The poet Derek Walcott, who came from St Lucia, said that “The Caribbean is not an idyll, not to its natives. They draw their working strength from it organically, like trees, like the sea almond or the spice laurel of the heights.” This of blue seas peppered with islands is often lumped in the ‘tropical paradise’ bracket when it comes to travel, but we would all do well to heed Walcot’s words and appreciate the islands on a deeper level. Come here to learn and explore, to dance to calypso, listen to creole, spot birds, soak up and feast on fresh mango and fish. Enjoying the Caribbean, and really understanding it, too, is about rethinking the Caribbean.
Of course, each island offers something different, but some constants exist. Life runs to Caribbean time pretty much everywhere and a warm welcome comes as standard, from the Bahamas right down to Trinidad and Tobago.
The Caribbean’s reputation as a beach destination is firmly established; what’s less well-publicized is its alter ego as an activity break hotspot. There is every shade of watersport here – sailing, diving, snorkeling, kayaking, paddle boarding – and on larger, more mountainous islands such as Dominica, St Lucia, and Cuba, there’s hiking and mountain biking. You can also team learning Spanish with anything from kitesurfing to cooking and dance classes.
A lush, gem, Dominica is the ‘Nature Island’ of the Caribbean, a place of rain and cloud forest, craters, boiling lakes, gorges, and steamy slopes. It’s home to the only long-distance walking trail in the Caribbean, as well as 176 bird species, but is recovering, and visiting now is more vital and valuable than ever.
Very much an undiscovered corner of the Caribbean, Haiti has political unrest, which has left it well off the tourist map. Shame. This fascinating country has beautiful colonial architecture, UNESCO landmarks, lush landscapes, and thriving artists’ communities. It also has beaches to rival any other Caribbean destination. But so far, few tourists.
Trinidad & Tobago
This unique and joyful twin-island nation is a double dose of beauty, wildlife, and culture, with Trinidad with birdlife and Tobago a vision of sandy beaches and pristine reefs. T&T is culturally rich, too – Trinidad is the home of Carnival and Calypso – and bursting with art, music, and tasty food. Plus, you’re below the hurricane belt here, so the islands are a year-round option.