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The best Caribbean islands – our expert's ultimate guide

Antigua
There are as many beaches in Antigua as there are days in the year, they claim Credit: istock

From the unspoilt Out Islands of the Bahamas, to the bustling salsa bars of Havana, the Caribbean has a destination to delight everyone. Here we highlight the best islands appropriate for every taste, pocket and circumstance. 

Unless otherwise stated, package prices are per person for seven nights in early December (low season), based on two sharing the cheapest accommodation, and including economy flights and transfers. 

Best for families

Antigua

They say: Even when the hotels are full and cruise ships are calling, you can still find stretches of beach where your family can muck around without being overlooked. Ffryes, Darkwood and Johnson’s Point in the south-west, are among the best as they’re easily accessible, the sand is soft and the sea calm.

There’s also an inflatable obstacle at Darkwood, while Antigua Rainforest Zipline Tours are a sure-fire hit with families.

Eli Fuller, owner of Adventure Antigua boat tours 

We say: It’s a good idea to choose an island to which you can fly non-stop from the UK and where transfers are short. Flying time to Antigua is just over eight hours, and from the airport to the furthest hotels take little over half an hour. Antigua’s other family-friendly assets are its beaches – as many as there are days in the year, they claim – and the many activities on offer.

Kayaking through the mangrove inlets in the north is recommended, but your children may be happy to know that Antigua is light on cultural sights. The exception is Nelson’s Dockyard: the Unesco World Heritage Site is an operating Georgian dock.

The slick and stylish Carlisle Bay in Antigua

See for yourself: Upmarket Hodges Bay Resort & Spa opened last year on the north coast. There’s also a new glamping option right on the sands of Valley Church Beach ().

UK tour operator Hike Caribbean () is offering hiking and yoga breaks based at the Sugar Ridge Resort, as well as holidays combining walking on Antigua with other Caribbean islands.

How to get there: Family-friendly hotels include exclusive Jumby Bay (tt-jumbybay) on its own island, slick and stylish Carlisle Bay (tt-carlislebay), and Nonsuch Bay ().

Best for beach bums

Anguilla

They say: Our island has the best beaches in the Caribbean. We’ve got 33, many with startlingly white, coral sand. Even on the busiest day, you’ll find at least three on which you’ll be the only person. Favourites? Maundays Bay and remote Captain’s Bay, a turtle-nesting spot presided over by a villa. 

Laurie Gumbs, owner of Tradition Sailing Charters

We say: We agree with Laurie: this low-lying British Overseas Territory does have the Caribbean’s finest beaches. With no mass-market tourism, the beaches are uncrowded. Most are also easily accessible. The arid island is short on sights – arguably another plus for beach addicts.

See for yourself: Belmond has redesigned glamorous Cap Juluca () is another big draw.

How to get there: You can’t fly direct to Anguilla from the UK (most visitors go via Antigua). Belmond Cap Juluca curls along Maundays Bay beach, with rooms steps from the sand. Book through the Inspiring Travel Company (01244 355527; inspiringtravelcompany.co.uk).

Anguilla Credit: Getty

Best for foodies

Barbados

They say: On Barbados we have a larder of raw ingredients, available year round: cassava and eddoes, yams and sweet potatoes. Most of our fruit – coconuts, avocados, breadfruit, mangoes – is organic. Try our island speciality, flying fish, in a cutter – that’s what we call a sandwich – made with salt bread. A traditional Bajan dish is pudding and souse, pickled pork mixed with steamed sweet potato. Have the traditional lunchtime buffet at Brown Sugar, near the Garrison Savannah, or head to the Animal Flower Cave’s restaurant in the north.

Sally Miller, author of Bajan Cooking in a Nutshell

We say: Barbados can make a good claim to being the Caribbean’s culinary hotspot, though with prices sky-high, your bank balance will suffer. Favourites include The Cliff, its more informal sister Cliff Beach Club, The Tides and Cin Cin by the Sea. Also consider Hugo’s in Speightstown.

