When you think of the island of Aruba, your thoughts may turn to white-sand beaches and turquoise waters and that's all there! But the country has even more to offer than places to lie out in the sun. The diverse country is home to people from over 90 different countries, including Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Colombia and this melting pot has greatly influenced the cuisine and culture of Aruba, making it one of the best Southern Caribbean Islands to visit.
You'll be able to dig into food from all over the world when you visit the capital city of Oranjestad, encountering cuisine that is influenced by countries including Peru, Brazil, and those found in the Mediterranean. If you're looking for food with a particularly local flavor, try a traditional Aruban dish like pan bati (cornflour flatbread), carni stoba (beef stew), or keshi yena, a stuffed cheese. Don't forget about fresh seafood, which is the cornerstone of Caribbean cuisine.
If your visit to Aruba falls on a Tuesday, head to Fort Zoutman for the Bon Bini Festival, which is the perfect way to experience the lively history and culture of the island and features dancers wearing traditional costumes and twirling through the streets to the sound of drums. Or if you're looking for something a little more mellow, you can step back in time at the National Archeological Museum, which has artifacts from as far back as 2500 BC and is open Tuesday through Sunday. If you're a nature lover, nearly 1/5 of Aruba is a national park, so there's plenty to explore. Arikok National Park covers almost 8,000 acres of the island and includes beautiful conchis, or natural pools that are protected from waves, creating a fun and relaxing swimming experience. Once you've dried off, hop in a jeep for a tour, where you'll be able to see volcanic coastlines and towering sand dunes. You'll be wondering if you're in the desert or on a tropical island as you drive by cacti and iguanas.
For stunning street art, head to San Nicolas. The southern district is also known as Sunrise City and the streets are covered with vibrant murals from both local and international artists. Try to plan your visit to this colorful capital of culture so it coincides with the Aruba Art Fair, which is held in November over three days and includes music, dancing, and local food as well as world-class art.
Barbados may not be the biggest island but it packs a big punch when it comes to things to do there. From gorgeous weather to stunning beaches with clear blue water to colorful neighborhoods and UNESCO Heritage Sites, Barbados really does have it all and is the perfect pick for a Southern Caribbean vacation.
Dining in Barbados is an event for both locals and tourists. On Sunday afternoons, people flock to Speightstown to enjoy some fresh lobster and rum punch on the beach. On Fridays, people head to Oistins Fish Fry to have the catch of the day, which is fried to perfection. All of this happens with steel drums playing in the background, making for an unforgettable dining experience. No matter what you choose to sink your teeth into, it's guaranteed to be flavorful.
Hop onboard a catamaran for the day and explore the coast of the island of Barbados. Snorkel through colorful coral reefs and shipwrecks and get up close and personal with sea turtles. Or you can visit North Point, a scenic spot which has waves crashing along a rocky coast that must be seen to be believed. The northern part of Barbados, where North Point is located, forms a striking contrast to the calm, white beaches of the south. If you're looking for something in between the two, Crane Beach is the place to be with its turquoise water and manageable waves.
If you're interested in learning a bit more about the history of Barbados, spend the day in the capital of Bridgetown. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is filled with colorful and vibrant buildings that are hundreds of years old. Visit the Chamberlain Bridge, which was built between 1865 and 1872 and is one of the most popular photo spots in Barbados. If you want to mix education and fun, St. Nicholas Abbey, one of the oldest distilleries in the Caribbean, is nearby. It's still producing rum and offers tours of the facility six days a week.
Colorful houses line the harbor in Wilemstad, Curacao and there's a story behind them. Legend has it that a governor of the city got headaches from the sun reflecting off all the white buildings in the city and ordered that buildings had to be painted colors other than white (but, the story goes, his order may also have been influenced by the fact that he owned shares in a paint store on the island). There's even more to the island than its jaw-dropping buildings, making it one of the best Southern Caribbean islands to visit. The food scene is bursting with bold flavors and the more than 35 beaches are all unique and more stunning than the last.
