20 Islands to Cruise

Posted by Caribbean World Magazine on 6 August 2014 | 0 Comments

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6 August 2014

Cruising the Caribbean has never been more popular. We look at 20 of the best ones to visit on a cruise. By David Wickers


With all the money in the world it would be hard to beat Noel Coward’s 20 year long routine of spending two or three months every winter in Jamaica. Th e island, to many people, is the cultural essence of the Caribbean. It’s also one of the largest, so your experience will largely be determined by your port of entry, be it Montego Bay and the nearby seven mile beach of Negril, or Ocho Rios which is close to the island’s number one attraction, Dunn’s River Falls. Plan a river trip by bamboo raft  (the Rio Grande is best) and a visit to one of the old sugar estates, plus a detour into the lush mountainous interior.


The largest and most exotic of all the Caribbean islands, Cuba is the place to come to explore rather than focus on a single resort. Most visitors at least manage to twin Havana with the white sands resort of Varadero, with optional outings to Trinidad (the town, not the island). Plan on late nights, laced with mojitos and fi red by the sounds of salsa. And go before Cuba really opens the floodgates to US tourists.

Puerto Rico

The 51st US state, Puerto Rico is another island large enough to tour (it’s roughly the size of Corsica). And tour you must — the diversity of the island will leave you reeling: it’s Miami with malls one minute, small town Central America the next, with some of the best Crusoe Caribbean beaches in between. And, relatively rare in this part of the world, PR’s capital San Juan is unbelievably handsome, its 17th Century heart encased by walls is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Although not strictly speaking a Caribbean island, the lonely British colonial outpost is a regular port of call for cruise ships sailing from New York. Well groomed and bloomed, Bermuda is more like a well-tended garden than a fully fl edged country, all neat and ridiculously pretty with pastel houses and tiny roads. Rent a moped and explore, visiting the Georgian dockyard and the old capital St George, stopping off  at one of the pretty pink sand coves for a swim.


Ever since the late Colin Tennant invited Princess Margaret to establish her tropical holiday home on the island, Mustique in the Grenadines has been the “des res” island for a broad spectrum of royals and rock stars including Mick Jagger, David Bowie and Elton John. Many of their houses are available for rent but visitors who are just “on island” for a brief visit should head for its social hub, Basil’s Bar, and just hope for a star appearance.


The island was put squarely on the map in 1993 when Princess Diana came to escape her grim situation at home, and it’s that same promise of escape that continues to draw its many regular visitors who wouldn’t dream of even trying a diff erent Caribbean island. It’s a gentle, low-impact destination with a history rooted in sugar cane plantations and grand estates, some transformed into luxurious inns.


On pure topography, Anguilla seems to have drawn all the short straws. Yet the mostly fl at, arid, infertile land, as scrubby as an old doormat and unable to yield much by way of bananas or sugar cane, has long been in hot demand by very wealthy people who come to do very little. Th e island’s blazing white, flour-fine sands are arguably the best in the Caribbean. And the sea’s not bad either, every shade of blue with a shoreline hemmed by turquoise and opal.


As it lies well to the east of many islands, it’s unlikely to appear on most cruise itineraries — except, that is, for ships that feature Barbados as their home port. So you could well fi nd yourself adding a few days, pre- or post-cruise. It’s not that Barbados holds a monopoly on snazzy retreats, but the west or so-called Platinum Coast does happen to have a lot more of them compared with any of its neighbours, so you’ll be spoilt for choice.

St Lucia

It’s large enough to off er a spectrum of distractions for all ages, from the fi ne sandy beach at Rodney Bay to 4x4 trips and hiking/biking trails in the rainforest, plus botanic gardens and even a pongy drive-in volcano. Th e most scenically magnifi cent corner is the southwest where the Pitons, a mighty pair volcanic molars, are the most stunning hunk of geology in the entire Caribbean. 

Save time, too, for the sleepy, kaleidoscopic and distinctly Caribbean town of Soufriere which lives under their shadow. 


Compared with the other mainstream islands, Antigua has neither the Caribbean pulse that you feel in Jamaica, the wondrous scenery of St Lucia nor the glamour of the west coast of Barbados. But on beaches, with one for every day of the year, it leaves them at the starting gate - and should you run out you can hop across to the powder sands on its little sister island of Barbuda. You should also factor in a visit to English Harbour, Nelson’s old dockyard.


Th e lushest of the 32 islands that make up the Grenadines, which lie in more or less a straight line between St Vincent and Grenada, Bequia is a fabulous, laid back little island. It’s easy to plug into local life, sipping rum punches in its bars, eating rotis on the waterfront or simply “lazin and limin” under the big almond tree (known as Th e Houses of Parliament) in the middle of Port Elizabeth, the tiny main town, where you’ll be as likely to meet fi shermen, seafarers and boat builders as other tourists.

