Thinking of giving the turquoise waters a try? The best islands to visit, with the how, where and why.
I’ve been to the Caribbean twice in my life – once to Grenada and once to Saint Lucia, both for travel features (I know, feel my pain). It’s daft that I haven’t returned with my family since then, but I think historically the Caribbean as a holiday destination has had its barriers – either people think it’s horrifically expensive and only for the superposh, or they imagine it’s too far (though Saint Lucia, Antigua and Barbados are only 8 hours away). Yes, the rainy season in June to October produces Biblical downpours but they are only brief buckets before the sun beams down again. Worth remembering that when you’re booking your summer holiday because you can book up a luxury break for a fraction of what it would cost between Nov and April (up to 40% cheaper people!).
So this is a Caribbean special for those who are thinking about giving the turquoise waters a try, offering some real insights into the best places to go, and why. Thank you to Catherine, Caribbean expert at Turquoise Holidays who knows the area so well she walked in to our meeting wearing a rasta hat and smoking a huge reefer (no not really, but that would have been awesome).
Best for spa pamperers: Turks & Caicos
There are no shortage of spa retreats in the Caribbean but if you’re after the most replete luxury experience on offer, either with your girlfriends or as a couple, it can only be Parrot Cay at Turks & Caicos. If budget is an issue, St Lucia’s Viceroy Sugar Beach is a great alternative.
Best for families
Antigua is our best seller for families – it’s a brilliant option with some fantastic hotels that really cater to a mix of ages. At Carlisle Bay the kids club is available from 2 years which is pretty rare, and there are also teen activities in the school holidays and two bedroom suites. One of the selling points for Antigua with families is the flight – it’s direct with a short transfer which is a godsend for smaller kids. Antigua is all about watersports and the beaches – 365 beaches of them, with gorgeous shallow lagoons and those turquoise waters we associate with the Caribbean. Every Sunday in Antigua there’s a massive BBQ at Shirley Heights lookout with steel bands, food and amazing views around the south of the island – it’s been running for 50 years and you really have to experience it.
Best for adventurous travellers: Jamaica
Jamaica is one of the most colourful islands with its immense musical history but suffers from a rougher reputation. It’s true you need to be careful in Kingston, but it’s an absolutely beautiful island and is a natural two-tier holiday – you can spend days walking in the Blue Mountains and rafting on the river, before decamping to the beach. It’s not a polished island, you have to be streetwise, but it’s very real and authentic.
Best for the best overall experience: Grenada
I’d say Grenada without a shadow of a doubt. Grenadians are the friendliest, most lovely people in the Caribbean – they’ll ask you to join in on cricket on the beach, or just start chatting to you. The island offers something for everyone. One of the big bonuses is that many of the hotels are on Grand Anse Beach, walking distance from the capital of St George’s which itself is a really pretty town. If you love snorkelling and diving there’s an underwater sculpture park, a massive sunken structure surrounded by coral to explore. You can go into the interior and visit the spice plantations, or just hang out on the beaches. It’s a really diverse option.
Best for teens: Antigua/British Virgin Islands
Antigua is great for teenagers but also the British Virgin Islands – it’s quieter and more remote on this island, but if your teenager is into watersports and sailing they’ll be in heaven. There’s accommodation at the Bitter End Yacht club which boasts the largest fleet of sailing boats in the Caribbean so the kids can enjoy the freedom of learning to sail, paddleboarding and kayaking, as well as having a full programme of trekking, walking, smores nights on the beach, excursions. One thing about BVI is that there are no chains – McDonald’s has not made it out to this island, so if you want an authentic, laidback Caribbean experience without your teen begging you for a Big Mac, this is your option.
Best for foodies: Barbados
It’s definitely Barbados if you love your food, perhaps the result of it being a more developed island (Concorde used to fly here). Barbados has more than its fair share of celebs, golf and private villas, and the upshot of that is the huge variety of restaurant out here, from silver service to rotis on the beach. The beaches here are white and powdery and it’s very safe to and easy to rent a car so if you’re a keen surfer, head over to the east coast– you hit the Atlantic here and the conditions are the best in the Caribbean for catching waves.
Best for off the beaten trackers: the Grenadines
There are no direct flights to The Grenadines so the package holiday makers often don’t make it here. Less tourists means clean waters and beautiful snorkelling and diving across the sandbanks and reefs. It’s very quiet and peaceful here, one of the islands that is unchanged from years past.
Best for a digital detox: Petit St Vincent
Petit St Vincent is a private island with one hotel. There’s no kids club, no TV, and no Wi-Fi in the rooms, so it’s good for families who want to spend time with their children! There’s a Jacques Cousteau dive centre here, which gives you a hint as to the quality of the diving.
Best for diving and sailing: Turks & Caicos, Antigua and BVI
All the Caribbean tourist boards will put their hands up for this one, but if I had to choose one it would be Turks & Caicos – there’s some of the best diving in the world here. For sailing I’d say Antigua and BVI (pictured above).
Best for honeymooners: St Lucia
If you want to stare at each other lovingly and look out to sea for hours Parrot Cay in Turks & Caicos is perfect, but for a more rounded break I’d suggest Saint Lucia (above) – it’s a very romantic, lush island with dramatic scenery and plenty to do including walks, hiking up Gros Piton, volcanic mud baths, even zip wiring through the rain forest if that takes your fancy. Saint Lucia is also great for diving and snorkelling straight from the beach because of the volcanic drop offs, though the upshot of this is that the beaches are slightly shallower than in other islands with darker sand. Choose the north if you want to get around easily and enjoy the bar and restaurant culture. The West Coast near the Pitons is more secluded.
Best for older couples: St Kitts and Nevis
St Kitts and Nevis has a more traditional feel – the hotels are converted plantation houses, there are more monkeys and donkeys than people! It’s very sedate, especially Nevis but it’s incredibly pretty – Nevis has a very beautiful town centre in Charlestown. There’s not much organised entertainment for the under 35s so you make your own fun!
Best for spa lovers: Turks & Caicos
Best for island hoppers: Antigua with BVI/ St Lucia with Grenadines
Antigua and BVI is a great twin centre option for active families – fly to Antigua first, unwind and get into the time zone, and then head off to BVI for watersports and the outdoor activities. Or try Saint Lucia (diving) with the Grenadines (castaway seclusion). Much of the Pirates of the Caribbean was shot around the Grenadines which gives you a good idea of its beauty.