So, you have been putting it off for years, always promising to take the family someplace special, somewhere hot-hot-hot, a beach holiday in the truest sense of the word. You have already taken advice from friends, thumbed stacks of holiday brochures and yet you still donâ€™t know where to throw down your beach towel. Whether secluded and romantic or family focused and fun loving, the only dilemma involved in planning a trip to the Caribbean is choosing the right island paradise to visit. Allow us to give you a few helpful pointers.
1. Dominican Republic
Capital: Santo Domingo
Religion: Roman Catholic
Currency: Dominican peso
National Dish: La Bandera; beans, rice and chicken (stewed) guisado.
Local Saying:Â In the DR you can always fit one more person in the bus.
Watch out for: Sanky-Pankies (smooth talker-beach walker).
Forming one side of the Caribbeanâ€™s second largest landmass, Hispaniola, sharing a border with Haiti, the Dominican Republic is one of the less developed tourist destinations and therefore an option for the budget conscious, but donâ€™t let that fool you. The many tourists that visit know the rest are missing out. A variety of airports make this an accessible option. The north coast of the island sports choppier seas that are a must for the wind and kite surf fraternity. For the adventurous try your hand at the Samana Zipline tour or for a more genteel pastime try the Punta Espada Golf Course, Punta Cana.
Population:Â Just over 12,000.
Capital:Â The Valley
Wildlife: Home to the endangered Brown Pelican
Size:Â 16 miles long, 3 miles wide.
Number of beaches:Â 33
Fact: The name Anguilla means eel
Experts would argue that Anguilla possesses the finest beaches in the region; some accolade considering the competition. This tiny British protectorate is dominated by white sandy beaches where top-notch restaurants dare each other to see how far into the waters they can stretch.Â The national sport of boat-racing is a delight for seafaring aficionados. Even in high season it can feel like you have destinations like Barnes Bay all to yourselves.Â Plan your trip around the Festival Del Mar and you will realise unspoilt does not necessarily mean quiet.
3. St Lucia
Do say: Iconic and Volcanic
Language:Â English/French patois
Life expectancy: 78 years (women)
Currency: East Caribbean Dollar
Fact: Features the only drive-in volcano in the world.
When we dream of the Caribbean we see St Lucia. The warmth of the people is legendary, as is its stunning natural beauty and the forested twin peaks rising from the sea. There are areas of this island that are refreshingly inexpensive like Soufriere on the islandâ€™s west coast, catering as much for couples as it does for families. The island is not predisposed to tacky entertainment but revels in activities like snorkelling, sailing and golf and tennis. This jewel of the Lesser Antilles is home to many endangered species and the verdant rainforest are a bird watchers paradise.
Donâ€™t say: Last of the Carib-beans.
Religion: Roman Catholic/Protestant
National Dish: Dominica’s national dishÂ is the mountain chicken, (frogâ€™s legs)
Life Expectancy: 73
Fact: Home to 3,000 Carib Indians, the last bastion of this once populous tribe.
If its nature you wish to see then Dominica is the place for you. The Morne Diablotin National Park is dense with rainforests, waterfalls, bubbling lakes and teeming wildlife. The picture perfect salt and pepper beaches are a change from the ubiquitous white sand affair of the Caribbean. Explore the Fort Shirley ruins or take a ride along the rivers where Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed. But donâ€™t let Dominicaâ€™s wildlife grab too much attention at the expense of Calibishie Bay, where you can cool your feet in the shallows while locals serve up home-cooked fresh and tasty seafood.
Donâ€™t say: Bequia, it is pronounced Bek-Weh
Language: English/French patois
Capital: Port Elizabeth
Area:Â 7Â sq miles
Flight Times:Â from Barbados 55 minutes
Bequia is perfect for those in search of a little touch of luxury without being overtly exclusive. It is a popular haunt for sailors of the Caribbean but stands out for its beaches, of which the beach named after Princess Margaret is the obvious choice. She liked to pop over from neighbouring Mustique. The islanders welcomed her and theyâ€™ll make you feel welcome too. If this idyllic setting is not enough and itâ€™s shopping you prefer, then look no further than Port Elizabeth or a boat trip to Kingstown, St Vincent will only take you a short hour.
