The Caribbean is such an alluring place that it hardly seems possible to single out any destination for its visual appeal. And yet, some places make an especially memorable first impression when your cruise ship arrives. These island ports do just that, capturing travelers with their rich mix of architecture, culture, and natural beauty.
Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas
The most popular port in the Caribbean never fails to deliver with its breathtaking landscape and views. Surrounded by lush mountains and filled with shimmering bays, travelers step in Charlotte Amalie and have the choice of relaxing on powdery soft beaches or sampling what’s on offer in the “shopping capital of the Caribbean,” all while making pit stops at some of the island’s famous restaurants along the way. The natural scenery is the real draw here, from Mountain Top to Magens Bay, but the glitz of the well-heeled town and the people it attracts doesn’t hurt, either. Next door there’s St. John, an easy-to-reach neighbor known for its picturesque town of Cruz Bay and large national park.
St. George’s, Grenada
It doesn’t take long to see why St. George’s is considered one of the most photogenic locales in the Caribbean: ships are greeted with pristine white colonial buildings with red rooftops, and rolling green mountains behind them. Yachts and small boats lounge in the midnight blue water, and tropical birds and rare flowers fill the Grand Etang Forest Reserve and Lake, an extinct volcano. If the sights don’t wow your senses enough, the aroma will: Grenada is a leading source of nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cinnamon and cocoa, and is filled with spice trees.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Some two million people travel to Puerto Rico through this port every year (it hosts approximately 18 cruise lines and 500 ships annually), giving a wealth of adventurers a magical first impression of this tropical country. Many are lured by the nearby natural wonders, like El Yunque rain forest, but Old San Juan beckons with its rows of brightly colored buildings flanked by dramatic fortresses. It’s the second-oldest European settlement in the New World, and showcases its historic charm alongside vibrant cultural draws that bring it into the modern age—don’t miss the Ballaja Barracks or Quincentennial Square, and be sure to try the mofongo and coquito for which Puerto Rico is known.
Castries, St. Lucia
The view when you arrive in Castries is nothing short of dramatic: the famous twin peaks of the Pitons mountains surrounded by unspoiled rainforest and palm-fringed beaches. You can hike the Pitons—which top out at 2,000 feet—tour the banana valleys below, and visit the local fishing villages while you’re here. In town, shopping is the name of the game, with steep deals on luxury goods at the Spanish-style complex of Pointe Seraphine.
Cozumel sits just off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, close to Playa del Carmen, and its unique position has allowed a lively culture that blends Mexican and Caribbean elements to thrive. It’s evident from your first glimpse of the water, which is a near-blinding blue, bordered with Spanish Colonial-style buildings, vibrantly colored shops and restaurants, and white sand beaches studded with palm trees. There’s hardly a high-rise in sight, making it obvious that the focus here is on what’s at your fingertips: food, fun and an array of natural wonders that are hard to find elsewhere.
Honduras doesn’t get the same foot traffic as some of its Caribbean neighbors, so the magic in this southerly destination is its simple, untamed beauty—it’s a mecca for divers and snorkelers. This port does have some restaurants and shops, but what you’ll see most clearly when you arrive are the clear waters that house incredible coral reefs, lots of palm trees, and, because of its abundance of fish, the largest fleet of fishing boats in the western Caribbean.
Two words: Champagne Beach. The sparkling waters that mimic the fizz of your favorite bubbly make Roseau a bucket-list destination for travelers who enjoy the good life. While you should certainly take the once-in-a-lifetime chance to swim alongside parrot fish in bubbly waters, note that this West Indies port is built into the gentle slope of a mountain—an early indicator of what you’ll see when you spend time on “the nature island.” Tropical rainforests cover two-thirds of the land and are home to 1,200 plant species, and the Morne Trois Pitons National Park is the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in the eastern Caribbean.
Made up your mind of where you want to go? Then head right this way.