By Merle Rosenstein
Canadians love the Caribbean. In fact, we like it so much we make up 11% of the visitors to the region. Why? Plenty of reasons. Beaches, sunshine and watersports head the list followed by the diversity of culture celebrated in local cuisines and carnivals. Here’s an island-by-island look at the Caribbean.
The most northerly island of the Leeward Islands, Anguilla boasts friendly, welcoming people, and warm, cobalt waters great for snorkelling, swimming and sailing. Anguilla boasts more than 100 restaurants and an array of excellent accommodations that range from signature 5-star to charming inns as well as more than 150 villas to rent. Anguilla is accessible via St. Martin by air (seven minutes) or ferry (20 minutes) or sea shuttles directly from Princess Juliana Airport (20 minutes).
Top Attraction: Endless white powdery sand beaches and calm turquoise waters.
What’s New: Greg Norman championship golf course now managed by CuisinArt Resort and Spa; Island-wide prix fixe dining program through December; and the Pelican Trail, a wonderful nature and water activity, located at beautiful Little Bay.
Info: 1-866-348-7447, www.ivisitanguilla.com
Antigua & Barbuda
Three hundred and sixty five beaches, surrounded by translucent, turquoise sea, offer peace and tranquility with just that gentle touch of sophistication. Its near-constant trade winds highlight Sailing Week, one of the world’s foremost maritime events. It is the largest of the English-speaking Leeward Islands and includes largely-undeveloped Barbuda and Redonda, an uninhabited island nature preserve.
Top Attraction: 365 beaches, St. John’s Saturday Morning Market, Nelson’s Dockyard National Park, touring a former sugar cane plantation like Betty’s Hope in St. Peter parish, nightlife around Falmouth and English harbours.
Info: 1-800-547-3055, www.antigua-barbuda.ca
Aruba claims near-perfect weather (there hasn’t been a hurricane in more than 100 years); natural wonders like Palm Beach, Arikok National Park, the Casibari and Ayo rock formations and Indian caves; historic sites like Bushiribana gold mill, Aruba Aloe Factory and Alto Vista Chapel; and museums like the Archeological Museum and Historical Museum.
Top Attraction: Arikok National Park offers a wide variety of biking, walking and hiking trails; impressive cave and rock formations; and historical and cultural sites.
What’s New: The Caribbean’s Longest Linear Park is being constructed along the island’s south-side which will include: pedestrian areas and bike paths, restaurant terraces and outdoor dining, walkways to connect museums/cultural attractions, outdoor areas to showcase local Aruban art.
Info: 1-800-TO-ARUBA or (201) 558-1110, www.Aruba.com
Visitors revel in a variety of water activities equalled by the variety of fun on land. Paradise and Grand Bahama Islands are the main islands, but the hidden gems of The Outer Islands beckon to the more adventurous traveller. Check out the “People-to-People Experience”, where visitors spend time with locals.
Top Attraction: Pirates of Nassau, an interactive museum, pub and gift shop, depicts the Bahamas’ storied past as home to the world’s most famous pirates.
Info: 1-800-667-3777, www.bahamas.com
Barbados’ reputation as the culinary capital of the Caribbean, its friendly and welcoming people, sun-filled days and lively nightlife, draw Canadians back to this island paradise every year. The island’s rich history and diverse offering will cater to any traveller’s tastes.
Top Attraction: The well-preserved British colonial architecture of Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison has just been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The buildings from 17th, 18th and 19th centuries and nearby military garrison remain as a testament to the vital role Barbados played in the British Empire and the unique history of the island.
What’s New: Ocean Two Resort & Residences and Marriott Courtyard Barbados have both recently opened their doors to guests, Limegrove Lifestyle Centre in Holetown featuring Ralph Lauren, Agent Provocateur, Armani Exchange, Hallmark and Glo Spa.
Info: (416) 214- 9880/1-800-268 9122, www.visitbarbados.org
In addition to its idyllic setting, Bermuda’s colourful festivals and British gentility (it’s the oldest British colony) make it a top year-round destination. Discover a thriving culture, a rich history (Shakespeare’s The Tempest was inspired by local shipwrecks) and an abundance of activities (the most golf courses per square mile in the world).
