Due to its incredible ease of access from most major cities in the United States, the Caribbean is a frequently visited area. I’ve visited many times myself and if you are someone in need of sand and sun or just seeking a getaway from work, I’ve got a list of the best places to visit in the Caribbean for you to check out.
The Caribbean is a classic travel destination for anyone looking for sun, sea, and sand, and it’s one of the most popular parts of the world for vacation goers.
There’s so much to like about the Caribbean, from the white sand beaches and luxurious resorts to the diverse local culture and historic cities.
There’s so much to see and to do and choosing the best places to visit in the Caribbean is always a challenge, given the large number of islands and the large extent of coastline that fringes the Caribbean Sea.
From beaches to rainforests, to colonial cities and underwater adventure. There is an island for you. I want to take a look at some of your options as you plan your next visit to the Caribbean Islands and show you what you can expect from these unique islands. Note: These are in no particular order.
Don’t leave home without: DK Eyewitness Caribbean (Travel Guide)
Best Places to Visit in the Caribbean
1. Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico might be a territory of the USA, but its long Spanish history prior to this makes the island one of the most intriguing and diverse destinations in the Caribbean. It’s not all beaches in Puerto Rico, and although you can find some pretty great ones, there are so many other draws to this United States Territory.
In San Juan, you can unearth the island’s colonial past, as you walk through the streets of one of the first cities to be founded by the Spanish in the Americas. Your time spent will likely be entertained by a variety of local vendors and street music while you spend your days visiting each for and walking the cobblestone streets that make up the area of Old Town.
Once you’ve had your fill of the city, head out to the United States only registered National Rain Forest, El Yunque. Spend your day hiking to waterfalls, viewing the local flora, and swimming in the freshwater pools.
There are white sand beaches, spectacular bioluminescence is found in the waters, and there’s always a lively fiesta taking place somewhere. Check out our perfect Puerto Rico itinerary before planning your trip. The best part is that if you are a US citizen, you are not required to have a passport to visit this tropical island.
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Puerto Rico (Travel Guide)
2. St Thomas
St Thomas is the main island within the US Virgin Islands, and it’s one of the best places to visit in the Caribbean.
Originally a Danish colony, this is one of the most unique territories of the USA, and you’ll be able to delve into the fascinating colonial past in the main city of Charlotte Amalie, which is even named for a Danish Queen. Charlotte Amalie, the capital of the island, is busy and modern but in an area with scenery so beautiful it makes forgetting the bustle pretty easy.
History aside though, St Thomas is a popular tourist destination because this is a classic Caribbean territory, where you can find beautiful white sand beaches and lovely, sheltered bays that are perfect for swimming.
We recommend taking the gondola to Paradise Point for a view that is unrivaled in the Caribbean. The unique landscape of islands jutting up through the water that surrounds St Thomas makes it a treat. If you’re looking for a big, beautiful, perfect Caribbean beach then head straight for Magens Bay.
This beach is located on the Northside of the island and is guaranteed to offer you a classic Caribbean beach experience with sparkling turquoise water and white sand beaches. Insider tip: use the local buses to get around instead of paying for expensive taxis. They will get you to all the major areas for a fraction of the cost to take a taxi.
Don’t leave home without: Fodor’s U.S. & British Virgin Islands (Full-color Travel Guide)
3. St John
Caribbean paradise to me is St John. The second-largest island in the US Virgin Islands, most of the island is a National Park. It is, for the most part, serene and unspoiled. You come here for the beaches and natural tropical beauty. Getting here is simple, from Charlotte Amalie on St Thomas take a local bus to the Red Hook ferry station on the East side of the island.
For a small price, it will take you straight to Cruz Bay on St John. There is a small variety of non-commercial accommodation on St John if you want to stay a few days, but on a day trip from St Thomas, hop on a bus and head straight for Trunk Bay. I have yet to find a beach as beautiful as this one.
