Some of my earliest family holiday memories are the times we spent in the Caribbean sun – Antigua a few times and St Lucia, to be precise. It did always feel exotic to be jetting away, especially as we used to go in the winter – just after Christmas and in time for New Year. And it was always exciting having to pack up our bags and presents late on Boxing day after all the excitement of a family Christmas. But I never realised until now just how lucky I was to be on some of the most beautiful beaches of the world.
I know this was a good 10 or 12 years ago, and a lot of it has probably changed now due to the rise in tourism and the Caribbean becoming more accessible, but for me, the Caribbean beaches still remain – along with some of those in Thailand – some of the most natural and untouched beaches I’ve ever seen.
I think what’s special about the Caribbean is the simplicity of the day to day life. And I don’t mean sitting on the beach all day drinking from coconuts (although that does help!) And I’m not saying the locals have an easy life – far from it, in fact – as we saw from driving through the local towns and villages, past the shacks, huts and street vendors, and the young kids working to help their parents or their younger siblings.
But as what tends to happen in third world countries whose people and communities have never had much, the people really do seem to be genuinely happy. I’ll always remember on our very first trip to Antigua our friend Florie who we met on the beach, who braided mine and my sister’s hair and who was so lovely and friendly – and happy with her life! For me, she epitomises the people and will always remain one of my staple memories of my Caribbean holidays.
On a more practical note, out of so many beautiful islands – how do you choose where to go?! With a mix of personal opinion, travel industry experience and a bit of good old research, here is my snapshot guide to help you decide which island best suits you:
Bahamas: This is a luxurious and glossy destination, popular with Americans as it’s so close in proximity – it does boast beautiful white sand beaches but due to its popularity, it is teeming with large resorts and therefore not one of the most peaceful islands and can be quite pricey.
Turks & Caicos: An array of tiny islands lapping with turquoise waters. Perfect for those after a mellow, peaceful getaway with no need for the buzz of activities or day trips.
Trinidad & Tobago: Between them, these twin islands have it all. Trinidad is the largest of the two and the party capital, with Tobago’s pristine nature, palm trees and fine sand beaches being the epitome of Caribbean beauty.
Jamaica: One of the biggest Caribbean islands and home of the famous Bob Marley, Jamaica is again a popular choice for many. With its lush mountainous scenery, banana groves, waterfalls, rainforests and white sand beaches, you are spoilt with its beauty. And there is so much exploring to do both underwater and on land.
Barbados: Definitely one for water-sports lovers, Barbados has it all – from buzzing nightlife and day-time shopping in the main hub of Bridgetown to hidden coves and beaches and lush green scenery.
Haiti: After the aftermath of the earthquake in 2010, Haiti is making a comeback. Although it’s probably not at the top of everyone’s holiday list at the moment, it’s possibly one of the most cultural and fascinating Caribbean islands to visit, with its slave revolution and African roots which are still present in its vibrant music and art scenes. But do keep an eye out for updates on travel news and warnings.
Antigua: One of the smallest and most modest islands, with a lot of history and culture. A lazy beach-lover’s ideal destination with the odd day trip out for snorkelling or to experience village life with its narrow, dusty streets and tiny, coloured shacks.
St Kitts: With its capital, Basseterre, as the commercial heart of the island with its buzzing nightlife and shopping, and the big hotels, resorts and crowded cruise-ship lined beaches along the coast, St Kitts is a popular choice for those after a beach holiday with everything you need nearby!
St Lucia: One of the greenest Caribbean islands, it is a romantic, quiet getaway with both water-sports and on land activities for adventure seekers.