Travellers who say they wish to 'get away from it all' actually mean 'get away from home'. But in a world with so many cultures and journeys to be experienced, holidaymakers usually end up diving into another adventure, albeit glamorised with a new destination's novelty effect. But for the few who seek relaxation and rejuvenation in the most epitomical sense, there's no place like the Caribbean
The islands in the Caribbean Sea are also known as the 'West Indies', a misnomer tracing back to Christopher Columbus' global mis-positioning when he land-ahoy'd there in 1492 with the assumption that they had reached Indian shores. Centuries on, the 7,000 or so cays, islets, and reefs sprinkled off the arced coastlines of North, Central, and South America provide some of the most exclusive island getaways in the world. With less than 5% of the islands here inhabited, instead of the 'wish you were here' sentiment found on postcards, the Caribbean represents the antithesis - 'glad you aren't here too'.
Interesting Facts about the Caribbean:
- The first Bacardi spirits were produced in Santiago de Cuba in 1862, but is no longer produced there. The former distillery now produces Caney rum.
- The Dominican Republic boasts several superlatives: largest hot spring (Boiling Lake, 2nd largest in the world), the 4 highest peaks in the Caribbean (highest being Pico Duarte at 1,098m), and the lowest point in the Caribbean (Lake Enriquillo at 39m below sea level)
- The Bahamas' Exumas archipelago consists of 365 cays, one for every day. The same number of beaches are located on Antigua Island.
- Sir Richard Branson bought the famed Necker Island in the late 1970s for £180,000.
- Reputed to be the most expensive Cuban cigars to have gone under the hammer, a box of 163 Havana's rolled in 1856 sold for £17,600 in 1997.
Lucayan Archipelago is situated off the eastern coast of USA's Florida and consists of the Bahamas and the Turks & Caicos Islands.
The Commonwealth of The Bahamas is home to numerous islands and cays, and as an indication of its popularity, many reef islands are owned by cruise companies. Much to many a wallet's delight, the Bahamas are one of the handful of Caribbean nations which offer duty free shopping, concentrated mainly on New Providence Island and its capital Nassau. On the island of Grand Bahama, naturalists can visit one of 3 national parks, including the Lucayan National Park which covers an intriguing mixture from the famed beaches to mangrove swamps and pine forests. Various locations around the Bahamas were film sets during the making of Pirates of the Caribbean movie series. The mega casino complex of Atlantis is on Paradise Island, sharing the land with a marina and golf course.
For a stroll through Turks & Caicos' past, Grand Turk is home to a national museum, chronicling the original Lucayans who inhabited the land from about 700 AD but have since disappeared. Adventurers who are not afraid of the dark can descend 24 meters down The Hole in Providenciales and be rewarded with a swimming hole at the bottom. Sea mollusks are an island favourite, and Caicos Conch Farm offer a behind-the-kitchen look at how the delicacies are processed.
The islands in the Greater Antilles take up the majority of the land mass in the Caribbean and include the arguably more well known nations (in mainstream travel circles) of Hispaniola - shared between Dominican Republic and Haiti - Jamaica, and Puerto Rico.
The much-referred to in songs island destination of Caymans also belongs to this group. Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, is the site for the first major European settlement in the 'New World'. The capital city is a fusion of the old and new, with a world heritage city centre mixed with upscale neighbourhoods including Naco and Piantini, lined with high end boutiques and world class eateries.
Jamaica, known for being the birthplace of the legendary Bob Marley and the catch-me-if-you-can Usain Bolt, also houses several national parks and beaches ranging from bustling (i.e. Las Terrenas) to those off the beaten track (i.e. Playa Bonita).
The British overseas territories of the Caymans consists of 3 separate islands making up one much coveted diver's paradise - Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac, and Little Cayman. The largest of the 3 boasts a colourful capital George Town, as well as a shallow reef called North Sound that's perfect for snorkelers. The limestone cliffs at Cayman Brac give the coastline a dramatic scenery, while Little Cayman - where the resident rock iguana population is 10-fold that of the human inhabitants - provides a hammock day under the trees with nothing but the picture perfect Caribbean vista at your feet.
The Virgin Islands archipelago of the Leeward Island group consists of the British overseas territories as well as the unincorporated territories of the US. The US Virgin Islands include St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas, the 3 largest and affectionately known by the locals as Twin City, Love City, and Rock City respectively.
St. Thomas' Magens Bay is one of the most sought after beaches, while the tropical forest and Trunk Bay in the Virgin Islands National Park is St. John's main draw. The British Virgin Islands, on the other hand, offer similar stunning soft sand and sparkling blue waters, with islands including Tortola, Virgin Gorda, and Anegada.