You can also eat out cheaply. A tasty, platter of grilled local fish with macaroni pie cooked at Oistins’ stalls will set you back around a tenner; the Friday fish-fry party here is a scrum. You can also get good food in many rum shops, such as the Village Bar at Lemon Arbour.

The Cliff restaurant in Barbados

See for yourself: Nikki Beach Barbados (), opened last year by Port Ferdinand, with daybeds and a DJ strutting his stuff. Come for a mojito and a gawp. 

Westbury New Road, north of Bridgetown harbour, has been renamed Rihanna Drive. A plaque outside identifies the bungalow she grew up in.

Virgin Holidays () has a “Departure Beach” lounge at Brownes Beach, Carlisle Bay. You check in for your flight, then chill on the beach, which has showers and changing. £25 a head, £18 children, including transfers, a meal, soft drinks.

How to get there: Sargassum – a thick, smelly seaweed – has at times been badly affecting some beaches on some Caribbean islands in recent years, most commonly on east and south coasts. The seaweed comes and goes. Consider checking the situation with your tour operator before booking and travelling.  

To avoid the risk, stay on the west coast, where most of the top restaurants can be found. Cobblers Cove (tt-cobblerscove) offers some of the best hotel food on Barbados, and is within walking distance of Speightstown. Book through Carrier (0161 492 1354; ).

Best for culture

Cuba

They say: Havana is unbeatable for live music. At the outdoor 1830 in the Vedado district you can take in salsa bands such as Maykel Blanco y Su Salsa Mayor. Go to Fábrica de Arte Cubano, a former cooking oil factory, for singer-songwriters and DJs playing percussion and electronic fusion music. For rumba, head to Callejón de Hamel on Sundays, a street covered in Afro-Cuban murals. If you want to hang out in a bar and listen to great music, Siá-Kará, behind the Capitolio, is the place. There’s also top-quality opera and ballet in the Gran Teatro, with tickets for as little as 10 CUC [less than a tenner].

Orlandito Mengual, percussionist with timba band Charanga Habanera, and owner of boutique hotel Malecón 663 

We say: With its faded Spanish colonial cities and towns, classic American cars, fascinating history, intriguing approach to communism, superb and ubiquitous live music and the world’s best cigars, Cuba is the Caribbean’s most culturally stimulating country.

Spend a few days in Havana. As well as all the music, there are the architectural glories of Old Havana and absorbing art and revolution-oriented museums. Beyond the capital, visit Viñales, the tobacco heartlands; Trinidad, a Spanish colonial town; and Santa Clara for Che Guevara sights, including his mausoleum. You’ll need at least a fortnight to take in the delights of eastern Cuba, such as Santiago de Cuba, the country’s sizzling second city.

Havana Credit: istock

See for yourself: Five-star hotels are starting to open in Old Havana. In 2017 it was Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski (), in a prime spot on the seaside end of the Prado.

To immerse yourself in day-to-day life, stay with locals in casas particulares – homes turned into guesthouses, find them on . Also eat in paladares, privately-operated restaurants often in the owner’s home.

For time on the beach as well as exploring, Varadero, Cuba’s main resort, is easy to reach from Havana (under two hours’ drive). The mostly all-inclusive hotels back on to 12 miles of superb beach.

How to get there: You can explore the island independently, renting a car, using long-distance buses or hiring taxis. But to minimise hassle it’s well worth booking a tailor-made package. Audley Travel (01993 838685; ) can arrange an itinerary featuring Havana, Viñales, Santa Clara and Trinidad – staying mostly in casas particulares and with some cultural tours.

Best for shooting the breeze

Bequia

They say: Unlike in some other parts of the Caribbean, you never feel hassled by anyone and our island is very safe. Though Bequia is tiny, it’s very cosmopolitan. The guy sitting next to you in the bar may be a billionaire, but you won’t know it because he’ll be in T-shirt and shorts. 

