10 Best Vacation Islands in the Caribbean

Magnificent surroundings, turquoise blue water, palm trees, sandy beaches, exotic food and diverse cultures all come to mind when one dreams of escaping to the Caribbean isles. With over 7,000 islands to choose from, each one with its own unique charms, it can be a daunting task trying to plan the perfect Caribbean holiday. But that’s what we’re here for! So take a look at our list of the Caribbean’s best vacation islands.

1. U.S. Virgin Islands

The US Virgin Islands, only 1,000 miles away from the city of Miami, are something akin to 50 floating emeralds in a sapphire sea. Because they are part of the United States, the islands have somewhat of an American feel, but they nonetheless remain quintessentially Caribbean.

There are three main islands, all located within easy travel distance from each other. St. Croix, the easternmost island is also the largest and covered in green, rolling hills. St. Thomas hosts the capital city of Charlotte Amalie, and offers 13 miles of sandy beaches along its irregular coastline. Then there is St. John, the smallest of the three, most of which is covered by national park.

The US Virgin Islands has the busiest cruise port in the Caribbean and stellar shopping facilities on both St. Croix and St. Thomas. Liquor, tobacco, jewelry, native arts and crafts, fine art, leather goods, the list goes on. St. Thomas particularly is one of the best duty free shopping destinations in the Caribbean. There is no sales tax up to $1,200 per family member when you shop in the US Virgin Islands!

The islands are also great location for activities like hiking, turtle watching, snorkeling, scuba diving and water sports.

2. Turks and Caicos

Imagine 224 miles of beaches! That’s what you’ll find in Turks and Caicos! This coral reef-laden island paradise is known throughout the region for its unspoiled natural beauty. Providenciales, also called Provo, is the most popular among the many islands with tourists. However, if you prefer a quieter island, head over to Grand Turk and discover its charming old town and colonial past.

The Turks and Caicos are considered to be some of the world’s top destinations for scuba diving. Both islands have abundant coral reef, and thanks to the many dive shops it’s easy for both novices and experienced divers to get out on the water.

Shopping addicts will also love the Turks and Caicos with its array of designer watches, gold jewelry, local art and casual-island wear on display.

For nighttime entertainment, head over to Osprey Beach Hotel in Grand Turk for ripsaw music on Wednesdays and Sundays or to Grace Bay Club for a beautiful sunset around a beachfront fire pit.

3. St Kitts

St. Kitts was once known as ‘The Mother Colony’, the first permanent English settlement in the Caribbean. Today the island is covered in tea plantations with the locals still practicing decidedly British traditions like afternoon tea. One of the island’s prime attractions is the Brimstone Hill Fortress, which stands 800 feet high and offers stunning views of the mountainous island and its beaches.

Visitors looking for more of the island’s rich colonial history can visit the Romney Manor Plantation, which was once owned by Thomas Jefferson. Likewise they can also visit the capital city of Basseterre to check out its many colonial-era buildings.

It’s not all history on St Kitts, the island has plenty of water activities too. Deep sea fishing, sailing, diving and windsurfing are all possible in the area. Check out Pinney’s Beach, the most happening spot on the island!

4. Sint Maarten/Saint Martin

Sint Maarten is an island that is divided into two halves, a French northern half and a Dutch southern half. At less than 100 square kilometers, it is one of the smallest islands in the world to be divided amongst two nations.

There is a border between the two sides, though checks are infrequent. The principal airport on the island is the Princess Juliana Airport, located on the Dutch side of the island. The airport is an attraction in itself because of its wild landing approach, which sees jets flying above a nearby beach and beachgoers just before hitting the runway.

The French side of the island is called Saint Martin. Known for its nude beaches and naturist lifestyle destinations, it is also noted for its delicious cuisine and luxury shopping. Its capital and largest city, with just under 6,000 people, is Marigot.

The Dutch side of the island is called Sint Maarten. Its capital and largest city, with only 1,300 people, is Philipsburg. Mostly famous for its vibrant nightlife, casinos and rum-based alcoholic beverages, it serves as a popular port of call for visiting cruise liners.

5. Saint Lucia

Saint Lucia is an island nation in the Lesser Antilles that was formerly a colony of both Britain and France. At only 600 square kilometers and 170,000 people, Saint Lucia is one of the world’s smallest independent countries.

It’s a beautiful, volcanic island that is covered in lush green rainforest. Its most famous landmarks are the Pitons, two peaks that jut straight up from the sea and are designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. One fun way for visitors to really explore the island is to hike to the peaks of these mountains with local tour guides.

The capital and largest city of Saint Lucia is Castries. The city has 60,000 people and is the point of disembarkation for most cruise ship passengers who visit the island. Marigot Bay is another city in Saint Lucia and is home to what many say is the most beautiful bay in the entire Caribbean!

Saint Lucia is a popular island for vacationers because of its hiking, diving, snorkeling and numerous beaches. Special note to Jazz music lovers, the St. Lucia Jazz festival is held in early May and is a great time to visit the island.

