby Salt Cay to spot humpback whales on their annual migration to the Silver Banks off Hispaniola.
US Virgin Islands
The USVI – St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John – known as America’s Caribbean, is one of the Caribbean’s most popular destinations. This trio of islands is an easy flight from the U.S. mainland, prices are in American dollars. Oceanfront resorts, small inns, condos, campgrounds or luxury villas – the choice of accommodations will suit any style. Nearly 2.5 million vacationers flock here annually for the powdery beaches, plentiful watersports and fine dining. Like siblings, each of the three major islands has its own personality.
The largest of these islands at 84 square miles, St. Croix (pronounced CROY) features a varied terrain from dry cactus-studded hills out east to lush tropical forests in the west. Hiking, kayaking and kite boarding are popular pastimes, and the island boasts two 18-hole golf courses. Some scuba buffs claim this is the only place in the Caribbean where you can dive a wall, a reef, a wreck and a pier all in the same day. Chartered powerboats or catamarans will take you to the pristine beach and a marked snorkel trail at uninhabited Buck Island Reef National Monument.
St. Thomas, the best known of the U.S. Virgin Islands, is the most bustling due to passengers arriving almost daily on cruise ships and mega-yachts that steam into Charlotte Amalie harbour. Trade is a St. Thomas speciality dating back to 18th-century pirate days. Imported perfumes, cameras, watches, fine porcelain and crystal abound. U.S. Customs laws allow individuals to bring up to $1,600 worth of merchandise from the U.S. Virgin Islands back to the United States without having to pay duty, and there’s no sales tax. There are plenty of postcard-perfect beaches like popular Magens Bay. Snorkel, scuba dive, fish offshore, or take a boat excursion. St. Thomas’ only golf course, Mahogany Run, is known for its challenging trio of cliffside holes called the Devil’s Triangle.
St. John, the smallest of the trio at 20 square miles, is a favourite of nature-lovers. Two-thirds of St. John falls within the boundaries of the 9,485 acre Virgin Islands National Park. More than 800 plant species grow in hilly tropical forests that drop down to beaches bordered by coral reefs. The National Park Service added even more federally owned submerged acres in 2001 to create the underwater Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument. St. John is also known for lovely beaches along the north coast and quieter ones to the south.
The Colonial Era
Every one of the islands that make up the Caribbean was at one stage a colony of a European empire.
Soon after the voyages of Christopher Columbus to the Caribbean in 1492, both Portuguese and Spanish ships began claiming territories in the region. These colonies brought in gold, and so other European powers, most specifically England, the Netherlands, and France, hoped to establish profitable colonies of their own. The Spanish, who came seeking wealth, enslaved the native population and rapidly drove them to near-extinction. To supplement the local labour, the Spanish imported African slaves. Other European powers established a presence in the Caribbean after the Spanish Empire declined. The Dutch, the French, and the British followed one another to the region and established a long-term presence. They brought with them millions of slaves imported from Africa to support the tropical plantation system that spread through the Caribbean islands.
Today, the influences of these different cultures can still be felt in the food, language, and currency of specific islands.
The Caribbean has a rich and varied history. While many people know that Christopher Columbus “discovered” the Caribbean, what most do not don’t know is that the Caribbean Islands had an interesting history well before Columbus’ arrival. In fact, the first people to live on the Caribbean Islands were tribes of people called the Arawaks and Caribs.
While life was initially peaceful, by the time Columbus arrived, the Arawaks and Caribs had been at war for many years. The Arawaks were a skilled tribe known for weaving baskets and trading crops, while the Caribs were known as a more war like people who pillaged villages for supplies and slaves. The Caribs were also excellent weapons makers and skilled makers of pottery.
Both tribes caught and ate marine life, they also routinely ate lizards, snails, turtles, and birds as well. Every day’s catch would be added to a pepper pot, which was a stew that simmered and cooked for weeks. Today, pepper pots are still a native Caribbean dish.
The development of agriculture in the Caribbean required a large workforce of manual labourers, which the Europeans found by taking advantage of the slave trade in Africa. The Atlantic slave trade brought African slaves to British, Dutch, French, Portuguese and Spanish colonies in the Americas, including the Caribbean. Slaves were brought to the Caribbean from the early 16th century until the end of the 19th century.
Abolitionists in the Americas and in Europe became vocal opponents of the slave trade throughout the 19th century. The importation of slaves to the colonies was often outlawed years before the end of the institution of slavery itself. It was well into the 19th century before all of the many slaves in the Caribbean were finally free.
The Sugar Trade
The history of Caribbean agricultural is closely linked with European colonialism which altered the financial potential of the region by introducing a plantation system. Much like the Spanish enslaved indigenous Indians to work in gold mines, the 17th century brought a new series of oppressors in the form of the Dutch, the English, and the French. By the middle of the 18th century sugar was Britain’s largest import which made the Caribbean that much more important as a colony.
Sugar was a luxury in Europe prior to the 18th century when it became widely popular and by the 19th Century it had graduated to become a necessity. This evolution of taste and demand for sugar as an essential food ingredient unleashed major economic and social changes. Caribbean islands with plentiful sunshine, abundant rainfalls and no extended frosts were well suited for sugarcane agriculture and sugar factories.
Following the emancipation of slaves in 1833 in the United Kingdom, many liberated Africans left their former masters. This created economic chaos for British owners of Caribbean sugar cane plantations. The hard work in hot, humid farms required a regular, docile and low-waged labour force. The British looked for cheap labour which they found initially in China and then mostly in India.