Sabrina Mitchell, general manager, Frangipani Hotel

We say: There’s a healthy, easy-going interaction on Bequia between locals, ex-pats, land-based visitors and passing yachties. All hang out together at the bars, cafés and restaurants along the Belmont Walkway, a little waterfront strip overlooking Admiralty Bay. Go to the Frangipani () for home-made ice cream. On Sunday lunchtimes, the place to be in high season is De Reef on Lower Bay. 

You'll never feel hassled by anyone on Bequia

See for yourself: Bequia has several beautiful, long and unspoilt golden-sand strands – the pick probably being Princess Margaret Beach. 

Busiest times of year are the Bequia Mount Gay Music Fest (Jan 29-Feb 2 in 2020; ).

How to get there: The best-placed good hotel for sociable types is Bequia Plantation Hotel (tt-bequiaplantation). Most of the accommodation is in contemporary-styled, gingerbread cottages overlooking palm-sprinkled lawns. Book through Just Bequia (01373 814244; ). 

Best for all-inclusives

Dominican Republic

They say: Most British holidaymakers visiting the Dominican Republic come on all-inclusive holidays, and most stay in Punta Cana. There are around 80 hotels here, almost all of them all-inclusive, spread out along the beaches. The properties are large – 750 rooms is typical – beautifully landscaped and low rise: buildings aren’t allowed to be higher than a palm tree. Excellence Punta Cana and Excellence El Carmen, view both at ) properties are popular with families. However, if you are travelling with children, you might want to stay near the southern end of the resort, where the sea is calmer as it’s protected by an offshore reef. 

Michelle Evans, manager for tour company Amstar

We say: As the second largest country in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic offers a lot more than stay-put all-inclusive breaks. But that’s what most Brits to the Dom Rep come for – understandable given that all-inclusive packages here are among the best value in the Caribbean.

All direct flights from the UK land at the spread-out, purpose-built resort of Punta Cana. In the far east of the island, it’s isolated, though an improved highway has reduced the drive time to the capital Santo Domingo – the oldest European city in the Americas, with an atmospheric Zona Colonial that has cobbled streets and handsome coral-stone mansions – to around two hours. Punta Cana’s many miles of beaches are usually gorgeous, their powdery sands dotted with palms. However, they were affected by sargassum seaweed last year. 

Punta Cana Credit: istock

See for yourself: The Dominican Republic has an ever-growing number of classy, upmarket hotels that are not all-inclusive. For example, at Casas del XVI (tt-casasdelxvi), guests stay in a collection of beautifully restored and decorated colonial houses in old Santo Domingo.

Cabarete, a bohemian resort on the north coast, is one of the Caribbean’s top spots for kiteboarding and windsurfing, with numerous schools and rental outfits.

The Dominican Republic is the Caribbean’s golf capital, with more than two dozen courses, some designed by the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman. 

How to get there: At the adults-only, all-suites Excellence Punta Cana, nine à la carte restaurants, including a lobster eatery and a steakhouse, are covered in the rates. Book through First Choice (020 3451 2720; .

Best for glamour seekers

St Barths

They say: The most happening beach is St Jean. Here you’ll find the Nikki Beach club – Sunday afternoons are its key party time. Shellona, a Greek/Mediterranean restaurant on Shell Beach, is another lunchtime hotspot. For dinner, Bonito, with its fantastic views over Gustavia and excellent French/South American food, attracts plenty of celebrities. Unusually for the Caribbean, topless sunbathing is de rigueur on the beaches, and nudity is fine one end of Saline beach.

Thibault Jeanne, concierge for WIMCO Villas

We say: Gallic St Barths is like a tiny slice of the Côte d’Azur, but tropical and with better beaches. Gastronomic places to eat abound (with astronomic prices). A-listers come in droves in the winter months, staying on superyachts or in lavish villas dotted on the hillsides. The island has bounced back from the damage wrought by Hurricane Irma in 2017.