The largest, Tortola, is home to the capital of Road Town, with charming shophouses down Main Street and a historical fort. The two main attractions on Virgin Gorda are ruins of a 19th century copper mine and the rock formations at 'The Baths' - volcanic boulders smoothed over time to form a natural labyrinth or tunnels and grottoes on the beach. Horseshoe Reef off Anegada is the largest barrier reef in the region, and a popular spot to swim with the colourful fish in the Caribbean.
The Caribbean beauty extends to other popular island destinations in the Lesser Antilles, including St. Barts (Saint Barthélemy in French), and Saint Kitts and Nevis.
There are many impressive caves on Anguilla, an island with several other attractions targeting luxury travellers including art galleries, golf, and wellness providers.
The island of Saint Martin / Sint Maarten is divided between the French and the Dutch. While idyllic beaches can be found on both sides, shopping and food are popular activities on the French side, while nightlife is generally more buzzing on the Dutch side.
Barbados is another duty-free shopper's haven, and one of the Caribbean's island highlights. Beaches along the southern and western coasts are famed for their stunning seascapes and and gentle waters, while the rolling waves on the east are popular with surfers. In town, restaurants serve up Bajan delights such as the pork stew dish of pepperpot, while the 1.5km stretch between Oistins and Worthings - Saint Lawrence Gap - is the place to be for an array of nightlife revelries.
One of the most recognisable features of St. Lucia is the pair of cone-shaped Pitons that sit off the coast of Soufrière, the larger of which offers panoramic vistas to compensate visitors breaking a sweat on the hike to its peak. Close by the twin Pitons, bubbles the Sulfur Springs - hot springs open to the public for a relaxing dip.
One of the most exclusive Caribbean getaways has to be Mustique, a privately owned island and playground for the rich and famous. Princess Margaret was given a plot of land there in 1960 for her birthday, soon after which she built a villa there named Les Jolies Eaux. Mick Jagger, Bryan Adams, The Guinness family, and fashion icon Tommy Hilfiger are all reported to own property on the island, with numerous other hotshots - the likes of Prince William & Kate Middleton, David Bowie, and Kate Moss - all known to have holidayed in Mustique. The quiet island, with golf buggies providing inter-island transportation, is the quintessence of a tropical island getaway.
Villa Holidays in the Caribbean
There are several inland attractions on the islands, but the main reason visitors come here is for pure sun, sea, and sand, something that the Caribbean has plenty of. A villa holiday in the Caribbean allows holidaymakers to do the one thing dream vacations are made for - absolutely nothing.
Travel & Transport
Many of the bigger islands have airports with direct connections from Europe and the USA. There are smaller airlines offering island-hopping commutes, as well as helicopters and a myriad choice for yachts.
The Caribbean Top 5 Travel Tips [Bucket List]
1. Toast to the Fish
The Caribbean waters were made for swimming. Whether you like to snorkel, SCUBA dive, or just wade in the water, if you don't swim you're missing the point. Champagne Reef off the Dominican coastline provides a unique experience with geothermal air seeping through the sea bed, wafting upwards in columns of bubbles.
2. A Forest
From iguanas to tortoises, a teeming biodiversity can be found in the regions' national parks. Lucayan National Park on Grand Bahama showcases all 6 of the ecosystems found on the land, be it beach, verdant rainforests, or mangrove swamps. The park also boasts magnificent underwater limestone caves for the cavern explorers.
3. Blues & Booze
What's better than toasting the fiery sunset over glittering cerulean waters? Rubbing shoulders with the rich and the fabulous at the Caribbean feast buffet line perhaps? Or even better, drinking for a good cause. Basil's Bar on Mustique holds Sunset blues every Sunday, and hosts an annual Mustique Blues Festival (2012 edition kicks off on Jan 25). Proceeds from CD sales and other activities support a local educational foundation.
4. Hot Stuff
Volcanic features are scattered around the islands, a much needed reminder of the power of nature amongst such pristine seascapes. St. Lucia's claims the world's only drive-in volcano, with many craters hissing steamy vents and boiling puddles. Geothermal activity can also be found on Dominica, where the 2 cascades at Trafalgar Falls - 1 cold and 1 hot - mix for a relaxing dip in the pool below.
5. Row Your Boat
Sure, with idyll after idyll on offer, it's hard to pick a Caribbean spot and settle in, knowing there are numerous other gems waiting to be explored. To guess what went through Christopher Columbus' mind when he first arrived here centuries ago, charter a boat to go island hopping. If frugality isn't in your dictionary, opt for a superyacht for a super-lux experience.
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