Think the Caribbean is a place for lazing on a pretty beach sipping on a rum cocktail? You bet it is. But beyond that, this is a region full of diverse wildlife, crazy-fun activities and stonking scenery. Better yet, you don’t need loads of cash to visit. Here are a few of our favourite ways to enjoy the Caribbean’s coastline and islands, whether you’re looking to totally blow the budget or holiday on a shoestring. Either way, expect rum. Lots and lots of rum.
Wallet friendly: Tour the rum shops
Just because Simon Cowell’s always papped on the beach in Barbados, it doesn’t mean you can’t swig a cocktail or two on the white-sand shores, too. On this island, rum is more than just a spirit – it’s at the heart of the sun-drenched culture. Start at John Moore Bar in Weston – the front sits on a potholed road while the back looks out over a beach so dazzling you’ll put money on it having been Photoshopped. Just 1,799 to go – there are over 1,800 rum shops on this island, and at a couple of dollars a drink you’ll be able to take down a few – our favourites include Judy’s Watering Hole in St Thomas (expect calypso tunes), Hercules Bar in Oistins and One Love Bar in Holetown.
Splash the cash: Sleep with celebs
The Caribbean isn’t short on luxe hotels, and Sandy Lane is one of the most iconic. The glitzy seven-star resort (yep, that exists) is home to 112 rooms, fuschia-coloured sunloungers and a whole playground of paparazzi-pleasing celebs. If that floats your yacht, there’s also a mega spa, golf course and one of the most famous restaurants in the Caribbean nearby – The Cliff. As the name suggests, the swanky outdoor dining space occupies a pretty impressive patch of rock on the island, with some memorable sea views. Elsewhere, The Crane hotel is racking up awards for best-looking beach in the region. If you’re looking to live life like a millionaire, these are good places to start.
Details: Classic Collection offers a seven-night stay at The Crane from £2,553pp including flights, classic-collection.co.uk
Wallet friendly: Run with the locals
When seeing a Caribbean island from the back of a mini bus just won’t cut it, try sprinting around the place instead. The Grenada Hash Harriers are a local running group who show visitors the sites of the island on a jog around rainforest and beach trails. It’s not as hard as it sounds, either – being a little fit will help, but teens to tourists in their seventies take part – the focus is on having fun and seeing cool stuff as opposed to a sprint to the finish line. Every Saturday at 4pm they meet outside a pre-designated rum shop; the group's mantra is 'drinkers with a running problem', so you’ll be pleased to know that the tour ends with a well-deserved beer-fuelled knees up down at a local beach shack. It’s exercise just as we like it. And it’s free.
Details: Petit Anse is a pretty guesthouse run by a couple who grow their own fruit and veg and make their own ice cream. Nightly rates from £45 per room, petiteanse.com; Flights from £600 return, check cheapflights.co.uk
Splash the cash: Try deep-sea fishing
Fancy trying something new? The Caribbean may not be the most obvious extreme sports destination, but if you’re talking sport fishing then it offers it by the boatload. Grenada is known as one of the best deep-sea fishing venues in the Caribbean, with marlin and yellowfin tuna fishing (with an average size of over 100lb). There’s a conservation aspect to this, too – all marlin and sailfish are released back into the sea. If the fishing’s not your bag, have a snooze on the deck while someone else gets on with it. As well as big fish you’re in dolphin- and whale-spotting, territory too.
Wallet friendly: Learn about turtles
If the ‘swaying palms and turquoise water’ holiday isn’t your bag then try the island of Dominica. It’s brilliant for wildlife lovers, especially those keen on turtles – on the island’s shores you can see three types of globally endangered sea turtles as they nest on the beaches. Leatherbacks come ashore to lay their eggs between March and August, while hawksbills and green turtles will head for the sand between May and October. The nesting females are protected by law and closely monitored by the Dominica Sea Turtle Conservation Organisation. For US$10pp, trained guides can tell you more and take you to an active nesting site. Set the alarm clock for early. Elsewhere, the island is full of adventurous hiking trails – all for the price of… absolutely nothing.
Details: Picard Beach Cottages are airy wooden structures right on the sand, with nightly rates from £102, picardbeachcottages.dm; Virgin Atlantic offers return flights from £527, for info see virgin-atlantic.com
Splash the cash: Swim with sperm whales
For a safari with a difference, head to Dominica for one hell of a close encounter. Natural World Safaris has launched a seven-day swimming with sperm whales trip that’s led by world-renowned photographer and videographer Patrick Dykstra. You’ll spend four days in the water swimming with the 20m-long creatures, while dolphin sightings are likely, too. When you’re not in the sea snapping some of your greatest holiday selfies, you’ll have a chance to visit the island’s hot springs and also make the most of the refreshingly un-touristy beaches and rugged landscape.
Details: Natural World Safaris offers the week-long trip and accommodation from £5,175 excluding flights, naturalworldsafaris.com
Seeing fish doesn’t get much more epic than this
Wallet friendly: Don the snorkel and fins
How far will a tenner get you in St Lucia? Pretty far as it turns out – and it’ll keep you occupied for days. First stop – the supermarket, for a snorkel and fins. Because it’s not just what’s above sea level in St Lucia that’s breathtaking – the crystal-clear waters are packed with marine life and it won’t cost you a fortune to see it. Head to Soufrière in the south west, and don your rubber gear to explore the reef below. Look up and you’ll see the magnificent Pitons rising out of the sea above you. Seeing fish doesn’t get much more epic than this.
