You won't have to look far for something to do in the Caribbean. There are a number of attractions to explore in every island. Depending on your particular interests, however, some destinations might be a better fit than others. Take a look at some the categories below to find what matches your interest.
The culture of the Caribbean is as diverse as its people. Years of European and American influences have shaped how the Caribbean people express themselves. When you visit the islands, be sure to check out the art no matter which specific destination you choose.
Art galleries in the Caribbean offer visitors the chance experience both local and global art. In major cities like San Juan, Puerto Rico, you will be able to find museums like the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo where modern paintings and sculptures are showcased, in line with the global movement of contemporary art. Most major cities will have at least one museum where contemporary art is featured.
If you are looking for something more traditional, do not despair. Traditional art is still the norm in the Caribbean, and there are numerous art museums throughout the region. However, to ensure you're truly experiencing local art, galleries might be the best option. Often run by the artist or a group of artists, the works are usually for sale, letting you bring a piece of the Caribbean back home with you. Some of the most famous galleries are the Bajo el Sol in on the island of St. John in the US Virgin Islands and the Tides Gallery on the island of Barbados.
Caribbean artwork might be distinctive, but it is probably their music that they are most famous for. Calypso, steel pan, and reggae have become popular world-wide thanks, in part, to Caribbean artists. Jamaica's Bob Marley might be the most famous musician to come out of the islands, and his life and work can be explored at the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston. However, other artists like Tito Puente from Puerto Rico have also contributed. You can learn about these musicians at places like the Museum of Puerto Rican Music in Ponce.
Learning about history of each culture and that entails is definitely interesting, however you will want to visit one of the performing arts and concert halls that can be found around the Caribbean. Venues like the Ruth Seaton James Center For The Performing Arts in Bermuda, the National Theater in Santo Domingo, and others can let you experience the modern high culture of the islands. For something more casual, do not forget to check out local bands playing in bars and lounges.
If you are interested in historical politics, conflict, and peoples of the past, then the Caribbean has plenty to offer. A diverse mix of cultures and histories have shaped the Caribbean you know today. Explore what once was by visiting landmarks – windows into the past – and monuments to the present.
Before Europeans colonized the islands, various native cultures were rulers of the Caribbean. While centuries of occupation have nearly wiped all remnants of the ancient cultures, ruins and historic locations stand as testaments of their stories.
The Taino people, also known as the Arawaks, were one of the three main groups of people who inhabited the islands of the Caribbean. Thanks to early contact with Spanish settlers, we have the most history about these people available to us today than any other group that is believed to have lived in the region. You can even see many important and authentic artifacts regarding how they lived, worked, and played at a number of great museums and cultural sites. Some of these notable locations include the St. Maarten Museum in Philipsburg, the Hope Estate Archeological Site in Grand Case, and the Museo Regional de Antropologia in .
If you're visiting the Riviera Maya, you will inevitably be led to see some of the attractions that revolve around the Ancient Maya. In fact, many people visit the region specifically to tour the ruins of temples, ceremonial spaces, and living environments left behind without a trace by an entire group of people. While there are many theories about why they left, and even decedents of the Maya still around, there is a mystery about it that so many people find intriguing. If you're one of these people, you won't want to miss out on the opportunity to see sites such as Chichen Itza; the Muyil Maya Ruin; the the House of Columns, the Temple of the Descending God, and many others in Tulum.
Want to learn more about the native civilizations that once ruled the islands? Read our comprehensive history article here.
It was the end of the 15th century when Christopher Columbus and his crew first laid their eyes on the islands in the Caribbean and reported their findings back to the rest of the Western World. It was shortly thereafter that European countries began sending settlers to set up colonies. Over the next two centuries, the British, Spanish, French, and Dutch laid claim to each of the island's in the region, and whether it be by peaceful treaty or force, several locations became the property of more than one country. Relics, landmarks, monuments, and museums that speak to colonialism throughout the Caribbean exist today for tourists to explore and learn more about how each island handled the invasion of unknown peoples.
