On a recent trip travelling around the Caribbean with two colleagues on a three-island itinerary, it occurred to me how easy it is to overlook the diversity of the region. Yes, each island boasts idyllic sun-drenched beaches fringed with palm trees, lapped by warm waters and awash with rum but that’s just about where the similarity ends. Scratch below the surface and you will find an island offering you her own unique personality, landscape and experiences.
This is where our adventure began and, with direct flights from Gatwick on most days of the week, it really is the perfect place to start. Antigua is famous for its naval history, fantastic sailing and 365 pearly-white beaches – one for every day of the year! Although it’s tempting to never leave the beaches of Antigua, I would really recommend trying to as there is so much to see and do. For example, we spent a lovely few hours exploring the museum and shops of English Harbour and Nelson’s Dockyard which takes its name from Admiral Nelson (who served on the island for three years) and was once the headquarters of the British Royal Navy. After absorbing all that history, we quickly hot-footed it up to the weekly sunset party at Shirley Heights…. well, it’s important to get the balance right on any trip! Every Sunday afternoon, tourists and locals alike flock to the restored military lookout where the air is thick with the heady aroma of barbecuing jerk chicken so, if you didn’t arrive hungry, you soon will be. The views of the sun setting over English Harbour below (and Montserrat and Guadeloupe beyond) are simply magnificent and, from 6pm, the place jumps with lively local steel pan and reggae music. There’s a bar selling rum punch, local beer and fresh juices and the dancing continues until late…. our feet were aching the next day! Other popular things to do are boat trips to offshore islands or a tour of the shops and markets of the capital, St John’s – however, I would avoid days when cruise ships land as it can get very congested in the town.
Best for: Beach bunnies; fun-lovers; families.
Where to stay: The Inn at English Harbour for it’s ideal location directly beneath Shirley Heights and a water taxi ride away from English Harbour and Nelson’s Dockyard; Carlisle Bay for it’s gorgeous, sweeping white beach.
Enjoying the sunset party at Shirley Heights
The beautiful beach at Carlisle Bay
From Antigua, we took a quick and easy flight to Grenada – somewhat of an untouched beauty in the Caribbean. Here, the landscape is very different from Antigua as the increased rainfall creates fertile soil that feeds lush green jungle and the spice trees that you’ll see growing freely almost everywhere. Although the island is no larger than the Isle of Wight, there is much to explore. We enjoyed the half-day island tour offered by our ground handler, St James Travel, and I would really recommend getting out and about if you can. Things to do include cooling off under the Annadale Waterfall, spotting the monkeys and hummingbirds at the Grand Etang National Park, snorkelling over the world’s only underwater sculpture park or learning about nutmeg and cocoa processing in one of the many plantations (Grenada is one of the largest producers of spices in the Western Hemisphere). Grenada is less developed than other Caribbean islands, so nowhere ever feels busy or crowded, and I would recommend taking the time to visit the capital, St George’s, which is one of the most charming towns in the Caribbean – think quaint local markets, pastel-painted churches and brightly-coloured wooden townhouses.
Best for: Independent travellers; anyone looking for a bit of peace and quiet off the beaten track.
Where to stay: Mount Cinnamon for a spacious and comfortable base from which to explore (the two-bedroom villas with kitchen are fab!); Spice Island for its beachfront location and all-inclusive luxe.
Pretty St George’s
A skip, hop and jump of a short flight took us to St Lucia: a larger island of great natural beauty – think lush tropical foliage, bubbling sulphur springs and spectacular mountain scenery. The sands of this volcanic island vary from gold in the north through to amber then almost black in the south and most tourism is concentrated on the island’s north western tip, near the capital of Castries. However, the real spectacle is the twin Pitons which stand majestically on the south of the island. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the peaks have many fascinating jungle hikes and trails to explore and the snorkelling in the surrounding unspoilt, crystal-clear waters is outstanding. We enjoyed a fascinating afternoon at Boucan by Hotel Chocolat. After a scrumptious lunch (every single dish on the menu, whether sweet or savoury, contains a cacao element!) we donned our aprons and created our own chocolate bar on the Tree-To-Bar Experience. Anyone can book this experience, you don’t have to be a hotel guest, however I do think a few nights at this hotel would be a lovely addition to any St Lucia itinerary.
Best for: Nature lovers; hopeless romantics.
The spectacular Pitons
My ingredients all lined up and ready to go!
I would say that each Caribbean island has much to offer any traveller whether they be a family, a couple or lovestruck honeymooners. However, perhaps the best way to appreciate the diverse beauty that these lovely islands have to offer is on an island-hopping itinerary such as ours. The local Caribbean airline is LIAT and locals will tell you that this stands for “leaves island any time” as they tend to run to a rather relaxed schedule. On our trip, they actually got us to our destination early but, if I’m not so fortunate next time, I think I’ll make like a local, grab a drink and take it easy while I’m waiting….. purely for research purposes of course!