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U.S. Virgin Islands

The U.S. Virgin Islands are “America’s Caribbean Paradise”—the place to see moko jumbies dance at a Carnival parade, hear the lilting patois of a Creole dialect or smell the spices in a saltfish pate (all without losing cell phone reception). You can visit either St. Thomas, St. John or St. Croix, or better yet, spend a little time on all three islands. That way you’ll get plenty of pampering, undisturbed nature and colonial history jammed into one vacation. And bonus: you can pay for everything with U.S. dollars.

Each island offers something different. Called “Rock City” for its hilly, craggy horizon, St. Thomas is known for luxury — from the mega-yachts moored in the harbor to the high-end storefronts along Main Street. Located a short ferry-ride east, St. John appeals to honeymooners and nature lovers, with more than 7,000 acres of dedicated parkland plus surrounding pristine beaches. Way down south in the Caribbean Sea, less-visited St. Croix has sugar cane plantations and rum distilleries that offer a glimpse into both the past and the present of the Virgin Islands.

 

 

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Cayman Islands

The charming Cayman Islands continue to be a coveted Caribbean getaway, providing for both adventurous and more immobile travelers. Gorgeous barrier reefs call to divers as the rum punch calls to the beach bums. Honeymooners hike through the 200-year-old Mastic Trail as parents take their children for interactive swims at Stingray City. Whichever way you choose to mellow out, the Cayman Islands can oblige.

The Cayman Islands are an archipelago of three islands, lying 90 miles south of Cuba. The largest, Grand Cayman, is full of all-inclusive resorts, perfect for those who prefer pre-planned itineraries and don’t mind cruise crowds. For freewheeling vacationers, the less-traveled Cayman Brac and Little Cayman offer some of the best diving in the Caribbean.

 

 

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St. Kitts and Nevis

Around 1950, the A-list destination of the American celebrity was Acapulco. Now, that distinction may well belong to St. Kitts and Nevis, the little-known but luxurious and breathtaking twin-islands in the southern Caribbean. Their list of patrons runs long: Oprah Winfrey, Britney Spears, Sylvester Stallone, Regis Philbin and many others have found solace on the Kittitian-Nevisian sands. St. Kitts is the more outgoing sister, with the widest selection of restaurants and hotels in Basseterre. Shy and lush Nevis showcases the opulence that has become this nation’s calling card.

Seclusion might be the number one draw (Nevis is without a single streetlight), but there are many other lures. Take for example the grayish-black sand (a rarity in the Caribbean). Or the sloping greens of Royal St. Kitts Golf Club. You want island culture? These islands have got it — just check out the Christmastime St. Kitts Carnival or the music festival held every June. And those with a penchant for history will certainly find it — Nevis is the birth island of founding father Alexander Hamilton; St. Kitts’ imposing Brimstone Hill Fortress was once known as the “Gibraltar of the West Indies.”

 

 

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Barbados

You can find a white sand beach, a sprawling golf course or a duty-free shopping plaza just about anywhere in the Caribbean; but you visit Barbados to taste the bittersweet Mount Gay Rum, to lime out to the thrum of a calypso song or to cheer heartily at a polo or cricket match. And though you could spend all your time on the beaches, the point is that here you won’t want or need to. This luxurious island is brimming with breathtaking architecture, a passionate sports culture and a party-loving attitude.

The easternmost island in the Caribbean, Barbados juggles two different cultures to create a distinctly Bajan personality. Even after gaining its independence from Great Britain in 1966, this island still holds tight to British traditions like afternoon tea and horse races at Garrison Savannah. Trademarks of the Caribbean are still evident, however, in the sugar-cane fields, rum distilleries and lush landscape. And then there are the many beaches; the meringue “Soup Bowl” waters of Barbados’ isolated east coast are a surfer’s dream come true.

