The Caribbean might be best known for its beryl-blue lagoons and palm-stooped beaches, its honeymoon hotels and reggae-echoing jerk towns, but it's also something of an undiscovered surfing mecca.
The Caribbean Sea is on just one side of most islands with the wide, wrathful Atlantic on the other. That's why the region can offer all sorts, from the bombing barrel waves right down to the whitecap rollers for the beginners. Here are the best places to surf in the Caribbean.
Eleuthera, Bahamas, offers lots of breaks on sugar sands
It should hardly come as a surprise that the whole island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas is littered with fantastic breaks. Just check the map. It bends like a laid-in hammock to face the whole open Atlantic on its eastern side. An eastern side, by the way, that's virtually completely lined by talcum sands with a fringing of ocean reef.
The highlight sits somewhere between Gregory Town and Alice Town, up some sand-doused tracks by a wide point. Cue Surfer's Beach. It's named for the consistent wintertime shorebreaks that roll in up and down its length. Depending on swell size and period, they can be bombing overheads or ankle-burning small waves, but are almost never busy.
Drop into Rebecca's Beach Shop en route to meet local ledge Surfer Pete. He has tips, does lessons, and even sells his own conch salad and chili sauce from the haberdashery shack.
Getting to Eleuthera: This one's off-radar and you'll need a car. It's about half an hour from North Eleuthera Airport.
Encuentro Beach is the best surf spot in the Dominican Republic
Encuentro Beach (en-quen-tro) is an 800m-or-so (2625ft) squiggle on the north Dominican Republic coast. Spilling out into a shallow reef shelf from groves of twisted coralillo trees and pencil-straight palms, it's a shaded, secret spot that might as well be advertised as a theme park for board-touting travelers.
The reason? There are sections here for all levels. To the east, there's a designated beginner playground on stomach-deep reef that connects the beach to the outer breaks. When you're ready, paddle back a little to find Bobo's Point – a consistent left-right reef break that loves head-on northerlies – or Main Peak – a relatively deep reef that attracts a cluster of chatting regulars. Experts can chase the right-hander barrel of Coco Pipe or hit the shallow-bottomed Destroyer at the far west end of the bay.
Spreading the lineup along different parts of the shore helps to keep Encuentro nice and chilled. That said, there has been a boom in surf schools in the last decade or so, although Bobo's is still the pick of the bunch. The crowd is very international, and gatherings in the hammock-strewn palms by the beginner area, cerveza welcome, are the norm once a session is done.
Getting to Encuentro Beach: Public buses run the main 5 highway out of Cabarete, but most people get a private transfer in from the airport in Puerto Plata.
Puerto Rico's Rincón is the original Caribbean surf spot
No list of the top surf spots in the Caribbean could possibly skip out on Puerto Rico's Rincón. Hailed as the surfing capital of the whole region, it's home to about seven truly fantastic breaks that do Oahu impressions when the winter swells turn on the goods from November to March. And it's not just barrels. It's big, beefy, slabby overheads with XXL credentials.
The headline acts are the frothing walls at Dogman's and Tres Palmas. This is the duo that churns out the hollow lines, but they are unforgiving beasts that peel off shallow reefs and not for the faint of heart. Intermediates shouldn't despair – options include Domes, an A-frame reef with a peeling right that's beloved of loggers in the late season, or Maria's, a small-swell crumbler that's downright fun.
Not to be confused with its Ventura-Santa Barbara namesake, Puerto Rico's Rincón backs up the action with a spread of bisque-colored beaches bathed in tropical air. The time to surf matches the Caribbean high season, so expect dry days in the 20°Cs (70°Fs) and cooling offshore trade winds throughout.
Getting to Rincón: Access from the air is into San Juan, from where it's a 2.5- to 3-hour drive. There's also the Rafael Hernández Marín International Airport much closer, but not many flight links just yet.
Palmetto Point, Barbuda, is a wave under threat
There was a time not so long ago when even whispering about the existence of Palmetto Point would have been a serious breach of surfers' code. That all changed when plans were drawn up to develop the beaches here with lux hotels and matching golf courses. That prompted some of the quiet, in-the-know few to go public to corral the resistance.
