Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated eastern Caribbean islands in September 2017. Islands still suffering extensive infrastructure damage as of January 2018 are: Puerto Rico, USVI, BVI, Anguilla, St Martin, Barbuda, Dominica. Some other islands still have cosmetic issues such as beheaded palm trees, piles of flotsam and unsightly gardens.
If you wish to help clear up or don’t mind infrastructure problems or topless palm trees then head for your favourite island, but if you’re looking for the traditional, no problem paradise you should at least contact an appropriate hotel and ask for current situation report (pinches of salt handy would be a good idea!).
Islands that were well clear of hurricanes sit comfortably in the western Caribbean, including Jamaica, Cayman Islands, Mexico’s Maya Riviera, and those near South America – Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Tobago and other small islands in the vicinity.
Best Caribbean Beaches in alphabetical order
Anguilla, West Indies, Little Bay, Shoal Bay
Cap Juluca on Anguilla island. Photo by Tiarescott
Anguilla encompasses arguably the best beaches generally in the Caribbean, with over 30 strands of dream sands to cater to not many sun-seekers, a very laid-back charm and a growing fine restaurant scene to cater to after-sun diners.
Little Bay is a tiny half moon shaped bay with powder sand beach and clear water is protected by high cliffs so the ambience is tranquil and excellent for sunbathing and snorkelling. Access is by boat only from Crocus Bay.
Nearby the two mile stretch of Shoal Bay – which some consider to be Anguilla’s best beach, Rendezvous Bay, or Road Bay offer a few more facilities and action.
Antigua, Johnson’s Point (Crab Hill)
Antigua’s chain of secluded coves with white soft-sand beaches (especially in the south-west) and sensational views also offers low-stress flights from the UK, easy transfers, a good choice of hotels and masses of family-friendly activities for toddlers to teenagers. Some options include Wadadli Animal Park, a pirate experience (Black Swan), kayaking, zip-wires and plenty more.
If snorkeling is your aim, then head for Pigeon Point near Falmouth Harbour. Topless or naked bathing are both strictly forbidden on this island. See Crime.
The Bahamas is not exactly in the Caribbean but, just about…this famous pink sand beach on a islet of Eleuthera Island, is one of the world’s most photographed beaches and often voted as the world’s best beach by various travel publications. It’s a three mile stretch of powder sand named for its salmon colour due to flecks of red plankton mixed with fine, sugar-white coral sand.
Most of the accommodation is located on the cliff behind the beach and reached by ‘Bahamas Fast Ferries’ from Eleuthera.
Barbados, Crane Beach
Barbados seems to be moving intelligently and inexorably away from exclusive luxury holidays to all budget vacations, with plenty of family-friendly resorts offering shallow pools, kid’s clubs, flying foxes, jungle camps, pirate ships and endless water-based activities.
The island is lined with soft white sand beaches and azure seas, though calm or rough depends on their location. Barbados food is varied and delicious, the people are charming and speak English. Barbados is easily accessed by direct flights from the USA, Canada and UK.
Crane Beach (photo) is said to be one of Barbados’ – if not the Caribbean’s – most beautiful beaches. The soft white sands and bumpy azure waves are embraced by imposing cliffs but swimmers need to be ready for a bit of a battle as here the waters mix Caribbean benevolence with Atlantic fury.
This is a totally laid-back seaside town with a 16 miles of pristine sandy beach on a long, narrow peninsula in SE Belize.
It is is well worth the trip to get there (4-5 hours from Belize City, but now daily domestic flights are available).
Facilities are simple but comfortable, with friendly locals and fantastic seafood. Apart from just lying on the sand, you can participate in various water sports, fishing, bird watching, manatee watching (! ) and jungle excursions in the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary.
If you want more action (especially scuba diving), try the Cayes: resort-oriented Ambergris Caye, or relatively low-key Caye Caulker. Both are good bases for world-class diving and snorkelling off the world’s second greatest barrier reef.
British Virgin Islands, Norman Island, The Bight beach
Palm-lined silky beaches with deep pinky-gray sands and peppermint green water (what about the purple prose? ).
Although Virgin Gorda has no shortage of lovely beaches such as Devil’s Bay, Mahoe Bay, Pond Bay, Savannah Bay, and Spring Bay, the Baths gets the top spot in BVI, so it can get crowded. It’s good for year-round swimming and snorkelling, especially going left from the beach but a bit pricey. Virgin Gorda is one of the friendliest islands in the Caribbean.
