The Caribbean is too-often associated with simply being a destination of family cruises, where one is taken out into the ocean on a big boat, dumped onto a tourist-friendly block of an island and swooped back up twelve hours for another jaunt to the next location. The truth is, the Caribbean offers many islands that are worth the flight and hotel expense not only because of the impeccable weather, but variety of rich, cultured experiences available on virtually every island. Especially great is the remote nature of these islands as off-the-beaten path destinations for quiet vacations.
Additionally, this beautiful expanse of islands is mistakenly summed up by thinking of a few locations only – Jamaica, Bahamas and Aruba being those that stand out when individuals and couples search for the best islands in the Caribbean. Fortunately, there is so much more to be seen and experienced out of the 28 island nations in the Caribbean, as well as the more than 7,000 individual islands! There are a million reasons to travel to the Caribbean, but here are some of our favorite under the radar locations and why we think you should go!
Part of the sister islands that make the ABC islands (along with Bonaire and Aruba), Curacao boasts incredible beach-fronts, crystal-clear water and some of the best and most affordable resorts in the Caribbean. Part touristic, part untouched, Curacao has something in mind for the beach-goer and party-goer, including some of the most stunning vistas in the Caribbean as well as a thriving nightlife in downtown Willemstad, the capital. Lastly, the ABCs are technically removed from the hurricane belt, making weather a nearly non-factor year-round for the gorgeous utopia.
Perhaps the most truly differentiating things on the island to experience is the shipwreck on Klein Curacao, a small island just off the mainland. Curacao is, in fact, a hot-bed of shipwreck activity with several notable locations to dive or snorkel around shipwrecks such as the Superior Producer, which went down in 1978.
Bayahibe, Dominican Republic
Most come to the Dominican Republic for Punta Cana, the coastal city littered with all-you-can-eat packages and Caribbean tourists who want to be in the Caribbean without actually being in the Caribbean. However, Bayahibe offers a truer and less stale experience than Punta cana. Take advantage of the locally-prepared seafood dishes and scuba diving by day, and the numerous, thriving and vibrant live music establishments by night. Kviar Show Disco & Casino Bayahibe is a favorite place that doubles as a location to dance the night away, have some drinks, and risk a few bucks on the blackjack table.
There are countless reasons to visit Bonaire, and its not only our favorite place in the Caribbean, but arguably our favorite place in the world. Small, unspoiled and untouched, Bonaire is a water-lover’s dream, featuring some of the best diving and snorkeling in the world, as well as a vibrant nightlife and excellent cultural experiences.
Make sure to visit Klein Bonaire, a small swath of land directly opposing the primary tourists’ area in the capital of Kralendijk, where daily boats will take you on a short ride to experience a completely unfettered snorkeling experience. Don’t forget to take your own food and drink, however, because Klein is completely uninhabited. Bonaire is ridiculously romantic, and absolutely perfect as a Caribbean get-away for couples!
Nevis is small. Very small, at only 36 square miles. However, what the tiny island lacks in size it makes up for in richness. There is simply so much to do in this idyllic paradise, including volcano exploration, hiking, camping, snorkeling and diving – to name a few.
Additionally, Nevis doubles as the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton, 18th century American statesman and the 1st Treasury Secretary in national history. Hamilton is honored throughout the island, including a casual trip through the now-museum that sits at the site of his birthplace. You’ll have to fly from Miami into into neighboring St. Kitts to reach Nevis, but the extra layover is absolutely worth it.
Grenada is rolling and stunning, although often overlooked in favor of many of its neighbors. It is possibly one of the most unspoiled islands in the West Indies, and retains original colonial charm as well as a casual atmosphere and amazing food. St. George, the island nation’s capital, is a cultural landmark full of historic museums and inviting people.
The Coyaba Beach Resort is the place to stay, as it includes reasonable prices, beautiful rooms and one of the best restaurants on the island – the Arawakabana.
Saba is the smallest Dutch-Caribbean island, and certainly one of the most beautiful. Called the “Unspoiled Queen”, the island houses less than two-thousand residents, making it an ideal choice for those looking to truly disappear off the grid.
In addition, Saba has some of the highest elevation in the Caribbean, making it the perfect location for hiking and mountain biking, at more than 1,200 feet in elevation. The lifestyle on Saba is different from much of the Caribbean – slow and old-fashioned with little nightlife, even with the emergence of an ecotourism industry in the last few decades.
Just north of Venezuela sits Trinidad and Tobago, the southernmost country in the Caribbean. Trinidad is unquestionably the bigger brother of the two, being larger, more industrialized and more acclimated to tourism, but Tobago offers much. Low-key and unspoiled, there are a few resorts in Tobago such as the Le Grand Courlan Spa Resort where the ocean is warm year-round, completely calm and untampered. Additionally, Le Grand Courlan is a perfect couples resort because of its adults-only policy!
Tobago is scenically stunning due to a natural feature most Caribbean islands lack in volume – bays. Tobago has numerous well-known bays that are ideal for boating, diving or simply swimming. What’s better is that many of these are away from what few “touristy” areas there are, while remaining perfectly safe.
Cayman Brac and Little Cayman
Cayman Brac and Little Cayman are stunning visually and even more interesting historically, as a remaining location where the infamous pirate Blackbeard allegedly hid his treasure – estimated at more than $14 million according to record. Accessible through the Grand Cayman, these islands offer superb adventures for scuba divers, cliff divers and windsurfers.
Legend has it that Blackbeard’s treasure is hidden along an area of rocky shoal that outlines the beautiful Cayman Brac. This shoal reaches high and vast, attracting rock climbers and hikers in addition to the already-present divers and treasure hunters! Beyond the shoal lie vast caves scattered along the coastline where small amount of gold, silver and jewels have been found over the years!
Barbados is a natural wonder, complete with beautiful, scenic nature that is perfect for calm, casual walks throughout the island. Botanical gardens, forest trails and caves are virtually everywhere, making Barbados a perfect off-the-grid location to reconnect with nature. Harrison’s Cave is a wonderful location for a truly unique Caribbean experience, and afterward you could east to the stunning Bathsheba Beach or to the south, where the Mount Gay Rum distillery has been in operation since 1703.
On Barbados’ Platinum Coast, the calm water is ideal for swimming, snorkeling or simply doing nothing. For culinary enthusiast, the coastal fishing town of Oistons is ideal to try your hand at fry fishing with locals and familiarizing yourself with authentic Caribbean cuisine!
Vieques Island, Puerto Rico
If you visit Puerto Rico, and you should, make sure to take a small ferry over to Vieques Island, a small and quiet paradise filled with lavish resorts, mangroves, wildlife and picturesque beaches. The Vieques Wildlife National Refuge is a must-see feature of this island, as it retains much of the natural Puerto Rican wildlife to be left undisturbed and protected.
Just eight miles east of the mainland Puerto Rico, Vieques features some of the most beautiful black-sand beaches in the Caribbean, as well as Bahía Bioluminiscente. Also called “Bio Bays”, these are bodies of water that contain millions of micro-organisms, called “dinoflagellates”, that glow in the dark for a second when agitated. It is a rare, natural wonder that you can easily experience while visiting Puerto Rico. Have your camera ready!
There’s more to the Caribbean than cruises or Jamaica. With an area so moving, so beautiful and so vast, the numbers of island nations are far more varied than most imagine and offer myriad unique experiences for anyone willing to take a chance. Often, these more “out of the way” locations are the ones that will simply amaze you with things you never imagined, food you never tasted and the kind of people you could only meet far from the general eye of tourism. Take a step away from the places you know, venture further, and experience all the Caribbean has to offer.