It is part of a protected park, so you will have to pay admission to get to it, but you will be rewarded with a natural, peaceful beach. You will see no vendors or beach chairs. Just raw natural beauty.
Don’t leave home without: DK Eyewitness Top 10 US and British Virgin Islands (Pocket Travel Guide)
The island of Cozumel is located just off the coast of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, and it makes for a fantastic alternative to the busier beaches of Playa Del Carmen and Cancun which are both just a ferry ride away.
Cozumel is in many ways southern Mexico in a microcosm, and it’s very different from your traditional Caribbean island destinations in this respect.
You can explore Mayan ruins that have been derelict for hundreds of years, before lounging on the long and sandy beaches that fringe the island.
You’ll find quiet resorts and plenty of secluded areas to explore on Cozumel, and you’ll find that the snorkeling and diving opportunities are some of the best that are available in Mexico.
Our Top Recommended Tours:
Cuba is slowly opening its gates to tourists, and things are changing fast across this Caribbean country. Get in fast, before the nostalgia disappears, because Cuba is a country that gives the impression that it’s stuck in a time warp.
In Havana, you can enjoy the charming colonial-era charm that the capital city exudes on every street corner. Visit rum distilleries and cigar factories, immerse yourself in the local revolutionary museums and enjoy riding antique cars through the city.
Away from the capital, and you can find beautiful beaches and cheap resorts in Varadero, while inland the countryside is stunning and dotted with more colonial-era towns that seemingly have lain unchanged for decades.
Our Top Recommended Tours:
- Cuba: Salsa & Snorkeling with G Adventures – 16 days
- Cuba Explorer with G Adventures – 9 days
- Cuba Libre & Sailing with G Adventures – 13 days
I’ll start by telling you that this isn’t an island known for its beaches. There are very few on this island that is worth even a visit. You come here for nature, hiking, and waterfalls. Dominica is one of the most volcanic islands in the Caribbean, and because of this, it’s also one of the most dramatic. The highest point on the island rises to over 1500 meters in height, and there are some great hiking routes and viewpoints across Dominica.
There are also hot springs and geysers, and the iconic Boiling Lake, a body of water that is heated by geothermal activity below ground. Additionally, even though it doesn’t boast beaches, it offers some really great diving and snorkeling sites just off the shoreline. But the magic is in exploring the inland wonders.
Morne Trois Pitons National Park, UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a good place to start with a visit to Trafalgar Falls, the Emerald Pool, and the natural hot springs. The park has 5 volcanoes which produce many sulfur-smelling hot springs throughout the hiking trails.
The pools are clean with moving water, so take a moment to relax and soak. A dip in the Emerald Pool is said to take 10 years off your life for longer enjoyment of youth. Whether it’s true or not, well that’s up to you to decide. For me, I took the chilly dip, why chance it?
Barbados is one of the best places to visit in the Caribbean because the island has a lot to offer, be it beaches and resorts or hiking or diving.
In fact, Barbados could be the complete package when it comes to Caribbean destinations, but you’ll find that in peak season it’s a busy place to be. One big draw to Barbados is the beaches. The island has many spectacular beaches to experience, so by all means, spend some time there. However, due to its location on the Caribbean and Atlantic, the waters can be rough.
Most of the beaches are not ideal for swimming or snorkeling and you can expect high winds and strong currents. Although this can be a deterrent for some, it doesn’t take away from the beautiful views, sand, and sun to be had on most of the island. And if you don’t mind the crowds, there are a few beaches where swimming is possible.
Barbados has some of the best beaches in the West Indies, and some of the best resorts too, and you can laze away your days in the sun if you desire. Away from the beaches, don’t miss a visit to the Barbados capital, Bridgetown. The UNESCO World Heritage-listed town is vibrant in history with colonial architecture and bright colors.
Set on the shoreline, the contrasts of colors with the sea and culture offer a vivid shopping and dining experience. If you’re up for some adventure, many parasailing and boating excursions leave from Bridgetown.
