The Caribbean stretches for thousands of miles and includes hundreds of islands. Deciding which one is best for you can be a little daunting. Less famous than big, often-pricey (and crowded) tourist islands such as Jamaica, Barbados and Aruba, these are lovely places to consider; their appeal will depend on your personality and interests.
Michal Gutowski Photography/Getty Images
Curaçao: history, lovely beaches, Dutch culture
They speak a blend of languages known as Papiamentu in Curaçao, an autonomous country within the Royal Dutch Kingdom (like Aruba) that wears its Dutch heritage proudly. The capital city of Willemstad has lively markets and shopping areas, as well as waterfront buildings in shades of shades of canary yellow, Aegean Sea blue and Pepto Bismol pink. You'll want to explore its rich history: The Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue in Willemstad is the oldest, continually used synagogue in the Western Hemisphere, dating back to 1730. Also in Willemstad, you can visit the Kura Hulanda Museum, which traces the history of black slavery on the island, and Fort Amsterdam, built in 1634 to house the Dutch West India Company. For natural beauty check out Christoffelpark, a national park, and Shete Boka National Park on the east coast. When the weather is right, truly massive waves roll and smash onto high, black cliffs, sending majestic spumes of spray dozens of feet into the air.
Near Venezuela in the southern Caribbean, the island boasts temperatures. It's especially affordable here in the summer, which is off-season. A bonus: It's outside of the hurricane zone.
Uliana Bazar/Alamy Stock Photo
Cayman Islands: gardens, wildlife, cuisine
The Cayman Islands are known for their gleaming yachts and flashy hotels along Seven Mile Beach on Grand Cayman, the largest of the three islands that are part of the British territory (English is its official language). Here, about an hour's flight from Miami, you'll find amazing, lush gardens and old island homes, plus the Blue Iguana Habitat at Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, which does great work to revive the endangered critter of the same name. There are also the gorgeous beaches and tax-free shopping in the capital, George Town; a range of delicious restaurants at all price points; and snorkeling with stingrays at Stingray City, where you can get face-to-face with the sea creatures..
It's quieter and in general less expensive on the more secluded Little Cayman, a small (10 miles long, 1 mile wide) island with several mom and pop-style resorts and guest houses that cater to divers. The island is home to a rich array of wildlife and its only road crosses the taxiway between the airport runway and the tiny terminal, where you can check in for your flight and wander a few yards down the road to the Hungry Iguana Restaurant at Paradise Villas Resort. Look out over the ocean and sip a cold beer while you wait for your flight. There's no ferry service here from Grand Cayman, so visitors arrive by interisland air.
To help you plan your next big trip, get AARP’s twice-monthly Travel newsletter.
Michal Gutowski Photography/Getty Images
Dominica: hiking, natural beauty
This beautiful island, an English-speaking country in the West Indies (with no relation to the Dominican Republic, incidentally), was damaged badly by Hurricane Maria in 2017, but has rebounded nicely. Several new hotels are in the works, and it has a new luxury retreat called Secret Bay. Dominica also has some reasonable and quite attractive options: Located near the small city of Portsmouth, Hotel The Champs features comfortable rooms on a hillside overlooking the ocean a few miles away, with a casual bar and a hammock for hanging out in the shade.
The island bills itself as “the nature island,” and is a haven for hiking, with its new 115-mile Waitukubuli National Trail, as well as scuba diving. It also has beautiful white-sand beaches and several magical waterfalls, including the 275-foot Middleham Falls. Morne Trois Piton National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, offers the Emerald Pool: A short trail takes you into a deep green rainforest to a green-hued pool you can swim in. Trafalgar Falls is another beauty, with two tumbling falls. For a remarkable view of the southern tip of the island and a small strip of land that separates a large, aquamarine bay from the Atlantic Ocean, take a short hike up the trail at Scotts Head.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines: waterfalls, rugged scenery, idyllic little islands
This is a fully independent group of islands, a nation that's part of the British Commonwealth. It also has a bit of a split personality, with two distinct offerings for travelers. The island of St. Vincent proper is a relatively small but rugged piece of land that is more famous for its waterfalls and hiking than for its beaches. Dark View Falls are a spectacular pair of waterfalls on the north end of the island. On the coast, movie buffs can visit Wallilabou Bay, where they filmed part of the original Pirates of the Caribbean film and you can find photos and movie memorabilia.
The Grenadines are a lovely set of 32 islands strung out to the south of St. Vincent, stretching down toward the island of Grenada, with ferry service to allow for island hopping. One of the closest islands (you can take a ferry from the city of Youngstown on St. Vincent) is Bequia, which has a funky, old-time feel and a beautiful stretch of sand called Princess Margaret Beach that's a short walk from the ferry dock. Tiny Mayreau, which is usually reached by boat (you can take a ferry or water taxi from Union Island), has a couple of small hotels and is home to Salt Whistle Bay, which might be the prettiest beach in the Caribbean.