By Patricia Canole
The Caribbean’s blue-and-green patchwork of islands and sea curves softly southward from Florida’s tip. Within just a few hours, you can be lunching beside the murmuring surf, meandering beautiful beaches, or pondering a papaya-colored moon that peeks through the palms.
So, if the world of island choices seems overwhelming, don’t worry. Follow our trail through the sands of the most tranquil islands in the sun. This sampler gives glimpses of inviting isles. Read on.
Latin flair is in the air in DR. It is full of warm hospitality, coupled with the grace of days gone by, and the sophisticated vivacity of the 21st century—all cloaked in plenty of Spanish charm. Part of the island of Hispaniola (Haiti is the other half), it is circled with beaches and clear aquamarine waters for as far as you see. Legendary resort towns such as La Romana, Punta Cana, Cap Cana, Samana, Puerto Plata dot the coastline, offering plenty of tropical fun. Try your hand at river rafting or perhaps opt for some mountain biking. Then trace the paths of colonial history (downtown Santo Domingo is a World Heritage site), go whale watching or scuba diving. Get out into the countryside for opportunities to meet with locals and even visit a sugar plantation. Raw sugar never tasted so good! This is an island where memories are around every corner! Info: godominicanrepublic.com.
Jamaica stands out as more than an island. It’s a mini-continent that travelers often consider the Caribbean’s lushest, loveliest destination. Forested blue-green mountains rise from the island’s spine and roll down to golden sands along the 200-mile-long north coast. Simply put, Jamaica displays some of the most beautiful island scenery. Negril is a favorite haven for those wishing to bask in the dazzling seven-mile strip of beach. Here you can watch divers jump into the clear Caribbean from the cliffs. If you’re feeling adventuresome, then head to Ocho Rios and walk up the cascading Dunn’s River Falls. In sleepy Port Antonio, go rafting on the Rio Grande, flanked by the majestic Blue Mountains. Old plantation houses dot the island and a visit to Montego Bay will find many high-end resorts. Kingston, the capital and cultural hub, is the focal point on the south shore. Explore the city and nearby Spanish town, once the island’s capital, or visit sleepy mountain villages. The scenery along the way is breathtaking. Info: visitjamaica.com.
A salsa beat, fast and sexy, sets the pace. Island meets urban in the capital, San Juan, where nightclubs and open-air cafes energize a romantic Old World setting of cobbled streets and balconied buildings. Beaches of every kind—windswept, surf-ready, and diver’s delight—ring this US commonwealth, backed by a mountainous interior of vast caves and lush forests. Even nature makes music in P.R. The island’s coqui frog, a wee fellow with a powerful song, thrives in the El Yunque rainforest. For more creature comforts, take a post-sundown swim in Phosphorescent Bay, where microscopic organisms cause your breaststroke to glow in the dark. And for spelunkers, explore one of the world’s largest cave networks at Rio Camuy.
Take a bit of the Riviera, add a touch of the Brittany countryside, place it all in the Caribbean, and you’ll find yourself in St. Barthélemy (its proper name), a tiny—just 8 square miles—paradise that’s as French as Cannes, but much closer to home. A playground of the rich and famous, this little island has plenty to attract honeymooners, too. Even in high season, crowds are rare on St. Barts’ many gorgeous beaches. Winding roads over the hilly terrain afford spectacular views of the wide-open land stretching to the water. You can luxuriate on the gorgeous white sand Anse de Flamands, lined by crystal clear azure water, or hop in a mini-moke, a glorified golf cart, to discover the island’s rural regions. Then head for Gustavia, the capital, home of such chic boutiques as Versace, Ralph Lauren, and the local Stéphane & Bernard. Nightlife comprises dining on fine French cuisine while watching the sunset and perhaps listening to some piano music. Info: saintbarth-tourisme.com.