From a wondrous cave that shines an electric blue when the sun hits to jungle-wreathed mountains that tower above, these five islands are the Caribbean’s best-kept secret. So as you plan your next trip, go beyond the popular Caribbean destinations and turn an eye to those lesser-known locales that are big on culture, breathtaking views and of course stunning beaches that entice you to leave it all behind.
Fringed by shimmering white-sand beaches shaded by coconut palms and sea-grape trees, and filled with colorfully painted, open-sided beach bars serving sizzling barbecues, feisty rum punches and live reggae tunes, Anguilla is the Caribbean dream come true.
The Eastern Caribbean destination’s crystal-clear waters and vibrant reefs offer spectacular snorkeling, glass-bottomed kayaking, and sailing to islets and atolls scattered offshore.
The 33 beaches have a total of 12 miles of powdery white sand, so while there aren’t any bad choices, a few favorite spots include Little Bay in The Valley, Meads Bay and Shoal Bay East.
When it comes to eats, B&D’s BBQ in Meads Bay is a must.
Anguilla is no shoestring destination and authenticity comes at a premium here. Luxury hotels and private villas cater to jet-setters craving a vacation off the radar. Visit outside high season for a more affordable taste of paradise.
St. Kitts and Nevis
This warm and welcoming two-island nation combines some lovely beaches with impressive mountains, activities on land and water, and a rich history. The local culture is mellow, friendly and infused with a pulsing soca beat, and revolves around limin’ (hanging out, drinking and talking).
But if the pair offer much that’s similar, they differ in the details. St Kitts is larger and more commercial, from bustling Basseterre and its huge Port Zante cruise terminal to the party strip and resorts of Frigate Bay.
Across the Narrows, tranquil Nevis is a neater package, anchored by a single volcanic mountain buttressed by a handful of wonderful beaches and tiny colonial capital, Charlestown.
Spend the day clambering up a pair of mountains one in St Kitts – Mt Liamuiga and the other Mt. Nevis on the smaller sister island.
Popular spots for local cuisine include El Fredo’s in Basseterre and The Gin Trap Bar & Restaurant in Northern Nevis.
With its delightful Dutch-colonial architecture, thriving art and culinary scenes and excellent museums, Curaçao feels like a little piece of Europe at the edge of the Caribbean. A little piece of Europe, that is, with glorious hidden beaches, wondrous caves, amazing snorkeling and diving, and a wild, undeveloped windward coast dotted with prickly cacti and whiptail blue lizards.
Curaçao also has a surging economy beyond tourism, which means that Willemstad has factories, humdrum neighborhoods and sometimes bad traffic. Catering to visitors is not the primary aim here, which lends the island more authenticity than its neighbors tend to offer.
So if you’re looking for a Caribbean destination that’s busy setting its own pace – a place where the adventuring tends to be a bit more unbridled – Curaçao is right for you.
Curaçao’s most majestic natural wonder is a hidden cave known as the Blue Room on its western shore, accessible only via the ocean. Sunlight refracting off the water’s surface makes the entire cave electric blue. Adding to the hauntingly beautiful scene inside are small schools of fish and the occasional lobster. Entering and exiting the cave can be a bit tricky, so it’s best to book a boat or snorkel tour.
For local eats, there’s gastropub Caña Bar & Kitchen in Willemstad, Jaanchie’s in the West End and Pop’s Place in Southeast Willemstad.
An archipelago of over a dozen sun-kissed islands, Guadeloupe is a varied place to visit, with everything from deserted beaches to jungle-wreathed mountains. The country’s two main islands look like the wings of a butterfly and are joined together by just a couple of bridges and a mangrove swamp.
Grande-Terre, the eastern of the two islands, has a string of beach towns that offer visitors world-class stretches of sand to laze on and plenty of activities. Mountainous Basse-Terre, the western island, is home to thick, lush Parc National de la Guadeloupe, replete with waterfalls and topped by the spectacular La Soufrière volcano.
As well as the “mainland” of Guadeloupe, small offshore islands – Les Saintes, Marie-Galante and La Désirade – give visitors a taste of Guadeloupe’s yesteryear. These are some of the most evocative and untouched destinations in the French Antilles and shouldn’t be missed.
Popular beaches include Plage de la Caravelle in Grande-Terre and Grande Anse in Deshaies on Basse-Terre Island. Get your seafood fix at La Touna (just south of Plage de Malendure) or Couleurs du Monde in Les Saintes. For some classic Creole cuisine try La Roulotte in La Desirade.
Volcanic in origin, Martinique is a mountainous stunner crowned by the still-smoldering Mont Pelée, the volcano that famously wiped out the former capital of St-Pierre in 1902. Offering a striking diversity of landscapes and atmospheres, Martinique is a cosmopolitan and sophisticated island that boasts world-class beaches, top-notch hiking, great culinary experiences, an enormous array of activities and some colorful cultural life.
Avoid the busy capital of Fort-de-France and head north or south through some of the island’s alluring scenery. The rainforested, mountainous north is the most spectacular, but the south has its fair share of natural wonders, including lovely bays and miles of gorgeous beaches. Add to this a dash of Gallic joie de vivre and you’ll understand why so many people love Martinique.
Grande Anse des Salines is the quintessential stunning white-sand beach, while Route de la Trace highlights the country’s best scenery.
Hungry? A few top spots include Le Vieux Foyal in Fort-de-France, Le Fromager or Le Guérin both lunch-only spots in St-Pierre or Ti Payot in Les Anses d’Ariet. Don’t forget a glass of Ti-punch (short for petit punch) a mix of rum, lime and cane syrup – but mainly rum.