Without a doubt, the British have had the largest reach in the Caribbean. Today, Bermuda, Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, and Turks and Caicos remain British overseas territories, but at one time or another, Great Britain has laid claim to the Bahamas, Belize, Antigua, Dominica, St. Kitts, Barbados, Grenada, St. Lucia, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago.
Not only can you still see glimpses of British culture in the simple every-day workings of life on some of these islands, such as afternoon tea time, but there are some attractions throughout the region that will allow you to further explore British colonialism and culture. Forts stand out on Bermuda, where visitors can explore Fort Hamilton free of charge every day of the week, Fort St. Catherine which was the first major fort built on the island, and Fort Scaur where you'll even have a chance to see a dry moat.
There are even a few forts in the Bahamas, especially in Nassau, including Fort Fincastle. Another important tribute to Great Britain can be seen with a visit to Queen's Staircase, which were named in honor of Queen Victoria.
Having been a British territory for over 300 years, Barbados is this the island where British culture seems to be the most prevalent despite having gained its independence in 1966. A visit to St. Michael's Anglican Cathedral really puts this time span in perspective, as it has been standing and in continuous operation since 1665.
There are three Spanish-speaking countries in the Caribbean: Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. Because the Spanish were the first European settlers in the region, these country's are particularly notable for their historic structures. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic is noted as the oldest city in the New World, while Old San Juan, Puerto Rico is the second oldest. Each of these cities is considered to be an UNESCO World Heritage site, and they are very walkable, encouraging visitors to see site after site that speaks to their Spanish history, settlement, and way of life over the centuries. In the Yucatan, people tend to place their focus on Mayan ruins, but there are a few Spanish structures that shouldn't be overlooked such as the San Bernadino Monastery.
France has several holds in the Caribbean in the form of overseas departments and overseas dependencies, and many more islands have been touched by French culture as the European nations fought over who would gain control of the Caribbean. If you're interested in the history of French colonialism, the best places to look are at the historic forts that still stand throughout the islands. These include the Museum at Fort Napoleon in Guadeloupe, Fort St. Louis on Martinique, Fort Louis in St. Martin, and Fort Rodney on St. Lucia.
The former Netherlands Antilles, which dissolved in 2010, was a group of islands in which the Netherlands had holdings. Today, these countries keep close ties to the Netherlands, despite their mostly independent status. Dutch remains the official or main language spoken in all of these locations, and locals often feel very strongly about their Dutch heritage and the Dutch culture on the island. Because of this, it is easy to find attractions and landmarks that speak to the history. Some of the most recommendable options include Fort Amsterdam in Sint Maarten, Museo Historico Arubano on Aruba, and Fort Nassau on Curacao.
The idea of pirates seems like a fable or fairy tale to some, but the Pirates of the Caribbean were a reality during the 16th and 17th centuries. As ships began making their way between the islands and Europe carrying profitable goods, pirate raids became more and more common, and there are many legends of notable pirates and their hideouts throughout this region. Over time, governments began to realize that they could use the navigational and combat skills of the area's pirates to their advantage and began enlisting them to help them fight their battles against other country's hoping to claim what they believed to be their territory.
If the pirate life is for you, you can visit many attractions that focus on this topic, even in places you might not expect it. Nelson's Dockyard on Antigua, for example, was the site of many pirate battles and there is an exhibit about it at the museum there. Of course, there are more obvious pirate attractions like the Pirates of Nassau Museum in the Bahamas, the Horation Nelson Museum in St. Kitts, and Pirate's Cave on Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands.
The coasts of the Caribbean are perhaps the largest appeal, and why thousands make their way to the islands every year. Make no mistake, the beaches in the region are second to none. From the picturesque beaches like Grace Bay Beach in Turks and Caicos, the natural beaches of Dominica like Black Sands Beach, or the tourist beaches like Seven Mile Beach in Jamaica, there are plenty of options. Of course, all these options can make it hard to choose. We suggest viewing our Caribbean Beach Guide to help you narrow your choices.
