Speckled across more than a million square miles of warm, shallow water rests a vast group of islands, cays and coral reef formations that stretch as far as the eye can see- or dive for that matter. This is the Caribbean. Stories of swashbuckling pirates and intoxicating reggae music can be found here. The balmy climate allows lush plant life to not only flourish and sway in the coastal breeze, but to produce an array of fruit, used in the local cuisine. Exotic animals are found amongst the trees, scurrying up hillsides, or darting around below sea level. The Caribbean calls for a relaxed, easy-going atmosphere, tempting the rest of the world with its tropical seduction. Though the expanse of places to visit and sights to see is seemingly never-ending, make sure these five islands make it onto your bucket list.
ROATAN: “The Big Island” seated just off the coast of Honduras, Roatan is certainly a piece of perfection demanding to be explored. The 37-mile stretch of land has effortlessly set the bar for world class diving with its maze-like reef system and choice of dive spots. The Mesoamerican barrier reef- the world’s second largest coral reef- has its metaphorical arm around Roatan’s shoulder. The underwater playground awards visitors with the vibrant colors of its floral sea garden and native fish. Above the surface, entertainment can be found on the West End. Here, the sandy shore is lined with inexpensive bars for those ready for a good time. A trip in early spring is your best bet, right after the rainy season ends.
JAMAICA: The stunning island of Jamaica is the third largest island in the Caribbean. After arriving into Norman ManlyInternational Airport, in the nation’s capital of Kingston, or Sangster International in Montego Bay- or Mobay, as the locals call it- an infinite checklist of adventures await. Dunn’s River, the most popular of all waterfalls in Jamaica, offers beautiful cascading falls to be climbed and explored- so breathtaking that it was featured in the movie “Cocktail,” starring Tom Cruise. Or escape the crowds and head to Mayfield Falls, hidden in the foothills of Cockpit Country, where you can jump from the tree limbs into a wading pool. Or dive below and let the current guide you as you swim through Mayfield Falls’s underwater cave. If the allure of reggae has brought you to Jamaica, be sure to visit the Bob Marley Museum. The tour takes you through the musical icon’s former place of residence, providing an experience not to be missed. Or head to Scotchies for some mouthwatering jerk chicken. Named after the scotch bonnet peppers used in Caribbean jerk seasoning, the spice is sure to leave no forehead without cascading beads of sweat and no mouth without a craving for cold milk. Make sure you hit Rick’s Cafe in Negril. Perched on 30-foot cliffs overlooking the Caribbean Sea, Rick’s provides incredible food, flavorful drinks, world-class sunsets and cliff diving performances by locals trying to make an extra buck. With so much to offer, Jamaica is a must-see dream destination for all.
PUERTO RICO: The majestic land of Puerto Rico, originally declared San Juan Bautista by Columbus, has made its mark in both history and as America’s Caribbean summer home. The island of enchantment effortlessly commands notice of itself from sheer beauty and elegance. An average day spent in Puerto Rico might begin with an early visit to El Yunque rainforest. Wander through the lush jungle and stop to swim in its cascading waterfalls. Or ask the locals for directions to Luquillo Beach for an afternoon of perfect powder sand and a lunch of native cuisine. The fortresses of San Cristobal and El Morro can be found in Old San Juan, running tours daily. Explore their narrow tunnels, dungeons and old battle cannons, and uncover a piece of history. As evening blankets the island, take a stroll down the city's many cobblestone roads, stopping at the shops and restaurants along the way.
ST. LUCIA: St. Lucia is arguably the most beautiful island in the world. Its varied scenery is home to a one-of-a-kind volcano, Mount Soufriere, where tourists can drive into the belly of the beast and witness its immense sulfur springs. Nearby, a cocoa plantation and a colorful rainforest bursting with wildlife wait to be explored by new eyes. With the warm Caribbean sun shining down on its black sand beaches, it’s no secret why travelers flock here. Needless to say, the best part of heaven is, it’s only a flight away.
VIRGIN GORDA: Virgin Gorda is said to have received its name due to the island’s silhouette on the horizon, which resembles the shape of a woman lying on her side. The port of call is without question one of the most attractive locations in the Virgin Islands. An hour spent onshore will provide the simple answer as to why: The Baths. Scattered amongst the flawless shallow water and powdered seashore lies colossal granite boulders. Forming picturesque grottos open to the sea, visitors can waste a day floating at The Baths in secluded paradise. The largest of the smooth stone blocks reaches an astonishing 40 feet, causing most to feel small in comparison. If you’re looking for a private, island paradise, look no further than the inviting tunnels, domes, and tidal pools of The Baths.
Wherever your island vacation takes you, just remember one thing: when you escape to the islands, you’re in for nothing short of an adventure.