A Guide To The Best Places To Visit In The Caribbean

The Ultimate Caribbean Cruise Vacation

By Eben Diskin\ | Published on July 21, 2023

The Caribbean can feel like a world away from everyday life. That's what makes it such a great vacation spot. All year round, families, groups of friends, couples and solo travelers flock to the islands for some much-needed relaxation. The best places to visit in the Caribbean offer all the vacation essentials: sunny skies, pristine beaches and traditional Caribbean cuisine and culture — and you can explore them all when you plan a cruise vacation.

How To Plan The Best Caribbean Cruise Vacation

To get the most out of your Caribbean vacation destinations, you can't just sit on the beach all week. If you do, you'll have a wonderful time, but a true Caribbean experience means diving into everything the region has to offer. Many islands offer hikes that provide stunning panoramic views of the landscape and walking tours of the historic city centers that let you discover the vibe of the area. Others have extensive pirate histories that'll make you feel like you're in "Pirates of the Caribbean." Wherever you go, you'll be treated to some of the world's most delicious cuisine, including johnnycakes, jerk chicken, conch fritters, callaloo and more. Then, enjoy some swim-up margarita bars — where the drinks go far beyond margaritas, too. Be sure to try the local rum in signature cocktails such as the Bahama mama and piña colada.

There are plenty of ways to explore this tropical region, though cruises are undoubtedly among the most popular. Cruising is the perfect extension of any Caribbean vacation as it alleviates all the trip-planning stress and allows you to simply enjoy the ride. Once you book your cruise and shore excursions, all you have to do is sit back, take advantage of the ship amenities, explore the ports of call and soak up the experience. When it comes to choosing where to go or how to make the most of it once you get there, this is everything you need to know to plan an epic Caribbean trip.

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Choose The Right Destination For You

While often spoken about as a single destination, the Caribbean is home to a wide range of different cultures, landscapes and cuisines. While the fact that no two islands are alike means travelers have a host of exciting and diverse vacation options, it also means that choosing a destination can prove daunting. When it comes to picking the best places to visit in the Caribbean, it really depends on what kind of traveler you are and what you're looking for.

If you're an outdoor adventure enthusiast and wondering where to vacation in the Caribbean, set your sights to the Dominican Republic. Beyond all-inclusive resorts, the D.R. also offers waterfalls, jungles and mountains reaching heights of over 10,000 feet. Spend your port days exploring the mangrove forests and petroglyphs of Los Haitises National Park, then venture to the coast at Jaragua National Park, where you can swim with humpback whales, snorkel or even try surfing for the first time.
With natural beauty comes popularity, and with popularity comes crowds. This is true of many Caribbean islands. While you'll never evade the crowds completely, Grenada is perfect for those looking for the road less traveled. The island is home to the Belmont Estate cocoa plantation, the River Antoine Estate Rum Distillery, the majestic Annandale Falls, beautiful beaches and — true to its nickname "Spice Island" — some of the world's most taste-bud-tingling spices.
If you're traveling with your family and looking for an island that has something for everyone (especially the kids), it's tough to beat a Bahamas vacation. Whether it's feeding the pigs of the Exuma Islands, delving into the islands' pirate past or spending the day at the Aquaventure Water Park, keeping the kids entertained in the Bahamas is a breeze.
The best places to visit in the Caribbean offer all the vacation essentials: sunny skies, pristine beaches and traditional Caribbean cuisine and culture — and you can explore them all when you plan a cruise vacation.

Be A Vip On A Cruise Line's Private Island

If you do choose to cruise on your next Caribbean vacation, you'll be able to enjoy a host of experiences unavailable to other travelers. Chief among these is access to private islands, which add yet another layer of adventure to certain destinations. A private island vacation means enjoying a curated, luxurious escape with activities designed to keep travelers either busy or relaxed — whichever you happen to be looking for.

CocoCay in the Bahamas is one of Royal Caribbean's private islands, with 125 acres of pure sandy beaches, crystal clear waters and lush greenery. This is an eco-certified private destination, and you can explore the island through eco-tours like guided nature walks and kayaking and snorkeling adventures. Grab a pass to Caylana's Castle Cove, a floating playground for kids.

Labadee, Haiti, is another of Royal Caribbean's private destinations. This 260-acre wooded peninsula at Pointe Ste. Honore is the perfect place for exploring the secluded mountainous coast of Haiti. From the Dragon's Breath Zip Line, a 2,600-foot flight over the beaches, to the Arawak Aqua Park, there's no shortage of ways to stay entertained on a trip to Labadee.

How To Make The Most Of A Port Day

When cruising the Caribbean, it's as important to make the most of your port days as it is to enjoy the ship itself. A port day is a one- or two-day stop at a port of call on your cruise's itinerary. It's a great way to indulge in local cuisine, explore an island's natural beauty and shop for souvenirs for friends and family back home. However, since your time is limited, make sure to plan ahead so that you can really enjoy your days in port.
The most popular way to experience a port day is by booking an excursion. Excursions are experiences designed to show you different aspects of the destination, such as taking a walking tour around a historic city center, hitting the water on a kayak or paddle board, exploring a forest by hike or zip line, or something more extreme like scuba diving. I've participated in all sorts of shore excursions, such as bell diving in Bermuda, swimming with stingrays in the Bahamas and ATV'ing through the Mexican jungle — experiences I remember long after my trip is over, and all of which are easy to book through the cruise line.
The other option, of course, is to explore the destination independently. This can be one of the most fruitful and rewarding ways to get acquainted with a new culture on an intimate level. That, of course, means diving into some authentic Caribbean cuisine.
Oftentimes, the food is what really defines the best places to visit in the Caribbean. With European, African, Indian and Chinese influences, Caribbean cuisine is a blend of traditions unlike anywhere else in the world. There are countless dishes to keep on your radar for your next visit, such as Jamaican jerk chicken (Trinidad's Indian-influenced chicken), Puerto Rico's famous mofongo, creole bread from St. Lucia or the many tropical fruits the islands have to offer, such as mangoes, pineapples and plantains,. That's not to mention all the delicious fresh seafood, such as stewed saltfish, ackee and mahi-mahi.

Eating is just half the equation. It's not a Caribbean vacation without a healthy amount of rum. The Caribbean is one of the world's most prolific producers of rum, dating back to its history of sugar plantations and the distillation process that resulted. Most Caribbean islands have a signature rum, so imbibing is really a cultural experience. From Cuban mojitos to Bahama mama and piña colada cocktails, there's no shame in sampling the local fare. And if you happen to be visiting Puerto Rico around the holiday season, you can't leave without trying a coquito — a traditional Christmas drink. Similar to eggnog, this coconut-based beverage consists of milk, rum, egg yolks, coconut milk and vanilla, and without it, it simply wouldn't be Christmas in the Caribbean.

If you're lucky enough to cruise to the Caribbean, be sure to do your research, plan ahead and arrive ready to fall in love with this amazing corner of the world.

Written By

Eben Diskin is a travel writer, amateur pizza connoisseur, avid Indoorsman, and the Senior Staff Writer at Matador Network. While traveling, he pretends to enjoy activities like hiking, camping, fine dining, and museums, when all he really wants to do is drink Jack and Cokes at the hotel bar. He has a degree in History from Wheaton College and a definitely-not-useless Master's in Fiction Writing from the University of Edinburgh.

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