5 of the Best Caribbean Islands: Compared
Featured destinations: Caribbean
Published 30 March 2016
Sitting at your desk, a mountain of paperwork in front of you and the rain pouring outside, casting a gloomy glow over the office – you’re not alone in thinking you’d rather be laying on a paradise beach somewhere.
Chances are that paradise destination you’re picturing can be found in the Caribbean. After all, the islands of the West Indies have everything to offer that home, unfortunately, does not. Think year-round sunshine, crystal clear oceans, infinite silica beaches and, most importantly, the most laid-back lifestyle you’re ever likely to encounter.
So for those of you who need to escape the stress and breakneck speed of modern life, here are five Caribbean islands that will offer the perfect mix of beach retreat and cultural adventure:
Whether you’re lazing on the beaches in Guardalavaca and Varadero, or dancing the night away in Havana, Cuba is the perfect getaway for those who enjoy island life but have a taste for adventure too.
Cuba’s capital, Havana, is a steamy, sultry metropolis, full to the brim with retro American cars, sensual street dancing and lethal cocktails. Visit a cigar factory and learn how to make your own or, for something a little more highbrow, take in the fine arts of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana and the contemporary Fabrica de Arte Cubano. Just want to feel the rhythm? You won’t have to venture far to find an authentic bar, booming with salsa beats and the chance to dance in the street with the locals.
If the city isn’t your style head for Playa Sirena. You take a day trip here from Havana, or make this beach paradise a base for your holiday. Laying claim to the title of Cuba’s best beach, the restaurants and bars lining the coast and the soft white sand under your feet make it very easy to stay, not to mention extremely hard to leave.
Cuba is an essential stop on the bucket list, but visit quick; now the island is open to American visitors again, it won’t stay the same for long.
Smiles are in huge supply in Antigua. And no surprises there: as well as boasting incredible beaches and a vibrant Caribbean party scene, it is also home to some of the friendliest locals in the Caribbean. For some real authentic flavour, islanders and tourists alike head to Shirley Heights on a Sunday, a spot where young and old come together to move to steel drum bands, calypso and reggae while feasting on some of the scrummiest Caribbean barbecue you can get your hands on.
Culture vultures will love Antigua’s capital, St John’s. Markets here offer exotic Caribbean fruit – papaya, coconut and pineapple to name a few – while the arts and crafts stalls next to the West Bus Station are home to local artists who will create masterpieces right in front of your eyes. If you want a souvenir to take home you can haggle for clothes, leather items and even hand-made soap. The postcard-perfect twin towers of St John’s Cathedral are also well worth a visit.
Like most other Caribbean isles, Tobago has some stunning waterfalls to see and swim in. But then there’s Argyle Falls. This three-tier cascade is in a league of its own. It’s only accessible after a 20-minute jungle trek (you can hire a guide from the visitor centre if needed), but the walk is more than worth the effort, especially when you can do more than just dip your toe in when you reach your destination. While you’re enjoying paddling around these fairytale falls, keep an eye out for resident kingfishers.
Beach buffs won’t be disappointed by Tobago either. Pigeon Point Beach is one of the island’s most popular spots but, as yet, still remains untouched by the heavy hand of tourism. If you simply want to admire its palm-lined sands, head for the overhanging Pigeon Point, where you can find out for yourself why it (and its iconic thatched-roof jetty) is one of the most photographed spots in the Caribbean.
Of all the Caribbean islands, Grenada is my favourite. Maybe it’s the fact that the island is only 133 square miles (you can drive around the whole thing in less than a day), maybe it’s the warm and generous hospitality of the islanders, maybe it’s the rum… Whatever the reason, Grenada is as close as you can get to paradise.
The ‘Island of Spice’, so-called for its heavy production of nutmeg and mace, has some of the prettiest beaches in the Caribbean – and that’s saying something. The shores of Grand Anse Beach stretch for a mile and a half, and they haven’t changed much in 200 years either. Beloved Morne Rouge is also a favourite thanks to its amazing snorkelling opportunities and its seclusion – the crowds tend to opt for Grand Anse instead.
Wildlife lovers can whet their appetite for unusual beasts here too: think rare monkeys, armadillos, possums and an abundance of other uncommon animals and plant life. Finish off your day with a visit to a rum factory – but make sure you do so on a full stomach; the Grenadian’s really know how to drink.
St Lucia is perfect for the active holidaymaker. Sprinkled with volatile volcanoes and huge, emerald rainforests, St Lucia has something for every adventure style.
The Sulphur Springs Park, in the crater of the active Soufriere Volcano, is home to hot rocks and pools of steamy water – you can take a guided walk, or even a drive, here. If you’re looking to cool off, the water sports in St Lucia are second to none. Most resorts offer banana boating, kayak rentals and water ski lessons, as well as dolphin and whale watching, and even deep sea fishing.
And just like every other beautiful Caribbean island, St Lucia’s beaches are top-notch. Reduit Beach is the best, boasting vast swathes of golden sand. It’s also the busiest. For something a little more off-the-radar head to Pigeon Island instead, where visitors can often have patches of beach all to themselves.