- Charlotte Amalie, US Virgin Islands1 of 10
- Old San Juan, Puerto Rico2 of 10
- Yolas at crash boat beach, Puerto Rico3 of 10
- La Romana, Dominican Republic4 of 10
- Falmouth Bay, Antigua5 of 10
- St Croix, US Virgin Islands6 of 10
- Saint Kitts, Saint Kitts and Nevis7 of 10
- Tortola, British Virgin Islands8 of 10
- Caribbean snorkeling, Turks and Caicos9 of 10
- Salt Cay, Turks and Caicos10 of 10
When visiting the Eastern Caribbean, travelers often choose to explore the islands of Puerto Rico, St Kitts, the US Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Isles, Turks & Caicos and the Dominican Republican. For many, the allure of these islands is the less developed nature of them, as well as the customary stretches of white sand beaches and turquoise sea that everyone expects from a trip to the Caribbean. The islands sit just east and south of Cuba, and display the vast array in natural beauty and bounty as well as the diverse cultures and traditions on offer throughout the Caribbean. By and large they are far less built up, or built for tourism in the way that the more historically popular islands such as Bermuda and the Bahamas are. As a visitor to the Eastern Caribbean you are able to partake in the fantasy of the Caribbean, to live the dream of life on a paradisiacal island, but with the added benefit of being far from the maddening crowd; exploring unknown, but just as beautiful terrain.
Turks and Caicos hold an almost magical place in many Caribbean visitors’ minds, being as they are such a perfect vision of the kind of tropical sanctuary holidaymakers dream of from busy offices and on cold trains as they plough through the winter working week. Turks and Caicos is a kind of paradise; undeveloped, but upscale; popular but not busy; a lovingly curated sense of tradition coupled with a forward looking attitude. There is plenty to do on Turks and Caicos, including whale watching during the January to May season, particularly off the shore of Salt Cay, a visit to the historical plantation of Cheshire Hall on Providenciales, which is also home to the Caribbean’s best golf course, visits to the famous conch farms, and a fascinating learning experience when kayaking in a clear bottom kayak through the saltmarshes and mangroves of Grand Turk. But there is no denying that the greatest allure of Turks and Caicos is the promise of a hidden, secretive, paradisiacal island sanctuary providing the holy trinity of sun, sea, and sand, but the with the added bonus of being a little further off the beaten track than usual and, therefore, serene, relaxing and rejuvenating, almost in the extreme. Grand Turk, less developed than the tourist center of Providenciales, is the island to head for if in search of such beachside bliss. There are, of course, grand opportunities galore for world class scuba diving and snorkeling, as well as the chance to explore a truly unique cave network on Middle Caicos.
The US Virgin Islands also provide an opportunity to explore a more secluded, less built up side of the Caribbean, with many searching for such seclusion starting with the smallest island of the trio, St John, where tranquility and restorative beaches are the name of the game. Fans of hiking and walking will also have plenty to do on this charming island, but for many the real draw is the promise of some peace and quiet, coupled with an artistic outlook and burgeoning art scene. St John is something of an artistic community, providing a retreat for artists from not only the more frenetic energy of the US mainland, but also the more built up nature of other Caribbean islands. St Croix, and St Thomas, the two other main islands in the archipelago are fine purveyors of history and culture, and display this proudly in various museums and galleries, including the Camille Pisarro Gallery on St Thomas which displays some of the works, and reveals the history of the great Impressionist artist who was born and raised in Charlotte Amalie. You can also visit the Caribbean Museum Centre on St Croix, and witness the regeneration of various historically important Danish buildings from the 17th and 18th century in Frederiksted on the island.
Other stops in the Eastern Caribbean typically include the Dominican Republic on the island of Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, St Kitts, the British Virgin Islands, and Antigua and Barbuda. All islands offer the verdant and vibrant beauty found elsewhere in the Caribbean, as well as the change of pace, and ‘life in the slow lane’ laid back attitude that many visitors to the area are actively seeking out. The Dominican Republic is a truly fascinating country to spend time in with an historical past as rocky as many of the island’s visually stunning sheer cliff faces. The island’s physical and geographical diversity is a wonder to explore and behold, with much of the interior rural, forested, and by-and-large unexplored by the majority of visitors to the area. This is not to say that there are not ample and easy ways in which to explore this lush vegetation. The rural interior is incredibly fertile, as you might expect, but perhaps more surprising is that four out of the five highest peaks in the Caribbean can be found in the DR, creating an awe inspiring distraction for any all-terrain loving hikers and explorers. As with much of the Caribbean, food and drink is a key part of the country’s culture, with cuisine taking center stage in the capital of Santo Domingo. The capital is a cosmopolitan city, on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean, a city which revels in its diversity, respects its past, is the home of the oldest church in the New World, has borne witness to most of the country’s difficult history and yet manages to maintain a warm, welcoming, and laid back attitude and vibrant and infectiously celebratory spirit. Any visit to this charming and characterful city is sure to change you.