British Virgin Islands, Jost Van Dykes Island, White Bay
Photogenic, unspoilt and white-on-white, the beach on tiny Jost Van Dykes island 5 miles west of Tortola, was a secret until recently but now some major publications are raving about it, and it has been selected as one of world’s top ten best beaches.
There is also fabulous snorkelling from the islet off the southeast of Jost Van Dykes Sandy Cay and the more remote Sandy Spit Beach as well.
Cayman Islands, Grand Cayman, Seven Mile Beach
Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
Seven Mile Beach (well, to be honest, it’s actually 5. 5 miles long and also known as West Bay Beach) is the big one that everyone wants to shuffle their toes in en route to the clear, tranquil water above the gently shelving sandy bottom. It’s a magnificent stretch of groomed, powder white sand that, if you can afford it, you should hug close and never let go. Oh, that’s too bad, can’t stay for ever? Never mind. Back to work after a quick snorkel.
Varadero beach, Cuba. Photo Laslovarga
Varadero is not technically the Caribbean, actually the Straits of Florida, but but it’s near enough. 20km of clean, creamy, uncrowdedsand adjacent to clean, warm water runs alongside a string of relatively cheap all-inclusive hotels and a few local facilities. There is no coral in the immediate vicinity so forget snorkelling but other marine activities are plentiful.
Varadero town is not especially interesting but a rental car or bus will get you too Havana in a couple of hours. Havana is very lively and fascinating in a crumbly pre-60’s way and definitely the best exotic culture in the Caribbean. Four days in Varadero and three days in Havana would be an excellent week’s holiday.
Not to be confused with much bigger Dominican Republic (it’s near Guadeloupe and Martinique in the east, whereas DR is a package destination in the central Caribbean near Cuba), Dominica specialises in activities and not just kid’s stuff. Possibilities range from whale-watching, kayaking and scuba to mountain-biking trails, jungle rainforest canopy tours and superb hiking routes that supply delightful rest-stops en route, such as spas, mud-baths and cave swimming.
The most extreme trekking on offer is the 115 mile (184 kms) Waitukubuli National Trail.
Dominican Republic, many Blue Flag beaches
Punta Cana beach. Photo CT Cooper. Dominican Republic
DR is the best budget Caribbean island, with Jamaica cool running up. Dom Rep is low cost due to many all-inclusive resorts catering mainly to families, low labour costs and plenty of fertile land to grow produce, rather than import just about everything like most Caribbean islands.
Apart from its excellent beaches, massive size and cheap prices, the Dominican Republic also hosts an unequalled variety of things to do inland when the sun and sand gets just too much.
Grenada, Carriacou, Grand Anse, Magazine Beach, La Sagesse
Grenada not only hosts spectacular powder-sand beaches serviced by friendly little restaurant/cafés but is also fond of activities so perfect for those make-work holiday folk who can’t just lounge on the sand or flop in the water for a week.
Anse la Rocheis a must-see beach, the classic image of fantasy sand with a great view of Union Island across the water. It’s a 45 minute walk from Bogles village but it’s quite easy to get lost and it might be better to take a water taxi. There are no facilities and very few people, so take food and drink.
Grand Anse is the place for action, Magazine Beach is the one for boulder-scattered classic Caribbean style and La Sagesse for Caribe au naturel.
Guadeloupe, Grande-Terre, (West Indies), Sainte Anne Beach
Guadeloupe is an up and coming destinations for Europeans. It’s still only moderately touristy and has very good reputation for spicy French-Creole cuisine. The coastline is rugged and the fine sandy beaches are relatively quiet.
Ste. Anne town is the prettiest village in Guadeloupe and the beach is the finest while Plage de la Caravelle is also excellent but access is only through Club Med.
Jamaica, Negril Beach
7 mile beach in Negril, Jamaica
Jamaica has a name for three things, partying, nude sunbathing and crime. Locals love to dance, the music is irresistible (well, unless you dislike Reggae or Ska) and beach parties happen in brilliant locations all over the island, as well as more formal world music festivals such as Reggae Sumfest in Montego bay. There’s nothing quite like a few rum ‘n’ cokes or Red Stripes on a perfect beach at sunset, shack-fried fish and a wobbly shuffle on powder sand to live Ska.