Thankfully, this far-flung corner of Barbuda is so hard to reach that lineups are probably not going to be an issue (although the resorts would be!). The wave is something special, peeling in rows of perfect right-hand tubes off a sandbank into long, frothing rides where you can see the pink-tinged powder glisten in the water overhead. Paradise.
Getting to Palmetto Point: This is not easy. Private charter planes or ferries connect in from Antigua, then you'll need a 4WD to navigate tracks to the point.
Soup Bowl, Barbados, might be the perfect right-hand performance wave
Don't just take our word for the quality of the Bajan Soup Bowl – eight-time Pipe Master champ and 11-time WSL champ Kelly Slater hails this as one of the most entertaining waves on the planet.
The muse to his lyrical waxing? A break that works like clockwork in the winter Atlantic swell season to offer a right-hander with an inviting C-shaped face. It's like a tailor-made performance wave that's just asking to be ripped with all sorts of turns and twists and airs.
You'll find Soup Bowl lipping into the bay at Bathsheba, east Barbados. It's very much the stomping ground of pros when it's in season (November to March), but mellows down to intermediate level in the summer. There are also some nearby breaks that are way less fought-over, Parlours especially, which fragments into multiple peaks to spread the crowds.
Getting to Soup Bowl: Head to Bathsheba, which is just about as far from Bridgetown as you can go. A hire car is your best bet.
Playa Preciosa, Dominican Republic, has fewer crowds
If jostling with the crowds of Cabarete and Encuentro isn't really your idea of surfing in paradise, then scoot down the northern coast to Playa Preciosa. Enfolded by jungle-topped headlands and girdled by just a sliver of silvery sand, it's like something out of the marketing brochures.
Okay, so the waves dip in quality a little compared to its compadres. They are mainly wedgy little fingers to cut right and left on for 20–50m (65–164ft) or so. But it's the peace, the quiet, and the empty lineup that will entertain you here, not to mention the clutch of uber-luxurious villas with infinity pools that hide just through the orchid-filled coast jungles.
Getting to Playa Preciosa: Get to Puerto Jimenez first. From there, it's a 15-minute drive or private transfer.
Boston Bay has Jamaica's best waves, and great jerk BBQ too
Boston Bay is the top surf spot in Jamaica and for good reason. It's virtually the only location on the island that gets a little punch of the stronger winter systems from the open Atlantic, all thanks to a nice swell gap between Cuba and the island of Hispaniola to the northeast.
November to March is high time to catch it, when you'll get a refracting A-frame that peels into Lynches Bay. The right is softer and beginner-friendly. The left is cleaner and better for intermediates, but be ready to pump the front of the board to drag out the rides, as powerful days are rare. Surf aside, Boston Bay is a foodie mecca with some of the best jerk on the island.
Getting to Boston Bay: Try to fly to the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston and then do the three-hour trip from there. It's four hours or more from Montego Bay.
Aguadilla is the best surf spot on Puerto Rico's north-coast
Rincón might steal the headlines in this unincorporated territory of the USA, but Aguadilla is worth a look in if you're cruising down the north-coast highways from Arecibo and San Juan. It's got competition pedigree and some quality waves…
Chief among them is simply named Surfer's Beach, a reef break that rolls into pebbly sand and lines of wind-blasted date palms, offering fast rights and a lippy little left. The XL conditions will power up Wilderness, too, a wave that's remote and heavy. Bridges and Jobos are the options that suit all levels.
PR Surf Adventures run tailor-made trips in this part of the island. It's headed up by Pig, a qualified surf judge with intimate knowledge of the regional breaks both secret and named. If in doubt stay in Playa Jobos, where there's a palm-ringed beach, a break on the doorstep, and lots of seafood.
Getting to Aguadilla: Fly to the Rafael Hernández Marín International Airport. There aren't many flights going there (yet), but it's a stone's throw from the main surf points.