Making the Choice - Finding Your Perfect Caribbean Vacation Spot
By Jennifer Smith
Close your eyes and imagine a Caribbean vacation. Done? The images you called to mind probably contained pristine white beaches, aquamarine waters, and plenty of palm trees. Fortunately, the Caribbean is full of enough beautiful beaches to satisfy every traveler, but there's much more to the islands than just beaches, something vacationers who would like their trip to be more than just a day at the beach can enjoy.
While some islands are, indeed, known for their beaches, others, like Saba, hardly have any. There's a whole world of activities in the Caribbean, it's just a matter of knowing where to look. Learning a bit about some of the islands can help you get a feel for the many differences you'll find.
Basic Island Differences
Weather, surprisingly, can be different from island to island, as mountains, the trade winds, and even their geographic location can cause some subtle and not-so-subtle changes. Islands such as Aruba are seemingly an anomaly - cacti and aloe grow more readily than fragrant hibiscus in its desert climate. Meanwhile islands like Puerto Rico can offer mountain hikes to adventure seekers, as well as a cooler temperatures high in its ranges.
Another important difference between the islands can be cultural. If you're looking for a taste of Paris alongside a bit of tropical sunshine, turn to Martinique and the other French West Indies. However, travelers can also enjoy islands where Dutch colonial style still reigns in the Netherlands Antilles, or take tea in the British West Indies. Some islands have been territories of many nations throughout their history, and the mix can be delightful.
Activities, though, can make or break a vacation. There are plenty of natural sights to see, both above and below the waves; mountainous peaks rise high into the sky, and historic buildings attract many visitors. Cultural festivals like the famous Carnival are also popular draws to these islands. However, when you're looking for activities, it's important to make the right choices.
Jamaica attracts many visitors each year to its popular resort towns and beaches. Whether you're heading to Negril, Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, Kingston, or somewhere else entirely, Jamaica has plenty of culture to offer. Golf on the grounds of a former plantation, or explore its famous Blue Mountains, there's plenty to see and do on land. And, of course, who can forget the food and crafts? Still, avid snorkelers and divers may leave this island feeling a little disappointed.
Canc"n is the ubiquitous spring break vacation spot for most college students, but what many people don't know is that the surrounding areas have plenty to offer as well. Canc"n may have gorgeous beaches and plenty of nightlife, but Cozumel offers incredible underwater sights to dazzle intrepid divers. The area known as the Mayan Riviera includes secluded spots like Playa del Carmen, which many families love, while Tulum hosts larger than life Mayan ruins.
A popular spot for cruising as much as any other kind of travel, The Bahamas has plenty of popular ports and beaches, but crowds in the cities can be too much for some travelers. The Out Islands, however, are some of the most popular areas for vacationers looking to escape the crowds. Whether you're off to see Ernest Hemingway's Bimini, enjoying the hustle and bustle of popular cities like Freeport, or sailing and fishing between any of the islands, The Bahamas provide a great opportunity for a unique vacation without going far from the Florida coast.
Puerto Rico has plenty of advocates as well, since it offers travelers everything from mountain vistas to a bit of diving and snorkeling. It's best known for its history - while Old San Juan is popular, visit Ponce on the southern coast for a touch of something a little different - and its rainforest, El Yunque, is the only rainforest in the U.S. National Parks system. Shopping, casinos, and nightlife are all important aspects of San Juan's popularity, and don't forget to spend a bit of time at one of their beaches as well.
Get ready to sail when visiting the Virgin Islands. Whether you're planning to stop in at the U.S. or the British islands, you'll find crystalline waters and plenty of places to see. St. Thomas offers shopping, St. Croix features historic Dutch buildings, and St. John is home to a wildlife preserve. Snorkelers and divers will find beautiful sights in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The British Virgin Islands are much more secluded, and welcome vacationers with warm smiles and British hospitality.
Travelers feeling like another taste of something British can stop in at Barbados and have afternoon tea with the Bajan locals. Visitors stopping in on Bermuda can also explore some of the cultural heritage this island retains, and stick around for a game of golf. Despite Bermuda's distinctly non-Caribbean location, it is still considered to be a popular tropical location, and is often grouped with other Caribbean islands. The sister islands of Antigua and Barbuda are also known for beautiful beaches and rich British history, as well as incredible sailing.
Aruba, Bonaire, and Cura"ao, known as the ABC Islands, are three of the Netherlands Antilles located just north of Venezuela's coast. With the added distinction of being outside the Caribbean's "Hurricane Belt, this trio of islands offers some unusual desert climates, but fascinating history, and nature unlike what you'll find in the rest of the Caribbean.
The Dominican Republic, St. Lucia, Saba, Belize, and Dominica are known for their natural beauty. With mountains, rivers, tropical forests, and underwater scenes to explore, these relatively untouched locales provide ecologically-oriented travelers an especially rich and diverse set of Caribbean spots to explore. Each of these has different cultures and draws to the island, whether you're curious about The Dominican Republic's popular surfing beaches, or St. Lucia's famous volcanic peaks, there's sure to be something that is perfect for island explorers.
While it may be easy to visualize what some would consider to be typically Caribbean, it may take a little more effort to really pick an island that is perfect for your stay. Every traveler has his or her own idea of what makes up a great getaway, and building that trip is easy in the Caribbean. With just a bit of discernment everyone can be satisfied on their vacation to the Caribbean.
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