The Caribbean is strewn with beautiful islands, featuring idyllic palm-lined beaches and hilltops with lovely panoramas. But even in this beautiful part of the world, there are some island gems that you definitely must include in your Caribbean itinerary. Read on to discover the best Caribbean islands to visit!
Whether you are looking to stay on one Caribbean island and soak up the sun, or you want to do a little bit of island-hopping, the Caribbean offers amazing choices.
Visit many islands on a West Indies cruise, getting a little taste of each one, so you can shortlist the ones you’ll enjoy for a longer break. Or plump for one and spend your entire vacation on a single island paradise!
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While beautiful beaches and fabulous ocean views are yours on any island you pick, some Caribbean islands also feature historic sites, colonial architecture, and lush forests.
Whether you enjoy hiking or sunbathing, photography or culture, you can have a vacation to remember with the right mix of Caribbean islands.
The Best Places to Visit in the Caribbean
So where and what exactly is the Caribbean? Simply put, the Caribbean consists of the Caribbean Sea, all the islands in the sea, and the coastlines it borders.
The Caribbean Sea is located southeast of the Gulf of Mexico, east of Central America, and north of South America.
Did you know that there are thousands of islands and islets in the Caribbean? Some, like Cuba and Haiti, are independent countries, while others, like Puerto Rico and Anguilla, are territories of other countries.
Discovered in 1492 by Christopher Columbus, the famous Spanish explorer, the islands were known as the West Indies for a long time.
Fought over by many nations over the centuries, the islands of the Caribbean today are among the most popular island travel destinations on the planet.
Here, then, are the absolute best Caribbean islands you must put on your itinerary for your first visit to the region!
#1 Puerto Rico
An unincorporated territory of the United States of America, Puerto Rico should definitely be at the top of your list of Caribbean islands.
With a rich history and beautiful landscapes, Puerto Rico offers many eclectic experiences in a small package.
While the capital city of San Juan is a great long weekend destination, allow for about a week to enjoy the island in full.
Top Things to Do in Puerto Rico
Explore Old San Juan
Visit Viejo San Juan, the historic district in the Puerto Rican capital.
Boasting a number of historic forts (now a UNESCO site), the second-oldest cathedral in the New World, and the most colorful colonial facades along narrow cobblestone alleys, Old San Juan is an absolute joy to explore.
Read Next: The Best Things to Do in Old San Juan
Tour El Yunque
El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest managed by the US National Forest system, with its many waterfalls, lush tropical flora, and diverse wildlife. You can drive through the forest, hike, or take in the views from the observation tower.
Spend a day on Culebra, a relatively deserted little island that’s part of Puerto Rico. Among the many lovely beaches you’ll find here is the turquoise Playa Flamenco, classed as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
Or visit Vieques, another small island with just two towns and one of the brightest bioluminescent bays on the planet.
You’ll find lots of things to do in Ponce, Puerto Rico’s second city, located on the southern coast of the island.
Visit the Ponce Cathedral, the Ponce Museum of Art with its surprisingly well-curated collection, and the Castillo Serrallés, a rum baron’s former estate and now a museum.
Guánica, with its dry forest and mangrove islands, and Cabo Rojo, with its historic lighthouse, beautiful beaches, and hiking opportunities, are fabulous parts of the island to visit if you enjoy the outdoors and water activities.
And on the west coast of Puerto Rico, Rincon makes for a great stop on a Puerto Rico road trip. Enjoy the blazing sunsets, visit the Punta Higuera Lighthouse, and spend time at one of many gorgeous sandy beaches.
From food festivals to street art and beautiful architecture to cricket, there’s a lot to discover and enjoy in Barbados. Located in the eastern Caribbean, Barbados is an independent nation that’s a part of the British Commonwealth.
Top Things to Do in Barbados
Bridgetown is famous for its colonial architecture. In nearby Holetown, visit the Saint James Parish Church, the oldest church in Barbados.
Photograph the beautiful murals on the pier. Browse the many stores. Visit the historic Garrison. Step into the Nidhe Israel Synagogue.
Enjoy the beaches
Bathsheba Beach is a must for its photo spots: the beautiful rock formations on the beach are the stuff of Instagram.
Crane Beach has sheltered coves where you can swim. Dover Beach is great for jet skiing and windsurfing. At Mullins Bay, go snorkeling or lounge on the sand.
Walk the boardwalk
Just a few miles from Bridgetown, the Barbados Boardwalk between the Accra and Camelot beaches is a great place to walk, with beautiful water views. For a special treat, go at sunset!
