Which Caribbean island is right for you?

The Caribbean has long been the go-to destination with those seeking sun, sea and gorgeously white sand. However, knowing where to start, especially if you haven't been before, can be a little daunting.

Which Caribbean island is right for you? © zapmole756 - Flickr Creative Commons
Which Caribbean island is right for you? © zapmole756 - Flickr Creative Commons

To help you on your way, we've created this handy guide to the region's top islands, some packed with luxury and endless facilities, others, more laidback with local, rustic charm and lashings of rum.

Antigua & Barbuda

  • Main attractions: Devil's Bridge, Nelson's Dockyard
  • Who goes: sailors, families, kite-surfers
  • Best for: naval history, snorkelling, diving, great weather year-round

Known for its famous regattas, which take place from December to April, Antigua is a haven for those who love to sail. Situated in the Leeward Islands, Antigua is more than a famous yachting port with 365 beaches, one for each day of the year. Half Moon Bay is considered to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

Ffryes Beach, Antigua © zapmole756 - Flickr Creative Commons
Ffryes Beach, Antigua © zapmole756 - Flickr Creative Commons

Head to Shirley Heights as the sun begins to set on a Sunday for steel pan music and live reggae, and the best view of English Harbour and Nelson's Dockyard, the world's only working Georgian dockyard. Then there's its sibling, Barbuda, with its 17-mile pink sand beach and the largest frigatebird sanctuary in the world.

Read more: 7 reasons to visit Antigua

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Aruba

  • Main attractions: tram, ostrich farm, donkey sanctuary
  • Who goes:18 to 30s, foodies
  • Best for: holiday facilities, hot, dry weather, partying

Located just north of Venezuela, this half Dutch, half Spanish island is the most popular of the Lesser Antilles. There is as little or as much to do as you want here, and although it is slightly Americanised, Aruba* is so geared towards tourism that you can do practically anything here from catamaran snorkelling trips over shipwrecks to exploring the volcanic and coral landscape on a yellow jeep safari.

Out riding in Aruba © David Schroeder - Flickr Creative Commons
Out riding in Aruba © David Schroeder - Flickr Creative Commons

You'll find all the large resorts along the stretch of sand at Eagle Beach, which has a promenade perfect for strolling at night. Wildlife lovers should make for the ostrich farm or the donkey sanctuary where you can hand feed the rescued animals. Aruba has an instant holiday vibe and one of the most popular in the Caribbean.

Read more: Aruba: the Caribbean island you need to visit

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Barbados

  • Main attractions: Harrison's Cave, Morgan Lewis Mill, St Nicholas Abbey
  • Who goes: families, couples, cyclists
  • Best for: luxury, history, rum lovers

Barbados* is one of the flatter Caribbean islands, making it ideal for those who love exploring on a mountain bike whether cross-country through the island's parishes or along the rugged coastline of Bathsheba with giant boulders and dramatic cliffs.

Blue skies over Barbados © Andrea - Flickr Creative Commons
Blue skies over Barbados © Andrea - Flickr Creative Commons

Although you can find rum across most of the Caribbean islands, Barbados produces the oldest rum in the world - Mount Gay - where you can witness this secret (or not so secret) rum- making process for yourself.

One of the highlights is its intricate cave system and taking the tram ride through Harrison's Cave should be on the top of your itinerary.

A visit here is not complete without a trip to the Concorde Museum, an interactive experience of one of the world's greatest flying machines, and being so close to the airport makes it perfect for the hour visit before flying back on a more conventional aircraft.

Read more: 10 unmissable things to do in Barbados & 8 reasons to break away from the beach

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Cuba

  • Main attractions: Old Havana, Trinidad, tobacco fields
  • Who goes: solo travellers, music lovers, literary fans
  • Best for: live music, beaches, culture

Cuban cigars, cobbled streets, and colourful buildings - you can't get much more cultural than Cuba*, the largest island in the Caribbean. Meander around timeless architecture in Old Havana and learn about this country's past at the Museum of the Revolution (although largely explained in Spanish, there's still plenty to see).

