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The Caribbean Guide

Planning your Caribbean Hotels Stay

You have a choice between British, Spanish, French, American and Dutch islands, so language might be a consideration. Some islands are more difficult to get to than others. How much time do you want to spend travelling to your destination? Do you want to stay in one place or indulge in a spot of island-hopping? Do you like company and organized activities or would you prefer an empty mountain or deserted beach? Do you want to take it easy and relax or are you an active person who needs to face challenges? Use our destination guides as a direction for what is possible within different time frames, and have a look at our sections on when and where to go.

When to go

The climate everywhere in the Caribbean is tropical, with variations in rainfall. The volcanic, mountainous and forested islands attract more rain than the low-lying coral islands, so you can expect frequent showers in St Lucia but not on Bonaire. The driest and coolest time of year is usually December-April, coinciding with the winter peak in tourism as snow birds escape to the sun. However there can be showers, which keep things green. Temperatures then can fall to 20°C during the day, depending on altitude, but are normally in the high 20's, tempered by cooling trade winds. The mean annual temperature is about 26°C. At other times of the year the temperature rises only slightly, but greater humidity can make it feel hotter if you are away from the coast, where the northeast trade winds are a cooling influence. The main climate hazard is hurricane season , which runs from June to November, although storms are rare before September. Islands south of Grenada are outside the hurricane belt although they can still receive storms and heavy rain at times. Tropical storms can cause flooding and mudslides.

Where to go

Finding your way around the Caribbean and booking with Caribbean Hotels could not be easier. However, we have put together a little Caribbean Hotels help guide below:

So many islands to choose from. Which one or which group would suit you? Here's a handy A-Z trip around them all to help you decide where to start, finish, or just lounge.

 

Anguilla

Anguilla is known for its luxury hotels and extensive sandy beaches. It is one of the safest islands and consequently one of the most relaxing, but is not a low-budget option. Visitors amuse themselves in the water during the day and visit restaurants, bars and weekend beach parties at night. There's not much else to do on this low-lying coral island, but that's why people come here.

Antigua

A family holiday destination with great beaches, watersports and safe swimming. Direct, non-stop flights from Europe and North America make this island ideal for introducing children to the Caribbean. Good transport links with other islands facilitate two-centre holidays or more extensive island hopping. English Harbour is particularly picturesque, with yachts filling a historic bay that has been a popular staging post for centuries.

Aruba

Aruba is only 25 km north of Venezuela and was closely linked with the oil industry for most of the 20th century, but when times were hard the island diversified into mass tourism. The coast on the leeward side of the island with the best beaches is now wall-to-wall hotels; all those with more than 300 rooms are allowed to have a casino. A wide range of watersports are on offer, including world-class windsurfing.

Barbados

Barbados hasn't got the best beaches in the Caribbean, there are no volcanoes, no rainforest, but visitors of all ages and budgets come back time and time again to stay in a luxury hotel room or a moderate apartment. You can play golf, tennis, squash and any number of other sports, or you can watch cricket, horseracing or polo. There is lovely walking along the rugged north and east coasts on the Atlantic side, while beaches are best along the more protected west and south coasts. There are more sights than you can fit in a two-week holiday: fortifications, plantation houses, museums, rum distilleries and gardens.

Bonaire

The diving on this Dutch island is among the best in the Caribbean, with pristine reefs and wonderful visibility as there are no rivers to muddy the waters and it is out of the hurricane belt. Windsurfing is also excellent. The climate is dry and the vegetation little more than scrub and cactus but it is prized by birdwatchers.

British Virgin Islands

These islands have excellent sailing and there are many charter companies offering crewed or bareboat yachts. Regattas attract competitors of international standard. Races are accompanied by lots of parties and related activities typical of the yachtie fraternity. There are plenty of hotels, and a few really special places - popular with newly weds or the seriously rich.


Cayman Islands

These three low-lying little islands south of Cuba are green with pine and mangroves, while underwater the reefs and walls offer some of the world's most thrilling dive sites. Grand Cayman is busy with its offshore financial sector as well as tourism and Seven Mile Beach is wall-to-wall hotels. Cayman Brac and Little Cayman are quiet, unhurried places where you can escape the crowds and relax without giving up your creature comforts.


