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Unexpected Caribbean adventures
It’s easy to think the Caribbean is all about pristine sands and piña coladas. Granted, it offers thousands of picture-perfect beaches, vast resorts and some of the world’s best rum, but these vibrant islands have so much more besides. From zip lining through rainforests to swimming with pigs and living it up at carnival, we bring you 50 spectacular and surprising Caribbean adventures.
Swim through island grottoes in the British Virgin Islands
The British Virgin Islands are just one of the island clusters strewn across the Caribbean and hopping between them is what discovering this part of the world is all about. Snake through the colossal granite boulders of The Baths National Park with your snorkel to explore the sun drizzled grottoes. You can catch a ferry over to Virgin Gorda or if you’re visiting by boat, just hitch up to a mooring buoy and swim right in from the ocean.
Dive into the home of hammerhead sharks in Belize
For true dare-devil divers, this is a bucket-list trip which cannot be missed. Dive down into the colossal hollow of a collapsed cave which stretches more than 400 feet deep and spans over 1,000 feet wide. You won’t be alone on your expedition, as the Blue Hole National Monument is home to a host of hammerhead sharks.
Take a tour in a vintage car in Havana
Havana’s architecture switches from colourful period buildings to dilapidated Brutalist concrete blocks in a heartbeat. And the best way to take it all in? From your seat in a vintage car. There are lots of tour companies who offer guided or self-drive tours, but you can’t beat one of Old Cars Havana’s classic 1950s Buicks or Cadillacs.
Swim with pigs in the Bahamas
Big Major Cay in the Exuma archipelago is home to around 20 pigs and piglets, regularly seen snorting and paddling their way through the pristine waters. You can visit them on an organised tour from Great Exuma with 4 C’s Adventures – try going earlier in the day when the pigs are more hungry and likely to swim out to greet you in the hope of finding food.
Swim the channel in Nevis
Why not introduce a little competition to break-up the holiday beach days, with a cross channel swim in the sunny Caribbean? The Nevis to St Kitts annual race has been going for 17 years and is now one of the most popular open water swimming events in the region. Time your trip to the beautiful islands for early next year, so you can catch all the action of the 2019 race on 31 March.
Visit the Luminous Lagoon in Jamaica
Also worth a visit on Jamaica is the natural Luminous Lagoon, one of only three in the world. After dark you can have a dip as the water sparkles and glistens all around you.
Bamboo raft to Usain Bolt’s birthplace in Jamaica
A local guide will navigate your private bamboo raft down winding rivers of jade green water. You can book a ride with Island Routes Caribbean Adventures who will steer you through the Parish of Trelawny, where world-record sprinter Usain Bolt was born.
Hear classical music on steel drums in Trinidad
You may have expected to encounter traditional steel drum music on a trip to the Caribbean, but the World Steelband Music Festival showcases competing musicians playing classical European harmonies on steel pans. The instruments have been carefully developed over decades to accommodate the range of notes necessary to play classical melodies. Different divisions of the competition showcase soloists, orchestras and junior panmen performers in a thriving festival of music and dancing.
Celebrate with sea snails in Turks and Caicos
You would be forgiven for mistaking the Turks and Caicos Conch festival for a carnival, from the vibrant atmosphere of music, dance and, of course, food. Held every November, locals compete to create the most delicious conch delicacy in a hustle of all-day entertainment involving the large marine molluscs and their shells. Have a go at winning the conch knocking game or the conch blowing competition, to truly get swept up in traditions of the festival.
See a musical garden in Barbados
This privately owned tropical garden is wonderfully whimsical: all around are hidden speakers playing classical music. Watch the monkeys and birds flit around to the sultry sounds of Bach, while you take in the rare exotic plants. Time your visit right and owner Anthony Hunte will be on hand for a chat too.
Spectate at the races of Antigua’s Yacht week
Each year the yacht world gathers on the shores of Antigua for a week of sailing, socialising and celebrating (27 April – 3 May 2019). The regatta features five days of competitive racing based off the island’s south coast, out of 18th century Nelson’s Dockyard. You can watch all the offshore action from the beaches and hiking trails but catch the race breakfast at Shirley Heights Lookout for the best view.