 

 

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 St. Martin

If you associate the Caribbean with a laid-back atmosphere, a tranquil beach and a quiet sunset, then you haven’t been to feisty St. Martin and St. Maarten. What’s the best part of visiting this dual-governed island? You can get a taste of two distinct, lively cultures all for the price of one vacation. This 37-square-mile dot is increasingly popular with travelers who like to eat well, party hard and duty-free shop in between trips to the beach. The north side, St. Martin, is controlled by the French government. It’s the home of the island’s tastiest restaurants and party beaches. Whereas cosmopolitan St. Maarten shelters the most animated casinos, bars and clubs. A territory of the Netherlands Antilles, St. Maarten takes up the southern 16 square miles.

But for all the excitement, St. Martin and St. Maarten still foster a stress-free vibe — starting out with how easily you can pass between both sides of the island. So catch a few morning rays on a quiet Dutch-side beach; later, take a leisurely afternoon stroll through a French-side mountain. You’ll be more than primed to sneak back over the border for a night in the casinos.

 

 

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 St. Lucia

Lush, unspoiled St. Lucia has a growing fan base. Some of its vacationers are music lovers, letting loose at the springtime St. Lucia Jazz Festival (which has previously featured headlining acts like Ne-Yo, Corinne Bailey Rae, Kenny G and the late Amy Winehouse). Others are honeymooners, unwinding on one of the island’s chalky beaches or holing up in one of the isolated couples’ resorts. Still other patrons are adrenalin junkies, testing their limits climbing the Pitons or zip lining through the Chassin region’s rain forest. But what if none of these archetypes is you? Don’t worry: St. Lucia refuses to be pigeonholed as any “type” of Caribbean vacation. Plus you also don’t have to spend a lot of money (its reputation as a luxurious hideout is only somewhat warranted). To discover some of the island’s indescribable charms you’ll have to visit for yourself. Start your mornings basking in an orange-tinted Soufrière sunrise; round out your evenings at an evening “jump-up” (or dance party) along Gros Islet. We’ll wait to hear what you think.

 

 

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British Virgin Islands

The British Virgin Islands, or BVI for short, are some of the most exclusive and least developed islands of the Caribbean, but this only adds to their appeal. The resorts, villas, restaurants and other tourist attractions on this paradisiacal tax haven are known to emphasize spare luxury over sprawling expansion, and they attract travelers with deep pockets and a love for sailing and seclusion. Many travelers who visit come by ferry boat from another Caribbean isle, especially as some find opulent exile too hard to enjoy for longer than a day or two. And some say it’s more ideal to split your time between here, the nearby U.S. Virgin Islands and Anguilla to the east.

Others find more than enough to keep them exclusively anchored by these 60 islands and cays. On Tortola you’ll find mountainous cliffs and bone white beaches, characterized by changing tides and calm easterly winds. A brief sail away, sleepy Jost Van Dyke offers delicious Caribbean food and drink, one of the region’s best New Year’s Eve parties, as well as a few outdoor excursions like diving and fishing. On Virgin Gorda you’ll find The Baths, perhaps the most picturesque shore in the British Virgin Islands, and with good reason: It offers unique grottoes amidst gigantic granite boulders (just be mindful of the daytripping crowds). For supreme seclusion, try Anegada; its slow pace, flat terrain and sparkling sand lies almost overlooked in Caribbean Sea.

 

 

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Turks and Caicos

Turks & Caicos has the perfect antidote for your hectic lifestyle; nearly abandoned, blinding-white sand fringed by shimmering azure water, colorful coral reefs, crispy conch fritters and a sleepy, light-hearted atmosphere. Even as recent years have generated more tourist activity, more chain restaurants and more commercially driven experiences, Turks & Caicos still holds tight to its reputation as an exclusive and secluded getaway. And regular vacationers to these skinny strips of white sand will tell you that they wouldn’t have it any other way.

This network of 40 islands and cays has three dominant personalities. There’s glamorous Providenciales, or “Provo,” which acts as the main port for the cruise ship crowd and site of many luxurious hotels. Laid-back Grand Turk is the historic and cultural nucleus, best seen in the Turks & Caicos National Museum or along the shores of Cockburn Town, where Christopher Columbus first docked in the Western Hemisphere. Tiny, flat Salt Cay plays host to the best dives: From here, you can explore one of the largest reef systems in the world.

