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 broaden your experience, whether you’re looking for untouched beaches or incredible historical structures. But 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 lesser-traveled Caribbean islands:
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 1689 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 fell in love with the rich island culture of the Bahamas, you should visit Barbados. Perhaps the biggest thing Barbados has in common with its Caribbean cousin is Calypso music. 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 the 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 liquor 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 towards the crystal waters.
If you loved snorkeling in the Virgin Islands, you can take it to the next level in this British territory. The island 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 five feet wide—and hand-feed them 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.
If you’re ready for a Caribbean cruise vacation off the beaten path, check out the latest itineraries to these less-traveled, but idyllic, destinations here.