Looking for a nudist paradise? Negril Beach is the one for you if you can cope with the crowds and some local harassment. Otherwise the beach is Jamaica’s prettiest with a laid-back atmosphere. It’s much less busy than the famous Seven Mile Beach.
Long Bay Beach Park at northern end of Negril Beach is a bit more tranquil as is Bloody Bay Beach further along. There are reports of occasional thefts and mugging.
As for crime, it’s easy enough to avoid if you take local advice (i. e. from hotel staff), leave valuables in your safe and stay away from shanty towns. See Crime.
Martinique (France), Le Diamant (Diamond Beach)
Les Salinesin Ste-Anneis the finest beach on the South Loop and the only gay friendly beach in Martinique but six mile long Diamond Beach is the best, with a good view of Diamond Rock island offshore which some say is one of the Caribbean’s most beautiful diving sites.
Martinique’s French ambience is an interesting change from the usual US/British style Caribbean. In fact it is a part of France and the European Union so the currency is conveniently the Euro!
Local restaurants serve superb French-Creole cuisine.
Nevis, Pinney’s Beach
Nevis is a tiny, glamorous yet unspoiled dot of of volcanic stardom, with a handful of very exclusive luxury hotels (e. g. Four Seasons Resort) looking after celebrities, while locals continue to serve ‘killer bee’ cocktails on the public beach and act as if Beyoncé is a nobody.
Puerto Rico, Culebra Island, Playa Flamenco (Flamenco Beach)
Playa Flamenco, with Sherman tank, Culebra Island, Puerto Rico
If all you need is sun, sand, and tranquility in Caribbean, head to Culebra (meaning Snake), located partway between Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. Because it has been kept as a nature reserve the wide sandy beaches – especially Playa Flamenco – are in excellent condition, with only very discreet development and a couple of indiscreet yank tanks!
Culebra is good for snorkelling, bird watching and has one of the Caribbean’s most substantial turtle nesting sites too.
There is an hour ferry service from Puerto Rico’s Fajardo port and flights from various airports. More Culebra Island information
Alternatively Puerto Rico’s main island has excellent beaches, especially at the family friendly Boqueron in the SW.
St Lucia, Gros Islet
St Lucia has developed a reputation as the best party island in the Carib zone, with Friday night beach raves happening in several locations though the original Jump Up Party at Gros Islet is – for the moment – the best. With a mass of good value dining places springing up all over don’t go for all-inclusive holidays on this island.
St Vincent and the Grenadines, Palm Island, Casuarina Beach
Casuarina is the prettiest of four beaches on this privately-owned Caribbean island (originally known as Prune Island), with hundreds of coconut palms surrounded by coral reefs.
Stay at the very private all-inclusive resort – the Grenadines’ finest – or dine at their restaurants; reservations only. It’s about a mile from Union Island.
Tobago, Englishman’s Bay
Englishmans Beach, a Tobago icon.
Englishman’s Bay beach is a lovely, isolated spot with foot-friendly sand, gentle seas, plenty of shady palms and thick forest all around, all at peace other than the occasional squawk of green parrots. This beach has an authentic desert island feel which is boosted by the lack of facilities – apart from a couple of food and drink stalls under the trees. Bring snorkel gear, perhaps a bottle of rum and other bare necessities and enjoy a dream beach before inevitable development, it’s magical!
Turks and Caicos, Provo Island, Grace Bay
Grace Bay, Turks and Caicos, Caribbean. Photo by Csouthard
The American astronaut John Glenn said that it must be paradise when he spotted the 40 Turks and Caicos coral islands from space.
Grace Bay’s 12 mile stretch of sand is white and fine as baby powder, the water is turquoise, calm – protected by a barrier reef – and safe for swimming. The beach is part of a national marine park so development is supposed be controlled, as are motorised water sports, though some think Grace Bay is both overdeveloped and overrated and metamorphosing into a junk food paradise.
However, Turks and Caicos beaches are scattered over 40 islands and just eight of them are inhabited. Almost all are clichèd paradise strands of dazzling white powder sand lapped by calm turquoise waters.
Hotels are widely dispersed and expensive as are restaurants, but they do offer fantastic spa treatments. See Crime.
St.John island, USVI, Trunk Bay beach, Caribbean
Trunk Bay is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world but is often over-crowded, especially on days when cruise ships lurk in the port, but still glorious and excellent for swimming, snorkeling and diving.