Top Attraction: Segway tours of St. George, PGA Grand Slam of Golf October 18-19, 2011 and the Royal Naval Dockyard.
What’s New: The new Bermuda Travel & Vacation Guide iPhone app allows vacation planners to access Bermuda’s most popular activities, sightseeing locations, beaches, hotels and restaurants. The Feel the Love Rewards Program benefits those “friends of Bermuda” who bring visitors to the island by giving them cash back for every person who visits. The Centralized Tee System allows golfers to select the Bermuda golf course, tee times, number of players and pay securely online at www.bermudapremiergolf.com.
Info: 1-800-Bermuda, www.GoToBermuda.com
British Virgin Islands
Sixty islands, tranquil beaches, and outstanding sailing and diving conditions beyond compare have earned the BVI a reputation for natural Caribbean charm and hassle-free hospitality. Top-notch accommodations from private islands to luxury resorts, plus a wide range of villas and intimate inns also make the BVI a welcome getaway. Attractions include: Sage Mountain rainforest on Tortola; Gorda Peak and the Copper Mine National Park on Virgin Gorda; the Arundel rum distillery; the infamous Painkiller drink; and grilled Anegada lobster.
Top Attractions: The Wreck of the Rhone, the most famous dive site in the Caribbean, and The Baths, an other-worldly seascape where gigantic boulders are scattered about the beach and in the water.
What’s New: Scrub Island Resort & Spa, a private island resort with spa, dining, dive shop and flawless beaches; the Quarterdeck Marina at the Bitter End Yacht Club, has expanded to accommodate more boats; The Yacht Club Costa Smeralda Marina, the new state-of-the-art super yacht marina on Virgin Gorda.
Info: 1-800-835-8530, www.bvitourism.com
Cayman Islands Dept TourismCayman Islands
Top Attraction: Black Pearl Skate and Surf Park boasts one of the largest skateboard parks in the world, plus a Waveloch Surf Machine.
Info: (416) 485-1550/1-800-263-5805, www.caymanisland.ky
Cuba Tourist BoardCuba
The largest and most populous Caribbean island, Cuba’s main attraction is its vibrant culture. Historic sites, cultural and arts traditions span pre-Columbian, Spanish colonial and modern eras. Havana boasts nightclubs, stage shows, festivals museums and galleries. And then there are the beaches and resorts that range from all inclusive to luxury.
Top Attraction: Old Havana, a World Heritage Site.
What’s New: Cuba Cruises’ seven-day round-island voyages December 4 to March 18, 2012.
Info: (416) 362-0700/1-800-404-2822, www.gocuba.ca
The authentic Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao boasts 38 exquisite beaches, more than 60 world-class diving sites, and is located on the outer fringes of the hurricane belt, making it the perfect year-round destination. Curaçao is a newly autonomous country as of October 10, 2010. The historic downtown area of Willemstad features more than 750 sites and monuments, including Mikvé Israël-Emanuel Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the Western Hemisphere, and was selected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
Top Attractions: Carnival!, Curaçao North Sea Jazz Festival, the colourful Handelskade in downtown Willemstad, diving, LGBT community offerings.
What’s New: Curasub at Substation Curaçao, a mini-sub that can travel to depths that divers are unable to reach.
Info: 1-800-3-CURACAO, www.curacao.com
Dominica is known as the whale watching capital of the Caribbean and as the Nature Island. It is blessed with 365 rivers, countless waterfalls, mountainous terrain, rainforests and the world’s second largest fumarole – Boiling Lake.
Top attraction: The Waitukubuli National trail, the only island-long hiking trail in the Caribbean with 14 segments, Boiling Lake.
What’s New: Secret Beach Hotel and Rosalie Bay Resort in Portsmouth on the north of the island; the Waitukubuli National Trail crosses the island from south to north.
Info: 1-866-522-4057, www.DiscoverDominica.com
Dominican Republic Tourist OfficeDominican Republic
Beautiful beaches, resorts on both the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, 16 national parks, lush forests, beautiful valleys – the Dominican Republic is a Caribbean paradise. Throw in world-class whitewater rafting on the Rio Yaque; world-class kite-boarding and wind-surfing at Cabarete; and world-class golf on more than 20 courses.