Visit the gardens
Barbados is known for its gorgeous gardens. Visit Hunte’s Gardens, not too far from Bathsheba Beach, or the Andromeda Botanic Gardens, where you will find species from around the world along with great water views.
Tour a rum distillery
Visit St. Nicholas Abbey, where you can tour a historic plantation (now a museum) and the beautiful grounds of the property in addition to viewing small-batch rum processing.
Or tour Mount Gay, the oldest distillery on Barbados. At Mount Gay, tour the processing plant and then taste several samples!
One of the two islands that make up the nation of Antigua and Barbuda, Antigua is simply gorgeous. While its beaches are beautiful, views from the heights of the island are well worth the effort.
Top Things to Do in Antigua
Enjoy Shirley HeightS
Hike or drive to Shirley Heights for spectacular panoramas of the harbor, the water, and surrounding islands.
If you plan to hike, consider going early in the day to avoid the worst of the heat. Views at sunset are even more breathtaking.
Catch some rays
Antigua claims to have a beach for every day of the year, and that may well be true.
Visit Half Moon Bay, with its aquamarine waters and silver beach. Walk the idyllic 17 Mile Beach or visit Dickenson’s Bay for swimming, sailing, or windsurfing.
Tour Nelson’s Dockyard
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Nelson’s Dockyard is named for Admiral Horatio Nelson, a British fleet commander in the 18th century. Learn about the dockyard’s history and admire the posh yachts that are lined up along the quay today.
Drive the island
Tour the island in a car or a bus and take in the lush tropical beauty. With picturesque villages, rolling hills, and gorgeous views from high lookouts, Antigua is beautiful to explore.
Visit St. John’s Cathedral
Located on a hill in St. John’s, the capital of Antigua and Barbuda, St. John’s Cathedral has an impressive facade, with twin Baroque towers.
On the day we visited, the church was packed due to a funeral, so we just stayed in the back inside. The stained glass is lovely.
Do a day trip to Barbuda
Hop on a comfortable catamaran and zip across the azure waters to Barbuda.
Visit the frigate bird sanctuary, a short boat ride away, and the sea caves high up on the island. Spend some time relaxing on one of many beautiful beaches.
#4 St. Lucia
Saint Lucia is an Eastern Caribbean nation known for the Pitons, two dramatic peaks that rise up into the sky. With tropical rainforests and beautiful beaches, St. Lucia is a must-visit on your Caribbean itinerary.
Top Things to Do in Saint Lucia
Snap a photo of the Pitons
Located between the towns of Soufrière and Choiseul, Gros Piton and Petit Piton are visible from most parts of the island. A photo of the impressive volcanic plugs is a must!
If you enjoy challenging hikes and have the time, you may want to look into hiking up Gros Piton.
Visit Pigeon Island National Landmark
Pigeon Island is home to Fort Rodney, an 18th century fort, and other historic ruins. Although the climb up to the viewpoint is not easy, the stunning views are worth every bit of the effort.
The island is also home to several idyllic beaches, perfect for relaxing after the climb.
Walk on a beach
You’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to beaches on St. Lucia. Reduit Beach is beautiful but can be crowded, since it is close to lots of bars and restaurants.
Anse Chastanet is also stunning, and less crowded. Jalousie Beach, by the Pitons, is a great spot to snorkel or scuba dive.
Drive by a volcano
At Sulphur Springs Park in Soufrière, you can drive by an active volcano and see the fumes rising up into the air. Be prepared to hold your nose though, because the sulphur smell is super strong. You can soak in the sulfuric pools here if you bring an old swimsuit.
Admire Marigot Bay from above
The setting for more than one movie, Marigot Bay is the stuff of picture postcards. The idyllic bay is located near Castries.
View the picturesque bay from the surrounding hills on a drive through the island. Lookout points allow for stops for photos.
#5 US Virgin Islands
We stayed on Saint Thomas, but you can also base yourself on Saint John or Saint Croix: all three islands feature beautiful resorts.
With a national park to explore, world-famous beaches, and great shopping, the US Virgin Islands make for a great tropical getaway.
Top Things to Do in the US Virgin Islands
Visit Virgin Islands National Park in St. John
The national park covers two-thirds of the island and is a must on any St. John itinerary.
If you love hiking you can pick from nearly two dozen trails. Trunk Bay is the quintessential Caribbean beach, with sparkling aqua waters and silver sand. Campsites are available but reserve ahead.