Live music on the beach in Cuba © vxla - Flickr Creative Commons
Live music on the beach in Cuba © vxla - Flickr Creative Commons

If you love music, you'll be in heaven in Cuba, as this island has more live music venues than you could possibly see in one visit, including the world-famous Buena Vista Social Club.

Cuba is the hub of salsa beats and you'll find Cuban salsa pulsating from nearly every corner whether you choose to stay in colourful, colonial Trinidad, or just enjoy a classic mojito from one of the many roof terraces overlooking a plaza in Havana.

Holguin has the type of beaches that you expect to find in glossy magazines with clear blue hues and soft white sand, ideal for those who want to soak up the sun the all-inclusive way.

For those who love culture, staying at a casa particular (private B&B) is the best way to meet the locals and experience this unique island at its very best.

Read more: The ultimate guide to Cuba's cayos & Get to know Varadero

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Dominican Republic

  • Main attractions: Santo Domingo, beaches, famous cathedral
  • Who goes: beach lovers, couples
  • Best for: beaches, music, old colonial capital

Known for its long stretch of sandy beach at Punta Cana, this island is more than just all-inclusive resorts.

The capital, Santo Domingo, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to the oldest cathedral in the Americas, while the city perfectly blends colonial architecture and old fortresses with a sexy latin nightlife. The birthplace of merengue and bachata, you'll find the locals dancing in the bars in this cultural capital.

Catalina Island, La Romana, Dominican Republic © Jenni Konrad - Flickr Creative Commons
Catalina Island, La Romana, Dominican Republic © Jenni Konrad - Flickr Creative Commons

Take a morning cable car ride to Mount Isabel de Torres for the view of the city of Puerto Plata, a once-important harbour in the Caribbean with a forest backdrop and distant coastline.

Of course, if you want to spend your holiday barefoot with the sand between your toes, Punta Cana and La Romana are the stuff of Caribbean-beach dreams.

Read more: Top 8 beaches in the Dominican Republic

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Grenada

  • Main attractions: chocolate factory, rum distillery, Gouyave Nutmeg Processing Station
  • Who goes: culture vultures, naturists, divers
  • Best for: snorkelling, diving, sightseeing, bird watching

Welcome to the Spice Isle, a stunning Caribbean island which is not as well known as its neighbours. No matter where you go here you're surrounded by green forest and mountainous charm. Part of a group of three islands, Grenada has waterfalls, plantation houses, chocolate, rum and all the spices you can imagine from nutmeg to cinnamon.

The small town of St George's, capital of Grenada © Cowbell Solo - Flickr Creative Commons
The small town of St George's, capital of Grenada © Cowbell Solo - Flickr Creative Commons

St George's is the capital and is a quaint and colourful town with a mix of French and British architecture. The island's highlight, however, has got to be River Antoine Rum Distillery, the oldest one which has been producing rum the same way since 1785 with water power.

Sheltered stretches such as Flamingo Bay and Dragon Bay are ideal for snorkelling and with the recent addition of the Underwater Sculpture Park in Molinere Bay, Grenada has even more to see beneath the surface.

Read more: 9 reasons Grenada is the Caribbean island for you & Getting to grips with the Spice Isle's big three

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Jamaica

  • Main attractions: Dunn's River Falls, Montego Bay, Negril Beach
  • Who goes: golfers, beach lovers, 18 to 30s, honeymooners
  • Best for: beaches, historic plantations, reggae music

Most holidaymakers visit Jamaica* and never leave their resorts. Montego Bay is the most popular destination with several beaches that attract a younger crowd but venture outside of the beach for plantation houses and Georgian towns.

Jamaica also has 12 world class golf courses to choose from, many offering views of the Caribbean sea as you tee off. Known for its reggae, a visit to the Bob Marley Museum at the legend's former home is a must for music lovers.

Bamboo rafting on the Martha Brae River © Stéphane Damour - Flickr Creative Commons
Bamboo rafting on the Martha Brae River © Stéphane Damour - Flickr Creative Commons

Take a candlelit ghost tour around Rose Hall, a restored plantation house for spooky tales after dark, or sail along Martha Brae River on a bamboo raft whilst learning about the Legend of Martha Brae, an old Arawak witch who changed the course of the river forever.