The bay also hosts the world’s first marked underwater snorkeling trails (National Park Underwater Trail) near the shore, and is one of the best snorkeling locations in the Caribbean. Local people are generally friendly and appreciate tourists. An entry fee is charged.
Venezuela, Islas Los Roques
Long stretches of white sandy beaches bordered by palms and 20 km of sensational coral reef with crystal-clear water, this is part of Venezuela’s loveliest marine park and excellent for snorkelling, diving and fishing but offers very little shade.
Los Roques can be visited as a day-trip from Isla Margarita or Caracas (the Venezuelan capital) by air; otherwise stay on the main island, Gran Roque, where there is the airport and other basic facilities.
Runner’s-Up Best Caribbean Beaches
Palm Beach, Aruba;
The Gold Coast, Barbados;
Pink Beach, Barbuda;
Guadalavaca, Caya Levisa, Cuba;
Seven Mile Beach, Jamaica;
St-Jean Beach, St. Barthélemy;
Playa Grande or Punta Cana, Dominican Republic;
Luquillo Beach, Puerto Rico;
Dawn Beach, Maho Bay Beach, Mullet Bay Beach, and Great Bay Beach, St. Martin (St. Maarten);
Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda;
Deadman’s Bay, Peter Island, BVI.
Sargassum seaweed 2015
A new threat to some of the world’s best beaches is a stinking but irresistable invasion of Sargassum seaweed slopping onto pristine beaches across the southern USA and Caribbean, including Texas, south Florida, Mexico, Barbados, Trinidad, Tobago, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rica, Brazil and even across the ocean to Portugal, Spain, the British Isles, and Morocco.
Sargassum appears as vast mats of free-floating seaweed growing on the surface of seawater and has probably been around for thousands of years. The difference now is that it’s multiplied massively and is washing up on our favourite beaches in thousands of tons.
The miles-wide masses of algae pile up on beaches and rot creating a stink and creating a home for biting sand flies as well as making the waters unpleasant to swim in.
Some blame the 2010 BP oil-spill cleanup, some say it’s a a natural response to global warming, toxic waste and sewage running from rivers into the seas.
The Bottom Line
When you book your vacation/honeymoon/one-in-a-lifetime best beach experience in the Caribbean region ask the resort for clear evidence that there is no Sargassum situation there. Recent and dated photos? Refund guarantee?
It seems that some regions that are lying thru their teeth about Sargassum pollution. Hello Cancun? Anyone there? (In July Cancun workers removed 18, 000 cubic feet of seaweed from the beach only to have it reappear days later). Tobago has declared a ‘natural disaster’ after tens of thosands of tons of seaweed coated their beaches and Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic has been badly affected.
The Gay Life
Some Caribbean islands are more receptive to LGBT visitors (gays/lesbians etc. ) than others.
Palm Beach in Aruba.
Getting to the Caribbean from the USA/Canada
n. b there are currently no flat rate air passes.
Unlike trips to Hawaii the Caribe can be reached easily and quickly from much of the USA. Most of the islands take 3-6 hours from the US east coast but flights to the Bahamas for example, while not exactly the Caribbean, but it might as well be, take just 35 minutes from Miami or from 2. 5 hours from New York.
One of the cheapest and easiest flights is to Puerto Rico, where passports are not required for US nationals, although ID is necessary. Puerto Rico offers a kind-of American lifestyle but with a lot more sunshine and beaches so makes an easy vacation, but San Juan aiport also does good connections to other islands.
Another popular, cheap flight destination is Jamaica where the culture is boisterous, the language is English, the costs are low, the beaches are magnificent and multiple airports receive flights from multiple US cities. Jamaica is another useful transit or island-hopping point.
Budget Caribbean flights can also take you to Aruba, an island that offers the best beaches and weather in the summer/late summer, is not as expensive as you may think and also does a good line in connecting flights. Curacao is another south Caribbean island with fine summer climate, good airline connections, pretty nice beaches, decent diving, good snorkeling and an inexpensive living costs.
Cuba is sadly not an easy holiday destination for Americans as flight bookings from USA are still under embargo and US flights cannot land there. Cuba is a fascinating country with an incredible environment, brilliant joie de vivre and some excellent beaches, so if you are interested fly there with a non-US airline such as Mexican or Dominican.
Getting to the Caribbean from the UK
n. b there are currently no flat rate air passes.
