On land and beneath the waves, the region’s idyllic allure is enhanced by its sightseeing repertoire. Matthew Hampton shares the highlights
We’ve come a long way from climbing Dunn’s River Falls. The legendary Jamaican waterfall has seen more than a million visitors scale its slippery stone steps, holding hands in human chains and having plenty of fun along the way. But fighting through crowds and vendors is now tougher than climbing the falls themselves, so to appreciate the Caribbean’s true natural beauty, try a few of these new and old classics.
Light up kayaking, Anguilla
See water sports in a new light in Anguilla – quite literally. Liquid Glow is a night-time kayaking trip through the clear waters of Little Bay in an illuminated boat. The clear plastic kayaks are equipped with LEDs, which create an extraordinary rainbow effect in the water. There are day tours, too, but night-time is more spectacular. From £26; anguillakayak.com
Mystic Mountain Adventure, Jamaica
The rainforest above Ocho Rios is the setting for a network of zip-lines, chairlifts and a rollercoaster ride inspired by the Cool Runnings bobsled team. The coaster is powered by gravity alone, and riders control the speed with the brake (top tip – just leave it off for a more thrilling ride!). The complex has proven so popular that versions have opened in St Maarten, Costa Rica,
St Lucia and Panama. From £86; rainforestadventure.com
Sculpture snorkelling, Grenada
Goggle at incredible underwater sculptures in Grenada’s Molinère-Beauséjour marine park. British sculptor Jason de Caires Taylor created the installation in 2006 to great acclaim. The Calabash Boutique Hotel at L’Anse Aux Epines Beach has a new snorkelling or diving tour to see the concrete figures. Enjoy a four-night package from £615pp; calabashhotel.com/offers
Climbing Gros Piton, St Lucia
The larger of St Lucia’s iconic Piton mountains is actually easier to climb – and the only one you are allowed to without a specific permit and guide. It’s a rewarding hike through lush rainforest that anyone of reasonable fitness can manage given a bit of time. Climbers do not legally have to take a guide on Gros Piton, but you do need to pay the national park fee of around £10. grospiton.com
The Great Blue Hole, Belize
A genuine adventure for experienced divers, the Great Blue Hole is a 300m-wide sinkhole best reached with a charter from Belize City. Made famous by French ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau in the 1970s, it is effectively a 125m-deep vertical cave that attracts reef sharks and even a hammerhead or two, but mostly divers wishing to tick it off their bucket list. You will need to have logged at least 24 dives to get deep and see the stalagmites, but it is a real achievement when you do. Find a reputable dive master at scubaschoolbelize.com, and expect to pay from £300 with equipment rental.
Five of the best beaches
Anse de Pitons, St Lucia
Location is everything and Anse de Pitons occupies perhaps the best spot in St Lucia. Directly in front of the luxurious Sugar Beach Resort in the shadow of the Piton Mountains, the stunning beach shelves gently for a few metres, then dives dramatically into a wall of coral. All beaches in St Lucia are public, so you don’t need to be a guest at Sugar Beach to enjoy it. It helps if you are, though…
Crane Beach, Barbados
Directly below the Crane Resort in St Philip, Crane Beach is the classic Caribbean experience – a white strip of sand looking east to the wild Atlantic. Enjoy the view from L’Azure, the Crane’s lunch spot, then bag your place in the sun. Again, all beaches are public so you don’t need to pay.
James Bond Beach, Jamaica
So-called because of Bond creator Ian Fleming’s link with Jamaica (his villa, GoldenEye, is just next door and the beach appeared in the first film, Dr. No). There’s a £2 entry charge, but for that you get changing rooms and a chilled atmosphere without a crowd. And what price for a slice of pop culture heritage?
Carlisle Bay, Antigua
For real exclusivity, stay at Carlisle Bay in Antigua, which has a private beach adjacent to the hotel’s secluded Bay Suites. Owing to the hotel’s location on the peninsula, it is the only place to stay on this particular stretch of sand, making it one of the quietest in the Caribbean and a popular choice for honeymooners. B&B is from £660 per night for a Bay Suite. carlisle-bay.com
Pink Sands, Harbour Island, Bahamas
Is it really pink? Incredibly, yes – that hue is not just an Instagram filter. The Bahamas have about the prettiest beaches anywhere thanks to the high deposits of broken coral and shells in the sand. Depending on what time you catch it, the colour can change, turning almost salmon at sunset. It is soft, too, and shelves gently into the Atlantic.