The “New World” plantations were established in order to fulfill the growing needs of the “Old World”. The sugar plantations were built with the intention of exporting the sugar back to Europe. The result of this economic exploitation was a plantation dependence which saw the Caribbean nations possessing a large quantity of unskilled workers performing agricultural tasks. After many years of colonial rule the nations also saw no profits brought into their country since the sugar production was controlled by the colonial rulers. This left the Caribbean nations with little capital to invest towards enhancing any future industries unlike European nations which were developing rapidly and separating themselves technologically and economically from most impoverished nations of the world.
Haiti the former French colony of Saint-Domingue on Hispaniola, was the first Caribbean nation to gain independence from a European power in 1804. This followed 13 years of warfare which commenced as a slave uprising in 1791 and quickly became the Haitian Revolution under the leadership of Toussaint l’Ouverture, where the former slaves defeated the French army (twice), the Spanish army, and the British army, before becoming the world’s first and oldest black republic, and also the second-oldest republic in the Western Hemisphere after the United States. This is additionally notable as being the only successful slave uprising in history.
The nations bordering the Caribbean in Central America gained independence with the 1821 establishment of the First Mexican Empire – which at that time included the modern states of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. The nations bordering the Caribbean in South America also gained independence from Spain in 1821 with the establishment of Gran Colombia – which comprised the modern states of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, and Panama.
Cuba and Puerto Rico remained a Spanish colonies until the Spanish American War in 1898, after which Cuba attained its independence in 1902, and Puerto Rico became an unincorporated territory of the United States.
Between 1958 and 1962 most of the British-controlled Caribbean was integrated as the new West Indies Federation in an attempt to create a single unified future independent state – but it failed. The following former British Caribbean island colonies achieved independence in their own right; Jamaica (1962), Trinidad & Tobago (1962), Barbados (1966), Bahamas (1973), Grenada (1974), Dominica (1978), St. Lucia (1979), St. Vincent (1979), Antigua & Barbuda (1981), St. Kitts & Nevis (1983).
In addition British Honduras in Central America became independent as Belize (1981), British Guiana in South America became independent as Guyana (1966), and Dutch Guiana also in South America became independent as Suriname (1975).
Economy in the 21st Century
The mainstay of the Caribbean economy, sugar, has declined since the beginning of the 20th century, although it is still a major crop in the region. Caribbean sugar production became relatively expensive in comparison to other parts of the world, making it difficult for Caribbean sugar products to compete. Caribbean economic diversification into new activities became essential to the islands.
By the beginning of the 20th century, the Caribbean islands enjoyed greater political stability. Large-scale violence was no longer a threat after the end of slavery in the islands. The British-controlled islands in particular benefited from investments in the infrastructure of colonies.
This investment improved the quality of life for the inhabitants and also made the islands a more attractive destination for visitors. Tourists began to visit in larger numbers by the beginning of the 20th century. The most popular early destinations were Jamaica and the Bahamas; the Bahamas remains today the most popular tourist destination in the Caribbean. Post-independence economic needs led to a boom in the development of the tourism industry in the 1980s and large luxury hotels and resorts have been built on many of the islands. Cruise ships are also regular visitors to the Caribbean.
The development of offshore banking services began during the 1920s. The close proximity of the Caribbean islands to the United States has made them an attractive location for branches of foreign banks. Clients from the United States take advantage of offshore banking services to avoid U.S. taxation. The Bahamas entered the financial services industry first, and continues to be at the forefront of financial services in the region. The Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, and the Netherlands Antilles have also developed competitive financial services industries.
Ports both large and small were built throughout the Caribbean during the colonial era. The export of sugar on a large scale made the Caribbean one of the centres of world shipping and it remains so today.
Best known for its big, hearty stews and curries embellished with spices, coconut milk and hot peppers, Caribbean food is the result of a wide range of different cultural influences. From the spicy pepperpots of the indigenous Arawaks and Caribs to the jerk seasonings brought in from Africa, as well as Indian roti Caribbean cuisine is a colourful hotchpotch of diverse flavours.
On Jamaica the cuisine includes a mixture of cooking techniques, flavors, spices and influences from the indigenous people of the island, as well as the Spanish, British, Africans, and Chinese who have all inhabited the island. Various dishes came to the island with the arrival of people from these different cultures. Other dishes are novel or a fusion of techniques and traditions. In addition to ingredients that are native to Jamaica, many foods have been introduced and are now grown locally. Popular Jamaican dishes include curry goat, fried dumplings, ackee and salt cod fish (which is the national dish), rice and peas, fried plantain, steamed cabbage and, of course, jerk chicken or pork.Because the Caribbean is multicultural, there are distinct regional differences in the authentic cuisines of the individual islands. Puerto Rico and Cuba have distinct Spanish-influenced food. Guadeloupe and Martinique are French-owned so their native cuisine has obvious ties to France. Jamaica, which was once a major slave-trading centre, is rich in African culture, even though it was a British colony until 1958 and only secured full independence in 1962.
Although it is difficult to generalize about Caribbean cuisine, it remains exquisite. Whether dining on conch in the Caymans or Callaloo in Tobago, or simply eating a passion fruit right off the tree, you can be sure that the Caribbean has a wonderful cuisine.
Gary Trotman – (DofM)
On behalf of Steelasophical
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