Caribbean Tourist Guide
The islands of the Caribbean are a diverse collection of former
colonies that have moved with the times to become exotic vacation
hideaways and sun-drenched playgrounds in easy reach of the United
States and through the growth in airline traffic, Europe too. Most
major Caribbean islands have an airport but the preferred mode of
transportation is by ship, whether a cruise liner, an inter-island
ferry boat or a private yacht. Several continental countries have
Caribbean coastlines and islands, notably Belize, Colombia, Guyana,
Honduras, Mexico, Panama and Venezuela, but the development of
facilities for vacation visitors is greatest on the islands that
form an arc from the Florida peninsula to the tip of South
The region has over 7,000 islands, reefs and cays organised in
numerous nations, states and territories all influenced by their
colonial past since Christopher Columbus landed in 1492. The
culture and lifestyle of the peoples of the Caribbean vary with
their ancestral heritage - French, English, Spanish, Dutch, Danish
and most of all, African.
All the islands have been colonies of European countries which
continue to be trading partners and markets for their traditional
products such as sugar, rum and bananas but in modern times for
off-shore banking and financial services and tourism. Visitors are
welcome as a matter of local pride and government policy - the
revenues from tourism and hospitality are vital for the national
economies of all the states in the region and mean business for
local fishermen, farmers, craft workers and other suppliers to the
hotel and entertainment industries.
The pristine beaches, coral reefs, agreeable sunny climate and
the ease of access by cruise ship and airline make the Caribbean a
top regional destination for vacation visitors especially from
Europe and North America. The tourists of the 19th century were
wealthy visitors from Europe lured by the health benefits of sea
bathing in a warm climate. The growth of affordable mass tourism
has put the Caribbean within the reach of anyone looking for an
exotic location for a vacation, wedding or honeymoon, where there
are few language barriers and year-round sunshine.
Jamaica is the icon of the Caribbean, famed for Montego Bay and
its water sports, sailing, scuba diving, jet skiing, parasailing
and glass-bottom boat excursions around the coral reefs. Ocho Rios
is the main port for cruise ships and inland there are numerous
examples of the sugar plantation heritage - great houses and rum
distilleries. Treat yourself to a Tia Maria, the coffee-flavour
liqueur, at its source.
The Bahamas alone account for 700 islands of the Caribbean -
many with deserted beaches and fabulous opportunities for fishing
Barbados is heavenly for windsurfers - the Atlantic and the
Caribbean Sea converge on its southern shore - and music lovers.
Barbados has festivals and carnivals all through the year with
jazz, opera and calypso performances at various island venues.
Cuba is still a no-go area for US citizens but a delight for
European visitors, like stepping back in time to the 1950s but with
the benefit of some 21st century hotel facilities.
Trinidad and Tobago are neighbours but couldn't be so different.
Trinidad throbs with the calypso beat while Tobago is sleepy, cozy
and a haven for anyone seeking a quiet retreat.
The Dominican Republic occupies half of Hispaniola, the
second-largest island in the Caribbean after Cuba and has the
region's highest mountain. The range of tropical wildlife and
vegetation is amazing and there are dozens of national parks and
nature reserves around the country.
Nearby, in the Turks and Caicos islands, big game fishing and
whale watching are big draw. The numerous inland lakes are home to
flocks of heron and flamingos.
The Virgin Islands are divided for administrative purposes
between the USA and the United Kingdom but share a section of the
Caribbean Sea east of Puerto Rico, within easy reach of mainland
USA. St Thomas in the USVI and its cruise port, Charlotte Amelie,
is a hot spot for shopping - there's no sales tax. The British
Virgin Islands or BVI are known as a yachting paradise and for
divers there are the attractions of over 200 shipwrecks to
St Martin is a tiny island of just 37 square miles but it is two
countries, the French-speaking St Martin and Dutch Sint Maarten and
the two communities have lived in laid-back harmony for over 350
years when the colonial rulers signed a treaty of cooperation.
There's little sign of a border but the difference in lifestyles on
the two sides of the island is staggering.
Shallow waters around St Vincent and the Grenadines attract
divers and snorkelers in huge numbers especially for the coral
reefs around Tobago Cays. Intrepid hikers can get a close-up view
of the Mount Soufrière volcano on the main island of St
The Cayman Islands, well-known as an off-shore tax haven, is a
popular family vacation destination with duty-free shopping and
interactive marine parks where you can see turtles and feed
stingrays. The world-class dining and hospitality has made Cayman a
great place for a wedding or honeymoon.
Grenada's forests are fragrant with cinnamon, nutmeg, cocoa and
spices. The island has the Caribbean's only water mill still
operating at a rum distillery.
Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao have a sophisticated Dutch feel about
them. Aruba has a cruise terminal, miles of beaches and fine
dining. Bonaire has art galleries, fine restaurants and excellent
accessible dive sites. Curaçao is classy, mellow and laid-back and
hosts jazz, gospel and food festivals through the year.
The tropical climate of the region is moderated by moist
tradewinds blowing from the Atlantic and creating a mix of
rainforest and scrubland depending on the landscape. Some islands
are relatively flat, others have mountain ranges - some
volcanic. The result is a richly diverse ecosystem where dozens of
threatened species of birds, mammals and reptiles compete to
survive with human development. Of course parts of the Caribbean
are battered by the occasional hurricane in the tropical storm
season that runs from September to November, but generally it's
sun, sea and sand with the rhythms of jazz and calypso all year
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