Island Hopping in the Caribbean: 10 Pristine Getaways

For the ultimate paradise experience, head to theses 10 pristine getaways filled with tropical wonders. In a world of underwater coral gardens teeming with marine wildlife and lush tropical rainforests, the islands of the Caribbean are some of the most cherished natural wonders in the world. In fact, vacationers travel from all corners to witness the clear, turquoise waters and scuba dive in the rare marine sanctuaries.

10. Guadaloupe

Set sail for a magical adventure in the tropics of Guadaloupe, a natural paradise filled with unforgettable activities like snorkeling the reefs, swimming with dolphins, and relaxing on white sandy beaches with a bright colored cocktail. With a minimum of tourism infrastructure, the large island is ideal for exploring pristine waterfalls and rivers in Basse-Terre, the mountainous western half and the smaller islands that float nearby in a stunning turquoise hued-sea. Other highlights can be found on the north coast at the Port D’Enfer and Pointe de la Grande Vigie with dramatic cliffs scattered across the dazzling aqua waters. Nature lovers can go on mountain treks through tropical jungles in Basse-Terre on a trail leading to the magnificent Cascade aux Ecrevisses on Route de la Traversee. And for an unforgettable scuba diving excursion, grab your gear and head to the Jacques Cousteau Underwater Reserve, a protected underwater oasis.

Pointe de la Grande Vigie

9. Cuba

With Cuba’s vibrant cultural and history starting with the Spanish influence, get ready to enter a world of café con leches, vintage 1950s cars, and the cherished Buena Vista Social Club. Part of the Greater Antilles, Cuba is a perfect getaway spot for experiencing their distinctive cultural mecca of Havana and discovering some of the most untouched marine ecosystems in the world. For a scuba diving adventure of a lifetime, head to La Costa de las Piratas, an underwater sanctuary of 56 reef sites teeming with marine wildlife. Along the way, make a stop at the beachside town of Varadero to sample some Cuban cigars and drink rum with the sociable locals. All-inclusive hotels line the island’s most popular beach and could be a useful home base for afternoon water excursions.

cuba varadero

8. St. Vincent and the Grenadines

What sets St. Vincent and the Grenadines apart is its dramatic natural beauty and like many islands in the Caribbean, a great way to see the sights is by sailboat. You might recognize the white sandy beaches, waterfalls, and lush rainforests in scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean, which was filmed here. It also is home to Mick Jagger and David Bowie’s private islands outside of St. Vincent. With its jagged mountain terrain and La Soufriere volcano in the north, it’s a haven for eco-tours and nature trekkers. The hike up the 4,000-ft volcano is about a four-hour climb and along the way, you’ll pass through a series of diverse vegetation like tropical rainforests, coconut plantations, and a cloud forest with stunted growth.

Grenadines

7. Martinique

With its tropical flowers covering the countryside and lush mountain rainforests in the background, Martinique is a beautiful getaway that inspired the famous landscapes by French artist Paul Gaugin. To see the vibrant natural wonders up close, head to the Carbet Mountains on a scenic drive through the interior rainforest. The drive starts at Route de la Trace that follows an old path laid by the Jesuit priests in the 1700s. Scuba diving excursions are also popular, especially the graveyard of sunken ships off Saint-Pierre and the caves and tunnels off Rocher du Diamant. For the novice diver, a good place to get your fins wet are in the shallow coral gardens near Cap Enrage, a underwater habitat filled with tropical fish and sea turtles. The Main Hull, a sunken Canadian barge, is also an ideal spot for the beginner wreck diver.

Martinique

6. St. Lucia

When it comes to tropical island getaways, you can expect all the standards of paradise in St. Lucia, a small island in the Windwards and neighboring Martinique and St. Vincent. Get swept away in a natural wonderland filled with turquoise waters teeming with fish and corals, tropical rainforests, and unspoiled, white sand beaches. A good place to get into the island spirit is at Discovery, a high-end resort in the popular Marigot Bay. Flanked by lush, green hills, the bay is considered one of the most beautiful in the Caribbean and has been the setting of several films, including Firepower (1979) and Dr. Dolittle (1967). For stunning bay views and lounging poolside with cocktails, Discovery suites are nestled high in the hills overlooking the bustling marina. From here, you can take excursions to nearby coral sites for an afternoon of snorkeling.

