Exotic and enticing, the Southern Caribbean is a region that draws travellers from around the globe. Whether you’re relaxing at a resort or exploring by cruise ship, there’s plenty to enjoy and discover. Let’s take a look at what these islands have to offer.
Discover the Islands of the Southern Caribbean
The Southern Caribbean is a collection of islands each with its own special charm. There’s great diversity in landscape, ethnicity, food and beaches so whatever you are looking for in the way of an island paradise, you’ll find it here.
These welcoming isles make a great getaway anytime of the year. Excellent bargains can be found in the off season (mid-April to mid-December), with air and hotel packages a good way to go in the peak season.
Cruising lets you visit several islands on one vacation. You can discover the diversity of the region and find yourself on a different beach every day! For more on cruising the Southern Caribbean, see this month’s Cruising article.
- This is a region of sunshine and beautiful beaches. Swimming, scuba diving, snorkelling, wind surfing and other water sports are a normal part of vacationing here.
- There are good golf courses too, many with English speaking pros.
- Towns have a range of shopping from European imports to local arts and crafts plus a selection of fine markets.
- Dining is often open air with fresh seafood readily available.
- Historic landmarks and the many museums keep you stimulated and informed about the tumultuous history and variety of cultures in the region.
Let’s take a look at what makes each island unique.
Guadeloupe – The French island of Guadeloupe is the centre of Francophone culture in the Caribbean. The largest city, Pointe-a-Pitre, has a large shopping centre and many fine restaurants. Try the local Creole cuisine with the island’s seafood and blend of spices creating a unique style. Check out the Museum of Rum, which also houses a collection of butterflies, walk in the National Park with over 300 kms of trails and discover the underwater beauty of Guadeloupe at the largest aquarium in the Caribbean.
Dominica – The youngest of the islands is a nature love’s paradise. The untouched rainforests, waterfalls, mountain peaks and beaches, ranging from pebbly to brown sand, make this a great place for outdoor activity. Hiking, horseback riding, diving, snorkeling, whale, dolphin and sea turtle viewing are all popular with visitors.
Martinique – Magnifique! Another little bit of France in the Caribbean, Napoleon’s wife, Josephine, was born here and her plantation home is now a museum. There are more than a dozen other museums including La Savane des Esclaves, the historic village and museum about slavery on the island. The capital of Fort de France has a rich history of crafts and literature and is an interesting town to wander through. Unique to the island is the volcano, Mt. Pelé, which erupted in 1902, destroying the town of Saint-Pierre and 28,000 inhabitants. Learn the history at the Volcanological Museum and visit the volcano observatory.
St. Lucia – The mountainous scenery makes this one of the most spectacular of the islands with the Piton Peaks the star attraction. These twin volcanic plugs, soaring 743m and 771m from the sea are now a World Heritage Site and an icon of Caribbean beauty. There are many upscale resorts and spas here for the ideal relaxing vacation. For shoppers, silk screening is an island specialty not to be missed. For more see this month’s Planning article.
Barbados – This “little England” in the Caribbean is a former British colony. Jacobean and Georgian buildings, English bone china in the shops and English place names everywhere you go are reminders of ties with Great Britain. At the Sir Frank Hutson Sugar Museum, learn the history of sugar cane production, still an important part of the economy. The fine, coral sand beaches are windy on the Atlantic coast, popular with surfers, and calm on the Caribbean side while the north is rugged with sandstone cliffs and secluded coves. Barbados has a reputation for being friendly with excellent resort facilities and the lovely historic capital of Bridgetown.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines – This group of 32 islands stretches from St. Vincent in the north, south to Grenada. The Grenadine chain includes Bequia, Mustique, Canouan and Mayreau. The Pirates of the Caribbean movies were filmed here. Formerly French and British colonies, the islands are noted for eco-adventures. It’s a world class hiking destination with waterfalls and the La Soufriere volcano to conquer. The Tropical gardens are spectacular. Yachting and scuba diving are also a main draw to these islands which are off the beaten track and home to many luxurious hideaways and upscale resorts. Enjoy the annual Breadfruit festival in August with various festivities and breadfruit specialties to try.
Grenada – Known as “The Spice Island”, Grenada is a major producer of nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, and cocoa. Spice trees and rare tropical flowers adorn this verdant island which is encircled by coral reefs and sandy beaches. World famous Grand Anse Beach stretches for two miles. The picturesque capital city of St. George’s sits on a horseshoe shaped harbour with a skyline of red tiled houses and church spires. There are more than a dozen waterfalls on this volcanic isle with accessibility ranging from a hike through the rainforest to a pleasant stroll through a garden. It’s easy to be in touch with nature here.
Trinidad & Tobago – The Calypso beat is strong on these islands where the steelpan is the national instrument. Panorama is the annual competition for steel pan bands held during the islands’ Carnival which is one of the most colourful in the world. The Laventille Steelband Festival features a parade and series of concerts. Trinidad is just 6.8 miles or 11 km off the coast of Venezuela with the smaller island of Tobago lying to the north east. There is great bio-diversity here making these islands perfect for eco and adventure vacations.
The ABC Islands
These three islands are situated roughly 40 miles off the coast of Venezuela. They are desert islands receiving little rainfall and they are outside the hurricane belt. You might be surprised to find a dry landscape with cactus and divi divi trees adjacent to sandy beaches.
- Aruba – A dependency of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, you’ll see the Dutch influence in its architecture, food, customs and shops. Tourism is the number one industry thanks to the beautiful, white sand beaches which bring a steady flow of tourists year round. There’s a casino, plenty of shopping and many high rise resorts to choose from.
- Bonaire – This member of the Netherlands Antilles is renowned for its conservation practices. Pink Flamingos nest here and look beautiful against the white salt flats which are the largest flamingo breeding ground in the Southern Caribbean. Bonaire is a great place for diving, snorkeling, wind surfing, hiking and bird watching. The Bonaire Regatta is an annual sailing event with participants coming from around the world.
- Curacao – The progressive town of Willemstad is the capital of the Netherlands Antilles and a major business centre. Curacao is a dive island with many specialized resorts. (This island also has a decompression chamber.) Preservation of historic buildings is ongoing and an attraction for history and architecture buffs. Discover the colourful Curacao liqueurs, drive through beautiful Christoffel National Park, stop by the floating market which sails in from Venezuela and don’t miss the Seaquarium with its seaside walkways, touch tank and feeding shows.
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