THE CARIBBEAN — Visiting the Caribbean is a traveler’s dilemma. On one hand the stretches of white sand beaches, crystal clear water and eternal sunshine are as beguiling as any destination could be. It offers one of the best ways to escape winter. On the other, for the most part, “if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all.”
With winter weather set to make the next three or so months cold, dark and miserable however, the allure of warmth and water becomes increasing attractive to escape the wrath of ice and snow.
So how do you decide? Which island is best? Here’s a personal top five to consider as your best way to escape winter.
Nestled fifteen miles off the coast of Venezuela, Aruba is one third of the ABC islands along with Bonaire and Curacao. While Bonaire remains a haven for divers, retaining much of its pristine features, Curacao for many years was regarded as the hot spot of the three.
No longer. Aruba has long since surpassed its sister island with glitzy hotels, casinos, excellent restaurants, shopping and a variety of other amenities that make it a bit like the Las Vegas of the Caribbean. Which also makes it a great way to escape winter.
Depending on your lifestyle, Aruba could just as easily be at the top of this list as the bottom.
All the beaches and main activities center around one side of the island because the opposite shores are too rough for beach lovers to enjoy. More adventurous travelers head in that direction to enjoy caving.
With its steady sea breezes, one of the distinctive features of Aruba is the Divi Divi trees which grow sideways in the opposite direction of those perpetual winds.
Aruba and the Dutch
Aruba’s Dutch heritage makes shopping in the capital city of Oranjastad almost as good as it is in the Netherlands.
Official languages are Dutch and Papiamento, but English and Spanish are also prevalent. Don’t be surprised to watch a television newscast with all four languages being used interchangeably.
Geographically the island resembles the American southwest with an abundance of cactus and the highest spot being Mt. Hooiberg at 541 feet.
Dining offers an abundance of restaurants with choices ranging from hotel restaurants to delightful local spots.
Aruba may just be the most active place in the Caribbean.
As with Aruba, Barbados has done a masterful job of marketing which is noticeable from the moment you set foot on its shores.
Tracing its history to the British Commonwealth, it’s not surprising that 40% of the visitors to Barbados arrive from the United Kingdom, so naturally English is the native language.
One of the most notable aspects of Barbados for first-timers is how clean it is, giving the island the feel of Switzerland being plunked down in the middle of the Caribbean.
The national foods of Barbados are flying fish and cou-cou, also known locally as “fungi.” Cou-cou, made up primarily of cornmeal and okra, can be found in any supermarket on the island and is usually served as a complement to steamed or fried flying fish.
Barbados also provides just enough to see and do with plenty of time for the beach.
St Kitts & Nevis:
Once a thriving region for sugar cane, St Kitts and Nevis today rely heavily on tourism for their economy. Many of the old sugar cane ruins have, however, been renovated into beautifully quaint accommodations.
Most visitors are fascinated by the green monkey population which is so huge that it is said there are as many monkeys on the islands as there are people.
Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park on the northwestern coast of St Kitts is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As the largest fortress ever constructed in the Eastern Caribbean, Brimstone Hill is well worth a visit.
Minutes by boat, just two miles away across the “Narrows,” is the gumdrop shaped island of Nevis. With volcanic Nevis Peak in the center of the island, Nevis looks like a cone that has erupted from the middle of the sea.
Nevis is a place to rest and relax. Historically the island has ties to Admiral Lord Nelson and Alexander Hamilton which make for pleasant outings when the allure of the beaches calls for a break.
St. Kitts and Nevis may be an acquired taste for some, but for those who just want vegitate by sitting back, and getting seriously into their winter escape in the Caribbean by just relaxing, this is the place.
Turks & Caicos:
Like Aruba and Barbados, the Turks & Caicos are awakening to the magnetism of tourism. This cluster of islands came to the game much later than her cousins. But that’s part of the appeal.
The Turks retain their original rustic charm yet possess much of the infrastructure necessary to make it the best of all possible worlds for a winter escape.
As would be expected, life centers around the beaches and water activities, of which there are many. You can escape winter here in hotels in virtually every category and price point. One of the best properties for location, comfort and convenience is the Sands at Grace Bay near the capital city of Providenciales.
Conch is the culinary treat of the islands featuring conch fritters, conch salads, conch chowder and everything in between. It doesn’t get any fresher than watching natives pluck a shell from the sea before having it served at your table minutes later for lunch.
Da Conch Shack is among the most popular spots for fresh conch served any way you like it. Afterwards just head back to your hotel and simply “conch out” in your room or on the beach.
The only island in the Caribbean with Swedish heritage is St. Barts. Located about 18 miles from St. Maarten, this tiny jet-setters oasis probably doesn’t have the best of anything in the Caribbean, but boasts the second best of everything.
St. Barts is hilly and small. But thanks to its tiny harbor, it does not get as much of the massive cruise traffic as other islands.
Known for its cuisine which is primarily French, every type of food can be found on St. Barts.
Though a bit more expensive than some of the other island destinations, St. Barts makes up for the cost with great beaches and more than its share of character. If you spend a week at this now predominantly French paradise, don’t be surprised to catch a glimpse of some well-known personality who is just “getting away from it all.”
One reason celebrities like St. Barts is because they are treated like everyone else, far from the maddening paparazzi who so frequently invade their lives.
Five star properties are the order of the day on St. Barts, but Le Village, the only four-star resort on the island will save you some money and provide all the amenities as its more prestigious counterparts.
Le Village is locally owned by native islanders and that makes all the difference.
There you have it. Five Caribbean destinations that break the mold and offer more than just beaches, sand and sunshine.
— Headline image: Divi Divi trees on the island of Aruba grow in the direction of the prevailing winds (Courtesy: pixabay)
UPDATED AND REVISED FROM AN ORIGINAL AUGUST, 2017 ARTICLE
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
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