The best way to see the Caribbean is by cruise. Alexia Santamaria profiles some of its most famous and beautiful islands.
Home to some of the most beautiful landscapes on the planet, the Caribbean boasts a diverse array of cultures and geography. And while it’s pretty commonplace for Americans and Canadians to pop to the Caribbean for some sun, it still seems so exotic to us here in the South Pacific. With Indian, African, Danish, Dutch, French, Portuguese, Swedish and Spanish influences depending on the island, there’s huge cultural appeal to a holiday in these parts – on top of the obvious white-sand-beaches-and-crystal-clear-water charm.
If you’ve never been to this area, a cruise is a great way to get a taste of some of the main islands. Here are some of the most fascinating and beautiful for you to consider as you choose a route.
Since it’s only 34 kilometres long, you can see quite a lot of Barbados on a one-day stop. Very British Bridgetown is known for its bustling, fun vibe, great live music scene and beautiful colonial architecture. In fact, UNESCO declared it a world heritage site in 2011. The less-populated east coast is more rugged but the west coast is where you’ll find the island’s most popular beaches – yep, those Caribbean beaches of your dreams. There’s also a 2.4km-long network of coral caves called Harrison’s Caves that many visitors flock to visit. Barbados also has a history with rum dating back to the 1700s, so a distillery tour is a must for fans of this spirit.
People fall in love with St Lucia for many reasons. Dramatic landscape; fabulous fine golden sand beaches; incredible snorkelling with screeds of trumpetfish, little squid, moray eels, parrotfish, needlefish and in some areas, turtles; delicious Creole cuisine and the world’s only ‘drive-in volcano’ where you can drive right up to the boiling, steaming, crater – the smell will remind you of our own Rotorua. The landscape is dominated by the Pitons, a pair of volcanic peaks that you’ll keep wanting to look at over and over again. If you’re feeling energetic you can scale Gros Piton (798 metres) for stunning views or go inland to see brightly coloured tropical bird life.
Perhaps one of the best known of the Caribbean islands and the birthplace of reggae, Jamaica is a great place for fun, dancing, eating, drinking and partying. But the third-largest island in the Caribbean has a gentler side too where you can while away hours on soft sandy beaches with those postcard-perfect waters teeming with coral and pretty fish. It also has plenty to do for those looking for adventure.
Exploring majestic waterfalls, rushing rivers, stunning mountains and caves are all options in Jamaica – and take your hiking boots to get up close and personal with the lush green jungle and all its fascinating inhabitants too. While Kingston has had a slightly insalubrious reputation over the years, a cultural renaissance of sorts is turning it into a great place to sample some outstanding Caribbean food and culture and experience a world-class music scene like no other.
Grenada is one of the most unspoilt of the Windward Islands and one of the smallest Island countries in the world. It’s called the Spice Island for good reason as they export vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and mace – you can actually smell it in the air. The interior of the island is very mountainous and jungle filled and there’s plenty of opportunity to get close to nature, including waterfalls, blowholes and even random monkey encounters! The diving is some of the best in the world and the Underwater Sculpture Park is popular with those wanting to see something different below the water line. St George’s is a picturesque town with interesting shops and restaurants plus Forts George, Frederick and Matthew – all with their own fascinating histories.
Many Caribbean cruises include a little taste of Mexico, bringing some diversity to your list of ports. Isla Cozumel borders the world's second-largest coral reef, meaning scuba options are obviously excellent, and if you get outside of the very touristy hotel zone you’ll find small Mayan ruins, gorgeous scenery, a fascinating eco park and local cliffside bars in the less visited areas. There are plenty of places to relax and soak up the sun and of course grab some local food. Cozumel is well known for its excellent seafood so make sure you seek some out for lunch.