Snap photos of stunning Magens Bay
While you can visit the beach to swim and enjoy the beauty up close, you should definitely drive to a lookout point high up on Saint Thomas to view Magens Bay from above. It is jaw-dropping beautiful and you will want photos from every angle!
Shop till you drop
Looking for a bit of retail therapy? Head to Main Street in Charlotte Amelie, where ritzy stores sell everything from diamonds to fragrances and apparel. And it is all duty free. Near the pier, look for the Little Mermaid statue, a copy of the one in Copenhagen.
Visit the forts of St. Croix
Fort Christiansvaern on St. Croix, with its bright yellow facade, is a must for history buffs. Take a tour to learn about the history of the island all the way from its initial settlement.
You can also visit Fort Frederik to learn about the massive emancipation rally of 1848.
Take in the views from Paradise Point
Rent a car and drive up to Paradise Point in Saint Thomas for spectacular views over the Charlotte Amelie harbor. You can see all the way to Puerto Rico from here! The views at sunset are even more stunning.
#6 British Virgin Islands
While the British Virgin Islands is made up of 50+ islands, the four major islands of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Jost Van Dyke offer plenty to do on a Caribbean vacation. Tours connect the main islands so it’s easy to visit more than one.
Top Things to Do in the British Virgin Islands
Visit the Baths at Virgin Gorda
Undoubtedly one of the top experiences in the British Virgin Islands, the walk to see the picturesque boulders and scenic coves of Virgin Gorda involve some wading through the water! You’ll get amazing photos on this walk, so don’t miss it.
Do a day trip to Jost Van Dyke
White Bay on Jost Van Dyke is a gorgeous beach, ideal for sunbathing. Jost Van Dyke is the perfect place to try a painkiller, the island’s signature drink, made with dark rum, coconut cream, orange juice, and pineapple, and garnished with nutmeg.
Explore shipwrecks on Anegada Island
If you enjoy diving to check out shipwrecks, you can choose from over 300 shipwrecks in the waters off Anegada! The beaches are gorgeous, if you prefer to laze on stretches of impossibly beautiful silver sand.
And don’t miss the beautiful pink flamingos. They love the salt ponds on Anegada.
Admire the murals in Tortola
Driving up the curvy Ridge Road is an experience in itself, but making it even more special are a series of murals done by many different local artists.
They depict the traditional way of life on the island and if you enjoy street art you may want to stop at a pullout so you can view them at leisure.
Enjoy Cane Garden Bay on Tortola
Cane Garden Bay is one of the most popular spots on Tortola. At Cane Garden Bay, you can choose to swim, snorkel, walk on the sand, or go boating or kayaking.
With lots of bars and restaurants, it’s a great place to eat and hang out in the evening as well.
#7 St. Martin/St. Maarten
The 34 square miles of this Caribbean island contain two separate countries: the northern French side called Saint-Martin, and the southern Dutch portion of Sint Maarten.
With vibrant nightlife, beautiful beaches and coves, and great food, the St. Martin is well worth a spot on your Caribbean itinerary.
Top Things to Do in St. Martin-St. Maarten
Enjoy the beaches
Both the French side and the Dutch side offer a number of beautiful beaches, but note that the beaches on the French side are clothing optional.
Orient Bay is a popular destination in St. Martin, while Maho Bay and Mullet Bay are must-visits on the Dutch side. Maho Bay is located right next to the airport if you love watching airplanes!
Drive up to Paradise Peak
From Pic du Paradis on the French side, you can enjoy breathtaking views of the water and surrounding islands like Anguilla. You can drive to the top, or, if you enjoy challenging hikes, you can hike up the mountain.
Go shopping on Front Street
Front Street in Philipsburg, on the Dutch side of the island, is a mecca for shoppers, with everything from jewelry to electronics.
To buy guavaberry liqueur, the official liqueur of the island, stop at the pretty 18th century red-and-white Guavaberry Emporium. You can taste before you buy!
Sample the cuisine
On the French side of the island, the Grand Case area features some of the best food you can eat in the Caribbean. Choose French, Italian, or Creole cuisine!
Local dishes feature seafood, goat, and oxtail. For great casual fare, try one of the barbecue open-air stands on the beach.
#8 St. Kitts
One of two islands that make up the Federation of Saint Christopher and Nevis, St. Kitts features beautiful landscapes ranging from jewel-green hills to lush rainforest to sun-drenched coast.
Top Things to Do in St. Kitts
Ride the scenic railway
Built in the early 20th century for the sugar cane industry, the St. Kitts scenic railway makes its way through some of the most spectacular parts of the island and is the best way to enjoy the lush vegetation and panoramic views.
