The question is: which of the thousands of Caribbean islands to visit? We’ve narrowed down the region’s best, and all come complete with year-round sunshine…
1. British Virgin Islands
Of these 40 islands, some are mere rocks jutting out of the ocean, the rest offer countless mini bays and hidden coves to discover. Legend has it that pirates would shelter and count their loot here. Deadman’s Bay, on sleepy Peter Island, was where Blackbeard supposedly marooned 15 pirates with a bottle of rum. Today there’s still a bar where visitors can get their pirate on. On the same island, it’s possible to book an entire beach in the area, including the Honeymoon Beach for two and White Bay Beach for a view of Norman Island – believed to be the setting that inspired Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.
This collection of seven islands is linked together by bridges. In total, it’s only two miles wide and 22 miles long, meaning the best way to explore the landscape is on foot. The pretty pastel painted town of St George is well worth a look, as is Elbow Beach – known for its novel mile-long stretch of pink sand – a great spot for a picnic or a snorkelling session.
Cricket greens, lighthouses and Anglican churches coexist with monkeys and reptiles on this illustrious island. Here there’s something for sun-worshippers, culture fiends and foodies alike. There’s decent surf at the southern beaches, 17th-century Jacobean mansions toward the centre of the island and gourmet grub on the glam west coast. Alternatively, Harrison’s Cave is a particularly good bet, with its spiky stalactites and an incredible 100-foot high cavern.
Sassy, reggae-infused Jamaica doesn’t exactly fit the mellow tone of its surrounding islands. Yes, it has butterscotch beaches, limestone caves and underwater gardens, but it also has shantytowns and a gritty cultural confidence that hits you head-on. Music runs through the veins of its residents, and during carnival season it’s a wild place to visit, with an atmosphere fuelled by riotous dancing, infectious soca beats and kaleidoscopic floats. Any time of year, however, it would be sacrilege not to visit the Bob Marley Museum while in town, then get yourself out to Black River and meet some locals with even more bite – the crocodiles.
This stunning island has become a celebrity magnet: Richard Branson, Eric Clapton and Giorgio Armani have all bought homes here. The vast national park, emerald green waters and fierce winds have made it a key adventure destination in the region. Kitesurfers and sailors flock to this spot, and in their downtime they go 4×4 off-roading through a tea plantation, kayaking with hawksbill turtles or on helicopter rides over the island.
There’s a distinct undeveloped charm to this rugged volcanic island west of Barbados, meaning it’s ideal for a breather from the commercial parts of the Caribbean. The Marriqua Valley is a good place to escape the tourists, with its dense forests, quaint rural farms and winding rivers. This is also where Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was filmed. Walking along these black sandy beaches, you half expect Captain Jack Sparrow to be mincing along, swigging a bottle of rum.
Popular among honeymooners, walkers and scuba divers, St Lucia is recognisable by its twin mountains, the Pitons, and its carpet of rolling green hills. The beaches are wonderful, but a second-class attraction compared to the island’s other arresting features – a drive-in volcano, sulphur springs and botanical gardens with more exotic plants than you can shake an orchid at. Cool off in the nearby 17-metre Diamond Waterfall, where gallons of mineral water plunge into a pool beneath.
The best way to see this lush island in its entirety is to lap the circular coastal road – it takes just two hours to do the circuit. The west island is an adventure junkie’s paradise, where it’s possible to dirt buggy across the rugged terrain and book a hike to the summit of Mount Liamuiga volcano. Meanwhile, on the same side of the island, Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park’s 24 original cannons once defended the island.
9. Cayman Islands
Made up of three separate islands surrounded by azure waters, the Cayman Isles is a hot spot for marine life. Visitors fill their days with rainbow fish, stingrays and dolphin spotting, at some 200 dive spots, and indulging in local shrimp marinated in conch and Cuban-style seasoning. Points of interest include National Trust tours, visits to the mangrove swamp and the Cayman Turtle Farm, where you can gawk at endangered species and exotic butterflies.