The name Caribbean is almost synonymous with Sea, Sun and Sand. Magnificent beaches abound ranging from dazzling white sand, to pink sand to rich golden brown sand through to beautiful black sand beaches. These beaches seem to call you to dive into the sparkling blue water and then relax on the beach soaking in the sun and admiring the beauty of the scene. For those who want more activity at the beach than reclining on a lounge chair sipping a cold drink, Caribbean vacations offer a range of beach activities. On almost every island you can find jet skis, ocean kayaks, parasailing, surfing, wind surfing, kite boarding, water skis and banana boat rides at the major beaches.
The opportunity to go surfing is a key element in deciding on a vacation locale for a growing number of people and Barbados is the surfing paradise of the Caribbean. The island’s location far out in the Atlantic Ocean allows waves to travel thousands of kilometers across the sea before finally unleashing their power over Barbados’ coral reefs. Barbados receives waves to surf from all directions thus providing for unlimited surfing conditions all over. The number one surfing location in Barbados is the internationally recognised Soup Bowl in Bathsheba. All over the island however there are beaches suited to surfing, from Brandons Beach near Bridgetown to Accra Beach. South Point Beach has a fairly powerful and clean wave while the shorebreak at Inchcape on Silver Sands Beach seems to break 365 days a year. For those who do not know how to surf but want to learn while on vacation, Barbados has many surfing shops to provide instruction.
The Dominican Republic is known as the kiteboarding capital of the world and for the past four years the Kiteboarding World Cup has been held in the Dominican Republic town of Cabarete. Along this region of the North Coast of the Dominican Republic, nature has created the perfect blend of wind, water and waves to generate incomparable kiteboarding and windsurfing conditions. In June of every year, Windsurfers also flock to Cabarete for the annual World Cup Windsurfing Competition.
As fun-filled as Caribbean beaches are, today there is much more to a Caribbean vacation than activities at the beach and these activities are both beyond and behind the beach. As you move beyond the beach there is a range of activities including Deep-sea Fishing, Dolphin/Whale Watching and Diving.
Fishing is a recreational pastime on every Caribbean island and throughout the Caribbean certain pelagic game fish can be found with some of the more sought after species being sailfish, marlin, tuna and wahoo. As these species are migratory fish they are more abundant at certain times of the year on each island but there are other species that can usually be found year round at different islands. The game fishing off the waters of Tobago is a sport angler´s dream with some of the world´s most exciting game fish, including blue marlin, white marlin, swordfish, wahoo, tuna, barracuda, dolphin (mahi-mahi) and shark. Jamaica’s northern waters are also well-known for deep-sea and sport fishing. Anglers can hook a large number of fish, including mahi mahi, wahoo, blue and white marlin, sailfish, tarpon, barracuda, and bonito.
Visitors can now go whale and dolphin watching in a number of Caribbean countries including: Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guadeloupe, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines. In fact, there are an amazing thirty species of whales and dolphins in the Caribbean. The most frequently spotted species include humpback and sperm whales, and bottlenose, spotted and spinner dolphins. Whale watching vessels are usually medium to small-sized vessels carrying less than 75 people, which offer an excellent opportunity to get a great view of the whales. While each of these islands offers whale watcing, the activity has developed in Dominica to the point where Dominica has become known as the “Whale Watching Capital of the Caribbean.” The island boasts a 90% success rate in spotting whales or dolphins during a whale watching excursion. The island offers excellent year round whale watching opportunities including spectacular sperm whale mother-calf pairs, whose spouts can sometimes even be seen from shore.
Those sparkling blue waters that provide so much enjoyment topside also provide a world of adventure below its surface. The Caribbean is one of the top regions for scuba diving and snorkeling with breathtaking marine life. The Cayman Islands are one of the premier areas in the world for diving with crystal clear turquoise waters that run deep with wondrous walls, shallow coral reefs, new and old wrecks and some of the most dynamic marine life. Tobago is another island that offers a myriad of diving opportunities for both the new and experienced diver plus the holiday snorkeler. Home of the elusive manta rays and the Caribbean’s largest brain coral, Tobago is a year round scuba diving destination.
