It can be easy to think of the Caribbean as one singular sunny destination. Rather than a diverse region dotted with unique island destinations. Each with their own charms that extend well beyond how many beaches you might find among them.
While the beach is always going to be a draw for most, it’s well worth discovering what else the Caribbean offers. Whether it’s history, amazing food, unspoiled nature and even pockets that feel like a small slice of Europe, you can find it here. Check out these beyond-ordinary island destinations in the Caribbean.
Hiking and waterfalls in Dominica
If you like a healthy balance of beach time and outdoor activity, move Dominica to the top of your Caribbean bucket list. They don’t call this the “Nature Island” for nothing. Anyone craving lush greenery, waterfalls, epic hiking trails and the chance to enjoy it all sans mega resorts lining every inch of space, rejoice for you have found “the one.”
Dominica is home to Morne Trois Pitons National Park, the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Caribbean. The park features hundreds of kilometres of footpaths, and countless streams and waterfalls (some you can swim in). As well as Boiling Lake, the second largest of its kind in the world and a hiking destination worthy of any bucket list. For something less strenuous, the Caribbean’s first long distance walking trail, the Waitukubuli National Trail, covers over 183 kilometres and over 17,000 acres across the length of the island.
For some serious relaxation in nature, head to Ti Kwen Glo Cho. At this unique spot you can soak in large copper tubs filled with soothing sulphur water while the healing waters trickle over you in a series of interconnected bamboo pipes. This is a perfect post-hike activity.
Foodie finds in Anguilla
While there is excellent food of all kinds to be found throughout the region, it’s Anguilla–known as the culinary capital of the Caribbean–where foodies should focus. The island may be known for its beaches: there are 32 white stretches of sand to choose from. But I was also blown away by the food. You’ll find everything here from high-end restaurants serving elegant, Instagram-worthy dishes to food trucks and beach shacks offering fresh-caught, grilled-to-order seafood.
Try Jacala Beach Restaurant, a laid-back, friendly spot featuring fresh, local French-inspired dishes prepared in a simple way that highlights the high quality ingredients. Another must-try spot (among many) is Veya Restaurant. Here innovative dishes put a subtle twist on local ingredients and pull in flavours from all over the world.
It’s also worth putting a visit to Sandy Island on your list of culinary activities. Take a shuttle from the pier at Sandy Ground Beach. Relax with a rum punch and when you’re hungry, choose from several grilled fish options or freshly caught Anguillan lobster.
Dune Preserve is a lively beach bar owned by Anguillan reggae artist Bankie Banx. Think treehouse meets funky beach shack, but in the best way possible. It’s worth staying for the live music.
European charm in Curacao
Knowing very little about Curacao before visiting, I was instantly charmed by this tiny island. The pedestrian-only cobbled streets and alleys of the capital of Willemstad are a rainbow of colourful buildings. Each showcases well-preserved Dutch colonial architecture. It’s easy to get blissfully lost among the winding streets, feeling as though you’re in a tropical version of Copenhagen or Amsterdam. It is one of the most European-feeling island destinations.
If you’re wondering what gives the island it’s unique European flavour, Curacao is comprised of over 55 different cultures. The four languages spoken are: Dutch, Spanish, English and Papiamentu (a mix of Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French, English and Arawak Indian).
Willemstad, a UNESCO World Heritage City, is divided by St. Anna Bay into two distinct districts: Punda to the east and Otrobanda to the west. The east side offers a quieter, more local vibe. While the vibrant streets of Punda were made to be explored without an agenda. It’s also Punda where you’ll find the Handelskade, that historical waterfront street lined with colourful colonial buildings that winds up (justifiably) on so many postcards.
Snorkelling and seclusion in Turks and Caicos
While the Turks & Caicos islands are one of the most popular island destinations, you won’t find crowds here or beaches lined with countless sun loungers. So if you’re looking for a secluded spot to spend your time, this is an excellent option. In fact, on my visit, as I walked along Grace Bay Beach on Providenciales–which is consistently ranked among the best beaches in the world–I barely saw anyone. It’s also worth noting that all of the beaches are free to access (none are private). There’s a calming, quiet vibe to the region you pick up on almost immediately and in my case, stays with you even as you’re packing to leave.
But aside from seclusion, this is a destination with top-tier diving and snorkelling. The Turks and Caicos Islands boast the third largest barrier reef in the world after Australia and Belize. The 6,500 acre Princess Alexandra National Park is a protected area and one of the Caribbean’s best snorkelling spots. The Bight Reef and Smith’s Reef are the two main snorkelling sites accessible from the beach. But you can easily book tours that take you to several other spots.
Island-hopping fun in St. Vincent & the Grenadines
St. Vincent & the Grenadines (SVG) is the ideal destination for island hopping. Fast, affordable ferries and short flights between islands (there are 32 in total, only some of which are inhabited) make it easy to explore.
St. Vincent will likely be your first stop and worth getting to know for its great hiking, waterfalls, buzzing energy and one of the oldest botanical gardens in the Western Hemisphere. From there, idyllic Bequia, known as the “Jewel of the Grenadines,” is perfect for slow-paced exploration. There are no large resorts here and few cars. Instead, you’ll find secluded coves, colourful low-rise shops and the charming main town of Port Elizabeth with its cute sidewalk cafes and waterfront bars.
SVG is also home to some private island resorts, including Young Island and Palm Island. The former offers a more rustic vibe complete with cottage-like rooms featuring open-air garden showers. While the latter has a more upscale resort feel, albeit with a chilled out atmosphere. Both offer plenty of watersports, excellent food, swaying palms, bikes to explore and great service.
Looking for more great island destinations that do more than sun and sand? Check out: 7 Luxury Island Resorts for a Serene and Totally Private Experience
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