If you’re looking for blazing sunshine but don’t want to just lie on sand all day, Nicaragua is a great bet. The beaches on the country’s Caribbean coast are rarely visited, and boast wild natural beauty and raw culture. Exploration opportunities are endless: pull on your boots for epic jungle treks, or go diving at one of the 70 Corn Islands (Little Corn is our favourite). It’s the place to get back to basics: try fishing in the mangroves, then head back to a local restaurant for rondon – a slow-cooked coconut-based soup.
St Lucia’s lush green hills make it an ideal playground for sports enthusiasts. You can try anything during a holiday on this island – zip-lining if you’re feeling a bit tame, or mountain-biking for something much sweatier. And that’s no problem: the beaches are just the place to cool off. We’re not talking about sunbathing, obviously – get in that sea, because there’s kayaking, windsurfing, stand up paddleboarding and more to try. Tired yet? You’ll find some cool little places to relax after all that exertion: head to the southern end of Reduit Beach for lively drinks with locals.
Love music? Try the island of Jamaica
Of all the Caribbean islands, Jamaica is the place to go for music. It spawned reggae, dancehall and ska, all of which made their way to the UK and the US, but it’s also home to roots Caribbean styles such as calypso and mento. Today, the scene in Jamaica is completely eclectic, and the best place to go to experience as much of it as you can is a music festival. The biggest is Montego Bay’s Reggae Sumfest (reggaesumfest.com), which takes place every July and features a huge line-up of acts from Jamaica and beyond. Irie.
Dominica doesn’t boast those pristine white sand beaches you might expect from the Caribbean. But what it does offer is a really genuine insight into laid-back island life. Portsmouth Beach is the best on the island, but we also love Mero Beach where you can kick back in a seaside shack with freshly caught fish and a chilled Kubuli – the local amber-coloured beer. The island’s capital, Roseau, also demands a visit – streets are crammed with rowdy markets and lined with quaint, colourful buildings.
Good news for all you party animals: Trinidad has a lively casual drinking culture, from small roadside bars to a rapidly emerging pub, bar and club scene. The St James district in the capital Port of Spain is the place for all-night partying, and the Ariapita Avenue strip is home to casinos, hotels, bars and clubs, most of which roll out live music and entertainment along with beer, cocktails and wine. If you want an all-out blowout, the country-wide Carnival is a feast for the senses, as revellers line the streets decked out in brightly coloured clothes and ‘wind’ until the sun comes up.
Mexico’s sheer size means its cuisine ranges massively as you travel through the country. The Caribbean coastal city of Cancún may be famous for Spring Break holidays and American fast food, but head downtown and you’ll find locals serving up authentic Mexican tortilla at kerb-side street stalls. The beach here is one of the best you’ll see, but it is tourist central, so head along the coast to Tulum and pitch up in a hut on the sand. Here you can try every tequila going, and margaritas come in handy cans. Yes please.
If history is your thing, get even more clued up on the island of St Kitts. It’s not boring text book stuff either – much of the island’s story hinges on its formerly rich sugar plantations, which were once considered the gateway to the Caribbean. The pristine Brimstone Hill Fortress is one of the best preserved in the Americas, and offers great views over the island. Squint, and you might see Nevis.
Surfing in Costa Rica
Here’s something you might not know: Costa Rica is home to more than 730 miles of coastline. And what’s more, it’s in a unique position, with beaches located next to the Caribbean Sea on one side and the Pacific on the other. Each has its own characteristic feel: the Caribbean side gets huge swells at the right times in the season, while the Pacific is a bit calmer but more consistent throughout the year. You don’t have to choose, though – Costa Rica’s not enormous, so you can start the day on one side and drive for a few hours to the other if you fancy mixing it up.
For more info, head to caribbeantravel.com