In September of 2017, Puerto Rico was decimated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, but la isla del encanto is coming back brighter and more bountiful than ever. This amazing island has something for everyone. You can get big city nightlife and clubbing in San Juan, get back to nature in the mountains, on the beaches and in El Yunque rainforest or just tour the island and envelop yourself in the rich culture and history. The least expensive time to visit is in May-July, which is the low season for off-island visitors.
When you think of Cuba, you probably think of rum and cigars and vintage cars, but you should also be thinking of a Caribbean paradise. Parts of Cuba were ravaged by Hurricane Irma, but just as with the other islands in the path of hurricanes in 2017, Cuba is cleaning up and rebuilding and becoming better than ever. Lodging can be hard to book, so you may want to work with a travel professional. When the Obama Administration lifted the travel ban, many Cuban residents started adding on to their residences to provide rooms, so check into vacation rental by owner websites or Airbnb.
If you love teal waters and soft warm sand in an all-inclusive setting, head to the Dominican Republic. DR shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, both of which received extensive damage during the 2017 hurricane season, but fortunately for its tourism industry, most of the resorts and tourist spots were not heavily affected. Tourists should probably stick to their resorts, which have plenty to do to keep guests busy. There is parasailing, snorkeling, ATVs and party boat tours, or just soak up the sun of the Western Antilles.
Known as “Wadadli” by the natives, this tiny island of only 281 square kilometers is one of the Leeward Islands in the West Indies. Tour the island to learn the fascinating and sometimes heartbreaking history of Antigua. As with many of the Caribbean islands, Antigua was first visited by Christopher Columbus in 1493. Also as with many of the islands in this region, the main industry is tourism. There are many all-inclusive resorts that offer excursions such as catamaran trips around the island, snorkeling and scuba diving and jet-skiing. If you are brave enough to drive the roads here, you can rent a car to see more of the culture. If not, rent a cab and do the same. A great off-resort excursion is Stingray City, where you can swim with and feed the stingrays.
Martinique is an island of France in the eastern Caribbean Sea that hosts a unique blend of French and West Indian culture. This tropical oasis is great for sailing, hiking and climbing the non-active volcano named Mount Pelée. Check out Martinique as a possible site for a destination wedding or a romantic place to honeymoon. Many of the beaches are “naturist,” so you can feel comfortable going topless. The language of Martinique is, of course, French, but if you are not a fluent speaker don’t let that keep you from this gorgeous island. Many of the natives speak Creole, which can be even harder to understand at times, but they are always willing to help a visitor.
If you want to steer clear of the crowds of the winter months and the heat and rain of the summer months, the best time to visit Grenada is in the late fall, October-December. Grenada is one of the most economical places to visit, if you do your research and plan well. Stay close to or on Grand Anse Beach to keep you within walking distance of the water and your cab fare budget low. Stick to the local food joints for not only incredible cuisine, but at much better prices. You can also check out the Laura Herb and Spice Garden, snorkel through the underwater sculptures and spend a day at Seven Sisters Falls.
Aruba is the “A” in the ABC Islands, and is a Dutch Caribbean island off the coast of Venezuela. Aruba is abundant with powdery sand beaches, calm warm waters, vibrant flora and exotic fauna. There are wild donkeys and goats roaming the island, and if you want to be sure to see the flamingos of Aruba, book a night or two or your entire stay at Renaissance Aruba Resort on the private island of Renaissance. The only problem with Aruba is that it is so beautiful, you will want to go back time after time and may miss other spectacular locations around the world.
The “B” in the ABC Islands is Bonaire. Bonaire is a municipality of the Netherlands in the southern Caribbean. It is an excellent spot for diving and birdwatching. You will love the beautiful colors not just of nature, but of the buildings and art of the island. Check out their biking, caving and hiking adventures, and set up a tee time for a round of golf. Experience the fine dining and relaxed atmosphere of Bonaire where you are “Once a visitor, always a friend.”
And finally the “C” in the ABC Islands of the southern Caribbean, Curacao. Once again you are greeted with rainbows of color and many friendly faces. Curacao is known for its coral reefs and beautiful beaches like Cas Abou. You will be amazed by the crystal clear water and will not want to leave.
The mainland of Puerto Rico is amazing in itself, but for an even more intimate Caribbean experience, check out the island of Vieques off the east coast of Puerto Rico. Follow the wild horses around trails that lead to secret beaches, or check out some of the more popular ones such as Navio or Playa Negra with its black sand. Vieques is also home to one of the brightest bioluminescent bays in the world at Mosquito Bay. Snorkel at Isla Chiva off Blue Beach or take a horseback ride through the trails. Dine at one of the many fine restaurants and then go out stargazing. This is a perfect place for romance.
Culebra is home to some of the world’s best beaches. North of Vieques, both of these islands were once used by the US military, and some remnants of this occupation can still be seen today. Flamenco Beach is probably one of the most beautiful beaches you’ll ever see and is one of the most popular. Culebra is for the traveler who wants to lie back and chill. There are no big resorts, not a lot of people, so it is great for peace and quiet and to recharge your spirit. Breathe in the cool sea breezes while you do yoga or get a massage, float on the water and let your troubles wash away in the tide.