For many travelers, a Caribbean vacation means visiting renowned spots like Jamaica or The Bahamas. While these destinations offer beautiful beaches and rich cultures, there are some lesser-known Caribbean islands that can further broaden your experience, whether you’re looking for untouched beaches or incredible historical sites. Now, with more than 7,000 islands in the Caribbean—dozens of which you can visit on a Royal Caribbean cruise, where should you start?
Here, we’ve put together our top picks for Caribbean islands off the beaten path:
A paradise you can only visit with Royal Caribbean, our private island destination has so many things to do whether you’re looking for thrills or to kick back and chill. For instance, thrill seekers will want to conquer the tallest waterslide in North America, Daredevil’s Peak, or soar up to 450 feet above the island in our helium balloon, Up, Up & Away.
If you vacation at a more laidback speed, grab a drink at the swim-up bar and then relax and soak up the sun at the largest freshwater pool in The Bahamas. Looking for a luxury experience? Our new, private Coco Beach Club offers exclusive, floating cabanas complete with your own slide, overwater hammock and cabana attendant for the VIP treatment—not to mention access to an infinity pool with in-pool lounge chairs.
If you fell in love with the rich island culture of The Bahamas, you should visit Barbados. Perhaps one of the biggest things Barbados has in common with its Caribbean cousin is calypso music or its derivative soca. During the carnival-like Crop Over festival from June to early August (which originally celebrated the end of the sugar cane harvest), you can hear these island rhythms dancing off of steel drums throughout the capital of Bridgetown.
Barbados once was the world’s largest producer of sugar cane, and with that came a famous rum-production industry. A tour of Mount Gay distillery, established in 1703, will walk you through the distilling, aging and blending process that goes into making the spirit. At the end, you’ll get the chance to sample and appreciate all that hard work with a tasting.
Like any Caribbean island, Barbados has its share of alluring beaches that you can explore. There’s the protected cove of Pebbles Beach just south of Bridgetown, or the aptly named Paradise Beach, lined with palm trees reaching out over toward the crystal-clear waters.
If you loved snorkeling in the Virgin Islands, you can take it to the next level on this island. Grand Cayman boasts one of the most unique underwater experiences in the entire Caribbean: Stingray City Barrier Reef. The only way to travel there is by boat, and when you arrive, you jump in and get up close to majestic, undulating Southern Stingrays—which can grow to nearly 5 feet wide—as they congregate on the sandbar.
Grand Cayman also is the perfect place to live out your inner secret agent, whether scuba diving in underwater shipwrecks, trekking across the vibrant ocean floor in a Sea TREK helmet, or scoping out the depths in an Atlantis submarine perfect for spotting turtles, colorful star coral, and otherworldly big barrel sea sponges. If you’re looking for adventures out of the water—or, more accurately, above it—you can fly over the island on a helicopter tour of Seven Mile Beach and the capital of George Town.
One of the more southern and eastern Caribbean islands, St. Lucia is certainly worth a visit. It’s most famous for The Pitons, one of the best natural sights in the Caribbean. These twin volcanic spires make up the iconic picture of the island and tower more than 2,400 feet. Travelers can see them by boat tours through Pitons Bay, or explore their fascinating geology—including hot springs and fumaroles (openings in the ground emitting steam and gas)—by hiking the mountains themselves.
But there’s more to explore after these famous peaks; in town, you can hit the shops with steep deals on luxury goods at the Spanish-style complex of Pointe Seraphine. Of course, there are other views from St. Lucia to take in too, like the picturesque houses and sailboats dotting the capital of Castries, which is also home to the cruise port.
Many travelers may be more familiar with St. Croix and St. Thomas of the U.S. Virgin Islands, but their British neighbors have their friendly locals, tropical cuisine and marvelous nature.
On Virgin Gorda, you can visit one of the most famous caves of the Caribbean, The Baths, said to have inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island.” This group of unusually shaped granite boulders creates large spaces you can walk, swim and wade through, including “The Cathedral” with its steeple-like pointed ceiling.
When you head to the larger Tortola, you can dive a shipwreck, hit the beach via a 4X4 or take a panoramic ride up the interior mountains for sweeping views of other islands like St. Thomas and St. John.
If you loved exploring the abundant nature and old estates of Jamaica, you’ll want to visit this dual-island nation’s breathtaking beaches, abundant rainforests, numerous mountains and historical structures.
On the smallest country in the Western Hemisphere, it’s only a short ride from the capital Basseterre to the base of Mount Liamuiga volcano, the tallest peak on the island. From there, you can hike through lush rainforest with hanging vines and vervet monkeys into the cloud forests. You’ll then reach a shallow crater lake and an incredible lookout at 3,000 feet, where you can see all the way to St. Maarten.
If you prefer digging into naval history, don’t miss Brimstone Hill Fortress, a well-preserved UNESCO World Heritage Site. Cannons were first used at this strategic location in 1690 by the French battling the British, and this highly sought-after hill would pass between these countries numerous times, gaining artillery, ramparts and prestige throughout battles and raids lasting into the 19th century. History buffs can explore the fort’s history as well as the colonial architecture of the Fairview Great House.
If you’re ready for a Caribbean cruise vacation off the beaten path, check out the latest itineraries to these less-traveled and idyllic destinations here.