Fly over the ocean in the US Virgin Islands
You may think you’ve tried all the watersport activities which holidays have to offer but flyboarding is the newest ocean-based adventure for thrill-seekers. The hoverboard-like device is attached to a hose which uses water pressure to propel you into the air. Jetpack high and hover over the nautical waters of St Thomas is the US Virgin Islands. You can book a go in advance with the St Thomas Flyboarding company.
Spy Toucans while zip lining in Belize
If you’re a bit sceptical about bird-watching you’ve probably never discovered Belize. Zip lining is popular here, and at many locations throughout the roaring forests inland you can join up to 500 species of the island’s birds at their loftiest heights. Scout the colourful beaks of the toucans and take in the views as you glide above the forest floor. #bvygtf621From Puerto Viejo, Terraventuras offers a guided tour which includes a mix of hiking and soaring through the treetops on 1.7 miles of cable. The finale, on the Superman cable, involves an adrenaline pumping 984-foot glide.
Swim for rum cocktails in the British Virgin Islands
The iconic Soggy Dollar Bar gained its name because to reach it, you have to swim ashore from a boat or yacht out in the bay. The joke is that the money in your pocket will get wet during the swim, so when you come ashore for one of their infamous Painkiller rum cocktails, you’ll be paying with soggy dollar notes. The bar has now reopened after Hurricane Irma and is a true holiday postcard destination sitting on a dreamy white beach punctuated with classic palm trees.
Visit the Cuban China Town
While China may not be the first place that springs to mind when you think of Cuba, the Eastern nation shares deep roots with this Caribbean island. The grand gates and architecture of China Town, or “El Barrio Chino” in Havana, serve as a lasting reminder of Chinese migration to the island during the 19th century. Try Cuban-Chinese dishes, catch a Chinese film at the China Town cinema or have a flick through the Diario Popular Chino (Kwon-Wah-Po) Chinese newspaper.
Sit with John Lennon in Cuba
Despite The Beatles’ music being banned in communist Cuba, former Prime Minister Fidel Castro later confessed his admiration for John Lennon, two decades after the singer’s death. You can sit alongside a bronze statue of the star in what is now John Lennon Park. Reportedly, the pair of glasses are kept safe by a security guard, who may put them on the statue for photos, if you ask him nicely.
Climb mountains in St Lucia
The Pitons are St Lucia’s majestic twin peaks. Gros Piton looks steep but if you’re reasonably fit (and have packed sturdy footwear) a guided hike will leave you feeling as if you’re on top of the world. Petit Piton is however a tougher climb and best for those who are used to fixed ropes.
Visit the world’s best beach, Grace Bay, Turks and Caicos
Granted, there are quite a few contenders for this accolade. But this beach, voted best in the world in the TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards, certainly ticks all the boxes. Grace Bay on Providenciales, one of the idyllic Turks and Caicos islands off the American east coast, boasts powder-white sand and clear turquoise water.
Go underground at Gasparee Caves in Trinidad
Join a tour boat taking you from Chaguaramas to Gaspar Grande Island and this beautiful cave with pristine waters, complete with resident bats. On most tours you can swim in the limestone cave too.
Explore rural Cuba
While Havana is charming, venture outside the Cuban capital and you’ll reap the rewards. Two and a half hours drive away lies the breathtaking Valle de Viñales, famous for its tobacco farms and miles of lush foliage interspersed with domed hills. Visit a tobacco farm and explore the Santo Tomás caves, Cuba’s biggest subterranean system. Soak up the valley views with a hike or hire a bike to cycle the quiet roads.
Find crocodile-filled swamps in Cuba
Southeast of the quirky urban city of Havana, lies the Zapata Swamp. Hidden beneath the water’s murky depths and lurking on the river banks, lie the native Cuban crocodiles. The ‘crocodylus rhombifer’ is slightly smaller than other crocodile breeds but is just as ferocious. You can take a guided tour through the crocodile ‘farm’ in the Penisula de Zapata National Park to see these reptilian beasts – just don’t get too close!