St Barths by night Credit: © Walter Bibikow 2017/Walter Bibikow

How to get there: One of the newest five-star places to stay is Villa Marie Saint-Barth (tt-villamariesaintbarth). It’s the only property outside mainland France in the very chic Maison & Hotels Sibuet group. The 21 white clapboard bungalows mix colonial styles with vibrant Caribbean colours, and its restaurant, François Plantation, gets rave reviews. Book through Elegant Resorts (01244 897581; )..

Best for first-timers

Grenada

They say: Grenada is friendly and peaceful – and it’s got fabulous beaches. Grand Anse, the best, does get busy when a cruise ship is in port, but you can escape the crowds by heading to the southern end. For a quieter option, go to Morne Rouge Beach next along, which is very sheltered, so perfect for safe swimming. If I’ve got friends staying, on Sundays I often take them to the Aquarium Restaurant by Magazine Beach for its Sunday lunchtime barbecue with live music. To experience local life, I tell my customers simply to use the local minibuses. You usually have to squeeze in really tight, but that’s all part of the fun. 

Brian Benjamin, owner and chef, BB’s Crabback Caribbean Restaurant 

We say: Grenada is a great introduction to the Caribbean – and not just because of the lovely soft-sand beaches. Lush and with a mountainous and rainforested interior, the island is incredibly scenic, and in hilly St George’s it has one of the Caribbean’s prettiest capitals/ports. Nearly as big as the Isle of Wight, Grenada is just the right size for exploring. Most sights revolve around the prized local produce – nutmegs, cocoa and rum. Almost all the hotels, best beaches and good places to eat and drink (and the airport) are conveniently concentrated in the south-west corner. That said, tourism here is still fairly low-key – and all development low rise. Flights from/to the UK go via St Lucia, and so take about 90 minutes longer than non-stop services to other main Caribbean islands – a price worth paying. 

Grand Anse beach, Grenada

See for yourself: Silversands () has raised the bar for luxury hotels on Grenada.

The nightlife in the south-west corner of the island is surprisingly lively, thanks to all the foreign students at St George’s University. Sample real ales at The Brewery, the West Indies Beer Co’s microbrewery bar near Lance aux Epines (). 

Grenada is big on chocolate, with four producers, a House of Chocolate shop/café/exhibition centre in St George’s stocked with edible treats, and an annual chocolate festival (May 1-6 in 2020; ). 

How to get there: Another of the best hotels on Grenada at present is the Calabash (tt-calabash). A family-run Caribbean classic, its comfy suites look across palm-dotted lawns to a tranquil beach and the yacht-dotted, protected waters of Prickly Bay. The food knocks spots off pretty much anything you’ll find elsewhere on the island. Book through Just Grenada (01373 814214; ).

Best for sailors

British Virgin Islands

They say: The BVIs are one of the world’s best sailing areas. Winds are consistent year round, you’re never out of sight of land, and usually it’s just a couple of hours’ sailing between stops. Mooring balls in the bays are common, avoiding having to anchor or dock. My favourite stops include Cow Wreck Beach on Anegada – long, pristine, with great snorkelling – and Jost van Dyke’s Soggy Dollar Bar, so called because your money can get wet when you swim ashore. 

Josie Tucci, member of Sunsail’s British Virgin Islands team

We say: With usually calm waters and steady winds, sheltered anchorages and short hops between the 60 or so emerald splodges that make up the archipelago, the BVI are especially good for sailors with limited experience. The islands were badly hit in September 2017 by Hurricane Irma, but are back in business for sailing holidays.

Jost Van Dyke, the smallest of the British Virgin Islands Credit: istock

See for yourself: Richard Branson’s exclusive Necker Island ( is reopening in later 2020. 

How to get there: From its base in Tortola, Sunsail (0330 332 1183; ) offers sociable flotilla holidays – sailing in a group of yachts with lead crew support – as well as bareboat and skippered charters. 