6. Aruba

Aruba is well known for its luxurious resorts, timeshares and fantastic casinos. Leading the way is the Copacabana Casino at the Hyatt Regency Aruba, the Crystal Casino at Renaissance Aruba and the Stellaris Casino at Aruba Marriott.

Don’t blow all of your money though, because Aruba also has other activities worth your while. Visitors can try their hand at snorkeling, diving and windsurfing, just to name a few. The Arikok National Wildlife Park is a great place to explore and hike the island’s desert terrain.

Aruba is a constituent country of Holland and has an interesting mix of Caribbean and Dutch culture. This is best seen in the island’s local cuisine. Check out the “dine around” program from the Aruba Gastronomic Association, which offers visitors a chance to dine at a wide number of restaurants throughout the entire island and taste everything Aruba has to offer!

7. Jamaica

Jamaica is one of the most popular islands in the entire Caribbean for vacationers! It’s a large island, more than 10,000 square kilometers, and befitting its size it has a wide array of beaches and charming cities.

Port Antonio on the island’s northeastern coast is home to one of the most beautiful beaches in the whole country, Boston Bay Beach. Pass the time by relaxing on its white sand, trying your hand at surfing or eating at one of its many jerk pork street-food stands.

Another interesting part of Jamaica is Montego Bay, on the island’s northwestern coast. This is where many of Jamaica’s large resorts are situated, and is a very popular getaway with international visitors. There’s certainly no denying the appeal of long white sand beaches, all-inclusive luxury resorts, sunny weather and pulsating nightlife!

A unique way to experience Jamaica is by visiting the world-famous and raunchy resort Hedonism II. Located in Negril, this exclusive attraction is known for its anything-goes party atmosphere. Swingers and exhibitionists alike have been singing its praises for years!

PS: Make sure to brush up on your Jamaican English before your trip by listening to some Bob Marley!

8. Dominican Republic

One the largest countries in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic occupies the eastern half of the island Hispaniola, which it shares with Haiti. Rest assured though, the Dominican Republic is a world apart from the troubles that have recently befallen Haiti.

The Dominican Republic is famous for its rich wildlife, beautiful white sand beaches and exciting nightlife. Its locals, meanwhile, are known for their good looks, tanned bodies and relaxed demeanors.

The two most visited areas in the Dominican Republic are Puerto Plata and Punta Cana. Puerto Plata is a medium-sized city located on the country’s northern coast. It offers a sizzling nightlife, beautiful beaches and excellent shopping. Punta Cana, on the other hand, is located in the far east of the country. It’s a more remote area than Puerto Plata and it offers plenty of solitude and some of the most striking beaches in the Dominican Republic!

9. Cuba

It may come as a surprise to many Americans, but Cuba’s tourism industry is alive and well. In fact, tourists from every nation but America have been frequenting Cuba for years and the island is especially popular amongst Canadian and French travelers.

Travelers who have visited Cuba, often say that vacationing on the island offers a glimpse of what the Caribbean was like thirty years ago. With its paradisaical natural beauty, unspoiled by large resorts and mass tourism, Cuba is certainly a welcome relief from the Caribbean’s more commercial destinations.

The capital of Cuba is Havana; a city steeped in historical lore. Before the communist revolution, after all, Havana was the hottest spot in the Caribbean. A center for movie stars, international playboys and gangsters alike, who came to celebrate the good life in one of the city’s many casinos.

These days the casinos are gone, but remnants of the city’s glamor still remain. Hemingway’s old haunts call to visitors and classic American cars ply the streets, sailing past the crumbling facades of disused hotels.

But that’s enough about Havana. The best place to enjoy Cuba’s beautiful sun, sand and surf is at Varadero on the island’s northern coast. Situated on a tiny peninsula, only one-kilometer wide and jutting out into the sea, visitors will find 20 kilometers of white sand beaches, dozens of beachfront resorts and Cuba’s only 18-hole golf course.

10. Barbados

The small island of Barbados is without a doubt one of the most beautiful islands in the world! It is the easternmost island in the Caribbean and is surrounded by an offshore coral reef, giving the island’s waters an amazing turquoise color and making them ideal for snorkeling or swimming.

More so, friendly locals, known as Bajans, do their best to make sure that visitors to Barbados feel the true warmth of the Caribbean!

Most visitors to the island choose to stay on its west coast, also known as the Platinum Coast, where many of the island’s luxury resorts and villas are located. One of the many notable beaches in the vicinity is Mullins Beach; a great place for swimming.

The capital of Barbados is Bridgetown. Here visitors will find a large selection of duty-free shops and restaurants. Many of the hotels and resorts on the island offer free shuttle services to and from Bridgetown.

For a great dining experience, Brown Sugar in southern Barbados offers more than 30 creole and local dishes. Try souse (pickled pork, stewed for hours), cou-cou, buljol, Bajan flying fish, coconut shrimp and many more. Don’t miss the pawpaw pie and rum pudding for dessert.