Spot scarlet parrots at a Costa Rican sanctuary
The Ara Project in Costa Rica cares for and preserves the nation’s two native species of macaw, the largest breed in the parrot family. See the “ara macao” or scarlet macaws, at their west coast breeding and reintroduction centre. At their east coast branch you will find the “ara ambiguous” or Great Green Macaws, of which there are only 1,000 left in the wild. Take a guided tour and witness the magnificent birds flying once again in their natural forest home.
Swim with stingrays in the Cayman Islands
Around 50 stingrays live at Stingray City, a series of shallow sandbars in the Cayman Islands. Pack an underwater camera and take one of the many boat tours which run from Seven Mile Beach – legend has it that if you kiss one of these giants, you’ll get seven years of good luck.
Jump 27 waterfalls in the Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic is home to spectacular waterfalls including the 170-foot-high El Limón (pictured). For an all-out, adrenaline-fuelled adventure, head to the 27 falls at Damajagua. Take the challenging guided hike to the top then leap and slither your way back down all 27 falls, plunging into turquoise pools. The jumps reach as high as 25 feet, although you can bypass the bigger drops if you prefer.
Explore Bermuda’s secret underground
Step out of Bermuda’s scorching sun in the North Atlantic, and travel deep into Crystal Cave. Here you’ll find vast stalagmites, chandelier clusters and a glassy subterranean lake, accessible via a floating walkway. Peer into the clear waters and you’ll see intricate formations hidden far beneath the surface.
Kitesurf in the Dominican Republic
Adrenaline junkies can get their kicks on the Dominican Republic’s northeast coast, a mecca for kite boarding enthusiasts. Take lessons at one of the schools on Kite Beach or put your skills to the test in Cabarete Bay where the crème de la crème of the kite boarding world regularly converge for competitions. If you’re more spectator than surfer, cheer the professionals on instead as they compete next year in the 2019 Master of the Ocean festival.
Spot monkeys in Costa Rica
Only accessible by boat or plane, Costa Rica’s vast Tortuguero National Park is home to sloths, howler monkeys, river otters, tapirs, caiman and poison dart frogs. Stay in one of the lodges dotted around the park and explore the maze of creeks and lagoons on a boat trip or take early morning guided hikes.
Take the train in St Kitts
Explore St Kitts on board an old sugar cane express. The St Kitts Scenic Railway, built between 1912 and 1926 to transport sugar cane, has double-decked railcars with an open-air top giving magnificent views across the island. Sip on rum punch as you meander through rainforests and across plunging canyons.
Watch horse racing in Barbados
Join the thousands of vivacious locals and tourists who descend on Garrison Savannah racetrack for its regular Saturday meets. Cheer on the horses and immerse yourself in the lively atmosphere – you’ll find parades, street food and betting aplenty. Tuck into fried fish at one of the street stalls and enjoy with a cold beer.
Take a mud bath in St Lucia
You can drive and walk right through this steaming, stinking volcano in St Lucia. Take a dip in a mineral-rich mud bath said to help ease mosquito bites, before getting clean in a hot spring. Just be prepared for the strong, sulphurous smell!
Dive a wreck in Bonaire
Bonaire offers some of the best diving in the Caribbean, including the chance to explore Hilma Hooker, a former drug-smuggling freighter that sank in 1984. Angelfish and parrotfish now call the ship home, alongside snapper and the odd eel. It’s also flanked by two coral reefs, buzzing with marine life.
Make chocolate in Grenada
Grenada’s annual Chocolate Fest (31 May to 7 June 2019) is a must-visit for lovers of the sweet stuff. Visit the island’s cocoa plantations and get to the heart of the action with one of the immersive experiences. You can learn how to harvest cocoa (you’ll crack the pods and collect the beans), make a chocolate bar or ‘dance’ the cocoa, a traditional way of drying the beans by walking on them.
Delve beneath Barbados
Take a subterranean tram ride into the depths of Harrison’s Cave, a spectacular subterranean system winding its way more than 1.2 miles under Barbados’ uplands. You’ll pass streams, waterfalls and deep, crystalline pools, as well as the Great Hall with its lofty 49-foot-high ceiling.