Splash the cash: Take a helicopter tour
Travelling in a helicopter is a treat in itself; combine it with the lush, mountainous landscape of St Lucia and you’re in full-on Jurassic Park helicopter scene territory. Take a 30-minute tour of the island and you’ll be cruising over all of its spectacular sights – from the city of Castries to the sleepy fishing towns along the coast, and the mountainous, rainforest-packed interior of the island where you’ll see numerous waterfalls, rivers and valleys. A tour of the north and south of the island will also have you hovering over the sulphur springs of the Soufrière volcano. Let’s not forget the island’s most famous site – so famous that you’ll find them on everything from postcards to beer bottles – The Pitons. The 771m-high volcanic plugs look pretty cool from ground level – add a few rotors and you’ll have your mind blown.
Wallet friendly: Explore a cigar factory
Ever wondered how a cigar is actually made? No, we hadn’t either, but it turns out it’s proper fascinating stuff, and requires some serious patience and skill. Escape the heat and chaotic streets of Havana and opt for a mooch around the Corona cigar factory in the country’s capital. It’s one of the biggest government-run cigar factories in the city, and you’ll see the production of over 30,000 cigars (that’s a day) in a space that’s like walking into the 1920s. It takes nine months of training to become a cigar roller, and years to become one of the best – while books are read out to workers over booming loud speakers. For an unusual insight into one of Cuba’s most celebrated products, this tour’s just the ticket. After exploring the city, head west for the beaches and pick a guesthouse from around £20pp per night.
pick up a nifty Renault sedan and take to the potholed roads to explore
Splash the cash: Stay in a historic home
If you’re looking for luxe hotels with infinity pools, turn-down service and couples massages then Cuba’s not the island for you. But if you’re fascinated by history and love a laid-back road trip it’s absolutely spot on. The island may be famous for its vintage cars – sadly you can’t rent them for week-long jaunts, but you can pick up a nifty Renault sedan and take to the potholed roads to explore. This alone isn’t expensive, so we recommend splashing out on some epic historic homestays on your trip. Many of Cuba’s Casa Particulares (which essentially means guesthouses) are listed on newly launched Airbnb – hundreds of them are crammed with pretty tiles, paintings and rocking chairs (Cubans really love a rocking chair). If you like eclectic homey spaces that offer an artist’s house vibes, you’ll be truly spoiled for choice.
Wallet friendly: Take drumming lessons
Belize may not be the first country that springs to mind when you’re planning a Caribbean break, but the central American country’s coastline has some spectacular sweeps of beach. Based at the northern end of Hopkins Village on the pretty shores of the Caribbean sea is the Lebaha Drumming Centre, a place where local children – and travellers – can learn all about the drumming, dance and cultural heritage of their Garifuna ancestors. Hopkins, a shack-crammed sleepy fishing village, is one of a handful of similar places located on the Caribbean coast with an active Garifuna population and a fascinating culture that merges Carib and African influences. Embrace a very cool and unique opportunity to take drumming and percussion sessions in a musical style that you won’t find elsewhere in the world, all for just over a tenner.
Details: For basic lodging with plenty of personality try the Lebaha Cabanas from £12pp per night, lebeha.com/stay
Splash the cash: Dive for weeks
The Caribbean coast of Belize is an absolute diving hotbed, and if you’re really into the sport, you’re best off joining a tour that’ll whizz you around the best underwater sites. Journey Latin America’s 15-day diving group tour starts off on the turquoise-water beaches of Tulum, Mexico, before travelling on to dive the region’s famous freshwater cenote, the famous Great Blue Hole of Belize (trust us, it’s worth a Google) and the other famous diving spots in this part of the Caribbean Sea. When you’re not below water you’ll be checking out some of Mexico and Belize’s ancient Mayan ruins and chatting all things divey with your fellow buddies. Sounds like easy work.
Details: Journey Latin America’s 15-day trip costs from £2,978pp including flights, diving and accommodation, journeylatinamerica.co.uk
British Virgin Islands
Wallet friendly: Catch some waves
With train travel costs these days, you might as well opt for surfing off the Caribbean coast than the Cornish coast. OK, that’s an exaggeration (and we love you, Cornwall), but falling in warm turquoise water over and over again is far more appealing than the bracing waves found here in England. If you agree, then try out the BVIs – where you’ll find some of the best waves in the Caribbean. Josiah’s Bay on the main island of Tortola is a great starting point; long waves break slowly and gently on the beach, making it the ideal base for beginners. Head to Surf School BVI for morning lessons, then try out your new moves each afternoon.
you’ll be holidaying in a dazzling colour board of blues and whites
Details: Try Mongoose self-catering apartments from £99per night, mongooseapartments.com; return international flights – including the new, connecting BVI Air link from Antigua – are priced from £1,182 per person, bvitourism.co.uk
Splash the cash: Party with the cool kids
Parties? Check. Island? Check. Boatloads of similarly minded folk up for some booze-fuelled jokes? Check, check, check. There are hundreds of sun-lashed islands in the BVIs to choose from – pick one and you’ll be holidaying in a dazzling colour board of blues and whites. But if that’s not enough, you can sail your way around your pick of them. Renting a yacht can be an expensive business, but with Yacht Week – the pre-arranged sailing weeks for good-time seekers – you have most of the logistical hassles taken away from you, and replaced with rum-infused beach parties. Predetermined dates and itineraries are in place (the next one is over Christmas and New Year – Mum will understand. Won’t she?); all you need to do is gather up a couple of your mates and book a yacht.
Details: Prices start from £852pp inclusive of experiences and tourist taxes. Exclusive of flights, f&b and fuel, theyachtweek.com