Best for divers

Cayman Islands

The Cayman Islands are perched on the pinnacles of an incredibly deep trench. The vast drop-offs into the abyss are often easily accessible – in some cases no more than a few minutes’ boat ride out from shore. People think exploring our famous walls is not really something for inexperienced divers. But the tops of the walls can start at just 35ft, and you don’t have to venture too deep to enjoy them. 

Steve Broadbelt, co-owner, Ocean Frontiers Dive Shop

We say: The waters around the three Cayman Islands provide the best diving in the Caribbean. Other factors that make the diving so special include the vast number of dive sites (365, they say), clear visibility, the abundance of healthy coral, rays, turtles and sharks, and first-rate diving schools. As well as visiting walls – topping the list is Bloody Bay Wall, a 6,000ft vertical cliff off Little Cayman – you can explore sunken wrecks such as the USS Kittiwake.

See for yourself: White-sand Seven Mile Beach on Grand Cayman is one of the Caribbean’s pin-up strands. 

At Stingray City, you can engage with marine life simply standing on a sandbar. 

A breeding programme for Grand Cayman’s blue iguanas has rescued the species from the brink of extinction. 

How to get there: For a beach/dive holiday, base yourself on Seven Mile Beach. If your focus is wholly diving, stay on sleepy Little Cayman or at Grand Cayman’s tranquil East End, which are near many of the best dive sites. Book through Dive Worldwide (01962 302087; ).

The waters around the three Cayman Islands provide the best diving in the Caribbean Credit: istock

Best for chic beats

Jamaica

They say: Jamaican style and the island’s music scene are inextricably linked. Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records, not only introduced the world to Bob Marley, but back in the Nineties he also pioneered the concept of hip boutique hotels in the Caribbean with his Island Outpost group. These include Ian Fleming’s one-time home GoldenEye (tt-goldeneye) and the lovely Strawberry Hill (tt-strawberryhill) up in the Blue Mountains, which I once managed.

Rock stars come to Jamaica to infuse their music with our distinct sounds. Some stay at the Geejam Hotel, near Port Antonio. It has its own recording studio, which has been used by the likes of Amy Winehouse. As for music festivals, as well as the Reggae Sumfest in Montego Bay (July), there’s the rootsy Rebel Salute in Ocho Rios in January.  

Kyle Mais, general manager Jamaica Inn

We say: Jamaica is where the all-inclusive hotel concept was pretty much invented, back in the early Eighties with the first Sandals (). Once a hippy hang-out, now more mainstream, it still has a laid-back, party atmosphere. 

Levels of violent crime are high in some other parts of Jamaica, notably around certain areas of Kingston and Montego Bay (check latest advice on ). Rather than renting a car, stick to official taxis and minibuses for transfers and excursions – for example to the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston. 

Negril beach Credit: www.jrdelia.com/JR Delia

See for yourself: Negril’s coolest places to stay have always been in the West End, but that has changed with the opening of the 28-room Skylark Negril Beach Resort (skylarknegril.com). Set behind the Seven Mile Beach and decorated in zingy tropical colours, it’s sister to the West End’s hip Rockhouse hotel (tt-rockhousehotel). 

The Excellence Group of luxury adults-only hotels has opened its first Jamaica property, Excellence Oyster Bay, on a private peninsula near Montego Bay ().  

How to get there: Stay first in Negril’s West End at The Caves (tt-thecaves), a stylish and intimate Island Outpost property comprising stone cottages in jungly gardens on the cliffs. Then head down to Jake’s, a rustic-chic hideaway at Treasure Beach, a fishing and farming community on the south coast. Tropic Breeze (01752 880880; ) can make the arrangements. 

Best for nature lovers

Tobago

They say: Thanks to Tobago’s proximity to South America – we are not far from the Venezuelan coast – we have more birds per square mile than any other Caribbean island. There are around 220 species. In the rainforest on the easily accessible Gilpin trail you can spot spectacular local specialities such as white-tailed sabrewing hummingbirds and Trinidad motmots. On the island of Little Tobago, an offshore seabird sanctuary, you can often observe frigatebirds attacking red-billed tropicbirds, and see nesting red-footed and brown boobies. 