Learn to salsa in Cuba
Get your snake hips wriggling with a dance course in Cuba, the birthplace of modern salsa. There are several dance schools in Havana or try Responsible Travel’s two-week Cuba Salsa holiday. You’ll have 30 hours of intensive tuition with a Cuban pro then hit the dance floor in the city’s best music clubs by night.
Visit an underwater museum in Isla Mujeres
Deep beneath the pristine, warm waters of this Mexican Caribbean island lie more than 500 sculptures, including a life-sized VW Beetle, several houses and a multitude of bodies (cement ones). This eerie underwater art attraction, MUSA, was devised to create a new artificial reef system for fish to colonise and its depth (26 feet) means it can be only explored by scuba diving.
Visit the Bacardi distillery in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is known as the rum capital of the world, and for good reason. Nearly three quarters of the rum sold in the US is produced on the island. Visit the Bacardi distillery, Casa Bacardi, which is now back in action following Hurricane Maria. Learn how rum is made, take a tasting class or join the mixology tour which involves an all-important lesson in how to make the perfect mojito. You’ll also get the chance to fill your own bottle.
Kayak through the sea glow in Grand Cayman
By night, the sea around Grand Cayman’s Rum Point sometimes glows in the dark. The magical spectacle, known as the northern lights of the Caribbean, is caused by bioluminescence – when billions of microorganisms emit a glowing light. Cayman Kayaks runs guided tours which will take you paddling through the sparkling waters.
See how coffee is made in Jamaica
The verdant, misty peaks of Jamaica’s Blue Mountains spread their way some 30 miles across the eastern part of the island. The area is famous for its oh-so-smooth (and pricey) coffee which is grown on the steep slopes and picked by hand. Visit Mavis Bank Coffee Factory where you’ll be guided through the process from bean to cup. See how the freshly harvested cherries are pulped and inhale the delicious roasting plant aromas.
Trek up a volcano in Martinique
In 1902, Montagne Pelée, Martinique’s smouldering volcano, erupted and destroyed the town Saint-Pierre. Today, you can head to Morne-Rouge, a town nestled in the foothills, and trek up to the crater. The reward? Incredible views over the island’s verdant forests and the glittering Caribbean Sea.
Discover Trinidad’s hummingbirds
With its abundance of toucans, macaws and 18 species of hummingbird, Trinidad is another birdwatcher’s paradise. Head to the Asa Wright Nature Centre which boasts some 166 bird species or book onto a tour at Yerettê gardens where you’ll learn about hummingbirds, before seeing hundreds of these beautiful birds fluttering in the garden.
See a piece of naval history in Antigua
This 18th-century British naval dockyard has been beautifully restored into a marina and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Admire the majestic ships and Georgian buildings then learn about the history of Nelson’s Dockyard at the museum where you can see a telescope used by Nelson himself. From the dockyard you can take hiking trails up to Shirley Heights, a restored military lookout.
Spot raccoons in Guadeloupe National Park
This vast tropical forest offers cascading waterfalls, glassy bathing pools, a volcano and orchids, not to mention the chance to spot raccoons, mongoose, hummingbirds and black woodpeckers. There are around 186 miles of trails to explore and you can drive through the park on the Route de la Traversée. Stop off at the Cascade aux Ecrevisses (crayfish waterfall) and swim under the falls.
Go river tubing in Grenada
Strap on your life jacket and prepare to get wet with a river tubing adventure in Grenada’s Balthazar Estate. You’ll bob your way down rapids and swirl through tropical pools, flanked by lush forests.
See aloe vera being made in Aruba
Aruba’s dry, desert landscape and scorching sun create the perfect growing conditions for the aloe plant which is now the island’s biggest export. Take a tour round the Aruba Aloe Factory & Museum where you’ll see how the leafy plant is harvested and its liquid extracted to make the soothing gels and lotions.
Do Carnival in Trinidad
In Trinidad, carnival season comes to its explosive, rum-fuelled climax on the Monday and Tuesday before Lent. Thousands of feather-clad islanders descend on Port of Spain to dance, play and march their way through the city in one of the world’s biggest and most exuberant street parties. To get a piece of the action, reserve your place with one of the carnival bands well in advance and buy your lavish costume.
