When dreaming about an escape to the Caribbean, some of the top destinations in mind probably include places like Jamaica, the Bahamas, and the Dominican Republic. Millions travel to these island nations, which means if you join them, you might have a tough time finding that perfect spot on the sand or a lounge chair around the pool.
If you don’t care much for high-rise resorts, prefer getting to know the local culture, and taking part in more unique adventures where you won’t be rubbing elbows with countless others, perhaps it’s time to consider one of the lesser-known Caribbean islands. They not only provide breathtaking tropical scenery but a more tranquil experience that fits the definition of true paradise.
Bequia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Bequia is a tiny, seven-square-mile island that isn’t easy to reach but your reward for the effort is what’s been called the “most perfect” of the Caribbean isles. Visitors generally arrive by flying into Barbados and then catching a flight to St. Vincent followed by an hour-long ferry ride into Port Elizabeth.
It’s like a vintage postcard as one of the few places in the region that hasn’t been spoiled by tourism. There may not be much glitz and glamour, but there are deserted, powder sugar-like sands, swaying palms, and charming villages.
Port Elizabeth has a winding main street with colorful wooden buildings that serve as family-run shops, markets, and eateries. The locals are genuinely welcoming, the seafood is fresh, and the rum punch is always flowing. It’s a fabulous under-the-radar destination for snorkeling, diving, and sailing through the clear, turquoise water.
If you’ve ever watched any of the first three “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, you’ll recognize Bequia’s striking beauty with parts of its historic pirate bays restored during filming. Visitors can also take day trips to other islands by sailboat, including Petit Tabac where Jack Sparrow was marooned with Elizabeth Swan.
Just two-thirds of a mile long, it’s part of Tobago Cays Marine Park. There are no facilities of any kind, and the rum is long gone so you’ll need to bring your own. Enjoy it among the coconut trees and unspoiled white sands framed by translucent blue water teeming with marine life.
Antigua and Barbuda
Antigua and Barbuda are part of a two-island nation that’s frequently overlooked for more developed, larger islands, but there’s plenty to love here.
Antigua claims to have a beach for every day of the year with 365 of them, including Rendezvous Bay, a serene sliver with a backdrop of lush hills, tucked in a secluded cove on the south coast. But if you really want to be far from the crowds, stay on Barbuda. It’s home to a population of just 1,200 with little tourism, but that’s just part of its charm.
A 20-minute flight or three-hour ferry from Antigua, Barbuda offers beachcombing, diving and snorkeling among marine life like rays, sharks, and sea turtles, along with outstanding birdwatching at the Frigate Bird Sanctuary, a habitat for massive frigate birds and over 150 other bird species.
This island is also a great place to do nothing at all but let the stress melt away while relaxing on one of the pink sand beaches.
“The Nature Island of the Caribbean,” Dominica is often confused with the Dominican Republic but there are few similarities between the two. Dominica is mostly undeveloped as the locals here are passionate about preserving the island’s natural assets.
While it’s not the type of place to lounge on the sand, it does offer countless waterfalls, hot springs pools, rainforest, and a resident population of sperm whales that can often be seen right from shore. There are boat tours that will bring you out for a closer look and even options to go snorkeling or diving with the animals.
You can even enjoy a Champagne Reef here. It’s not the drink, rather an underwater geothermal spring with hot bubbles that makes it feel as if you’re bathing in a big bottle of bubbly.
Visitors can also spot hawksbill, leatherback, and green turtles on Black Sand Beach and explore UNESCO-listed Morne Trois Pitons National Park. The park is famous as the home of the second-largest actively boiling lake in the world, but it offers much more.
As you walk the trails, you’ll pass giant ferns, rushing rivers, numerous cascading falls, and surreal swimming holes while the scent of fragrant flowers fills the air. Blessed with lots of rainfall and rich volcanic soil, there’s plenty of fresh, tropical produce to enjoy here too, from mangos and guavas to citrus crops. Creole cuisine is the focus, with flying fish, kingfish, and tuna often featured as the catch of the day.
The Caribbean country of Grenada includes the main island of Grenada and six smaller surrounding islands. Known as the “Spice Isle,” the hilly island is laced with spice plantations, including lots of nutmeg along with ginger, cinnamon, and cloves among others, resulting in a wonderful aroma that’s detectable throughout.
It’s crisscrossed with nature trails with a mountainous interior made up of mostly rainforest and nature preserve, with the mountains north of St. George home to Annandale Falls, a 30-foot-high waterfall with a pool at the bottom for refreshing dips. In the capital city, one can wander the streets lined with colorful Georgian homes and buildings, while an early 18th-century fort overlooks the narrow harbor.
Grenada has 45 different beaches to choose from as well, with both livelier stretches like Grand Anse, a nearly two-mile span of white sands with lots of luxury hotels, and quieter Morne Rouge. Protected by Quarantine Point, it boasts calm, shallow waters for swimming far from the crowds.
The Bay Islands off the northern coast of Honduras are primarily made up of three larger islands which include Guanaja, Utila, and Roatan.
There are also more than 60 islets and keys, many of which are uninhabited. Surrounded by the world’s second-largest barrier reef, the archipelago is a dream for divers and snorkelers who can glide along the sea bottom with elegant eagle rays and view the Caribbean’s widest variety of sponges and coral. Roatan offers an ideal mix of activities and tranquility.
Apart from the busy West End, it’s still mostly undeveloped. But you’ll find opportunities to enjoy close encounters with macaws and capuchin in the jungle or zipline through the canopy peering down at it all from above.
The “Unspoiled Queen of the Caribbean,” Saba is a 12-minute flight south of St. Maarten, yet you’ll feel as if you’re a world away. It’s not for everyone as there are no mass resorts, franchise restaurants, or even beaches. But it’s perfect for those who crave silence and solitude.
The five-square-mile volcanic island is a paradise for hiking and diving. There are scenic treks on rainforest trails, including the opportunity to conquer the island’s highest lookout point, aptly named Mount Scenery, while soaring rock formations provide safe haven to a wide range of marine life.
Huge corals can be discovered in brilliant shades of orange, purple, and green along with schools of colorful fish, sea turtles, and garden eels. After a day of play on land or in the water, you’ll find small, eclectic bars and eateries to unwind with a drink and deliciously fresh island fare.
Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands
The Cayman Islands are well known but just about everyone visits Grand Cayman, overlooking its sister islands, especially Cayman Brac which is far less developed.
This little island is covered with jungle and is the only place on Earth where you can see the Cayman Brac Parrot. It used to dwell on Little Cayman, but a hurricane decimated the population.
The endangered colorful bird has some impressive plumage, including iridescent blue, green, yellow, red, and white feathers, making it easy to spot among the cacti and orchids of the Parrot Reserve.
Don’t expect to find nightlife here, unless your idea of fun after dark includes dive lights and octopus. Cayman Brac is a place for peaceful solitude.