Cuba

The largest island in the Caribbean, Cuba is blessed with varied and picturesque scenery, from the rolling green sugar cane and flat cattle plains to forested mountains, lakes, caves, beaches and swamps. Travellers come for the vibrant culture, music, dance, art and the people who make it. The island's turbulent political past and its current Communist stability is of interest to many. Colonial towns and cities are unspoilt by advertising or neon and American influence is minimal: Cuba is Cuban. You can laze on a beach, hike up a mountain, cycle the deserted roads, or wander around fortresses, historical monuments and museums.

Curacao

Curaçao has some very fine Dutch colonial architecture painted in a variety of pastel colours. It also has one of the most important historical sites in the Caribbean: a synagogue dating back to 1732, the oldest in continuous use in the Western Hemisphere. An underwater park to preserve the reef has made diving popular and there are dive sites (and hotels) all along the leeward side of the island.

Dominica

Dense forests, volcanic hills, rivers, waterfalls and the Boiling Lake provide good hiking and birdwatching opportunities. It is also a highly regarded diving destination and you can see whales and dolphins offshore. Hotels around the island are small, intimate and low-key, greater development being deterred by the lack of beaches. It is the only island where Caribs have survived and they still retain many of their traditions such as canoe carving.

Dominican Republic

This is the Hispanic side of Hispaniola, with some stunning scenery: the highest mountain in the Caribbean and some of the most beautiful beaches. The capital, Santo Domingo, was the first city in Spanish America and it boasts the first cathedral and the first university. Hotels sprawl along the coast for sun, sea and sand worshippers, but for anyone wanting action, you can go mountain biking, whitewater rafting, hiking, canyoning or horse riding. If you've still got any energy after all that for nightlife, the discos are throbbing with merengue.

Grenada

Grenada is known as the spice island because of the nutmeg, mace and other spices it produces. It has a beautiful mountainous interior and several national parks. Many different ecosystems are found, from dry tropical forest and mangroves on the coast, through lush rainforest on the hillsides, to elfin woodland on the peaks. St George's, now recovering from Hurricane Ivan in 2004, is widely acknowledged as the prettiest harbour city in the West Indies, blending French and English architectural styles with a picturesque setting on steep hills overlooking the bay.

Guadeloupe

This is France in the tropics: coffee, croissants, baguettes and delicious, spicy Créole food, which you can wash down with some very fine rum. Guadeloupe is really two islands: the western Basse-Terre, which is mountainous and forested, with a huge national park popular with hikers, and Grand-Terre, to the east, which is smaller, flatter and more densely populated with good beaches. The outer islands of Les Saintes, La Désirade and Marie Galante are easily reached from Guadeloupe but are quiet and untouched by mass tourism.

Haiti

The only country successfully to have carried out a slave rebellion, Haiti's religious beliefs, music, dance and art stem directly from Africa with French influences from colonial days. French Créole is nearly everybody's first language. The most impressive fortification is the massive La Citadelle, built on top of a 900-m peak to deter any French re-invasion. Haiti has suffered decades of civil unrest, it is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and tourism is minimal. Poverty has led Haitians to cut down all their trees for fuel, leaving the hillsides bare.

Jamaica

A beautiful island with rolling hills and steep gullies, the spectacular Blue Mountains overlook a coastline indented with bays and coves. Rain falls freely, water is abundant, the vegetation is luxuriant and colours are vibrant. The people have a culture to match, from reggae and rastafarianism to English plantation houses and cricket. Music is everywhere and Jamaica is a hub of creativity in the Caribbean. Every conceivable watersport is on offer in the resort areas on the north coast, where the beaches are safe for swimming.

Martinique

Like Guadeloupe, this is a piece of France in the tropics, where language and customs have adapted to the climate. There is something for everybody: a variety of hotels; good beaches; watersports; historical attractions; beautiful scenery; hiking; birdwatching and countless other activities. Tourism is well-developed in the south, but a large part of the more mountainous north is taken up by protected rainforest. 

Montserrat

The 'Emerald Isle', with its Irish influences, is learning to live with an active volcano, which has been erupting since 1995. Volcano watching is now a tourist attraction, with a strategically placed observatory where scientists monitor activity. The southern part of the island, including the capital, Plymouth, is under a blanket of ash and uninhabited. Priority was given to building houses in the north, but now economic and cultural needs are being satisfied, with a new airport and cricket pitch.

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico's inhabitants are descended from Taíno Indians, their Spanish colonial masters and African slaves. San Juan, the island's capital, was founded in 1510 and the lovely old city stands on a spit of land jutting out to sea. The sprawling, hideous new city is US-influenced, with shopping malls, industrial zones and wide highways. Large resorts, casinos, marinas and golf courses line the coast, but inland there are mountains, rainforest, caves and archaeological sites. The islands of Vieques and Culebra are quiet and relaxing.