The ride is a little bumpy, but the photo ops from the open air top deck make up for any discomfort!
Explore Brimstone Hill Fortress
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Brimstone Hill Fortress offers fabulous views of nearby towns and the blue water. On a clear day, you can see several neighboring islands from higher elevations.
Allow time to tour the grounds and the interior: it’s one of the best preserved old forts in the New World.
Enjoy Frigate Bay
The sands at Frigate Bay are great for strolling or relaxing, and the waters perfect for a swim, but you can also enjoy a vibrant night scene here.
With restaurants and bars and lots of shopping, Frigate Bay is super popular. North Frigate Bay is relatively less crowded.
Check out other beaches on St. Kitts
From popular South Friar’s to secluded Sand Bank Bay, you can have your pick of beaches in St. Kitts.
Cockleshell Beach is crowded on weekends and when cruise ships are in port, but otherwise quiet. It is a beautiful stretch of sand, and great for swimming.
Do a day trip to Nevis
Take the ferry (or a guided tour) to Nevis from Basseterre on St. Kitts. Nevis has some beautiful beaches: Oualie Beach offers great snorkeling and Pinney’s Beach is stunning, with its golden sands and coconut palms lining the beachfront.
Nevis is the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton, and the local museum has a section devoted to him.
Anguilla is made up of a main island and many little islets. It is a British territory and offers an unspoiled experience, because cruise ships are not allowed, and there are no multi-level resorts or casinos. If you are looking for a secluded getaway, consider Anguilla!
Top Things to Do in Anguilla
Enjoy the pristine beaches
With close to three dozen gorgeous beaches, there’s no shortage of idyllic spots to relax in Anguilla. Shoal Bay East is popular, so if you are looking for quiet, choose Meads Bay or Rendezvous Bay. Sandy Ground has lots of restaurants and bars and is a lively place in the evenings.
Do an excursion to Little Bay
Do a boat trip to Little Bay, a cove tucked away in the northwest part of the island. The sand is gorgeous and the dramatic cliffs make for great photos. You can kayak there on your own as well. Swim and snorkel in a slice of paradise!
Get away to one of the cays
For a true deserted island experience, do a trip to one of the cays located off the coast of Anguilla.
The Prickly Pear Cays are a pair of tiny islands you can visit, and while the beaches are stunning, you’ll love the little finches that feed from your hand! Scilly Cay features awesome food.
Visit the Heritage Museum
Learn more about Anguilla, its history and its culture, with a visit to the Heritage Collection Museum in East End Village. The collection features artifacts from the time of the Arawak Indians to the Anguilla Revolution of 1967.
Tour Wallblake House
If you enjoy history, don’t miss out on a visit to Wallblake House, one of the oldest buildings on Anguilla. Located in The Valley, it is the only plantation house in Anguilla still standing. Call ahead to book your spot on a tour of the late 18th century property.
An atypical Caribbean paradise featuring lots of stunning natural spots that are not beaches, the island nation of Dominica definitely deserves a spot on your Caribbean itinerary. Its capital city, Roseau, is very colorful and makes for great photos!
Top Things to Do in Dominica
Visit Trafalgar Falls
Located in the Morne Trois Pitons National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Trafalgar Falls is one of Dominica’s top attractions.
The upper waterfall tumbles into hot sulfur springs, while the gentler lower waterfall drains into a natural pool. The walk to the falls is easily managed by most visitors.
Gawk at Boiling Lake
Boiling Lake will leave you astounded. Also located in the Morne Trois Pitons National Park, the fumarole features boiling hot water from which swirls of vapor rise into the air.
Be warned, though, getting to Boiling Lake is challenging, and you should hire a local guide to escort you.
Hike in Morne Trois Pitons National Park
While the park features a number of challenging hikes for the serious and fit hiker, you can also find short scenic trails to enjoy.
The Emerald Pool Nature Trail, for example, is super short and leads to a lovely waterfall and plunge pool in the forest.
Visit a tropical garden
Visit the Botanical Gardens in Roseau, where you can see some nice plants and trees but also the unusual sight of a bus crushed by a huge Baobab tree.
Or visit the Papilotte Tropical Gardens, with its lush tropical foliage, beautiful bright flowers, and waterfalls, and hot pools in which you can soak.
So there you have it: 10 totally captivating Caribbean islands to consider for your next tropical getaway. Which ones have you visited? Comment below to respond!
If you haven’t yet visited this beautiful part of the world, start planning a dream Caribbean vacation now! You will be blown away by the beauty of the islands.
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