With a colourful, quirky mix of styles and atmospheres, the Caribbean is perfect for island hopping.
If ever there was a destination that was made for island-hopping, it’s the Caribbean. With thousands of islands, Latin American countries and a quartet of distinct cultures, this corner of the globe is ripe for exploration. The rich mix of cultures, history and nationalities that make up the Caribbean region has given this archipelago a unique flavour that goes beyond the usual tourist trappings.
Jump between these tropical outposts and you can combine a Spanish Latin vibe and English traditions or Dutch customs with Gallic chic. These can be mixed with the flavour of Central and South America where countries such as Belize, Guyana and Venezuela have their own very distinct characters along with their Caribbean coastlines. Each place has its own special appeal, and the big advantage is that they are easy to get to with an extensive network of local flights, cruises, ferries and yachts.
Having so many countries to choose from makes for a rich contrast. Mix the lush, mountain scenery of St. Kitts with the dazzling sands of Anguilla; the exclusive sophistication of Barbados with the rustic simplicity of the Grenadines; the sandy beaches of Antigua with the volcanic natural wonders of Dominica; or the lively casino scene of Dutch St. Maarten with the virtually untouched islands of St. Eustatius.
Check out the direct services from the UK and Europe, and then once you arrive, it is easy to link into the comprehensive network of flights that regularly ply the skies across the Caribbean. But some options are more logical than others. For instance from Trinidad in the southern Caribbean, which is served by direct flights from the UK, there is a better choice of flights to South American countries as they are relatively close. This makes it easier to team up stays on the island, or its sister Tobago, with countries such as Venezuela or Guyana. Barbados and Antigua are good hubs for exploring islands in the Eastern Caribbean, while Jamaica lends itself to the north, and Belize can be reached from islands such as Curaçao.
Island-hoppers planning to visit only two or three destinations are best concentrating on island groups that are close together or those that have regular direct flights and ferries. The Bahamas is ideal island-hopping territory, and the best choice of flights to the Out Islands is offered from the capital Nassau, which is also served by direct UK services. That makes it easy to live it up amid the bright lights of Nassau for a few days before retreating to the sleepy embrace of Exuma or Eleuthera in the Out Islands. And you don’t have to take to the skies as the islands have a great network of ferries from Nassau that serve many points.
Keep It Real
Ferries can be a fabulous way to travel between the islands, offering a far more scenic and local experience than flying. But as the Caribbean covers such a vast area, with long distances between some islands, ferries only operate on certain routes.
Concentrate in areas where islands are clustered close together such as The Bahamas – where, for a more intrepid experience, you can hop aboard one of its mail boat services from Nassau to the Out Islands.
The British Virgin Islands has a good network of ferries and water taxis, which makes it easy to combine stays on the main islands of Tortola or Virgin Gorda with smaller isles such as Jost Van Dyke or Anegada. You could even hop over to the US Virgin Islands of St. John, St. Croix or St. Thomas next door, either for the day or a longer stay. For the best way to explore these islands, combine a hotel stay with a few days on a yacht to float around in sybaritic leisure. The same can be said for the Grenadines, where explorers can spend a few days on St. Vincent at the northern end of the chain before heading southwards by plane, ferry or yacht to smaller Grenadine islands, such as Bequia, Mustique, Mayreau, Canouan or Union Island.
Travellers to Antigua can jump on the ferry to visit its smaller, quieter sister island Barbuda, either for the day or longer. There are also flights and ferries from Antigua to the Irish-influenced outpost of Montserrat, more famous now for its active volcano.
St. Kitts and its quieter sister Nevis make another good combination, with ferry services between them, as do Trinidad and Tobago. These two islands may only be a 20-minute flight apart, or two-and-a-half hours by ferry, but they are like chalk and cheese with Trinidad a commercialised and well-developed hub, and Tobago an unspoilt gem, famous for both its beauty and its relaxed pace of life.
Travellers who prefer to stay put can take advantage of the many day trips, from Anguilla to St. Maarten for shopping; from the British Virgin Islands to St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands for boutique browsing; or from St. Vincent to Mustique to see where the Royals play. From Saint-Martin/St.Maarten visitors can connect by plane or boat to St. Eustatius.
From Grenada, hop to its quieter sister islands Carriacou or Petite Martinique or from Saint Lucia take the regular Express des Illes ferry which connects to Martinique and Dominica or vice-versa.
Probably the easiest and ultimate way to explore a whole clutch of islands in one go is by boat, whether aboard a yacht or a cruise ship.