St Barts

Officially a sous prefecture of France, fed by regular imports from France — both food and chefs — St Barts is an island for doing very little, apart from loafi ng and eating rather a lot of superb meals. The restaurants draw a discerning, well-heeled, mostly Gallic crowd coupled with Hollywood A-listers in high season.


The B of the so-called ABC islands of the Netherlands Antilles (the others being the hugely popular Aruba and Curacao), Bonaire is world famous for snorkelling and dive sites in the protected Bonaire Marine Park, which eff ectively girdles the whole island including the off shore cay Klein Bonaire. Most of the 90 or so sites can be reached directly from the shore, with many of the resorts having their own “house reefs”. If you’ve any interest in what lies below the Caribbean, as distinct from beside it, Bonaire should be defi nitely on your must-see list.


Locals claim it was the original Robinson Crusoe island, with many of its beaches meeting all the requirements of castaway central castings. For every sandy strand there are at least three with nothing more than a tiny village — and frequently not even that. But you really need to take a pair of binoculars ashore, as well as a decent pair of walking shoes, as there’s a lot to see besides beaches, including the central spine of mountains, a last fl ing of the Andean chain, which are matted in rainforest, threaded with trails, cooled by waterfalls and home to an incredible number of birds.


Everyone expects sun and sea when they go to the Caribbean. But what really knocks the socks off fi rst-timers is not the Bacardi shores but the land, the rampant vegetation, the birds even more colourful than the cocktails, the squeaky tree frogs, the brilliant king-size blooms and the whole exotic, tropical caboodle of the place. And Dominica is the greenest of the greens, a living laboratory of rainforest, freshwater lakes, gorges, mineral springs, fl owers, waterfalls, birds and mountains. Dominica is destination for lovers of nature rather than sunbeds, hikers rather than hedonists, and parrots rather than pina coladas. The US Smithsonian Institute described it as “a giant plant laboratory unchanged for 10,000 years”.

Virgin Gorda

A little-known island, one of the British Virgins which lie scattered over miles of incomparable ink blue sea. Th is particular Virgin, the Gorda or ‘fat one’ according to Spanish explorers, with its belly of forested hills (protected as a national park) in the north, fl attish lands of scrub and cactus in the south, is oft en featured by the smaller cruise ships who can anchor in the sheltered turquoise waters of the North Sound. Come and enjoy superb stretches of pure white sand beaches and the iconic Baths where outcrops of pinky grey granite boulders, Dali soft and as big as clouds, enclose a playground of grottoes, caves and seawater jacuzzis.

Grand Cayman

Although probably best known as a hub of banking, the most important reason for those coming with the idea of leisure uppermost in their minds, rather than checking their deposit accounts, is the superb diving. There are wrecks and wall diving for the more experienced as well as excellent dive centres for those who want to learn from scratch. Th e best-known of scores of dive sites is Stingray City when novices can stroke the soft , velvety underbellies of scores of stingrays without any nasty shocks. Th e beaches are rather gorgeous too!

Harbour Island

Although strictly speaking in the Atlantic rather than the Caribbean, most people who choose the Bahamas for a cruise or stay-put holiday aren’t too worried about what the map makers think. New Providence, home to Nassau, and Freeport on Grand Bahama, are the main draws but there are some 700 islands in the archipelago, about 40 of which are inhabited. Th e one I’ve picked, Harbour Island, is a tiny, tranquil speck of a cay off  the “Out Island” of Eleuthera, which stretches is for around 100 miles in length yet is only a mile or two wide. Harbour Island has just one exquisite settlement, Dunmore Town, and one of the most fabulous of beaches, the three mile long Pink Sands which literally lives up to its name.


Grenada, about the same size as Greater London, is the complete Caribbean experience on a single island. It simply ticks all the boxes, with its green and towering interior  to rival the Caribbean’s eco-luscious brand leaders, sandy beaches, several good places to eat (now famously topped by a Gary Rhodes at the Calabash Hotel), the pretty harbour town of St Georges, lots of sailing and watersports, plus working spice plantations, rum distilleries and sugar cane plantations. One things you won’t fi nd on Grenada is boredom. 


Almost touching the vast South American continent, Trinidad has two key reasons for going that set it apart from other Caribbean islands. One is its Carnival, one of the best in the world for music, costumes, dancing and parades, held on the two days prior to Ash Wednesday. Th e other is birds, including the scarlet ibis, one of more than 150 species, found in among the mangroves of the Caroni Swamp.