Our Top Recommended Tour: Explore Barbados – 6 days
One of the best places to visit in the Caribbean will always be Jamaica because the island has so much to offer tourists and travelers.
While the cities might have a bad reputation when it comes to gangs and crime, the touristy places and resort areas are perfectly safe to visit.
Ocho Rios and Montego Bay, both along the north coast, are two of the most popular destinations. You’ll find hotels and beaches, as well as plenty of restaurants, bars, and activities.
Jamaica also has a lot of beautiful nature inland too, and away from the coast, you can find crashing waterfalls and rainforests to explore.
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9. St Lucia
If it is a variety of nature and sand you seek, St Lucia, which is found in the West Indies, might be the perfect match for you. It is known for its beautiful beaches, stunning natural landscapes, colorful snorkeling, and diving.
St Lucia is perhaps the most dramatic, and easily recognizable destination in the Caribbean because the island is one of the most mountainous in the region.
It is the only island with an active drive-in volcano, La Soufriere, where you can get up close and personal with the stinky lava and steam. Combine this with sleepy fishing villages along the coast and stunning coastlines and there isn’t much that you would miss on a visit to St Lucia.
My personal favorite is riding the bus to Anse La Raye then taking a boat to the beach between the mighty Pitons. The icon of St Lucia and the mountains you will see on every brochure that solicits the island. It isn’t easy to get access to by land, so it is not crowded and is extremely quiet.
The snorkeling off the beach is fantastic as the coral has grown up on the base of the pitons. There is a lot of sea life to view from snorkeling in this location.
Rather than coming to St Lucia for a beach holiday though, this is a country where you can spend your vacation hiking, climbing, snorkeling and enjoying the beautiful volcanic scenery that’s so unique to the island.
Our Top Recommended Tour: Sailing St Lucia & The Grenadines with G Adventures – 8 days
If it’s beaches you are looking for though, then one of the best places to visit in the Caribbean is Antigua, an island that’s home to some of the best beaches in the region.
Antigua is famous for its glorious, sandy beaches, and the island is well set up to welcome tourists and holidaymakers looking to relax and unwind. All 365 of them. You will be hard-pressed to not find a perfect beach on this island with some of the favorites being Turners, Pigeon Point, Half Moon Bay, Deep Bay, Dickenson Bay, Jabberwock, Jolly, Prickly Pear, and Long Bay to name a few.
Finding a beach resort is easy and you can spend your days sipping a fruity drink, listening to waves and watching the sunset. You’ll find lots of long, sandy beaches and sheltered bays that are great for swimming.
The island is surrounded by coral reefs too, and this is a great destination for snorkeling and diving because the waters are rich in marine life. If you have the urge to do more than sit at the beach, the second-best thing to do is visit English Harbor.
You get a spectacular view of the harbor and coastline of Antigua from Shirley Heights. If you want to get up close and personal, pay a visit to Nelson’s Dockyard and learn about the rich English history that established Antigua in the 1700s.
Our Top Recommended Tour: Explore Antigua and Barbuda – 6 days
11. St Kitts
Also located in the West Indies, St Kitts is the larger island that makes up the two-island nation that is St Kitts and Nevis.
Nevis, the smaller island, is found just 2 miles away from St Kitts across a dramatic stretch of water, and there are dramatic viewpoints that offer sweeping panoramas of both islands.
You’ll find sandy white beaches around the island, and plenty of resorts and hotels.
Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park, UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the main draw to this island. The fortress was first established in 1690 with canons and was completed over the following 100 years. The fort saw its biggest battle and takeover by the French in 1782 but was later retaken by the British after a treaty was signed.
The walls were refortified and the fort was never taken again. It was abandoned by the British in 1853 and after restoration efforts in the 1970s was declared a UNESCO site in 1999. A visit to the fort will provide engaging historical insight and breathtaking views of the surrounding area. The island is rich with culture, so don’t miss a visit to the Caribelle Batik factory before heading out to soak up some sun and sand on the beach.