Do say: Spice up your life!
Location: 100 miles north of Venezuela
Capital: St Georges
Aka: the Spice Isle
National Dish: Oil-Down made with breadfruit and served withÂ Golden Apple Drink, which also happens to be theÂ national Drink
Currency: Eastern Caribbean Dollar (and US Dollar, of course).
The beach on the postcard that you send back home to chillier climes will likely be Grand Anse, two miles long and favouring the islands hottest hotels. But there are more secluded places along the northern tip for those who want to take care of the cash in their wallets. Friday means happy hour, so stroll down to Prickly Bay Marina for drinks and live music.
7. Turks and Caicos
Do say: The Shangri Las of sandy beaches.
Capital: Cockburn Town, Grand Turk Island.
Location: 550 miles south of Miami.
Currency: US Dollar
If all inclusive family holiday resorts are what you are looking for, then the Beaches Turks and Caicos is one of the finest to adorn the 12 mile long Grace Bay. The resort has superb facilities throughout to occupy children, while you sip on a chilled rum and coke, dumbfounded by the sight of the aquamarine sea. They say the Turks and Caicos are relatively undiscovered; not for much longer. Our lips are sealed.
Fact: Tourists love Barbados. They keep coming back (39% return rate is one of the highest in the Caribbean)
Fact: Third oldest Parliament in the world at 398 years.
National Dish: Coucou & Flying Fish, a recipe made with corn meal, okra, and flying fish.
The beautiful sing-song accent of the Bajans would lull a baby to sleep. Barbados is notoriously expensive but that doesnâ€™t deter visitors. Perhaps itâ€™s the high quality gourmet food (ask Michael Winner). The Crop Over Festival is a popular time, celebrating the ending of the sugar cane season and climaxing with the spectacular Carnival Parade.
Do say: How do you like your coffee (answer: Blue like the Mountains)
Currency: US Dollar widely accepted.
Fact: Ian Fleming built his house â€˜Goldeneyeâ€™ in JA and wrote ten novels there.
National dish: Ackee and Saltfish.
Jamaicaâ€™s assertive culture offers the best entertainment for many families. Treat the locals with respect and they will offer you enduring politeness and old world charm. No â€˜small islandâ€™ mentality but a culture striving to be seen as something other than a tourist destination. However, as a tourist destination Jamaica has breadth and scope. Resorts like Beaches Boscobel offer the complete package for families in search of that perfect Caribbean experience.
10. The Bahamas
Size: 700 islands (of which approx 40 are inhabited).
Location: The islands cover an area 100,000 sq miles (incidentally not actually the Caribbean, but the Atlantic).
National Bird: The Flamingo
Fact: Woodes Rodgers, the first governor of the Bahamas, was also a former pirate.
Population: 320,000. (200,000 live in the capital).
Another favourite family destination are Paradise Island (no need to ask where its name derives) or Grand Lucayan, two of the most outstanding islands in the Bahamas. Aruba not only offers great family value, but also casinoâ€™s and sparkling nightlife to accompany white sandy beaches and that signature aquamarine sea. If you donâ€™t like to walk try a horse safari. For those who canâ€™t ride, drive a 4WD instead across the islands national park.
Hopefully you have found what you are looking for, but if you are still not sure where to holiday in the Caribbean, donâ€™t worry: There are at least another 7,000 islands to choose from. Happy hunting!
Author bio: Clive Wedderburn is a freelance writer/editor who studied literature and journalism. His interests include travel, architecture, business development and marketing. Beaches.com offers luxury family vacations in some of the Caribbeansâ€™ most bountiful locations.