 

 

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 Bahamas

The Bahamian islands lure throngs of visitors to their white-washed shores, duty-free shops, fishing and scuba diving excursions and luxurious accommodations. The families that flock here tend to indulge in the diversions of the lavish mega resorts, but this diverse island chain also offers a range of activities away from the hotel zone. Nature enthusiasts explore the offshore reefs and wildlife preserves and golf lovers tee up on the numerous par-72 courses. Bargain-hunters enjoy patrolling the marketplaces for the best duty-free deals. No wonder the Bahamas has become a popular destination in the Caribbean.

Though the area consists of more than 700 islands and cays, most visitors’ first stop is New Providence Island’s Nassau, the largest city of the Bahamas. Here, the twinkling casinos and upscale resorts are intertwined with American Civil War history and pirate lore. The second most popular island is also the most northwest: Grand Bahama, home to bustling Freeport and a center of ecotourism with its underwater limestone caves and botanical gardens. When you need a break from all the crowds, head east from Nassau to the Outer Islands, where you can easily drop off the grid and enjoy a simpler way of life.

 

 

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St. Barts

There’s no doubt that the French Caribbean island of St. Barthélemy is in vogue with the moneyed set and oftentimes out-of-reach for the middle class. But it’s far from snooty — if the sight of those free-roaming iguanas is any proof — and it’s also more accessible than you might think. Careful and early planning will ensure that your getaway here is priced on par with other Caribbean isles. And fortunately, St. Barts’ (or St. Barth’s) ace-in-the-hole, spine-tingling beaches are all free to languish upon. If you’re looking for an island with exciting nightlife and an abundance of away-from- the-shore activities you’ve missed the mark — instead, check out Barts’ cousins Martinique or St. Martinfor more diversions. But you’re right on target if you’re looking for a Euro-themed utopia with plenty of shoreline to fulfill a Robinson Crusoe fantasy.

 

 

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Aruba

Believe it or not, the Spanish colonists who settled in Aruba and her sister islands of Bonaire and Curaçao in 1513 nicknamed them the “Islas Inútiles,” or Useless Islands. They couldn’t have been further from the truth. Centuries later, this southern Caribbean cluster is using an arid climate and minimal rainfall in their favor; Aruba in particular lures tourists with its blindingly white beaches and craggy limestone landscape. And with its extensive underwater visibility, this island is a preferred getaway for divers looking to explore buried shipwrecks or to study some magnificent coral reefs up close.

Inflated room rates and airfares (some of the most expensive in all of the Caribbean) have nurtured Aruba’s reputation for exclusivity, but just take one look around Palm Beach and you’ll see that’s not the case. College kids, honeymooners, young families and baby boomers are all jockeying for their own piece of shade under the nearest divi-divi tree. Those colonists be damned: Aruba is indeed being put to good use.

 

 

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Curacao

The “C” in the ABC islands, Curaçao features historic settlements, rugged landscapes, and plenty of fun in the sun. Curaçao’s main port city, Willemstad, is what an Old World European city would look like if someone dropped it in the Caribbean. The brightly painted Dutch colonial buildings reflect pinks, yellows, and blues into the cerulean St. Anna Bay. Once you leave the city, the landscape shifts to a desert scene, with spiny aloe and mesquite sprouting from atop weathered limestone cliffs.

But Curaçao’s real draw is the beach. Nearly 40 picture-perfect bays and coves flank the island, their turquoise waters lapping gently against powdery white sand. Curaçao’s protected reefs teem with marine life, providing excellent underwater playgrounds for scuba divers and snorkelers. Best of all, the semi-arid island is sheltered from the worst of the Atlantic’s hurricane season. Gentle trade winds keep temperatures in the mid-80s, so you can enjoy the outdoors all year round.