Newton George, Newton George Nature Tours

We say: It’s not just the bird life that makes Tobago so special for nature lovers. The Main Ridge Forest Reserve, which covers much of the island’s mountainous spine, is the western hemisphere’s oldest protected forest; visiting it with a guide such as George will reveal so much more. You can also plunge into waterfalls (notably 175ft tiered Argyle Falls), and at night-time paddle-board or kayak on a bioluminescent lagoon (). 

See for yourself: In the nesting season (March-August), watch giant sea turtles lumber ashore to lay eggs in the sand on beaches such as Stonehaven Bay. 

Goat racing is a traditional sport on Tobago, with the big annual event in the village of Buccoo on the Tuesday after Easter Monday. 

How to get there: Most hotels are in the south-west of the island. To really immerse yourself in nature, stay instead at Castara Retreats, a family-run, community-oriented eco-retreat of wooden lodges set in tropical gardens on a hillside above the west coast, with mesmerising ocean views and the rainforest behind. Book through Caribtours (020 3468 1775; ). 

It's not just the bird life that makes Tobago so special for nature lovers Credit: Getty

Best for history buffs

St Kitts and Nevis

They say: In the 1600s and 1700s, the world’s superpowers prized our small islands, which were major producers of tobacco, then sugar cane. On St Kitts, spend time at Brimstone Hill Fortress, the biggest British colonial fortification in the Caribbean, and ride the scenic railway once used to transport cane from the estates. On Nevis, you should visit the little birthplace museum of the American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton in Charleston. The most extant of Nevis’ abandoned sugar mills are on the New River/Coconut Walk estates. 

Leonard Stapleton, historian, author and tour guide

We say: To properly soak up Nevis’s colonial heritage you should stay in one of its atmospheric plantation inns – the properties of the former sugar estates. Nisbet Plantation Beach Club (tt-nisbetplantationbeach), which is on the beach, was the home of Fanny Nisbet, wife of Horatio Nelson. They married in the grounds of sophisticated Montpelier Plantation (located inland, but with a private beach; tt-montpelierplantation). 

See for yourself: The sleek, contemporary-styled Park Hyatt St Kitts Christophe Harbour () opened in 2017 on the golden sands of Banana Bay. 

With no visits from big cruise ships and just a single large hotel (the upmarket Four Seasons (tt-fsnevis), Nevis is one of the Caribbean’s best choices for a sleepy getaway.  

How to get there: St Kitts and Nevis combine perfectly for a two-island break, as it’s a short ride by water taxi or public ferry between the islands. Try three nights at the Park Hyatt St Kitts (tt-parkhyattstkitts) and then four nights at Nisbet Plantation (tt-nisbetplantation), with Caribtours (020 3468 1775; ). 

Inside the Hermitage Plantation Inn in Nevis Credit: bob krist

Best for romantics

St Lucia

They say: St Lucia has been my home for more than 35 years and its beauty – the majestic Pitons, the lush, mountainous, verdant terrain – still captivates me. It also creates a perfect setting for romance. The island is known as the honeymoon capital of the Caribbean. Plantation hotels like Fond Doux and Stonefield have secluded cottages in gorgeous tropical grounds, while Anse Chastanet (tt-ansechastanet), Jade Mountain (tt-jademountain) and Ladera (tt-ladera) have suites with missing fourth walls through which you and your partner can bask in mesmerising views of the Pitons. 

Karolin Troubetzkoy, president of the St Lucia Hotel and Tourism Association

We say: The dating show Love Island is filmed on Mallorca, but St Lucia would be a much more suitable location – and it’s been used for the American version, The Bachelor. The scenery delivers an incredibly seductive backdrop, especially in the south-west where the twin green volcanic cones of the Pitons thrust out of the ocean and fecund jungle is all around.