Known locally as Isla del Encanto, or “Island of Enchantment”, Puerto Rico holds much to enchant and charm for visitors to its welcoming shores. Sat just east of the Dominican Republican, Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory which recently voted in favor of statehood in the 2012 election. It uses US currency, and it is not necessary for travelers from the US to enter with a passport. All this, and much much more makes Puerto Rico an extremely attractive destination for American visitors to the Caribbean, although the island prides itself on being a site of exploration and relaxation for visitors from all over the world. With a history stretching back to 2,000 B.C. when the island was first inhabited, and encompassing the ‘discovery’ by Christopher Columbus in 1493, the Spanish-American war culminating in the island being brought under American control in 1898, and the very recent vote on statehood, it is unsurprisingly a hot topic on the island, and amongst both locals and travelers in the area. There has been a concerted effort made by the people of Puerto Rico to honor all aspects of the island’s history, and it would only be right as a visitor to their fine and beautiful country to do the same. Visit one of the indigenous parks which have been preserved for history and posterity as a way to ensure the remembrance of the island’s existence and inhabitants in the days before Columbus. Be sure also to take the time to properly enjoy and explore the many historical sites the island is home to, including the fortress of Castillo San Felipe del Morro, or ‘El Morro’ as it’s known locally which dates back to the 16th century, as well as the 18th century Castillo San Cristobal. In fact the island positively heaves with history and historical artifacts and buildings. The Hacienda Buena Vista, however, is a must-visit especially for any coffee fiends to the island, as it is a perfectly restored 19th century coffee plantation. And lest we forget the importance of a little coastal R&R when it comes to visiting the Caribbean, Puerto Rico is famous for its 300 beaches; that’s almost 270 miles of beach in an area almost as big as the state of Connecticut! There is even the opportunity to surf in Puerto Rico, known as it is as the “Hawaii of the Atlantic” this may come as a surprise to travelers more used to the calm waters of the Caribbean Sea.
Where many travelers to the Caribbean are drawn towards the white sand beaches of their dream Paradise, St Kitts harbors just the opposite; black sand beaches. Dieppe Beach and Pump Bay are just two examples of where the volcanic rock deposits which make the sand black can be seen. This is not to say, of course, that the pristine white beaches the Caribbean is famous for cannot be found on St Kitts; quite the contrary in fact, there are white sand beaches galore, particularly on the Atlantic side of the island. St Kitts, like much of the Eastern Caribbean, is less well known than other islands, and benefits from being both secluded and unspoiled. Testament to this is the untouched rainforest which is, in fact growing, something very few rainforests can lay to, as well as the promise of as-yet undiscovered dive sites, and the exploration of the National Park which comprises a quarter of the land that St Kitts sits on. At odds with the island’s peaceful present is the rather more troubled past. Like much of the rest of the Eastern Caribbean, St Kitts has a far from tranquil history, one which is waiting to be discovered at various educational and fascinating historical sites, set in some of the island’s most beautiful spots.
Those looking for an island paradise, complete with rest, relaxation, rejuvenation, sun, sea and sand could do worse than staying in the British Virgin Islands or Antigua and Barbuda. Both offer a bona fide island paradise experience, from the pristine white sand beaches, to the turquoise, crystal clear waters which lap at them, to the island cuisine of fresh fish and more fresh fish, and the vibrant island spirit so often missing from our everyday lives. There is plenty to do and distract in both cases, if that is what you’re searching for, from excellent diving opportunities, to charted catamarans, and jet skiing, as well as the bustling capital of Antigua St John’s. With a different beach for everyday of the year on Antigua, there’s enough here to keep you busy for a good long while, but being busy isn’t exactly why people come the Eastern Caribbean; so grab a cold beer, a good book, and head down to the beach.
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