Top Attraction: Whale watching trips off the coast of Samana (January to March)
What’s New: Secrets Royal Beach Punta Cana; Larimar Punta Cana; Balcones del Atlantico in Las Terrenas; renovation to Casa de Campo; Zipline Canopy Tours in Samana; Chu Chu Colonial tourist train in Santo Domingo.
Info: 1-888-494-5050, www.GoDominicanRepublic.com
Grenada bills itself as The Spice of the Caribbean, with good reason. Cinnamon, allspice, cocoa and nutmeg scent the air of the three-island country. Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique offer beaches, sailing, hiking and 300 years of history and culture. It is also an eco-conscious destination, protecting the nesting habitats of the leatherback turtle and famous for its diving as home to the largest ship wreck in the Caribbean that sunk in October 1961.
Top Attraction: From May to September, nearly 586 leatherback turtles trudge on to Levera Beach to lay their eggs.
What’s New: Barcolet Bay Resort & Spa (opened 2010).
Info: (416) 595-1339, www.grenadagranadines.com
Reggae, rum, jerk and coffee…Jamaica is all of these. Jamaica is also the Caribbean’s third-largest island with six tourist regions – Montego Bay, Negril, Mandeville and the South Coast, Kingston, Port Antonio and Ocho Rios – each with its own character. The island offers amazing beaches, lush forests, rushing waterfalls, diverse culture, diving, hiking, first-class golf courses, and plenty of resorts.
Top Attractions: Dunn’s River Falls and the always exciting attractions offered through Chukka Caribbean Adventures.
What’s New: Historic Falmouth Cruise Port, built to accommodate the newest and largest class of cruise ships; Montego Bay Convention Centre, the largest convention centre of the English speaking Caribbean region; Palmyra five-diamond oceanside resort and spa; expansion of GoldenEye now includes Ian Fleming’s original villa, the original three villas, plus nine new Beach Cottages, two new Lagoon Cottages and six new Lagoon Suites.
Info: (416) 482-7850/1-800-465-2624, www.visitjamaica.com.
Montserrat, the only country outside of Ireland to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day as a national holiday, is a lush green and mountainous island of approximately 101 square kilometers that lies in the Eastern Caribbean chain of islands. Known fondly as the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean, Montserrat exudes a quiet friendly charm reminiscent of the way the Caribbean used to be. This pear-shaped island boasts the spectacular Soufrière Hills Volcano; a modern day Pompeii in the form of its buried former capital city Plymouth; lush, green mountains; world class nature trails; deserted dark sand beaches; and untouched reefs.
Top Attractions: St. Patrick’s Day, Soufrière Hills Volcano – volcano watching, and diving.
What’s New: New air service from Antigua to Montserrat, Miles Away Villa Resort, Volcano Half Marathon.
Info: (664) 491-2230, www.visitmontserrat.com
Puerto Rico is an extremely diverse island offering visitors an astounding array of activities. There is something for everyone, from the history and culture of Old San Juan with its centuries old cobblestones, cathedrals, promenades and fortresses, to the wonders of the El Yunque Rainforest. Visitors can experience one of three bio-luminescent bays on the island or hike in rainforests, dry forests, the Camuy Caves – the third largest underground river cave system in the world or they can take a tour of the Arecibo Observatory – the largest radio radar telescope in the world. For golf aficionados, Puerto Rico offers 25 courses – more than any other island in the Caribbean.
Top Attraction: Old San Juan, the only walled city in the Caribbean.
Info: 1-800-866-7827 or 1-800-981-7575, www.seepuertorico.com
Tours are tops in St. Kitts. They take in lava formations, tropical forests, lagoons, cruising and an historic sugar train, the only scenic passenger train in the Caribbean. Spotted by Columbus in 1493, the island’s heritage is traced to the arrival of the British in 1623 and the arrival of the sugar trade.
Top Attraction: Brimstone Hill Fortress, built by slave labour during the sugar trade era.