From the savory kabritu (goat) burger to the sweet bolo di kashupete (cashew cake), there are many delicious and tasty traditional foods to taste in Curacao. Enjoy freshly-caught fish paired with fried plantains or try an arepa di pampuna, or pumpkin pancake, a recipe which came about because of the Dutch influence on the island. For another dish with a Dutch and Caribbean heritage, try keshi yena, which is a large ball of cheese stuffed with spiced meat, olives, capers, onions, and tomatoes and then baked until it's crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside.
If you're interested in a very relaxing day complete with beach chairs and service, head to Playa Knip, the most famous beach on Curacao. You can also grab an ice-cold beer at one of the many beach bars on Porto Mari, a bustling sandy oasis with a beautiful pier nearby that makes for a great photo spot. If you're looking for something more adventurous, hike through the mountains of Christoffelpark and take in the views while keeping an eye out for wildlife nearby, including stunning birds found in the towering trees.
Located only 40 miles from the coast of Venezuela, Curacao's culture has been influenced by several different countries. Over its history, the island has been under the rule of the Spanish, the British, and the Dutch. You can learn about the history of the slave trade at the Kura Hulanda Museum.
If you're an art fan, be sure not to miss the neighborhoods of Otrobanda and Pietermaai, where murals line the streets.
With towering mountains and lush rainforests surrounded by babbling brooks and cascading waterfalls, you're guaranteed to see something breathtaking no matter where you look on St. Lucia, making the island a great pick for a Southern Caribbean vacation. It's the perfect place to grab your hiking boots and go on a big adventure and then put on your swimsuit and relax in the sand, drink in hand.
From juicy mangoes and creamy avocados that grow in the rainforests to the green bananas that are featured in many dishes, you'll be hard-pressed to find something that isn't incredibly satisfying on the menus in St. Lucia. Enjoy fresh lobster or callaloo soup, a Caribbean delicacy which is made from the leaves of local vegetables. No matter what you choose, you won't leave St. Lucia hungry.
From relaxing on golden sands and staring up at tall palm trees to jumping into gurgling waterfalls to zip-lining over the treetops, both holiday loungers and adrenaline junkies will be happy when visiting St. Lucia. One of the most popular beaches is Reduit Beach, which has tranquil waters and restaurants nearby once you've worked up an appetite with your swim.
You can also head to the capital city, Castries, for a glimpse into the history of St. Lucia. The city has a mix of colonial and Caribbean architecture, heavily influenced by centuries of colonial rule by the French and British. Or visit the Soufriere Estate, where there is a restored mansion and sugar mill and where you can learn about what it was like to live on a plantation when slavery was prevalent on the island.
The vibrant capital city of Puerto Rico is buzzing with life. From the energy that flows through Old San Juan to the incredible foodie scene to the striking beaches and historical forts that line the coast, it's simply magical. The small island is the perfect place to stop off while on a Southern Caribbean cruise.
Grab a piña colada from the Barrachina Restaurant in Old San Juan or from the Caribe Hilton — both claim to be the birthplace of the classic Caribbean cocktail (why not try both and decide for yourself which establishment makes it best?). You can also enjoy tasty plantains served fried or as mofongo, in which plantains are cooked with olive oil, broth, salt, and garlic. Sink your teeth into a salty bacalaitos, a codfish fritter served with dipping sauce, and if you're craving something sweet, finish off your meal with arroz con dulce, a creamy rice pudding commonly served in Puerto Rico.
There are many beautiful beaches to choose from but Condado is the best and is located right next to San Juan. You can lounge at one of the resorts on a beach chair or hanging with locals and getting involved with a game of beach volleyball. If you want to get closer to nature, head to El Yunque National Forest, where you'll be able to spot colorful birds as they swoop through the trees and hear the rushing sound of waterfalls as you meander on trails.
For history and culture, head down to Old San Juan, a neighborhood that is full of gorgeous 16th-century Spanish colonial architecture. Candy-colored buildings line the cobblestone streets and the ambiance makes you feel as if you've been transported back in time. Make sure to pack your camera and snap a few photos of the technicolor streets. After you've had your fill of pretty houses, head to Castillo San Felipe del Morro, a fortification where you'll have beautiful views of the rocky coastline. The fort has been standing for almost 500 years and is worth a visit to get a better understanding of the history of Puerto Rico.