Keep in mind that there is much more to the coast than beaches. Just offshore lies the fantastic coral reefs that are home to countless marine life. Locations like the Buck Island National Wildlife Refuge off St. Croix, and the make for absolutely amazing diving opportunities. Find out more on exploring them by viewing our Caribbean Dive Guide. However, if you do not plan on diving, you can still experience the marine life by visiting aquariums. Santo Domingo, Guadeloupe, St. Thomas, and Providenciales are just four destinations that have some quality aquariums. Another option to explore the marine-life is to set up a sailing charter or snorkeling tour excursion that will take you out a little further offshore. Dolphin and Whale watching are popular in the Caribbean, with Samana, Dominican Republic and Holbox, Mexico being two of the whale watching hotspots.
If you turn your attention inland, there is even more to see. Nature in the Caribbean can mean everything from volcanic peaks to deep valleys, natural springs, rainforests, and even deserts. The islands each offer their own unique wildlife and beautiful plants for travelers who spend a bit of time inland. Natural beauty is the selling point for many of the Caribbean islands, especially those popular with eco-tourists.
Eco-tourism is environmentally friendly and responsible tourism, in which the travelers strive to explore the natural beauty of a location while leaving as little of a carbon footprint as possible. One such island that embraces the idea of eco-tourism is Saba. Despite encompassing only five square miles in area, the island has some of the Caribbean's best hiking and diving locales, and has begun marketing itself to eco-tourists more and more in recent years. Mount Scenery is a particularly popular attraction, featuring a 1,064 step carved staircase up the windward side of the mountain. Some other natural attractions in the Caribbean include the Blue Mountains in Jamaica and the Hato Caves in Curacao.
As you can see, there is a lot of nature to explore in the Caribbean. Just knowing that you want to experience some natural attractions does not make choosing an island any easier. Finally choosing a destination depends on your specific interests, and how they align with some of the unique offerings of the island. See if your interests are sparked with any of the topics below. Click them, or see below for more information.
Tropical climates make the temperatures rise and the rain fall in many Caribbean islands, creating lush forests that are fantastic for exploring. Some islands like Dominica and Puerto Rico are well known for their tropical rainforests that are popular among hikers. Other islands, like Bermuda, might not have a rainforest, but generally receives at least three inches of rain per month, and often more.
Believe it or not, deserts are not uncommon in the Caribbean. Islands such as Aruba and Curacao are well known for their desert terrain and climate. Some islands, like St. Croix, have areas that receive very little rainfall, and other locations where rainfall is plentiful; still other islands can best be described as semi-arid, or they lack the lush tropical vegetation many people think of when they visualize a Caribbean island. The Bahamas, for example, receives a lot of rainfall, but the climate and subsurface structures generally keep the ground dry – so they tend to have more mangrove forests than regular trees.
Again, most islands have at least one mountain, but there are a few iconic locations that stand out. Aruba's Mount Jamanota is one of those locations. It is a centerpiece of the island and its off-the-beaten path feel complete with donkeys and other animals roaming freely make it the perfect spot for those who yearn for a quiet, all-natural retreat. In Guadeloupe, there is a very famous mountain called Le Grande Soufriere. Actually an active volcano, it has threatened the people of Guadeloupe with an eruption as recently as 1976. For now, it is safe enough to explore. Finally, one of the most recognizable mountains in the Caribbean are the Pitons in St. Lucia. These iconic and photogenic mountains are a favorite of sightseers and hikers. The extreme incline make it quite a challenge though.
These are just three famous mountains in the Caribbean. If you are hoping for a mountain to be the main attraction of your vacation, Aruba, Guadeloupe, and St. Lucia might be a good choice. However, the locations listed below also have some notable mountainous terrain to offer.