St. Lucia

5. Barbados

With its beautiful beaches, clear turquoise waters and natural wonders abounding, the tiny island of Barbados encourages exploration, particularly along the coastline of Bathsheba, which is known for its massive rock formations and boulders scattered along the shore. Another popular eco-destination is Harrison’s Cave near St. Thomas, a spectacular labyrinth of hidden waterfalls and underground rivers. On the west coast, you’ll find pristine sandy beaches that are ideal for sunbathing under coconut and palm trees swaying in the breeze and with a coast lined with luxury resort hotels in the distance. The island is also full of colonial relics like St. Nicholas Abbey, a grand stone mansion built on a sugar plantation in the mid-17th century.

Harrison’s Cave

4. Aruba, Curacao, and Bonaire

Just outside the Atlantic hurricane belt are the Dutch isles of Aruba, Curacao, and Bonaire, which are protected from storms by their strategic southern Caribbean location. In Aruba, you’ll find a mix of lively street scenes at the action-packed casinos and resorts lining the coast. Close by is the Arikok National Park, a change of pace with its natural tranquility and thriving wildlife. Meanwhile, over in Bonaire, the flamingo colony in southern Pekelmeer enjoys protected seclusion in between trips from Venezuela for nesting obligations. The isle also has several protected marine sanctuaries, making it one of the top scuba diving destinations in the Caribbean.

Bonaire, flamingo

3. Anguilla

Standing out among the beautiful islands of the French Antilles is Anquilla, a modern resort island that is cherished by vacationers for its bright turquoise waters that glow from the surrounding ancient coral base. All around the island you’ll find cays and coral reef sites for unforgettable scuba diving and snorkeling excursions. Back on the mainland are some of the Caribbean’s most luxurious resorts like the swanky Carimar Beach Club on Meads Bay Beach or Cap Jula lining the west end of the coastline. The flatlands of the interior are also ideal for a horseback ride through the tropics and the horse handlers at Seaside Stables are always ready to help you saddle up for a romantic sunset trail ride in paradise.

Anguilla

2. Virgin Islands

The jewel of the Virgin Islands is St. John and the Virgin Islands National Park is the major highlight, a tropical Eden filled with pristine natural beaches, verdant hillsides, and reef patches in Caneel Bay. The great thing about tiny islands is that you’re never far from a strip of coastline that invites afternoons of swimming and snorkeling year round. Day sailing is also a favorite activity and a great way to explore the waters and inlets surrounding the islands. Boats leave daily from Cruz Bay and venture out to offshore cays and snorkeling meccas. Back on the mainland are excellent wooded hiking trails like Reef Bay Trail and Lind Point Trail, which have impressive views of Cruz Bay.

Virgin Islands

1. Trinidad and Tobago

Situated in the southernmost part of the Caribbean chain, the twin-island republic of Trinidad and Tobago is a fascinating getaway with its diverse natural habitats and thriving tourism infrastructure. The shorelines range from wild, hilly terrain carpeted with verdant foliage to calm, sandy beaches that encourage blissful seaside afternoons and tranquil sunset strolls. Tobago’s central forest preserve is also full of wildlife and exotic plants in the oldest protect rainforest in the Western Hemisphere. More lush rainforests dominate the northern landscape of Trinidad next door while peaceful waters lap onto the serene shorelines on the east coast.

Tobago

8 Things to See and Do in St. Lucia

St. Lucia, with its varied topography, provides some stunning visuals. This Caribbean island is covered with lush tropical rainforests, possesses miles of white sand beaches, and has a coast line that ushers up volcanoes and volcanic rock masses that rise up into the sky. Altogether, the vistas create an awareness of the variability of nature. This small island has lots to offer in terms of activities, accommodation and points of interest.

8. The Pitons

No trip to St. Lucia would be complete without taking in the iconic Piton Mountains that shoot up from St. Lucia’s west coast. The towering Piton Mountains are the most photographed landmark on the island, and with good reason. Le Gros Piton and Le Petit Piton rise 798 and 743 meters, respectively and provide a stunning contrast in color, with their dark outlines cast against the green waters of the Caribbean Sea below. They are dark because they have been formed from lava and rock. These two twin peaks are connected via a ridgeway (they are actually located about four kilometers from each other). These volcanic spires are covered in lush tropical rainforests. For the adventurous, the Pitons can be climbed, but an ascent up this steep pitch is arduous and takes several hours in both directions. It is recommended that you hire a local guide. This land mass and some of the water area surrounding it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Pitons st lucia

7. Reduit Beach

On the western outskirts of Gros Islet, located along the shores of Rodney Bay, Reduit Beach is one of the most famous in St. Lucia. Many consider this to be one of the best on the island. Miles of white sand wrap around Rodney Bay, and provide for great swimming and watersports (equipment is available for rental at various spots up and down the beach). This beach is bordered by lush green vegetation, so shade is available if the sun is too strong. You won’t go hungry during your stay here. The beach is lined with restaurants and snack vendors. There are also picnic areas. Several of the better known hotels in St. Lucia are located within walking distance of Reduit Beach, so the beach is very popular with tourists.

