US Virgin Islands
Consistent 80°F (27°C) weather, ridiculously white sands and a rum-infused taste of West Indian culture – the US Virgin Islands (USVI) earn a gold star for 'tropical'. Americans don't even have to use a passport to join the fun, as these are US territories. Get ready for reggae rhythms, curried meats and mango-sweetened microbrews. It's still a world away, mon.
Santo Domingo, or ‘La Capital’ as it’s typically called, is a collage of cultures and neighborhoods. It’s where the sounds of life – domino pieces slapped on tables, backfiring mufflers and horns from chaotic traffic, merengue and bachata blasting from corner stores – are most intense.
South Coast & Central Highlands
Cut off from the clamorous north coast by the natural bulwark of Cockpit Country and protected from resort development by local communities that seriously value their near-virgin beaches, southwest Jamaica feels like a clandestine paradise for the trickle of off-island visitors who make it this far.
Trinidad & Tobago
Trinidad and Tobago are an exercise in beautiful contradiction. In Trinidad, pristine mangrove swamps and rainforested hills sit side by side with smoke-belching oil refineries and ugly industrial estates. Tobago has everything you’d expect from a Caribbean island, with palm trees and white sand aplenty, yet it’s relatively unchanged by the tourist industry.
Noted for its oodles of small and luxurious resorts that drip color and flair, St Lucia is really two islands in one. Rodney Bay in the north offers modern comforts amid a beautiful bay. In the south, Soufrière is at the heart of a gorgeous region of old plantations, hidden beaches and the geologic wonder of the impossibly photogenic Pitons.
Wrapped around a small bay with postcard-worthy snugness, Ocho Rios is a former fishing village that the Jamaica Tourist Board developed for tourism in the mid-1980s. The frequent docking of cruise ships at the central pier that commands the town’s focus gives ‘Ochi’ a decidedly ‘packaged’ feel, spiced up by the regular entreaties of ‘guides’ and souvenir sellers.
What’s so surprising about the three Cayman Islands (population 56,800) at first is how un-British they are for a British territory – Grand Cayman seems straight from the US, with ubiquitous SUVs jostling for space at upscale malls and US dollars changing hands as if they were the national currency. Think of it as a much more orderly version of South Florida.
Is Haiti about to make a travel comeback? In the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake this impoverished island nation focused squarely on recovery efforts after tens of thousands died and millions were displaced. Recently a sense of optimism has returned. Non-essential travel warnings from the US and UK governments have been lifted and visitor numbers are up.