What’s New: Fairview Great House and Botanical Garden, a meeting and special event venue with its onsite Nirvana Restaurant; Bungalows at Turtle Beach in Christophe Harbour; Sky Safari St. Kitts, Ziplining Tours; Beaumont Park horse-and greyhound-racing facility.
Info: (416) 368-6707/1-888-395-4887, www.stkittstourism.kn
St Lucia Tourist BoardSt. Lucia
St. Lucia boasts lush and dramatic scenery, like the famous Pitons (twin volcanic peaks and the region’s only drive-in volcano) and a vast rainforest interior, complemented by spectacular waterfalls, breathtaking views and friendly locals. A renowned romance destination, families are welcome too with adventures, water parks and kids-only amenities.
Top Attraction: Named “World’s Leading Honeymoon Destination” by World Travel Awards eight times since 2002.
Info: 1-800-869-0377, www.stlucianow.ca
St. Maarten is an island with a split personality – French to the north and Dutch to the south. Along with plenty of historic sites, St. Maarten boasts 36 beaches, great water and wind sports, 12 casinos and more than 300 restaurants that dish up a worldwide range of cuisines.
Top Attraction: 12 Metre Challenge (Americas Cup Yacht Racing).
Info: 1-800-786-2278, www.vacationstmaarten.com
St. Vincent & The Grenadines
From the oldest botanical gardens in the Western Hemisphere to the 12-metre Trinity Falls, the main island of St. Vincent is a natural stand-in for the Caribbean of yesteryear. South of St. Vincent, the Grenadines (comprised of Young Island, Bequia, Mustique, Canouan, Mayreau, Union Island, Palm Island, Petit St. Vincent and the Tobago Cays) are strung across 64 kilometres of typically tranquil waters, making these pristine seas prized for sailing, diving and snorkeling. Home to such diverse attractions as La Soufriere, the famous volcano; Mustique, playground of the stars; and the location for the film Pirates of the Caribbean.
Top Attraction: The picturesque town of Kingstown with the oldest Botanical Gardens in the Western Hemisphere
What’s New: The development of SVG’s first international airport, Argyle International Airport, scheduled to open in early 2013; opening/upgrading of several luxury hotel properties; the launch of a free mobile app (available on iPhone, iPad, Andriod, and Blackberry) that provides in-depth information on SVG including stay, play and dine.
Info: (416) 630-9292, www.discoversvg.com
Trinidad & Tobago
Lively Trinidad boasts a bustling capital city, Port of Spain, with galleries, restaurants and museums; gorgeous beaches along the north shore; and lush interior forests. Serene Tobago has quiet beaches on its north coast while its eastern side is home to the oldest protected forest reserve in the Western Hemisphere.
Top Attraction: The excitement, fun and drama of making mas in Trinidad and Tobago at Carnival.
Info: (212) 529 8484, www.gotrinidadandtobago.com
Turks & Caicos
The islands of the Turks and Caicos are almost as diverse as its people. From the main tourist centre of Providenciales, to the quiet and tranquil islands of North and Middle Caicos, to the historic Capital Island of Grand Turk; each one offers a different experience and a unique character, but all offer year-round great climate, beaches and underwater activities. World-class hotels, spas and restaurants await.
Top Attraction: Home to the Best Beach in the World.
What’s New: Increased airlift –Air Canada flies from Toronto two times per week (only one in September and October) then five times per week from Toronto, once per week from Ottawa and once per week from Montreal as of December, with direct service from Halifax February 16 until April 26. WestJet operates two flights per week from Toronto (only once per week September & October) then four times per week November 2 until May.
US Virgin Islands
St. Croix is one of the few places where you can dive a reef, a wall, a wreck and a pier in one day. St. Thomas is the best known, with its cruise ship terminal and fabulous shopping in Charlotte Amalie, while St. John, the smallest, sits within the Virgin Islands National Park.
Top Attraction: Estate Whim Plantation on St. Croix relives the days when sugar and rum shaped the island’s life and land.
What’s New: Air Canada will fly non-stop to St. Thomas weekly on Saturdays from December 24, 2011 through August 14, 2012. Air Canada Vacations will offer ITC packages to both St. Thomas and St John.
Info: (905) 927-0038, www.VisitUSVI.com