Featured Hotels in Caribbean
Luxury Caribbean Holidays
As one of the world's most loved travel destinations, the Caribbean for many brings to mind an image of palm trees, white sand beaches, sunshine, and rum cocktails at sunset. This may be a delightful picture, but it is only one of many images that make up the Caribbean. It is a region dotted with dozens of individual island nations, each with its own unique offering for the visitor, and each with its own history, traditions, and distinctive geography.
The West Indies
The Caribbean Sea, just east of the Americas, takes its name from the Carib Indians, who drove out the original inhabitants, the Arawak Indians, and dominated the area until the arrival of the Europeans in the 15th century. When Christopher Columbus reached their shores in 1492, he gave the islands the name West Indies, thinking he had found the route to India he had been looking for, and this was followed by successive waves of colonisation by the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French and British. The federation of islands retained the name West Indies following independence, and still field a Test Cricket team by that name, though many nationals prefer the term Caribbean.
So Many Islands
It's hardly surprising that there is such diversity in the region, as there are more than 5,000 islands, reefs and cays making up the Caribbean archipelago. Most of these are located in one of several large groups, including the Lucayan Archipelago, which embraces the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, and the Greater and Lesser Antilles. The Greater Antilles contain the largest countries of the Caribbean, and include Cuba, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico and the Cayman Islands.
The Lesser Antilles are the largest group, and in turn are grouped into the Leeward and Windward Islands. The Leeward Islands, so called by early sailors because of the trade winds blowing from the north-east, include the British and US Virgin Islands, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St Kitts and Nevis, and Guadeloupe, while the Windward Islands include Martinique, St Lucia, Barbados, Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago. There are also the three so-called ABC Islands, sometimes called the Leeward Antilles, just north of Venezuela -- Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao.
Sunshine and Storms
The balmy climate of the Caribbean is one of its major attractions, and the warm sunshine combined with soft breezes make for a delightful visit at just about any time of year. It is of course true that most of the islands are just inside the hurricane belt, but it is extremely rare for any island to receive a direct hit -- the worst that occasionally happens is heavy rain and wind from the hurricane outskirts. However, it's quite possible to avoid even this risk by visiting outside the hurricane season, or by looking at more southerly islands like Barbados or Aruba as a destination -- these are outside the hurricane belt so the risk is very low.
Which Island to Choose?
Although all the Caribbean islands have a great deal in common -- a warm, sunny climate, beautiful beaches, a relaxed pace of life -- the region is nevertheless incredibly varied, and the islands encompass a vast range of landscapes, lifestyles, and available activities. For instance, you may want to experience the rustic surroundings and slower pace of life that many islands enjoy, but if you crave more sophistication and excitement, Nassau in the Bahamas, or Montego Bay in Jamaica, will provide you with the urban buzz. You can spend your entire holiday within the boundaries of a luxury all-inclusive resort, never leaving its environs, or you can stay in a rural cottage and mix with the local population.
Because the islands are so individual, each provides a different experience for the visitor, so it's a good idea to find out ahead of time what to expect. For those looking for places for a family-friendly holiday, Antigua, Turks and Caicos, and Barbados are among the best choices, while Paradise Island in the Bahamas provides what is usually considered the ultimate in family entertainment. If your priority is to relax on some of the world's most beautiful beaches, Antigua and Barbuda -- especially Barbuda -- and Aruba are among the best beach islands, and many consider Anse Chastanet in St Lucia the most beautiful beach in the Caribbean. Dominica, St Lucia and Tobago have some of the best rainforests to explore, while for lovers of history, Antigua has sites dating back to the 18th century, and in Puerto Rico you will find old forts dating from the 1500s.
Whichever aspect, or whichever island, of the Caribbean you are dreaming of, one thing you can be certain of is that, unlike many parts of the world, the reality will not fall short of the dream. You can, read, write and talk about it, but you can only really understand the magic by experiencing it for yourself. And the real beauty of it is that the magic doesn't wear off -- however many times you visit, your heart will skip a beat every time.