The Caribbean is no stranger to storms, and the region has become adept at bouncing back. While popular destinations such as St. Martin, Antigua and Barbuda, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico took major hits from 2017’s back-to-back hurricanes, 70 per cent of the Caribbean—including most of the Greater Antilles, the southern part of the Lesser Antilles, and the region’s Latin American coasts—was left untouched. These spots have seen a boost in visitors as tour operators and cruise ships reroute their trips.
To reboot their tourism economies, affected islands first focused on repairing airports, seaports, roads, and beaches. Major resorts and waterfront restaurants will take longer to rebuild, but a number of small hotels and vacation rentals are already open, benefiting from a rise in bookings. And some islands are charting a more innovative course. Heavily damaged Dominica aims to become the world’s first climate-resilient nation by investing in renewable energy and building critical infrastructure that can withstand severe storms. Read on for our top recommendations of where to go.
With boats bobbing and fishermen hauling in the day’s catch from crystal-clear waters, the vibe on Grenada’s three-kilometre-long Grand Anse Beach feels unmistakably Caribbean. In the Dominican Republic, Playa Rincón offers a secluded oasis of beach bordered by a dense palm forest. At the western end, a pristine river empties into the sea. Famous for its soft white sands, shimmering waters, and windswept fofoti trees, Aruba’s Eagle Beach reigns as the island’s widest. It’s also prime nesting ground for four species of sea turtles, including the endangered loggerhead. Mangroves shelter the coastline in the Panamanian archipelago of Bocas del Toro, where sea stars dot the calm waters of Starfish Beach.
St. Lucia’s Jade Mountain resort offers views of the two Piton peaks. Photo courtesy: Jade Mountain
Nestled on a peninsula amid the Belizean jungle, Naïa Resort and Spa blends boutique-style luxury accommodations with readily accessible, family-friendly adventures like snorkelling and zip-lining. Known as one of the most romantic resorts in the world, architectural wonder Jade Mountain in St. Lucia perches on a cliff with dramatic views of the Piton Mountains, a World Heritage Site. Unico 20°87°, an adults-only, all-inclusive beachfront resort in the Riviera Maya, reflects modern Mexico with its attention to locally inspired design and regional cuisine. James Bond fans flock to Jamaica’s GoldenEye, the former home of writer Ian Fleming that’s now a posh retreat featuring 26 beach huts.
Many National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World are located in the Caribbean, such as Tiamo Resort, found on the Bahamas’ secluded South Andros Island and surrounded by blue holes, wildlife-rich mangroves, and the world’s third largest barrier reef. Other properties include Copal Tree Lodge in Belize, Rosalie Bay Resort on Dominica, and the Petit St. Vincent Private Island Resort.
Home to La Route des Rhums (The Rum Route), Martinique uses time-honoured techniques to produce the sugar-based spirit at its 10 small-batch distilleries. Our pick: Habitation Clément. Barbados continues the tradition of distilling at St. Nicholas Abbey, where you also can tour a 1658 Jacobean-style mansion featuring elegant dining and drawing rooms. Tucked into the rolling hills of Grenada’s lush countryside, River Antoine Rum Distillery harvests sugarcane for its production and uses an 1840s waterwheel to supply its mechanical energy. Hampden Estate, located on one of the oldest sugar plantations in Jamaica, is well known to connoisseurs for its fruity, full-bodied rums.
With 50 nationalities calling the former Dutch colony home, Curaçao’s culinary scene reflects its diversity. Local Creole specialties like yuana (stewed iguana) share menu space with traditional European cuisine. Known as the Caribbean’s street-food capital, Trinidad has a large South Asian population serving spicy Indian fare like roti stuffed with mutton curry. Merging Caribbean and Latin American flavours, Cartagena, Colombia, aces dishes like grilled king prawns in coconut sauce with sweet rice, earning the city its designation as a foodie Mecca. In Guadeloupe, local ingredients combine with French techniques for an epicurean journey full of delicacies like kassav (yucca pancake stuffed with salt fish or guava).
Offering colourful corals, an underwater sculpture museum, and unusual marine life like the whale shark that migrates through its waters, Mexico’s Isla Mujeres keeps snorkelers busy. Bonaire’s well-preserved Lac Bay Mangrove Forest invites kayakers to paddle through natural tree tunnels and healthy fish nurseries. Cahuita National Park on Costa Rica’s lesser travelled Caribbean coast protects a rainforest and coral reef ecosystem where kayakers can glimpse iguanas, monkeys, and sloths. Drawing wind and kite surfers from around the world, steady breezes give Cabarete the title of the Dominican Republic’s adventure sports capital.
May to September is whale shark season in Mexico’s Isla Mujeres. Photo by: Mauricio Handler
High visibility and vibrant marine life, like the namesake animals that frequent Stingray City, make for outstanding diving on Grand Cayman’s North Wall. The Honduran island of Roatan offers many first-rate dive sites like Dolphin’s Den, a network of tunnels that runs the entire reef. Tucked at the bottom of the Grenadines, Petit St. Vincent is ringed by reefs that benefit from a conservation-focused dive centre opened in partnership with Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of the famed underwater pioneer. One of the world’s most geologically impressive dive destinations, Belize’s 410-foot-deep Great Blue Hole is full of fascinating rock formations and sea creatures.
Celebrated the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday each year, Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival—the largest in the Caribbean—pulsates with vibrant costumes and jubilant dancers. Cultural extravaganza Junkanoo, the national festival of the Bahamas, enlivens island streets every January, with Nassau hosting the largest parade. A 10-day celebration in May, the St. Lucia Jazz and Arts Festival has drawn world-class entertainers (Diana Ross, John Legend) to the lush, mountainous island for more than 25 years. In July, Reggae Sumfest in Montego Bay, Jamaica, honours the drum-and bass-heavy musical genre that originated on the island.
Mountainous St. Vincent has a number of worthwhile hikes, but ascending the active La Soufrière Volcano is the true test. On unspoiled Cayman Brac, rock-climbing routes traverse gently sloping overhangs suspended above the sea. Some of the region’s rarest bird species, including the white-tailed sabrewing hummingbird, can be spotted while hiking Tobago’s Main Ridge Forest Reserve, the Western Hemisphere’s oldest protected rainforest. The area also supports a population of ocellated geckos, a species native only to Tobago. In Haiti guided mountain biking trips are becoming more popular as the country looks to attract adventure travelllers.
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