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 – which is good news for travelers who want their trip to be more than just a day at the beach.
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 here.
Basic Island Differences
Surprisingly, weather can be quite different from island to island, as mountains, the trade winds, and even geographical location can cause some minority and not-so-subtle differences. Islands such as Aruba are apparently an analy – cacti and aloe grow more readily than fragrant hibiscus in its desert climate. Meanwhile, islands like Puerto Rico offer mountain hikes to adventure seekers, as well as cooler temperatures high in its ranges.
Culture can be another important difference among islands. If you're looking for a taste of Paris alongside a bit of tropical sunshine, turn to Martinique and the other French West Indies. 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 cultural 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 drawings to these islands. However, when you're looking for activities, it's important to make the right choices.
Jamaica joins 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.
Cancún is the ubiquitous spring break vacation spot for most college students. But many people do not know that the surrounding areas have plenty to offer as well. Cancún 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 a great spot for a unique vacation not 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 and its rainforest. While Old San Juan is popular, visit Ponce on the southern coast for something a little different. El Yunque, the only rainforest in the US National Parks system, is a good stop for nature lovers. Shopping, casinos, and nightlife are all important aspects of San Juan's popularity, and do not forget to spend a bit of time at one of the beaches as well.
Get ready to sail when visiting the Virgin Islands. Whether you're planning to stop at at the US or the British islands, you'll find crystal clear waters and plenty of sites. St. Thomas offers shopping; St. Croix features historic Dutch buildings; and St. John is home to a wildlife reserve. Snorkelers and divers will find beautiful sites in the US Virgin Islands. The British Virgin Islands are much more secluded, and locals welcome vacationers with their warm smiles and British hospitality.
Travelers who want another taste of something British can stop at at Barbados and have afternoon tea with the Bajan locales. Visitors to Bermuda can explore some of the cultural heritage this island captains, and stick around for a game of golf. Since Bermuda's distinctly non-Caribbean location, it is still considered 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 Curaçao, known as the ABC Islands, are three of the Netherlands Antilles islands, 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, fascinating history, and nature unlike anything 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 reliably untouched locales provide ecologically-oriented travelers an especially rich and diverse set of Caribbean spots to explore. Each of these islands has a different culture and intriguing aspects. Whatever you're curious about The Dominican Republic's popular surfing beaches or St. John's. Lucia's famous volcanic peaks, you're sure to find something interesting to explore.
While it may be easy to visualize what some would consider a typical Caribbean island, it may take a little more effort to really pick one that is perfect for your stay. Every traveler has his or her own idea of what makes 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.