When you think of the Caribbean what comes to mind? Gorgeous sunshine reflecting off glittering blue waters, palm trees gently swaying in the breeze or heady cocktails mixed with potent rum and fresh tropical juices.
The Caribbean offers all of that and more and is one of the most popular holiday destinations for those seeking an exotic escape from the daily stresses of life.
Boasting lazy days and sultry nights which are sure to have you feeling relaxed in no time, the Caribbean is a tranquil paradise.
So if your own slice of paradise appeals to you then consider a holiday to Mexico or the Dominican Republic, where fine gold sands trickles between the toes and warm blue waters sooth newly tanned skin, where the food is plentiful and exotic and the atmosphere is relaxed and laid back and the surroundings are idyllic.
When it comes to holidays in the Caribbean, the common perception is that it’s all about beaches. But while it is true that the USP of many islands is palm-shaded sands lapped by a bath-warm, aquamarine sea, the region offers so much more. Choose the right destination and you can, for example, enjoy fantastic diving, snorkelling and sailing, trek through — and zip-line over — rainforests and visit fascinating sights associated with the islands’ complex colonial heritage. In terms of accommodation, the region also offers a diverse range — not just large all-inclusive complexes but small-scale, romantic hideaways, and not only high-end hotels but also excellent, inexpensive guest houses.
Hotels with a plethora of facilities and children’s clubs are the most popular Caribbean options for families (particularly all-inclusives), but villas (which often come with a housekeeper and a chef) are worth considering, too.
It makes sense to keep flying time to a minimum by choosing a destination to which you can fly non-stop from the UK – this is the case for all the recommendations below. Note that the UK’s Air Passenger Duty is being scrapped for children under 12 flying economy from 1 May – saving £71 per child on Caribbean flights.
The Caribbean excels at beaches above all else. Think soft golden and white sands, laid-back bars, water warm enough to stay in for hours and with shoals of tropical fish darting around your legs, and often watersports galore. Many Caribbean beaches are big or secluded enough to offer privacy and space.
Diving and snorkelling, sailing and kayaking, windsurfing and kitesurfing… Many of the region’s biggest thrills can be found under and on the water. But an active Caribbean holiday could also involve hiking up a dormant volcano, cycling around Cuba or embarking on an adventurous tour of Haiti, which is re-emerging as a destination for intrepid travellers.
The Caribbean is not one homogeneous entity. Its islands and countries have discrete cultural identities, in terms of their architecture, cuisine, music and way of life. Owing to their history of colonisation, many places still have strong British, Hispanic, Gallic and Dutch cultures or influences, much in evidence in colonial-era towns, cities, fortresses and plantation houses.
The Caribbean offers a plethora of special places to stay that are ideal for the romantically minded. Options to consider include hotels that occupy their own little get-away-from-it-all island, or have quaint cottages hidden away in lush gardens, or come with suites equipped with private plunge pools.
Some of the most enticing places to stay in the Caribbean are its more intimate hotels. These often reflect the culture, style and vibe of their island, and feel happily integrated with the surrounding community – in bigger Caribbean hotels you can sometimes feel overly insulated from local life. Jamaica, in particular, has a great selection of colourful and funky little hideaways.
Getting to the Caribbean can be expensive depending on the time of year, but once you’re there you can keep costs down. The islands have plenty of affordable small hotels, guest houses and B&Bs – sometimes these need to be booked direct, as they do not appear in tour operators’ programmes. In the low-season their rates can be a steal.
The Caribbean has a good choice of luxury hotels with outstanding spas that can give their rivals more than a run for their money – in terms of setting, facilities and the quality of treatments.