The Caribbean’s reputation precedes it – and deservedly so. This collection of sun-bathed islands conjures up paradisiacal images of bays and beaches of pale, soft sands, lapped at by sunshine-spangled azure waters and palms waving in the gentle sea breezes.
Not to mention mango trees, purple mountains, colourful markets, the scent of lime and frangipani and an ambience at once laid-back and lively. But the islands of the Caribbean are not one homogenous mass, and to discover the unique character of each, the best approach is to take one of the ever-popular Caribbean cruises out there.
Hopping from the east to western isles will offer you the chance, when not sailing the glorious waters at a leisurely pace, to disembark and discover what these jewels of the Caribbean Sea have to offer.
Bahamas – 1st of Caribbean Cruises
Technically, the 700-plus islands that make up the Bahamas are in the Atlantic Ocean – but as a place, it’s Caribbean to its soul.
With the biggest barrier reef on the planet, as well as the most transparent waters, cruises to the Bahamas take in several ports of call, all of which offer different experiences, but the same warmth and hospitality.
The capital, Nassau, is on New Providence Island and hosts the majority of the population. Paradise Island, which faces the city’s harbour, is linked by bridges, which are the ports of call to make for shopping, dining and drinking. For more tranquil or sporty destinations, stop off at Grand Bahamas Island with its miles of beaches, nature reserves, national parks, golf courses and ecological and wildlife marvels. Other ports of call include Halfmoon and Castaway Cay, where development is minimal and peaceful tranquillity is assured.
Puerto Rico – 2nd of Caribbean Cruises
From the good-time hotspots and striking Spanish architecture of old San Juan to the mountains of Maricao, where you’ll find the famous Pepi Curet waterfall, Puerto Rico is truly a fairy-tale vision of paradise, with nine ports set around the island, allowing you to disembark to your taste.
If you’re after rum cocktails as well as restaurants, galleries and museums, the port capital of San Juan is the place to be. Head for Lobos and Ratones for snorkelling in crystal clear waters, and to Desecheo – a tranquil, under-populated emerald isle – for scuba diving. It also features a breathtaking candy-coloured coral reef.
Barbados – 3rd of Caribbean Cruises
The isle of the Bajans offers all the sandy white beaches and emerald seas of legend, which are ideal for snorkelling, but it’s also a topographical and geological marvel, with underground lagoons, flora and fauna-clad hills, gullies and rugged Atlantic shores. Its famous trade winds keep the topical climate temperate.
The capital, Georgetown, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its diverse architectural styles bespeak its past as a colony of England, France, Spain and Holland. This port city also offers walking and rum tours, restaurants serving exquisite local cuisine, museums, a boardwalk, beaches and bar.
Jamaica – 4th of Caribbean Cruises
Possibly the most famous island in the Caribbean, the home of ska, saltfish and ackee and a land of great contrasts, Jamaica is ripe with natural beauty.
Favoured by eco-tourists, water-sport enthusiasts, lazy sunbathers, families, honeymooning couples, Hollywood stars seeking anonymity and rock stars seeking relaxation, there are several ports of call you should do your best to check out. If you fancy high-end dining, shopping and urban bustle, head for Kingston. If you want some time in the ultimate resort, head for Montego Bay, when you can lounge on the beach, shop, dance, drink, go snorkelling and even play golf. Ocho Rios offers nature’s finest bounties – not least in its waterfalls – and Port Antonio will give you a glimpse into the Real Jamaica, with its sapphire lagoons and tranquil towns and bays.
Costa Rica – 5th of Caribbean Cruises
Not all Caribbean cruises favourites are in the islands – Costa Rica being a grand example. The land of the purple orchid, this Central American country has 200 miles of paradisiacal beaches on its Caribbean coast – many with fabulous multi-coloured sands – as well as several majestic volcanoes and fast flowing rivers beloved of kayak enthusiasts. There are wildlife and nature reserves, too.
The port city of Limón is the place to head to observe its quaint old town and to shop and dine. Truly, this is a country where afro-Caribbean culture fuses with the Latino spirit, creating a rich and lush land and warm and welcoming people.
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