In the most lovey-dovey hotels, bedrooms are designed to immerse occupants in their surroundings, not only with the views but through features such as outdoor garden showers. At Jade Mountain (jademountain), the most famous (and expensive) romantic bolt-hole, couples have been known to not leave their palatial suites for several days, with meals delivered by butlers. Wherever you stay, dine with your loved one looking to the Pitons at Ladera’s Dasheene (), take a catamaran cruise along the west coast, and wallow in a mud bath at the Sulphur Springs. 

The volcanic cones of the Pitons in St Lucia Credit: wildroze

See for yourself: St Lucia isn’t just about sedentary holidays. You can climb the Gros Piton (four hours up and down), hike on trails through the mountainous rainforest, zip line over through the tree canopy (rainforestadventure.com), and go jungle biking (bikestlucia.com).

How to get there: For an utterly romantic, relatively affordable hideaway, consider Ti Kaye (tt-tikaye). Adults only and miles from anywhere, its gingerbread cottages spread over a cliffside, with hammocks, rocking chairs and in some cases plunge pools on their verandas from which to lap up bewitching sea views and sunsets. Steps descend to an undeveloped, jungle-backed, silver-sand beach. Book through Trailfinders (020 7368 1200; ).

The best of the rest

Dominica

Mountainous, wrapped in rainforest, with high-drop waterfalls and spectacular hiking trails, this is the Caribbean’s so-called Nature Island. It also has the region’s last remaining Carib Indian tribe at the Kalinago Territory. 

French Caribbean

The BBC series Death in Paradise was filmed on butterfly-shaped Guadeloupe, at its most dramatic in the towering, rainforested Basse-Terre wing, which has a national park. Cosmopolitan Martinique offers great beaches, excellent French creole food and a climbable volcano. 

Montserrat

Soufrière Hills Volcano’s colossal eruptions in the Nineties mean much of this little British Overseas Territory is an exclusion zone. However, you can visit Plymouth, a modern-day Pompeii, on a guided tour, and the volcano observatory. Also birdwatching and diving, and an intriguing Irish heritage. 

Montserrat

St Vincent and the Grenadines

This 32-island nation is escapist territory and favoured playground for yachties. Among the Grenadines are exclusive, single-hotel private islands Petit St Vincent and Palm Island, the rock star and royalty hideaway of Mustique, down-to-earth Bequia, and the Tobago Cays, brilliant for snorkelling. St Vincent, the agricultural mother island, is less of a draw. 

Dutch Caribbean

The ABC islands are located just off Venezuela, outside the hurricane belt. Aruba has excellent beaches, windsurfing and kitesurfing, and is easiest to reach: Tui flies there direct in the summer. Sleepy Bonaire is known for its diving, and Curaçao for Willemstad’s brightly-coloured, gabled colonial architecture (historic areas are on Unesco’s World Heritage List). St Maarten, 600 miles north, is a cruise stop that shares an island with French St Martin. 

Trinidad

The Caribbean’s biggest and wildest carnival in the capital Port of Spain, and outstanding birdwatching, notably at the Asa Wright Nature Centre in the Arima Valley of the Northern Range. 

Visit Curacao for Willemstad's brightly coloured colonial architecture Credit: jane sweeney

Puerto Rico

A US commonwealth, but Hispanic in feel. Most Brits drop by on cruise ships, and don’t progress further than beautifully-restored Spanish colonial Old San Juan. Also beaches and nightlife galore, and good touring: the island is 100 miles long. 

Turks and Caicos

Forty islands, only eight inhabited; key selling points are powdery beaches and first-rate diving. Most people stay on developed Providenciales by Grace Bay, a 12-mile-long white-sand beach that is one of the world’s best. 

US Virgin Islands

Three very different islands. St Thomas: lively, commercialised, its capital Charlotte Amalie one of the Caribbean’s busiest cruise-ship ports. St John: mostly a national park, with gorgeous, well-maintained beaches. And St Croix: more off the beaten track, with a Danish heritage.