Hiking in the Caribbean can be a lot of fun for those willing to put up with the heat. While you can find hiking nearly anywhere in the Caribbean, a few places really specialize in it. Dominica, as the Nature Island, has one of the most famous trails in the region, the Waitukubuli National Trail. This trail will take you all across the island in segments, allowing you to start and stop as you please. Another option is Jamaica. Those stopping in any of the big cities will be able to find tour guides ready to take them into the island's interior. However, true eco-tourists will want to look into staying in the center of it all by booking a hotel in or near the Blue Mountains. Martinique is another great choice thanks to a diverse topography that includes rainforests, beaches, and volcanoes all in just 436 square miles.
Hiking the famous Mont Pelee on Martinique is a natural choice, but another great hike is from Precheur to Grand-Riviere in the north of the country. A third option is Puerto Rico. Much more than the industrious San Juan, Puerto Rico is also home to numerous parks and reserves. From Arecibo where you can see the famous observatory, to Cabo Rojo where you can experience the island's natural coast. However, the most famous natural attraction on that island, El Yunque, offers perhaps the most exciting hiking.
Below are some other destinations to consider for hiking.
Beautiful waterfalls can be found in the Caribbean that rival much larger ones found elsewhere in the world. Some of them are famous tourist attractions, while others are hidden gems that are nothing short of marvelous to look at. One of the most famous, and most visited, is Dunn's River Falls in Jamaica not far from Ocho Rios. Cruise passengers and other tourists flock here because the falls are perfect for climbing, even for the inexperienced.
Someone looking for a bit more of a secluded option, however, might be interested in the falls of Grenada. Concord Falls consists of three different waterfalls, and the latter two require at least an hour's hike. However, those making the trip are rewarded with a beautiful view and cool water perfect for swimming in.
Somewhere between the crowds of Dunn's and the seclusion of Concord is Diamond Falls in St. Lucia. While a visit here requires a little bit of a walk, it is located in a botanical garden urrounded by green leaves and colorful flowers.
Thanks to the unique biodiversity throughout the Caribbean, birding is a popular pastime. In fact, it is not uncommon for tourists to visit a specific island specifically because they have heard about the great birding opportunities that exist there. There are 564 known species of Caribbean bird species, and 146 of them are endemic, which means they simply cannot be found naturally anywhere else in the world. That reason alone is enough to draw many birders to the region.If you're interested in this activity, any of the following destinations will be a great vacation choice.
Not all destinations in the Caribbean are the same. From their topography to unique geological features, there is something that allows each and every location to stand out. The following destinations have something unique to offer visitors.
Aruba, for example, is known for its desert interior and tourists will even spot cacti as they explore, especially when visiting the Casibari Rock Formation.
In Puerto Rico and on Trinidad, it is their waterways that really draw visitors. There are several bioluminscent bays throughout Puerto Rico, including a world famous one on Vieques and another in Fajardo. Pitch Lake on Trinidad takes a completely different turn. This lake is actually comprised of an estimated six million tons of asphalt and tourists can hear, see, and smell the bubbling and hissing.
Finally, the most popular natural attraction in the British Virgin Islands is known as the Baths. They are located on Virgin Gorda, and are a collection of underwater boulders that create a series of caves, grottoes, and pools that visitors can't get enough of whether they are diving, snorkeling, or just exploring from boulder to boulder as they swim.
Of course, this is just the beginning of the sites you'll find throughout the islands. A look into the attractions of individual islands will provide an endless listing of things to keep you busy on your vacation, and don't forget there is an entire world of attractions to be discovered underneath the surface of the sea when you plan to spend some time snorkeling and diving. From historic forts and museums to tall mountains and glowing bays, the Caribbean is overflowing with attractions that will not only entertain, but enrich as well.
We hope this overview has provided you with some ideas concerning the specific attractions that interest you most. Now we hope you will dig deeper into the specific features that make the Caribbean so special. Click on the links below for in-depth information concerning specific types of attractions:
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