Holidays in the Caribbean conjure up images of pristine beaches, turquoise seas, and a bright hot sun. While this is certainly true, the Caribbean is full of many diverse islands and has much more to offer.
Despite an uncertain financial market, the draw of the Caribbean saw its tourism increase by 5.4% in 2012 (Caribbean Tourism Organization). Choosing where to go can be difficult. You can choose between the majestic natural beauty of Jamaica’s rugged Blue Mountains and the lush rainforest of Saint Lucia, or delve into the colonial history and architecture of Antigua and Cuba. But why stop at one destination? Consider a multi-stop vacation. Organising this yourself can be challenging, but it is feasible. As a group of islands covering a vast distance, the Caribbean is not as easy to island hop as you would imagine. Unlike Europe, there is a lack of competition between airlines and there is a surprisingly small network of inter-island ferry connections. An easy way to experience multi stops within the Caribbean is by choosing a cruise ship holiday. The cruise industry is the fastest growing travel sector in the world. Often all inclusive, they are an easy way to experience a multi-stop holiday, you unpack once and lay back on a deckchair as you sail towards exotic destinations. A varied itinerary means you will be able to experience many different islands. The one negative is the limitation of hours on the various islands and the fact that you are unlikely to have an overnight in a port. Perhaps the best way to think of it is as a ‘taster menu’ for the Caribbean, a chance for you to sample the best of the Caribbean in short bursts and allow you to decide where you would like to focus your travel on a return trip.
Local Ferry Services
But if independent travel is definitely is more your bag, or in this case ‘backpack’, it is still possible. Ferries crossing international borders are not that common. Country groups of islands are more likely to have good ferry connections. The Bahamas are not strictly part of the Caribbean, but there are a number of good inter-island boat ferry services offered between the numerous Bahamian islands. Bahamas Ferries, Albury’s Ferry Service and Bahamas Mail Boats are three popular ones. There are eleven ferry companies operating between France’s Caribbean islands – Martinique, Guadeloupe, Les Saintes and Marie-Galante. The US Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands also have inexpensive ferry services within their own island groups and to each other, as do the islands of the former Dutch Antilles. It is perfectly possible to independently island hop between islands close to each other and belonging to the same country.
Backpack Across The Larger Islands
Many of the islands within the Caribbean are small enough to complete a sightseeing tour in a day or two, but there are several large islands that are ideal for a real backpacking holiday. Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and Cuba are large and diverse enough to satisfy the most intrepid explorer. Jamaica has amazing reefs perfect for diving, mountains and waterfalls, fishing villages, wetlands inhabited by crocodiles and manatees, bustling cities, and a vibrant music scene. One holiday in Jamaica can be very different to the next, making it a perfect place to explore. Cuba is similarly attractive. American tourists face many restrictions to visit Cuba but for non-US tourists Cuba has stunning landscapes of beaches and mountains, historic architecture, boasts highly educated locals, rum and music, and is home to nine UNESCO world heritage sites. Puerto Rico’s Old San Juan is also a UNESCO world heritage site and being part of US is ideal for US citizens wanting a Spanish Caribbean experience. San Juan is where many tourists tend to stay but the rest of Puerto Rico is ripe for exploration. Rincon, on the western part of the island, offers great surfing opportunities with white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters. Fans of intriguing natural phenomena may want to travel to one of the countries three bioluminescent bays. These bays contain ‘dinoflagellates’, millions of micro-organisms that momentarily glow in the dark when agitated, and are best visited by night kayak tours.
Of course the Caribbean will always be famous for all inclusive beach luxury holidays. But its always good to know that it there are many different opportunities out there for Caribbean travel. So enjoy the beach but remember to leave time to explore the local culture and attractions that are waiting to be discovered.