Caribbean island match
Budget-conscious or luxe? Romantic or family-friendly? Get the lowdown on the right islands and resorts for you with our handy guide.
Which Caribbean island to choose? Yes, I know, it smacks of #firstworldproblems but the region has become much more mainstream in the last few years (less lottery winner, more family holiday) and the right island for you will very much depend on your interests and budget.
The first holiday I ever took with my now husband was to Cuba. I planned out a week twinning Havana with Unesco-listed heritage town Trinidad. The conversation then when something like this:
Him: “Great, but when do we hit the beach?”
Him: It’s the Caribbean Debbie!”
You get the idea – I’m all about the culture, which is why Cuba remains my favourite island followed by Jamaica, up-and-coming Haiti and laid-back Nevis. But if you want celebrity boltholes or great kids’ clubs for instance, there may be better islands for you.
So, I asked experts Caribtours, who’ve spent years selling the region (and best of all have flights to everywhere handily from Gatwick), for the lowdown on where to go for different scenarious. Here’s what they recommend…
St Lucia is a perennial couples’ favourite, especially for weddings and honeymoons. It’s a lush island with dramatic twin peaks The Pitons and truly romantic hotels like adult-only Jade Mountain – an all-suite sanctuary where rooms have their fourth wall missing so you can really get back to nature. It’s worth knowing too that many Caribbean resorts offer free weddings if you bring a certain number of guests.
Antigua is very popular with Caribtours’ family travellers not least because it has some great flexible hotels. They recommend Carlisle Bay (a handy 30 mins from the airport) where the beach suites have a second bedroom, meaning precious privacy for you without the cost of booking a whole second room. There’s also a kids’ club that takes six-month-olds upwards (three or four years up is usually more typical). It’s a good value resort, especially in summer when the all-inclusive plan works well for older active kids who can try lots of sports. I’m also reliably informed the spa is ‘out of this world’. Blue Waters is another good bet for a creche and flexible room types right up to cottages.
For action and adventure
St Lucia gets a vote again, where that rainforest and coast combo means varied possibilities from Segway tours to waterfall visits, rafting, zip wiring, sailing, cycling and hot springs visits. Not strictly the Caribbean, but the Central American country of Costa Rica faces the Caribbean Sea and is really trending right now thanks to a newish direct flight from Gatwick. There’s plenty of wildlife to be seen (including sloths) in national parks where you can also river raft or take a zipline. Nature island Dominica is currently off sale due to hurricane damage but if you’re planning longer term, check it out from late next year when it should be back welcoming tourists.
Ahh Cuba. Explore Havana, take a cigar factory tour, a ride in a vintage car, visit gorgeous cobbled Trinidad (the town not the separate Caribbean island) and fill your camera’s memory card with heaps of great shots. Cuba has a vintage vibe and great live music, you can also end your tour with a beach stay at popular Varadero or one of the cays.
Caribtours has its own suggested tours of the island or can tailor-make something just for you. Be warned though, due to the US lifting of sanctions, Cuba is chocca not only with US tourists but with Europeans who fear this time capsule island will soon be swamped with McDonalds and Starbucks – so you’ll need to book well ahead.
For the best beaches
Let’s face it, nowhere in the Caribbean is too shabby when it comes to sea and sand but if you’re all about creating Instagram envy then get booking Anguilla for ‘absolutely stunning’ beaches says Caribtours. Elsewhere, Grenada’s Grand Anse Beach is one of the Caribbean’s most famous (I can personally recommend food-focused Spice Island Beach Resort here, which Caribtours features). The Grenadines, where many of the hotels are on their own private islands, like Petit St Vincent, are also dreamy but they’re currently recovering from hurricane Irma so put them on your wish list for future. Jamaica, a good all-rounder, also has some great sands to dig your toes into and Antigua boasts a beach for every day of the year!
For good value
If you’re budget conscious, Caribtours recommends looking to the larger islands with plentiful accommodation, and non-stop flights so you don’t need to pay for an extra transfer. Barbados’s South coast, Antigua, St Lucia, Tobago and the Dominican Republic are all worth a look. Also consider Mexico’s Riviera Maya (the coastline on the Caribbean sea) which has been booming in recent years and now has plenty of hotels to choose from.
If you looked at the Caribbean for a family holiday a few years back and found it too pricey do look again because after much campaigning Air Passenger Duty (APD) has been lowered to the region, bringing flight (and therefore overall package) prices down. It’s also worth knowing that there are heaps of offers around like kids go free or 50% off a second room if you get organised and book early.
For all-out luxury
Got cash to splash on something really special? Iconic Sandy Lane in Barbados is a celebrity favourite – I spotted Wayne Rooney there the other year (he was staying, I was just popping in for a drink and a drool!) Pink Sands Club, Canouan in the Grenadines is another to look at from late next year onwards. Want more? Jumby Bay sits on its own private island in Antigua; One & Only Ocean Club has accommodation up to villa residences in the Bahamas; Eden Rock on St Barths is ‘very chic’ says Caribtours and has its own yacht harbour.
Thinking uber exclusive? Caribtours made a £400,000 booking to Richard Branson’s Necker Island last year! You can stay as regular hotel guests at certain times, at others, rent out the whole place. Beats the local pub for a birthday bash eh? It’s being renovated at the moment post Irma so keep it in mind for future while you save up your pennies. Finally there’s Mustique, the private island beloved of Princess Margaret and more recently visited by William and Kate. The Cotton House is the famous heritage hotel here, an old warehouse remodelled in the 1960s by theatre designer Oliver Messel who, incidentally, lived at Nymans, now a National Trust property in Sussex.
A note on hurricane damage: The BVIs and Dominica are no-go islands at the moment while they recover from Hurricane Irma. Anguilla is expected to be fully open around March or April, and most of the St Baths hotels likewise. The other islands are all up and running. Hurricane season is officially June to the end of October but typically you’ll simply experience higher humidity and the odd shower during this time. Tour operators like Caribtours monitor the weather constantly so on the rare occasions it becomes unsafe your holiday will be diverted or refunded.
You can find out more about Caribtours and book their holidays to the Caribbean, Indian Ocean, the Americas, Europe, Africa and Arabia through Baldwins Travel Group, by phone or by visiting one of their branches in Lewes, Uckfield, Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge, Maidstone, Cranbrook, Sevenoaks and Tenterden.