Behind the beach on each Caribbean island there is also a range of vacation activities that can include hiking, bird watching, river tubing, visiting natural attractions, history tours and enjoying a vibrant nightlife.
The natural landscape of the Caribbean allows bird watching to be a popular year round vacation activity. Trinidad and Tobago has some of the most diverse bird species to be found in one location with over 460 species in a combined land area of 1,868 square miles. Asa Wright Nature Center, is Trinidad and Tobago´s premier birding location and it has been widely recognized as one of the most successful eco-tourism stories in the world. Asa Wright, with a listing of 159 bird species, is a 270-acre conservatory, located on a former cocoa-coffee-citrus plantation partly reclaimed by secondary forest and largely surrounded by impressive rainforest. The center has several cottages that are available for rent and one can choose to spend a night, a weekend or even longer. There are numerous trails throughout the property and very knowledgeable guides. Two of the highlights are the short walk to the manakin leks to see these beautiful little birds dance to attract a mate and to see and hear the Bearded Bellbird. Another special attraction of the Asa Wright Nature Centre, is a breeding colony of the nocturnal Oilbird, or Guacharo (Steatornis caripensis). Located in Dunston Cave, this is the only known easily accessible colony of this species. These visits must however generally be booked in advance as the number of visits and visitors is limited.
The natural landscape with abundant rain forests also makes hiking a popular vacation activity in the Caribbean and Trinidad has a range of hiking opportunities with hikes varying in difficulty from 1 to 8. There are tour guides for those who want guided tours and almost every weekend hiking groups visit various natural attractions. The 32-kilometer trail from Blanchisseuse to Matelot on Trinidad’s north coast is considered a jewel. Along the hike one alternates from unspoiled rainforest to untouched beaches. The trail rambles over a succession of small ridges, crossing several small streams and passing through abandoned estate lands with cocoa, coffee, tonka bean, nutmeg and papaya (pawpaw).
Dominica, lying in the Eastern Caribbean between Martinique and Guadeloupe, calls itself the Nature Island and rightfully so. Its landscape is covered with lush untouched natural rain forest. Within those forests are tall cascading waterfalls, hidden fern grottoes, mountain lakes, boiling lakes, hot springs and mysterious regions of volcanic activity. All these natural wonders within a 29 mile by 16 mile island that has almost 300 miles of footpaths, so that in almost every part of the country, trails weave their way into gorges and across valleys, climbing up to 4,000 foot mountains, creating a hiker´s paradise. In Dominica, there are trails for every level of hiker, varying from easy 30-minute walks to more moderate 45 minute to 2-hour hikes to strenuous 6-hour tre
ks. All of these in a land that seems to bear fruit everywhere, so that all over you see oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes, bananas, papayas, guavas, star fruit, breadfruit, passion fruit.
Wet, wild and wonderful are the words that describe yet another popular outdoor Caribbean vacation activity; River Tubing. On Grenada’s Balthazar River, Dominica´s Layou River, Jamaica´s White River or Great River you can spin and swirl in large modified tubes as the river currents take you on a thrilling ride down river. Along the way you can enjoy the scenery of natural untouched rain forest and at the end of your ride you can swim in the river´s natural pools.
Nature has blessed the Caribbean in innumerable ways and provided it with a host of natural attractions. On the island of Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands is a national park known as The Baths. Here giant granite boulders are scattered about a beach lapped by the blue Caribbean Sea. Standing almost 50 feet tall, these massive boulders form a series of grottoes in which to play and explore. Within this seaside labyrinth are many placid pools that create a truly romantic locale.