Photo by: Dokodemo Door
Photo by: Dokodemo Door

6. Anse Chastenet

This expansive resort is one of the most famous on the island. Set amongst 600 acres of lush tropical vegetation that include not one but two white sand beaches.  There is also a black sand beach close by showing the diverse beauty of the beaches surrounding this resort. Anse Chastenet is all about immersing yourself in the beauty afforded by the surrounding ecosystem, with fragrant flora and fauna, as well as an assortment of wildlife. There are traditional rooms and suites as well as rooms that are fashioned to connect with the stunning views, with wrap around balconies.  The hotel is set against two bays, which are actually a marine reserve that protects miles of vibrant coral reefs, where tropical fish are abundant and offers great snorkeling. This is also one of the best spots on the island to take in the full picturesque view of both of the Piton Mountains. Depending on whether or not you seek an active holiday, or something more sedate there is lots to do onsite, with a full service spa, yoga, tennis, scuba diving, snorkeling and sea kayaking.  It’s very popular with honeymooners, who in particular enjoy romantic candlelit dinners in their treehouse restaurants.

Photo by: Anse Chastenet
Photo by: Anse Chastenet

5. Castries

Castries is the capital of St. Lucia, and is its largest city, housing the bulk of the population. It’s popular with tourists on day trips and is a frequent port for cruise ships. The harbor was actually constructed within an extinct volcano.  Just south of Castries is Morne Fortune, which was one of the major battlegrounds where the French and British fought for control of St. Lucia. At the site today are the remains of Fort Charlotte, a military cemetery, and a museum; it’s also currently home to the Governor General.  Morne Fortune also provides one of the most panoramic views of Castries and surrounding areas.  Another hot spot in Castries is Derek Walcott Square (St. Lucian-born Walcott won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930).

ATGImages / Shutterstock.com
ATGImages / Shutterstock.com

4. Castries Market

Open for business since 1894, the Castries open air market is prime for people watching (and also getting a little shopping in at the same time). Located underneath a vibrant orange roof, the market has hundreds of vendors. Local producers sell spices, mangoes, cucumbers, fresh fish and meat, as well as a host of native Caribbean fruits and vegetables. Local women are dressed in traditional St. Lucian attire.  There are food vendors selling authentic dishes. There is an entire section with hand glazed pottery and woven gifts. Travelers take note: this market is hopping every day of the week- except Sunday, when it is closed.

Styve Reineck / Shutterstock.com
Styve Reineck / Shutterstock.com

3. Marigot Bay

Marigot Bay is located just south of Castries and is a popular home base for travelers wanting to visit various points on the island, because of its proximity to Soufriere and Rodney Bay. This area is small, with a handful of hotels and restaurants.  Boutique shopping is close by in the Marina Village. Close to Marigot Bay is the popular beach Anse Cochon, where shallow reefs make for great swimming and snorkeling (turtles, squid and octopus are often viewed). Marigot Bay may look familiar; it’s been the setting for films over the years- including the original Dr. Doolittle, starring Rex Harrison.

Marigot Bay st lucia

2. Sulphur Springs

Just south of Soufriere, Sulphur Springs is known as the world’s only “drive-in volcano”. Visitors can literally drive in to the crater of the Soufriere Volcano, with boiling water and mud on either side of the roadway. This volcano is dormant, with the last eruption having taken place in the late 18th century.  You can walk fairly close to the pools, with observation platforms taking you precariously close to the edge. Downstream is a series of hot spring pools, where guests can immerse themselves in hot spring and mud baths, which reportedly have therapeutic quality.

Sulpher Springs St Lucia

1. Pigeon Island National Park

St. Lucia’s first national park is a great place to explore- in part because of its beauty and in part because of its rich history.  Joined to the mainland by a causeway, this former island was apparently used as a hideout for St. Lucia’s first French settler, Jambe de Bois (Wooden Leg), who would lie in wait to pounce on and robe passing Spanish ships in the 16th century. There are artifacts, ruins, garrisons and barracks to explore and wander through, a nod to its military roots in the 18th century… For sun seekers, there are beaches with calm water to play in.

"Pigeon Island" by Mjr74 - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.
Pigeon Island” by Mjr74Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.