Lastly, keep your eyes open for monkeys. There is a population of Green Vervet Monkeys that were introduced during the African slave trade. They can be seen on the sides of roads and in the trees.
Don’t leave home without: Fodor’s Essential Caribbean (Full-color Travel Guide)
12. Grand Cayman
The Cayman Islands are perhaps best known for providing financial services and offshore accounts, but as well as being a wealthy British Overseas Territory, this is also one of the best places to visit in the Caribbean.
The largest and most popular island to visit is Grand Cayman, but there are two smaller islands in the territory, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, which are also great places to explore and which tend to be far less crowded, although much more difficult to travel to.
For a place that has a city named Hell, it must be sunny and hot, right? Well, this is exactly true. The Cayman Islands offer you a textbook tropical vacation with turquoise water, white sand, palm trees, and plenty of sun. What sets it apart from every other island? The underwater activities. The water here is so clear you can see everything under the water, for miles.
The island is surrounded by a sand bar and reef shelf providing really great snorkeling and diving for water lovers. A visit wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Stingray City, a large sand bar just off the coast where large stingrays have gathered for years to feed on fisherman’s chum as they cleaned their fishing boats.
These days, they are accustomed to visitors and are very friendly. Tours will take you right out to them where you can get in the water with them, feed them and even get a kiss for 7 years good luck.
Don’t leave home without: Fodor’s In Focus Cayman Islands (Full-color Travel Guide)
13. Dominican Republic
This island is certainly known as a hot vacation spot. Most people come here for the stunning beaches of Punta Cana on the East side of the bright blue waters of Puerta Plata on the Northside. All-inclusive resorts line the shoreline and offer a variety of package deals to suit every traveler. You can take part in snorkeling, swimming, diving, and even some Latin dance lessons.
Resorts are also offered in places like La Ramona for a more local feel. A not miss in the Dominican Republic is the bustling capital city of Santo Domingo. Although not as commonly visited as the beach areas, this city is rich in Spanish history and the landing spot of Christopher Columbus.
You can tour his casa, visit the local botanical gardens, aquarium and local parks on a visit to the city. The downtown historic district holds architecture that rivals some places in South America and Europe.
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Dominican Republic (Travel Guide)
The Bahamas is a classic Caribbean destination because this collection of hundreds of islands off the coast of Florida is known for its beaches and clear water.
The islands that make up the Bahamas are the closest to the United States and consist of 700 islands and cays. They are so close you can even take a day cruise from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to the Grand Bahama island. This alone makes them a popular place to visit for many visitors. You can’t really go wrong with a visit to the Bahamas, the sand is white and the water shallow.
It is a classic beach experience and many of the places you can visit will jump out at you as places you have seen many times before in movies and magazines. You can enjoy the typical activities in the Bahamas, snorkeling, swimming, sunbathing, hiking, kayaking, parasailing, and the list goes on.
As well as the marine life you can also meet the most famous residents of the Bahamas, the pigs that swim freely in the crystal clear water. My favorite activity involves a Strawberry Daiquiri, sunscreen, and a lounger while visiting these islands.
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet The Bahamas (Travel Guide)
Roatan is one of the most fascinating islands in the Caribbean because this predominantly English-speaking island is actually part of Spanish-speaking Honduras.
It’s an unusual set up in the region, and while mainland Honduras has an infamous reputation for gang crime and violence, Roatan is a veritable bastion of peace and safety in comparison.
This is one of the best and cheapest diving destinations in the Caribbean, and at the West End, you’ll find plenty of diving outfits heading out daily. There are reefs and wrecks, and they are all located right off the coast of Roatan.
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More on the Caribbean:
- Trinidad Cuba: The Only Guide You Need
- Can Americans Travel to Cuba – Complete Guide
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