Saba

This tiny Dutch island rises out of the sea, green and lush. An extinct volcano, its peak is aptly named Mount Scenery. Underwater, the landscape is equally spectacular and divers treasure the marine park, noted for its 'virginity'. Ancient trails weave their way around the island, the most stunning being the 1,064 irregular steps up Mount Scenery through different types of tropical vegetation according to altitude.


St-Barthélemy

Tiny St-Barths is easily reached by boat or a short air hop from St-Martin. It has gained a reputation as the place to go for the rich and famous. It is chic and expensive and its many beautiful beaches are dotted with luxury hotels and villas, designed for those who appreciate privacy. Gourmet French restaurants and Créole bistros can be found all over the island. This is a place to indulge yourself and be a part of the jet set.

Sint Eustatius

Only 2,100 people live on this Dutch outpost. It has a rich colonial history and a prosperous past, when there were 8,000 inhabitants and some 3,500 ships visited each year. Having made its fortune in the 18th century out of the slave trade and commerce in plantation crops, it lost it in the 19th century with the abolition of slavery. There are walking trails up into the rainforest of the extinct volcano, the Quill, and diving is good in the marine park.

St Kitts

St Kitts is the new hotspot for tourism development since the closure of the sugar industry and subsequent unemployment freed up land and labour for golf courses, villas and other tourist resorts. The island has long been developing its southern peninsula where there are golden sandy beaches, but most of the island has until now been untouched by tourism. Rugged volcanic peaks, forests and old fortresses and sugar mills produce spectacular views and hiking is very rewarding. Two miles away, the conical island of Nevis is smaller, quieter and very desirable. Here, plantation houses have been converted into some of the most romantic hotels in the Caribbean. Cycling or hiking along the old goat trails affords panoramic views.

Saint Lucia

Very popular as both a family holiday destination and a romantic paradise for honeymooners. Its beaches are golden or black sand and many are favoured by turtles as a nesting site. The mountainous interior is outstandingly beautiful and there are forest reserves to protect the St Lucian parrot and other wildlife. Sightseeing opportunities include sulphur springs, colonial fortifications and plantation tours. St Lucia has a rich cultural heritage, French, English and African, and has produced two Nobel prize winners.

Saint Maarten/St-Martin

Shared amicably between Holland and France, this island offers you two (or three) cultures. Good international air transport links have encouraged the construction of large, Americanized resort hotels with casinos and duty-free shopping in the Dutch part. The French part is considered more 'chic' and crowded with restaurants dedicated to the serious business of eating well. Both sides have good beaches, harbours and marinas and are popular with the sailing crowd. Heavily populated, this is not a place to come to get away from it all.

St Vincent and the Grenadines

St Vincent is green and fertile and very pretty, with its fishing villages, coconut groves, banana plantations and volcanic interior. However, it is widely known for the superb sailing conditions provided by its 32 sister islands and cays and most visitors spend some time on a yacht, even if only for a day. The Grenadines have a certain exclusivity, some of them are privately owned and Mustique is known for its villas owned by the rich, royal and famous.

Trinidad and Tobago

Trinidad has a rich culture, largely a mixture of the traditions of African slaves and Indian indentured labourers, brought together so spectacularly in the world's best carnival. Tobago is a laid back island where visitors appreciate the clear, calm sea, the sandy beaches, the diving and snorkelling and the small, friendly hotels and guest houses. The two islands together are home to more species of birds than any other island in the Caribbean and birdwatchers have long been attracted to the forests and swamps.

Turks and Caicos

These flat, coral islands have miles of sandy beaches and are a water playground. Diving and snorkelling are superb among coral gardens, wrecks and walls which drop dramatically to the floor of the ocean. Most hotels are on the island of Providenciales, spread along Grace Bay on the north shore. Grand Turk is the seat of government but is a quiet, unhurried place with a few small hotels and a new cruise ship dock. Other inhabited islands, North Caicos, Middle Caicos, South Caicos and Salt Cay have tiny populations - good places to escape the crowds.

US Virgin Islands

The three US Virgin Islands are very American. St Thomas attracts cruise ships and when several are in port the streets of town are heavily congested with shoppers. St John is dominated by the Virgin Islands National Park, which has been in existence since 1956 and has some excellent trails for walkers. St Croix is the poorest of the three but has a great deal to offer in the way of tourist attractions. All three have good hotels and are popular with sailors.

 

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