St. Lucia boasts of one of the most unique Caribbean natural attractions with what is probably the world´s only drive-in volcano. Located at La Soufriere you can drive your car to the semi-active volcano and then take a guided tour. The five acre wide hissing crater is a red, blue and green tinged landscape, which has 24 steaming vents that hint at deposits of iron, copper oxide, magnesium and others minerals bubbling to the surface. The entire area gives a fascinating picture of what the earth must have looked like 400,000 years ago when the dome of molten lava collapsed.
The bioluminescent bay found at Puerto Mosquito (Mosquito Bay) located on the southern shore of the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico has to be rated as one of the things you must see before you die. A trip into the bay on a balmy night is a magical experience because when the calm waters around the bay are disturbed, the microscopic organisms in the bay emit a blue-green light and so swimming or kayaking in the bay is like floating among the stars. The 2008 Guinness Book of World Records has officially declared this magical bioluminescent bay the brightest recorded in the world.
The Caribbean was considered desirable property in the 17th and 18th century, which led to numerous battles between France, England, Spain and Holland and many islands changing ownership several times. The need to protect these islands resulted in numerous fortifications, while the change of ownership led to varying architectural styles. Many of these historic sites are well preserved and provide interesting glimpses of the past. Two of these sites are Brimstone Hill in St Kitts and the Garrison Historic District in Barbados.
The Brimstone Hill Fortress has been converted to a National Park and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site of historical, cultural and architectural significance. The fortress is considered one of the best preserved historical fortifications in the Americas. It has been described as “a monument to the ingenuity of the British military engineers who designed it and to the skill, strength and endurance of the African slaves who built and maintained it”. Tours of Brimstone Hill are conducted daily, and highlights include the hospital, ammunition stores, artillery officer’s quarters, the Prince of Wales Bastion, and the Citadel of Fort George. In addition to learning about the historical significance of the fort, a visit affords one the opportunity to enjoy attractive panoramic vistas of forested mountains, cultivated fields, the historical township of Sandy Point, and the neighboring islands of Nevis, Montserrat, Saba, St. Martin and St. Barts.
The Garrison Historic Area in Barbados surrounds the Garrison Savannah, which is the center of much of the sporting and recreational activity in Barbados. The Savannah however is a historic location for much more than sport. The historical significance of the Garrison Savannah goes back to 1650 when Charles Fort was erected in the area and then in 1705, St. Ann´s Fort was added. This area developed into a military complex and being the site of a military complex, numerous buildings were constructed from the 1660´s to the 1800´s. These buildings today give the Garrison area much of its historical and architectural interest. On any walk around the Garrison area you cannot miss seeing the numerous cannons that are located in the area. These form part of the Barbados National Cannon Collection, which constitutes the largest cluster of 17th Century English cannons in the world. One of the prominent buildings in this area is the Main Guard building facing the racetrack. This elegant Georgian building from 1802 with its handsome clock tower and wide verandah is now an information centre and houses exhibits about the West Indian Regiment. As you continue around the Savannah there are numerous 17th- to 19th-century military buildings constructed from brick brought as ballast on ships from England and also several memorials. Another significant building in this area is the Barbados Museum, which is housed in a compound that was formerly a military prison, and centered around a large airy courtyard with trees and flowering shrubs.
When night falls your activities do not end as the Caribbean has an array of bars, clubs and world class restaurants. For true local flavor however, the weekly street parties are unmatched. On the island of St Lucia the fishing village of Gros Islet transforms itself every Friday night into a colorful carnival scene, featuring soca and reggae music and a “jump up” (dancing in the streets). The Fish Fry on Friday´s in Grenada´s village of Gouyave provides you the opportunity to sample an array of freshly caught local seafood to the backdrop of calypso rhythms. Not to be outdone the Sunday School in Tobago´s Buccoo Village held every Sunday night allows you to dance to the music of the steelband while looking out on the fishing boats gently rocking in the bay.
With so much to do on a Caribbean Vacation, your only difficulty is to choose an island.