Catch fort-top panoramic views of Guadeloupe
On Les Saintes island in the Guadeloupe archipelago, a steep 15-minute walk takes you up to Fort Napoleon, a 19th-century fortress. The fort, which was formerly used as a prison, is beautifully preserved and houses a museum dedicated to the history of the island. Explore the botanical garden where you’re likely to spot iguanas lazing in the sun and be wowed by the 360-degree views over Guadeloupe.
Eat street food in Barbados
Every Friday evening, thousands of locals and tourists descend on the town of Oistins to eat delicious fish, freshly cooked at one of the many street stalls. Watch your food (you’ll find flying fish, tuna, lobster and swordfish to name but a few) being fried or grilled before sitting down to enjoy it with a cold beer or two.
Explore a crater in St Kitts
Put on your walking boots and head high above the powder-soft beaches of St Kitts with a hike to the summit of Mount Liamuiga, a dormant volcano. After a tough two-hour trek, you’ll reach the rim of the vast volcanic crater known as the Giant’s Salad Bowl. Almost a mile wide and a thousand feet deep, its sides are carpeted in verdant rainforest while a glistening lake nestles at the bottom.
Dance to reggae in Jamaica
Every year, the top names in reggae descend on Jamaica’s Montego Bay area for Reggae Sumfest. The festival starts with a huge beach party, kicking off a week of parties and concerts celebrating reggae and the music genres it’s influenced. Past big names on the line up include Shaggy, Sean Paul and Usher.
Steer your own submarine in Curacao
Delve 1,000 feet beneath the surface in your own miniature submarine pod with SubStation Curacao. Seek out the vibrant coral of the ocean depths and explore shipwrecks of voyages gone by.
No matter if you are looking for rest and relaxation, a fierce itinerary full of activities, or both, here are some of the best resorts for a luxurious experience in the Caribbean:
Jumby Bay Island is located in a secluded area in Antigua, Jumby Bay Island is a discreet luxurious resort that has been listed as one of the world’s most exclusive private island resorts.
Guests can participate in activities including water sports, hiking, and full-service spa treatments that embrace indigenous healing treatments.
Parrot Cay by COMO is an award-winning luxury resort situated on a private island in Turks and Caicos that’s perfect for those of you looking to relax in luxury.
There are more than 1,000 unspoiled acres of land and a mile-long beach.
Rooms, suites, and villas are equipped with soothing interiors and activities include holistic therapies and yoga.
Hermitage Bay is a natural paradise in Antigua that incorporates the natural beauty that surrounds the resort into its luxury. There are approximately 30 individual suites on this all-inclusive, five-star boutique that is situated between beautiful tropical gardens on the beach and on the hillside of a bay.
In addition to its beauty, guests will find that the resort offers a variety of things to do. You will have the chance to choose between taking a cooking course, farm tours, a helicopter tour, sailing, and more.
The Ladera resort in Saint Lucia offers stunning panoramic views of the Pitons and the Caribbean Sea.
One of the highlights when booking a stay on this resort is what they have to offer. It’s one of few destinations in the Caribbean where you can enjoy a rainforest tour, horseback riding, a bartending class, and market tours to get a taste of the island’s culture.
Baoase Luxury Resort in Curaçao is known as the “Ruby of the Caribbean.”
The elegant resort is situated on the south side of the island between the capital Willemstad and the popular Curaçao Sea Aquarium/Mambo Beach.
If you’re looking for a mix of variety during your next vacation stay, guests can pick from a wide range of activities at Baoase, including ultimate Spa and Wellness treatments, romantic dinners, diving and ATV tours.
Round Hill in Montego Bay, Jamaica is spread across 110 acres, and guests will find the ultimate experience for relaxation and wellness. The resort has an award-winning spa where treatments focus on restoring your mind and skin from the inside and the out.
Even better? The resort lies on a lush tropical hillside along a private bay of turquoise waters.
The Zemi Beach House in Anguilla is adjacent to Anguilla’s Fountain Cavern National Park. The resort “redefines luxury island living for a new generation,” according to its website.
Zemi Thai House Spa is a sanctuary of private spa suites and a yoga deck. The resort also has an authentic 300-year-old Thai house and the island’s only hammam (Turkish bath).
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