Both British Airways and Virgin make scheduled, direct flights to various destinations in the Caribbean, while Thompson and Monarch do charters. Charter packages are the economical way to travel and don’t have to be downmarket, there are plenty of upscale package deals out there if you do your research.
Avoid flights with stops or plane changeovers as the trip is long enough at best (8-9 hours) without any interruptions, let alone having to overnight. This is especially so for the return journey which will almost certainly be a night flight. Cheap UK flights.
Island hopping by plane is an easy and inexpensive way to visit other islands if you get bored but note that island time can be over-relaxed and not necessarily in sync with international time so don’t book flight connections too close together. Missing a London flight due to a late-arriving island-hopper could be a pricey error.
• keep island hopping to the minimum to avoid timing or bureaucracy stress.
• always allow lots of time to do anything vaguely bureaucratic.
• be patient in any kind of dealings with Caribe people, urgency is not in their DNA.
• never plan tight connections with international flights if you’re relying on local transport to get you to your departure point.
LIAT fly to 21 destinations
San Juan, Tortola, St Thomas, St Croix, Anguilla, St Maarten, St Kitts, Nevis, Antigua, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, St Lucia, Barbados, St Vincent, Grenada, Trinidad, Santo Domingo and Curacao.
CaribJet are the UK specialist for LIAT flights in the UK.
InselAir connects the 6 Dutch Caribbean islands. CaribJet can book e-tickets for the following destinations. Curacao, Bonaire, Aruba, Punta Cana (Dominican Republic), Las Americas, Kingston, San Juan, Phillipsburg St Maarten, Paramaribo, Miami.
Short distance inter-island travel is not common (apart from yachties enjoying a sailing vacation) but possible by ferry between some nearby islands, with some boats navigating around BVI, Antigua and Granada, as well as to/from Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Jamaica.
The best season for a Caribbean beach holiday
December to May are usually the best months in the Caribbean while May is the favourite low-cost month as accommodation charges multiply mid-December to April but the weather remains fine through May – hopefully.
The hurricane season runs from August thru October but the rainy period lasts May to December. The exception is the Dutch ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao) which are below the hurricane belt and consequently have better summertime/autumn weather conditions and practically 12 months availability (though November-January can be a little cloudy and damp).
Tobago‘s season is a little different too, with best months being January to June.
Around Christmas/New Year (last 2 weeks of December and first 10 days of January), a week either side of Easter and during North American College breaks is the very busiest and most costly time to travel to and stay in the Caribbean.
Stormy weather: August to early October is the normal peak hurricane season (78% of tropical storms; 87% of the “minor” hurricanes; 96% of the “major” hurricanes). Though hurricanes are rare, rain is not, the humidity can be oppressive and stormy, water may be rough and unclear for scuba or snorkelling and beaches garbed in seaweed.
However, you could also consider the southern sector of the Caribbean which is effectively below the hurricane belt. e. g. Trinidad & Tobago, and the three Dutch islands off the north coast of South America.
n. b. Many Caribbean resorts, restaurants and other services are limited or shut down completely from September to end of November.
n. b. 2 (! ) Sand drifting across from Africa can create hazy conditions mid-May to mid-June.
Bermuda’s not in the Caribbean, but the best time to visit the island – about 1, 000 miles off the Florida coast in the Atlantic – is in the summertime. From June to October, the pink-sand beaches sprawl in temperatures of around 30C, with long daylight hours, low rainfall and warm seas around 25C.
Strictly speaking the Bahamas are also not in the Caribbean, though they’re close, with the nearest island – Bimini – just 53 miles (81 kms) away from Miami, though the main island is around 190 miles away.
Jolly Harbour, Antigua. Photo David Stanley
Caribbean Yacht Charter
There’s plenty of availability of all sizes of sailing or motor yacht rentals in the area, as weather conditions are superb outside the hurricane season and the variety of attractive islands and dazzling, easy-anchor bays is staggering.
One popular and relaxing option is to join a charter group of small yachts with a professional captain and fixer who then leads the flotilla on island-to-island jaunts, finds the best mooring spots, advises on best sailing techniques, rigging, snorkelling, beach activities and best places to eat and drink onshore if required.
Although flights to the Caribbean are not cheap from Europe and boat rentals hardly cheap, the savings on accommodation and eating out are enormous and the island-hopping fun and fascinating. Bareboat sailing in British Virgin Islands.