Why a Caribbean vacation can be about more than just beaches
By Lebawit Lily Girma, Feb 2020
With its turquoise seas and golden beaches stretching as far as the eye can see, it's easy to understand why millions of visitors take a Caribbean vacation every year.
But the region offers a treasure trove of experiences beyond sand and year-round tropical weather. Hiking, swimming in waterfalls, sampling roadside foods and dancing at vibrant festivals are just some of the activities you can take part in.
Here are some can't-miss experiences you should add to your itinerary.
Explore the streets of Santo Domingo, capital of the Dominican Republic and the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the Americas.
The Caribbean is steeped in history. It includes a rich indigenous past, as the islands were first occupied by indigenous peoples. Centuries of European colonialism followed, bringing waves of immigrants who shaped the region to be as diverse as it is today.
The indigenous peoples left significant traces that you can explore by hiking into the caves that bear their petroglyphs. Pirates also roamed the Caribbean and left their shipwrecked boats (and treasures) in the waters. You can snorkel or dive these boat reefs in Curacao, the Dominican Republic and Barbados, among other islands to discover what history left behind.
History museums and former sugar plantations and mills offer a glimpse into the Caribbean's rich past. Spend time in the cities, too, as several of these former colonial hubs have preserved their architecture. A handful are UNESCO World Heritage sites, including Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; Bridgetown, Barbados; and Willemstad, Curacao.
Try mangu, a traditional green plantain mash in the Dominican Republic.
Food is one of the most fun ways to explore the Caribbean's rich heritage. Dishes are influenced by each island's diverse population, as well as easy access to the sea and an abundance of tropical fruits. Feast on jerk lobster or curry goat in Jamaica. Sample mangu, a green plantain mash, in the Dominican Republic. Throw back a ti' punch cocktail in Guadeloupe. Go on a rum-tasting adventure while touring distilleries and sampling cacao in Grenada or the Dominican Republic. Tour coffee plantations in Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican or Jamaica. You won't run out of food experiences on your Caribbean vacation.
Visit Crayfish Waterfall, one of the many natural wonders of Guadeloupe National Park.
The Caribbean's landscape is as diverse and varied as the region's people. Whether you prefer to experience breathtaking scenery from the hammock of your jungle lodge or you're an avid hiker or animal and plant lover, you'll find your fix here. In the Dominican Republic, hiking trails lead to peaks rising 4,000 feet. The highest in the country, and the Caribbean, is Pico Duarte, which stands at 10,125 feet. In Barbados, a bike ride along the coastline makes for a relaxing experience.
In Saint Lucia, hike your way through a rainforest to reach Seven Sister Falls, a series of emerald pools and cascades. Guadeloupe, Martinique and Dominica boast lush interiors and protected national parks. At any of these destinations, birders, avid hikers or walkers will find trails to fit their needs.
If you love the water, you'll find many ways to explore the beautiful Caribbean Sea underwater or over it. Snorkeling, diving, surfing, kitesurfing and paddleboarding are incredibly popular. Hop on a boat tour to explore the Caribbean's extensive mangrove ecosystems or to glimpse rare bioluminescent lagoons in Jamaica and Puerto Rico. The outdoors is what the Caribbean is all about.
Music and celebrations are central to Caribbean culture. Wherever you choose to visit, you'll find carnival parades (celebratory months vary by destination) and junkanoo festivals (street parades). Weekly fish fry nights are also a highlight in Grenada, Barbados and Saint Lucia; go for the fresh seafood and stay for the late-night outdoor parties. Enjoy the sounds and dances unique to each island, such as merengue and bachata in the Dominican Republic, soca in Trinidad, reggae in Jamaica and zouk in Guadeloupe and Martinique, among many others. If your trip here doesn't feature live music and dancing, you're due for another Caribbean vacation.
Last, but not least: the beaches
We would be remiss to exclude the stunning beaches, which draw millions to the Caribbean every year. There's a beach to suit every traveler: family-friendly options, secluded pink stretches for romantic getaways, wild black-sand beaches for adventure.
With history, food, inland exploration and, yes, beaches at your disposal, you're guaranteed an unforgettable vacation in a region where no two trips are ever the same.
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