Dozens of sun-drenched islands bordered by white sand beaches dot the Caribbean Sea, and each one is unique. There are small, quiet islands perfect for relaxing by the ocean and larger ones that thrive on the hustle and bustle of activity. Some are lush, tropical rain forests while others are arid deserts cooled by soft trade winds. There are both flat landscapes and mountainous terrains. Each island has a beauty all its own.
Yet the differences are more than merely geographic. The Caribbean is a culturally diverse archipelago. Generations ago, explorers from European nations crossed the vast Atlantic Ocean in search of new lands. As they conquered islands they began to colonize, leaving their imprint on all they inhabited. Today, the influence the English, Dutch, French, African and Spanish had on the isles of the Caribbean can still be seen. Their language, lifestyle and cuisines have been assimilated with native cultures, and the end result is a collection of charming islands, each with its own flavor.
The promise of an abundance of sunshine and year-round tropical weather makes the Caribbean a perfect vacation destination. Those looking to escape cold and brutal winters find refuge in the warm Caribbean sun. In the summer months, when much of the United States in blanketed in heat and humidity, the breezes rolling off the ocean can make the Caribbean truly delightful.
Do you want to know why people return to the Caribbean year after year? Because there is so much to do if you want to be active or many beautiful spots where you can do nothing at all! Will you go to frolic in the sun and surf? Snorkeling, diving, fishing, jet skiing, parasailing; it’s all there…or simply observe others as you gently swing on a hammock under the palm trees. Are you looking for adventure? There’s caving, tubing, climbing, hiking, or gliding through the canopy on ziplines. How will you take an island tour? Bus, bike, segway, boat, horse drawn carriage, 4×4, or ATV’s are a few of the options that come to mind. Maybe the kids want to get up close and personal with the island critters. How about swimming with rays, sharks or dolphins? Or stay on land and check out the aquarium, butterfly farm, ostrich farm, or turtle farm! Does the explorer in you wants to discover ancient Mayan ruins or natural wonders? My goodness, you have to return time and time again in order to do it all!
Cruising to the Caribbean is like going into Baskin Robbins and asking for three of the thirty-one flavors they sell in one cup! On a Caribbean cruise you can sail for one week but sample three or more different islands! Itineraries reflect the three Caribbean regions. If you choose an Eastern Caribbean cruise, shoppers beware! St Thomas has wonderful shops for both high-end purchases such as jewelry and electronics or a great flea market for fun souvenirs. St. Maarten (French) / St Martin (Dutch) is unusual in that you have two separate nations living side by side. One of the best excursions offered on the Dutch side is the America’s Cup Regatta, where you can sign on as a deckhand. No experience is necessary and the race is all in good fun! Or have a gourmet lunch at the Grande Case, an area renowned for authentic French fare on the other side of the island. San Juan is a popular stop in the Eastern Caribbean, as wandering the Old Town and the fort that used to protect it are a great way to spend the day. Nature lovers will enjoy a visit to El Yunque Rain Forest, with its colorful birds, gorgeous flowers, and spectacular waterfalls.
The Western Caribbean boasts the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere so if you want to dive or snorkel, you’ll want to stop at Belize! Cozumel and Costa Maya are a trove of Mayan ruins, perfect for history buffs interested in the ancient past. Memories of a visit to the sites of Tulum or Chichen Itza will remain with you long after you’ve returned home. Western Caribbean cruises often call on one of the three ports of Jamaica, an island of great natural beauty. Here you can leisurely raft down the Martha Brae or for adventure seekers, a climb up Dunn’s River Falls would be exhilarating! Just as thrilling of an experience would be swimming with the stingrays, and that’s exactly what many visitors choose to do on Grand Cayman Island. Meanwhile, sun worshippers find their way to 7-Mile Beach for a day of blissful laziness.
The Southern Caribbean islands are a bit less traveled, quite possibly because these cruises generally depart from San Juan. The Dutch island of Aruba is hot and dry but boasts perfect beach weather. The colorful colonial architecture of the capital city of Oranjestad makes your photos look as good as postcards. Admire the rugged natural beauty of the island by taking a jeep through Arikok National Park. Curacao is another island with Dutch influence and every bit as lovely. Shop the Central Market for local crafts or spend the day hiking or exploring the caves of Christoffel National Park. Barbados, a very British island, is also a port of call on a Southern Caribbean cruise. The capital city of Bridgetown even has its own Trafalger Square. Harrison’s Cave, with it’s 40 foot waterfall and massive cavern is a popular excursion and easily accessible by electric tram.
Each and every island that makes up the Caribbean has its own “essence”, its own “flavor.” How could anyone choose to visit just one, and why would you want to? Sample the underwater treasures in Belize, savor the cuisine of St Maarten, and relish the natural beauty of Jamaica. Cruising to the Caribbean lets you taste a bit of each.