Exotic and enticing, the Southern Caribbean is a region that draws travellers from around the globe. Whether you're relaxing at a resort or exploring by cruise ship, there's plenty to enjoy and discover. Let's take a look at what these islands have to offer.
The Southern Caribbean is a collection of islands each with its own special charm. There's great diversity in landscape, ethnicity, food and beaches so whatever you are looking for in the way of an island paradise, you'll find it here.
These welcoming isles make a great getaway anytime of the year. Excellent bargains can be found in the off season (mid-April to mid-December), with air and hotel packages a good way to go in the peak season.
Cruising lets you visit several islands on one vacation. You can discover the diversity of the region and find yourself on a different beach every day! For more on cruising the Southern Caribbean, see this month's Cruising article.
Let's take a look at what makes each island unique.
Guadeloupe - The French island of Guadeloupe is the centre of Francophone culture in the Caribbean. The largest city, Pointe-a-Pitre, has a large shopping centre and many fine restaurants. Try the local Creole cuisine with the island's seafood and blend of spices creating a unique style. Check out the Museum of Rum, which also houses a collection of butterflies, walk in the National Park with over 300 kms of trails and discover the underwater beauty of Guadeloupe at the largest aquarium in the Caribbean.
Dominica - The youngest of the islands is a nature love's paradise. The untouched rainforests, waterfalls, mountain peaks and beaches, ranging from pebbly to brown sand, make this a great place for outdoor activity. Hiking, horseback riding, diving, snorkeling, whale, dolphin and sea turtle viewing are all popular with visitors.
Martinique - Magnifique! Another little bit of France in the Caribbean, Napoleon's wife, Josephine, was born here and her plantation home is now a museum. There are more than a dozen other museums including La Savane des Esclaves, the historic village and museum about slavery on the island. The capital of Fort de France has a rich history of crafts and literature and is an interesting town to wander through. Unique to the island is the volcano, Mt. Pelé, which erupted in 1902, destroying the town of Saint-Pierre and 28,000 inhabitants. Learn the history at the Volcanological Museum and visit the volcano observatory.
St. Lucia - The mountainous scenery makes this one of the most spectacular of the islands with the Piton Peaks the star attraction. These twin volcanic plugs, soaring 743m and 771m from the sea are now a World Heritage Site and an icon of Caribbean beauty. There are many upscale resorts and spas here for the ideal relaxing vacation. For shoppers, silk screening is an island specialty not to be missed. For more see this month's Planning article.
Barbados - This "little England" in the Caribbean is a former British colony. Jacobean and Georgian buildings, English bone china in the shops and English place names everywhere you go are reminders of ties with Great Britain. At the Sir Frank Hutson Sugar Museum, learn the history of sugar cane production, still an important part of the economy. The fine, coral sand beaches are windy on the Atlantic coast, popular with surfers, and calm on the Caribbean side while the north is rugged with sandstone cliffs and secluded coves. Barbados has a reputation for being friendly with excellent resort facilities and the lovely historic capital of Bridgetown.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines - This group of 32 islands stretches from St. Vincent in the north, south to Grenada. The Grenadine chain includes Bequia, Mustique, Canouan and Mayreau. The Pirates of the Caribbean movies were filmed here. Formerly French and British colonies, the islands are noted for eco-adventures. It's a world class hiking destination with waterfalls and the La Soufriere volcano to conquer. The Tropical gardens are spectacular. Yachting and scuba diving are also a main draw to these islands which are off the beaten track and home to many luxurious hideaways and upscale resorts. Enjoy the annual Breadfruit festival in August with various festivities and breadfruit specialties to try.
Grenada - Known as "The Spice Island", Grenada is a major producer of nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, and cocoa. Spice trees and rare tropical flowers adorn this verdant island which is encircled by coral reefs and sandy beaches. World famous Grand Anse Beach stretches for two miles. The picturesque capital city of St. George's sits on a horseshoe shaped harbour with a skyline of red tiled houses and church spires. There are more than a dozen waterfalls on this volcanic isle with accessibility ranging from a hike through the rainforest to a pleasant stroll through a garden. It's easy to be in touch with nature here.
Trinidad & Tobago - The Calypso beat is strong on these islands where the steelpan is the national instrument. Panorama is the annual competition for steel pan bands held during the islands' Carnival which is one of the most colourful in the world. The Laventille Steelband Festival features a parade and series of concerts. Trinidad is just 6.8 miles or 11 km off the coast of Venezuela with the smaller island of Tobago lying to the north east. There is great bio-diversity here making these islands perfect for eco and adventure vacations.
The ABC Islands
These three islands are situated roughly 40 miles off the coast of Venezuela. They are desert islands receiving little rainfall and they are outside the hurricane belt. You might be surprised to find a dry landscape with cactus and divi divi trees adjacent to sandy beaches.
By Susan Milne