Read more: Things to do when you visit Montego Bay, Jamaica's best beaches & Jamaica's top festivals

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Puerto Rico

  • Main attractions: Old San Juan, El Yunque rainforest, Bacardi Rum Factory
  • Who goes: adventurers, party-goers, adrenalin junkies
  • Best for: island hopping, eating out, rainforest treks, zip lines

Although technically US territory, Puerto Rico maintains its Latin charm, and you'll hear a mix of Spanish and English spoken on the island. Here you'll find some of the best Latin music - Ricky Martin was born here - a night out in one of the salsa bars in old San Juan should be high on your list as well as one of the island's zipline tours across Puerto Rica's rainforest.

On the El Yunque rainforest trail, Puerto Rico © Diego Cupolo- Flickr Creative Commons
On the El Yunque rainforest trail, Puerto Rico © Diego Cupolo- Flickr Creative Commons

Hop over to one of Puerto Rico's islands by ferry or on a 10-minute flight in an eight-seater plane. Soak up the rays at Flamenco Beach, one of the most photographed beaches in the world, or experience the magic of the bioluminescent bay in Vieques on a night kayak trip. The cuisine has Spanish, African and other influences, ensuring Puerto Rico has some of the tastiest food in the Caribbean.

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St Lucia

  • Main attractions: Marigot Bay, The Pitons, Soufriere volcano
  • Who goes: couples, hikers, mountaineers
  • Best for: wellness, hiking, eco-tourism

St Lucia* attracts those seeking a relaxing holiday, and is known as a wellness island thanks to the famous BodyHoliday resort. This island, with its mountainous terrain, is ideal for those looking to smother themselves in volcanic mud and bathe in a mineral waterfall. If you prefer to stay dry, you can walk around Sulfur Springs Park instead and experience the most active geothermal area in the region.

Marigot Bay, St Lucia © Peter Snelling - Flickr Creative Commons
Marigot Bay, St Lucia © Peter Snelling - Flickr Creative Commons

Linked by the Piton Mitan ridge are two volcanic mountains named The Pitons, which attract hikers and mountain climbers, and aren't for the faint-hearted.

One of the most relaxing spots on the island is Marigot Bay with green, calming waters, which was the film location of the musical Dr Dolittle, and still has an aptly named bar within the marina.

Read more: How to indulge your inner chocoholic, Top outdoor activities in St Lucia & Things to do in St Lucia

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Trinidad & Tobago

  • Main attractions: Knolly's Tunnel, Maracas Beach, Rainbow Falls
  • Who goes: divers, families, foodies, hikers
  • Best for: carnival, Tobago beaches, eco-adventure, diving

One of the most cosmopolitan groups of islands in the Caribbean, its diversity is evident in the country's cuisine. Whether you prefer African, Indian or traditional Creole dishes, you'll find a wide choice of scrumptious food to enjoy. Tobago is the more relaxing of the islands with a slower vibe and rainforest beaches to lime the day away.

Maracas Beach, Trinidad © side78 - Flickr Creative Commons
Maracas Beach, Trinidad © side78 - Flickr Creative Commons

Those who love exploring have a wide choice of eco-adventures with waterfalls and rainforest as well as over 40 dive sites along its coastline. One of the best ways to see this coastline is to take a boat ride around the islands off Trinidad.

A popular spot is Gasparee Island, aka Gaspar Grande, with its dramatic limestone caves, rock formations, and beautiful houses. Tours tend to culminate with a stop at Scotland Bay where you'll find the locals partying the weekend away. With two islands for the price of one, you're spoilt for things to do here.

Read more: 8 activities in Tobago you simply have to try & Mini guide to Tobago

Itching to try one - or maybe all - of these islands for yourself? Check out the latest offers on holidays to the Caribbean with TUI and book your exotic escape today.

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More about the Caribbean

  • Top deals & discounts
  • Caribbean weather overview
  • Caribbean climate averages by month
  • More destinations
  • Best time to go to Caribbean
  • Caribbean 5-day weather forecast

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Lisa Eldridge

Lisa Eldridge
Article updated on Monday 1st January 2018 in: Adventure Beach Caribbean Culture Weddings & Honeymoons

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