So, you have been putting it off for years. Always promising to take the family someplace special, somewhere hot-hot-hot, a beach holiday in the truest sense of the word. You have already taken advice from friends, thumbed stacks of holiday brochures and yet you still don’t know where to throw down your beach towel. Whether secluded and romantic, or family-focused and fun-loving, the only dilemma in planning a trip to the Caribbean is choosing the right island paradise to visit! Allow us to give you a few helpful pointers.
1. Dominican Republic
Capital: Santo Domingo
Religion: Roman Catholic
Currency: Dominican peso
National Dish: La Bandera; beans, rice and chicken (stewed) guisado
Local Saying: In the DR you can always fit one more person in the bus
Watch out for: Sanky-Pankies (smooth talker, beach walker)
Forming one side of the Caribbean’s second largest landmass, Hispaniola, sharing a border with Haiti, the Dominican Republic is one of the less developed tourist destinations. This makes it an option for the budget conscious, but don’t let that fool you. The many tourists that visit, know the rest are missing out. A variety of airports make this an accessible option. The north coast of the island sports choppier seas that are a must for the wind and kite surf fraternity. For the adventurous, try your hand at the Samana Zipline tour. For a more genteel pastime, try the Punta Espada Golf Course, Punta Cana.
Population: Just over 12,000
Capital: The Valley
Wildlife: Home to the endangered Brown Pelican
Size: 16 miles long, 3 miles wide
Number of beaches: 33
Fact: The name Anguilla means eel
Although this tiny island was hit by Hurricane Irma last September, it is definitely still worth visiting for those looking for complete chill-out. Experts would argue that Anguilla possesses the finest beaches in the region; some accolade considering the competition. This tiny British protectorate is dominated by white sandy beaches where top-notch restaurants dare each other to see how far into the waters they can stretch. The national sport of boat-racing is a delight for seafaring aficionados. Even in high season, it can feel like you have destinations like Barnes Bay all to yourselves. Plan your trip around the Festival Del Mar and you will realise unspoilt does not necessarily mean quiet.
3. St Lucia
Do say: Iconic and Volcanic
Language: English/French patois
Life expectancy: 78 years (women)
Currency: East Caribbean Dollar
Fact: Features the only drive-in volcano in the world
When we dream of the Caribbean, we see St Lucia. The warmth of the people is legendary, as is its stunning natural beauty and the forested twin peaks rising from the sea. There are areas of this island that are refreshingly inexpensive like Soufriere on the island’s west coast, catering as much for couples as it does for families. The island is not predisposed to tacky entertainment but revels in activities like snorkelling, sailing, golf and tennis. This jewel of the Lesser Antilles is home to many endangered species, and the verdant rainforests are a bird watcher’s paradise.
Don’t say: Bequia, it is pronounced Bek-Weh
Language: English/French patois
Capital: Port Elizabeth
Area: 7 sq miles
Flight Times: from Barbados 55 minutes
Bequia is perfect for those in search of a little touch of luxury without being overtly exclusive. It is a popular haunt for sailors of the Caribbean, but stands out for its beaches, of which the beach named after Princess Margaret is the obvious choice. She liked to pop over from neighbouring Mustique. The islanders welcomed her and they’ll make you feel welcome too. If this idyllic setting is not enough and it’s shopping you prefer, then look no further than Port Elizabeth, or a boat trip to Kingstown, St Vincent will only take you a short hour.
Capital: St. John’s
Currency: East Caribbean Dollar
National dish: Fungie (pronounced “foon-jee”)
Although it’s hard to choose, Antigua has to be one of our favourite Caribbean Islands due to its stunning beaches; one for every day of the year! Jump on one of the local buses (a small minivan) and experience the real Antigua. The driver will drop you wherever you wish along the route and point out the best beach (possibly where his cousin has a bar!). A must-see is a visit to Nelson’s Dockyard. It is a UNESCO site in English harbour, and is Britain’s best colonial Caribbean legacy.
Do say: Spice up your life!
Location: 100 miles north of Venezuela
Capital: St Georges
Aka: the Spice Isle
National Dish: Oil-Down made with breadfruit and served with Golden Apple Drink, which also happens to be the national drink
Currency: Eastern Caribbean Dollar (and US Dollar)
The beach on the postcard that you send back home to chillier climes, will likely be Grand Anse, two miles long and favouring the island’s hottest hotels. But there are more secluded places along the northern tip for those who want to take care of the cash in their wallets. Friday means happy hour, so stroll down to Prickly Bay Marina for drinks and live music.
7. Turks and Caicos
Do say: The Shangri Las of sandy beaches
Capital: Cockburn Town, Grand Turk Island
Location: 550 miles south of Miami
Currency: US Dollar
If all inclusive family holiday resorts are what you are looking for, then the Beaches Turks and Caicos is one of the finest to adorn the 12 mile long Grace Bay. The resort has superb facilities throughout to occupy children, while you sip on a chilled rum and coke, dumbfounded by the sight of the aquamarine sea. They say the Turks and Caicos are relatively undiscovered; not for much longer. Our lips are sealed.
Fact: Tourists love Barbados. They keep coming back (39% return rate is one of the highest in the Caribbean)
Fact: Third oldest Parliament in the world, at 398 years
National Dish: Cou Cou & Flying Fish, a recipe made with corn meal, okra, and flying fish
The beautiful sing-song accent of the Bajans would lull a baby to sleep. Barbados is notoriously expensive but that doesn’t deter visitors. Perhaps it’s the high quality gourmet food (ask Michael Winner). The Crop Over Festival is a popular time, celebrating the ending of the sugar cane season and climaxing with the spectacular Carnival Parade.
Do say: How do you like your coffee (answer: Blue like the Mountains)
Currency: US Dollar widely accepted
Fact: Ian Fleming built his house ‘Goldeneye’ in Jamaica and wrote ten novels there
National dish: Ackee and Saltfish
Jamaica’s assertive culture offers the best entertainment for many families. Treat the locals with respect, and they will offer you enduring politeness and old world charm. No ‘small island’ mentality but a culture striving to be seen as something other than a tourist destination. However, as a tourist destination, Jamaica has breadth and scope. Resorts like Beaches Boscobel offer the complete package for families in search of that perfect Caribbean experience.
10. The Bahamas
Size: 700 islands (of which approx 40 are inhabited)
Location: The islands cover an area 100,000 sq miles (incidentally not actually the Caribbean, but the Atlantic)
National Bird: The Flamingo
Fact: Woodes Rodgers, the first governor of the Bahamas, was also a former pirate
Population: 320,000. (200,000 live in the capital)
Another favourite family destination is Paradise Island (no need to ask where its name derives) or Grand Lucayan, two of the most outstanding islands in the Bahamas. Aruba not only offers great family value, but also casinos and sparkling nightlife to accompany white sandy beaches and that signature aquamarine sea. If you don’t like to walk, try a horse safari. For those who can’t ride, drive a 4 wheel drive instead across the island’s national park.
Hopefully you have found what you are looking for, but if you are still not sure where to holiday in the Caribbean, don’t worry; there are at least another 7,000 islands to choose from. Happy hunting!
Original article’s author bio: Clive Wedderburn is a freelance writer/editor who studied literature and journalism. His interests include travel, architecture, business development and marketing. Beaches.com offers luxury family vacations in some of the Caribbean’s most bountiful locations.