Like one-of-a-kind beads threaded on a memory bracelet, each Caribbean Island holds its own charm; waiting for you to discover and create your own travel remembrances.
Through this 4 part series, let us introduce you to 21 islands. If you have not already experienced the Caribbean, these short entries may help you appreciate why so many people head to the islands for warm tropical breezes, hospitable people, stunning scenery, swaying palms, soft sands and warm clear water; where the only good use for a watch is to let one know when happy hour is about to start, where dinners are fresh caught, not frozen, and where learning to do nothing (limin’) is an art form you are never too old to learn.
One great pleasure of the Caribbean is to wake up in the morning, if for no other reason than to shuffle out to the porch, flop into a hammock and drink in the view. You don’t have to but if you want to see other parts of Carriacou low cost buses (minivans) make their way around the island. It’s hard to get lost, however if you succeed there is always a local who will see you get turned in the right direction. Tyrrell Bay (5km from the largest town, Hillsborough) holds a number of yachting regattas during the year. If you are heading to Paradise Beach (half way between Hillsborough and Tyrrell) ask the bus driver know to let you off in front of Hardwood Bar and Snacket; popular with locals and visitors-in-the-know. Eat at the tables or meander down to the beach with views of Sandy Island; a prized snorkeling spot.
Hillsborough is the island’s hub for buses, ferries, banking, police, government offices and major shopping. The harbor is not suitable for cruise ships which leaves the island to those who prefer a less touristy destination.
Grenada offers its visitors a wide variety of sights and activities: lush green tropical forests, waterfalls, lakes, historic sites, sandy beaches, market places and gardens holding the ‘Spice Island’s’ nutmeg, vanilla (in all its forms) and cocoa/ chocolate. Rum distilleries provide tours which take you through sugar production. Those who like a little wildlife in their travels may get to see a Mona monkey. The only other place you will see this breed of monkey in the wild is West Africa. The ones seen on Grenada (a good spot is the Grand Etang National Park) are descended from those transported to the island via slave ships. Getting around Grenada is not difficult; most locals use numbered buses (minivans which hold between 15-19 people) and fares range from EC$2.50-10 depending on distance. Taxies can be flagged down in the usual way. If you would like to tour the island, consider hiring a taxi/bus for a daily quoted price.
Southwesterly Tobago is where you will find beautiful and famous beaches like Pigeon Point, Bucco reef, a protected unspoiled rainforest, plush hotels and lots of tourists. The less populated northeasterly end of the island boasts the island of Little Tobago (a boat can be hired at Speyside) and its protected bird sanctuary, hiking trails and a few small beaches. Go beyond, switchbacking over the island’s spine, and you will find the Tobago people used to talk about a couple of decades ago. Charlotteville is a tiny working fishing village which happens to have some good scuba diving nearby in Pirates Bay. The friendly locals, going about their daily lives, possess a reality not easily found on the southwesterly end. Roads getting there are narrow with lots of sharp turns and driving on the left with a right-hand-wheel car can be unnerving; the bus is a good alternative. If you have time, spend a few days at both ends and experience the diversity Tobago offers.
Arrival in the capital, Willemstad, is much like arriving on the west coast of Europe. The architecture of its Netherland roots is painted in pastel colours with décor touches reflective of Spanish and Portuguese trading routes. Willemstad’s historic area, inner city, deep-sea harbor and narrow channel are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Crossing the channel is the Queen Emma pedestrian bridge which opens for shipping traffic, however, if it is going to stay open long, there is also a ferry. The Museum Kura Hulanda has a small but informative and impactful display of African art and artifacts from the slave trade. Best prices for fresh fish, fruits and vegetables can be found at the Floating Market on a quay one block north of Queen Emma Bridge near the circular Indoor Market. For generations Venezuelans have crossed the forty miles of Caribbean Sea in small wooden boats to sell their welcomed goods in Willemstad. If you want a touch of Europe in your Caribbean travels put Curaçao on your itinerary.
Boasting sunny days year round (56cm annual rainfall), an average temperature of 27.8°C, an average water temperature of 26.7°C and constant trade winds, this 39km long island has become a playground for those who like scuba diving, snorkeling and windsurfing. The reefs around Bonaire are part of the Bonaire National Marine Park to protect the island’s coral reefs, sea grass and mangroves. There is a mandatory permit fee to enter the parks (purchase at any dive shop or hotel reception); check current rates and regulations at http://www.bmp.org. Tropical fish are plentiful and you may possibly see a hawksbill turtle ‘fly’ through the water like a large, graceful, slow-motion bird. It is no wonder those who appreciate the beauty beneath the ocean waves return again and again to Bonaire.
Renowned for its white sand beaches, tropical climate, comforting tradewinds and almost constant temperatures (27⁰C), Aruba has much to offer those who either want an active vacation or prefer to relax and be pampered. On the northwest coast, particularly Palm Beach, a parade of large luxury hotels (most offer public areas for changing) line the soft white sand. Between Palm Beach and Eagle Beach to the south there is a short stretch of rugged but pleasantly walkable coastline, with blowholes to fascinate the child in all of us. This absence of sand gives a hint to what is found on the eastern side of the island. Using the AruBUS system is a pleasant and economical way to get around the island with friendly islanders acting as impromptu tour guides; just be aware all buses stop running at 9pm. Bonus: Although Aruba is not immune to bad weather, it is well outside the Caribbean hurricane belt and rainfall seldom exceeds 20 inches a year. Pack the swimsuits, sunblock and go!