At first mention of the words "Caribbean Islands," the mind's eye conjures up delicious visions of white sand beaches, verdant palm fronds in the breeze, and tanned, supine bodies nursing cold drinks in the shade. At one time or another, various Dutch, French, Spanish, and British settlers have all staked a claim in the Caribbean, and even the U.S. has its share of real estate in the form of the US Virgin Islands. It's a playground for the affluent and not-so-well-off, since island getaways cater to all demographics. Young and old, rich and poor all find a way to escape the mundane among the hundreds of destinations in the Caribbean Sea.
Caribbean Island Getaway
Whether visitors arrive by cruise ship, air, or private yacht, few island destinations can compare to heavily-in-demand St. Martin. Unusual because of its split allegiances with France and the Netherlands, Saint Martin/Sint Maarten offers travelers two fantastic destinations in one.
You don't need to be an Anglophile to appreciate the wealth of tropical island paradises held by the British Crown. In the British Virgin Islands, tourists typically choose from Jost Van Dyke, Anegada, Virgin Gorda - home of the famed ‘baths' created by giant boulders which act as breakwaters, Mosquito Island, and the most visited of them all, Tortola Island. Another, Peter Island, consists entirely of one large and luxe private resort owned by the Amway Corporation.
That same British flavor extends to the very popular Cayman Islands, another British Crown Colony on a small chain of limestone outcroppings south of Cuba. The islands are actually the tops of the highest peaks of an underwater mountain range called the Cayman Ridge, most of which is still submerged beneath the surface. Owing to their porous limestone composition, the three islands of Grand Cayman, Little Cayman, and Cayman Brac lack rivers or streams and have essentially zero runoff. This keeps the waters around the Caymans remarkable clean and clear and makes the islands one of the finest places to snorkel or scuba dive anywhere in the world.
Nearby Jamaica, just to the south of the Caymans, was once a British colony but is now independent and has become a world-class destination in its own right. Few can travel to Jamaica and not become totally immersed in the local culture, marked by its friendly people, distinctive cuisine, and lively reggae music.
Some of the closest tropical vacations to the U.S. mainland can be found in the Bahamas and Bermuda. However, despite the hospitable climate, they are not quite in the Caribbean at all and have a heavy British flavor, especially in the larger cities such as Hamilton and Nassau. Conversely, it's strictly the history of Spanish conquest that lends Puerto Rico its identity. Legendary resorts, cuisine, music, and international surfing competitions bring in capacity crowds each year, and as a U.S. territory, travel to Puerto Rico for most Americans could not be easier. One main attraction, the preserved Spanish colonial-era Old Town sector of San Juan, is a photographer's dream.
Just to the west of Puerto Rico lies the Dominican Republic. "DR" is often overlooked as a vacation spot because it shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and a symbol of political unrest. But the Dominican Republic might as well be a world away from its afflicted neighbor, and is in many ways very similar to Puerto Rico - except much less expensive. DR is an up-and-coming Caribbean destination that budget-conscious travelers-in-the-know are just beginning to discover.
These destinations only offer a tiny sampling of what the Caribbean has to offer, as countless islands of all sizes can't help but tempt the traveler looking for that perfect escape. Whether you are seeking a Romantic Getaway to your own perfect island or simply looking to take a Walking Tour through a historic colonial city or along a deserted beach, there is something in the Caribbean for everyone.
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