 

 

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Grenada

It isn’t the cost of the airfare or the caliber of the hotel that you’ll remember most about your trip to Grenada. It’s the kaleidoscope of reds, yellows, and greens that characterize St. George’s harbor (arguably the most beautiful in the Caribbean) and how they’re reflected in the cerulean water. It’s the sound of the waves lapping against Grand Anse‘s soft sands that echoes in your ears long after the sun goes down. It’s the aroma of nutmeg and vanilla that wafts through Market Square and throughout the islands’ spice plantations. It’s the warm sensation you feel in your stomach and on your tongue after sampling the River Antoine Distillery‘s 150-proof rum. Grenada isn’t just meant to be seen; it’s meant to be savored.

Americans have long overlooked Grenada (pronounced gre-NAY-da), opting for showier, resort-laden islands. But Yanks, take a hint from the Brits who have spent many a winter here: Grenada is worth visiting. Sure, this part of the Windward Islands doesn’t feature the sprawling all-inclusives or glitzy nightclubs of St. Lucia or Barbados; in fact, you may even be hard-pressed to find a fellow American here. But that’s the key to Grenada’s charm

 

 

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St. Vincent & The Grenadines

Imagine it: Thatched-roof cottages rise over turquoise waters; the sweet scent of tropical flowers and rum punch fills the air; bronzed sun-worshippers sprawl along isolated white-sands, hemmed by shimmering waves, coral reefs, and sleek yachts. The only thing luring you away from your beach towel is the intriguing network of secluded islands floating in the distance. Welcome to St. Vincent & The Grenadines.

If you don’t want to spend your days sunning along one picturesque isle (St. Lucia) or savoring conch with throngs of tourists on two (St. Kitts & Nevis), then you should venture to St. Vincent & The Grenadines. With 32 remote islands and cays boasting emerald hills, postcard-worthy harbors, and boutique hotels, this Caribbean destination makes a perfect escape. Devote a few days to exploring St. Vincent, the biggest island of the chain, before sailing to MustiqueCanouan, and Bequia—some of the Grenadine’s finest (and exclusive) hideaways. However, exploring this quiet, less-traveled tropical paradise requires many hours in transit (there’s no direct flight from the U.S.) and a thick wallet.

 

 

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Bermuda

Visit Bermuda, and there’s a good chance you’ll see men milling about the capital city of Hamilton dressed in crisp and prim business shirts, tucked neatly into seemingly casual short trousers. Their “Bermuda shorts” fit well into the mystique surrounding these lonely islands of the Atlantic — islands that hold tight to their British customs, elegance and etiquette, but still know how to let loose under a subtropical sun.

Usually, the people who visit are looking for a little luxury. Top activities include spa treatments and afternoon tee-times. Need a break from the golf clubs or a change of pace after your facial? Try stretching out on the dazzling pink sand at the Elbow or Horseshoe Bay beaches, strolling past the old-time buildings in Historic St. George, or polishing up on your naval history at the Bermuda Maritime Museum. These islands don’t put on a pretense of being “hip” — visit Puerto Rico if you want to be in fashion — but they do offer a charming old-school sophistication that’s hard to find anywhere else in the Caribbean.

 

 

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Dominica

Perhaps Dominica is the Caribbean’s best-kept secret. Its towering mountains, lush green forests and winding rivers are practically begging for exploration. Plus there are no chain resorts (yes, none) and limited nightlife; in fact, commercial development of any kind is sparse. But if you’ve heard of this island, you know that you don’t visit for the resorts or beaches. Instead, Dominica attracts the adventurous eco-tourist that treasures a little authenticity while on vacation. And despite the recent deepening of its port to accommodate large cruise ships, Dominica has been adamant in its preservation and conservation of local forestry and wildlife, more so than any other islands in the region. And it’s done so successfully: This is still considered one of the most pristine and well-preserved spots in the Western Hemisphere.

 

 

 

 

Source: http://travel.usnews.com/Rankings/Best_Caribbean_Vacations/

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2 comments on “Best Places to Visit in the Caribbean

  1. Renz876 on said:

    I believe you left out the best island of them all… *sideeye*

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