There is no better place to escape winter than in the exotic Islands of the Caribbean. Each island in the Caribbean has its own identity with a different language, local cuisine, beer & rum and of course, the best beaches in the world. So, deciding which island is best for you can be tough. I will share with you the experience we had on four islands that we visited: Martinique, St. Lucia, Dominica and Guadeloupe.
About the Caribbean
There are significant differences among the Caribbean islands, although it may seem that every island is equally perfect.
The Caribbean Sea region is located southeast of the Gulf of Mexico and the North American mainland, east of Central America, north of South America and West of the Atlantic Ocean.
The Caribbean can be subdivided into four different regions: the Lucayan Archipelago, the Greater Antilles, the Lesser Antilles and the ABC Islands. There are 13 sovereign states and 17 dependent territories in the Caribbean, and English, Spanish, French, Dutch and Antillean Creole are the predominant languages.
- The Caribbean region is what’s called an archipelago, made up of around 7000 islands, islets, reefs, and caves.
- Only around 2% of the islands in the Caribbean are actually inhabited by people.
- “Pirates of the Caribbean” were a real thing. Around the 1500s to the 1830s, there were thousands of pirates pillaging the Caribbean Sea. Most famous pirate ports were in Jamaica, Haiti, and the Bahamas. The pirates were former sailors who already knew the trade routes between Europe and “ the New World”, therefore had a strong advantage. Believe it or not, there was actually a legal form of piracy, called privateering. Privateering was most often used during times of war.
- Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti contained about 75% of the population of the Caribbean – around 30 million people (almost the size of Canada).
- Inhabitants of the Caribbean Islands are descendants of African slaves who were brought to the islands by European colonial powers to work on the sugar plantation. They stayed on the islands after slavery ended. In 1807 the British slave trade officially ended and buying slaves from Africa became illegal. However, slavery itself had not ended at that moment. Until 1838, there continued to exist a period of apprenticeship with freedom.
- In Caribbeans, the dominant languages are Spanish, English, Dutch, Haitian Creole, and Papiamento.
- Jamaica was the scene of the very first James Bond film, Dr. No.
Discovery of Caribbean
Dominica was the first island that was discovered by Christopher Columbus, but the island had been in fact already inhabited by indigenous tribes for centuries. The actual history behind it is pretty long, but the fact that when Christopher Columbus set out to find a sea route to India, he actually discovered the Americas (just by accident, he thought he’d found India). That’s why the name “West Indies” became the term that describes the territories discovered by Spain.
The name “Caribbean” comes from “Caribs”, a native American group that lived in the region when Europeans first visited it in the 15th century.
Our first stop was on the small island – Martinique.
After an 11 hour flight from Paris, I couldn’t dream for anything better than a nice Cuba Libre at 27 degrees C in December 🙂
Martinique, a French territory has dreamy beaches surrounded by blue-turquoise, clean waters. Some of the best beaches you should have on your radar are:
- Anse Noire – with volcanic sands, this beach provides one of the best spots for snorkeling and see the fish
- Anse Dufour – one of the most beautiful golden sands beaches, providing a turtle spotting snorkeling area (that I loved)
- Les Salines Beach– with the white sand beach is one of the most popular among tourists since it’s very accessible by car
- Pelée Mountain – a popular hiking trail
For more freedom, when you land in Martinique, rent a car at the airport, because the public transportation network is not well developed. To take a taxi every time will be very expensive as the distances are not that short.
Saint Lucia is a sovereign island with the capital at Castries. You can get lost on the small streets of the city and enjoy.
The best thing I found on this small island was the volcano mud bath. Daily tours allow you to play in a volcanic mud spring bath, which you wash off by bathing in the very waterfall used in the movie Superman 2! The tropical paradise on the island will instantly conquer you.
Dominica is the last island in the Caribbean with a substantial population of the indigenous Kalinago people (a.k.a. Carib Indians). The country has been a member of the Commonwealth since its independence in 1978.
The capital and chief port are Roseau. The best part for a tourist is that English is the official language, French is also very commonly spoken.
The economy is dependent upon agriculture, which is intermittently destroyed by hurricanes. The tourism industry is trying to flourish but still, Dominica is one of the poorest countries in the Caribbean.
Because of the Tropical Storm Erika in August 2015, Dominica suffered serious damage. The storm killed more than two dozen people and destroyed many of its buildings. Many communities were devastated. In 2017, Hurricane Maria became the strongest storm on record to make landfall on Dominica. The category 5 hurricane caused what Skerrit described as “widespread devastation” across the island.
I was sad to see the many disasters that happened on the island, but at the same time happy to watch all the people full of hope working hard to rebuild their houses.
Best things to do:
- Hiking – there are several hikes than you could imagine for such a small island. You can choose from a family trip to a more complex tour.
- Scuba diving – underwater volcanic activity and the prices are not that high
- Dominica’s beaches – you will find hidden coves, secluded bays, and sands of all colors
- Roseau – the capital of Dominica have an amazing story to tell: narrow streets lined with colorful wooden buildings
- Drive around the island – if you want to enjoy the tropical atmosphere, you should totally rent a car
The beauty of French Guadeloupe is, especially in terms of food. We bought croissants and baguettes that were the perfect examples of what the Franch take for granted. Yet, at the street markets, I found tropical fruits. At the restaurants, I felt the influence of both Caribbean and French elegance.
The island archipelago of Guadeloupe surround the five islands Basse-Terre, Grande-Terre, Marie-Galante, Les Saintes, and La Desirade. My personal advice is to rent a car from the airport and enjoy the beautiful island driving.
We were driving around the island and stopped at each beach, took a bath, drank a Cuba Libre and went to the next beach. All-day long 🙂
Best things to do:
- Scuba, diving, swimming and all the water sport you can do
- Hiking – the most favorite route is La Pointe des Châteaux at the easternmost point of Grande Terre
- Visit Pointe-à-Pitre – the small and colorful capital of Guadeloupe
- Visit Guadeloupe National Park – was designated as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 1992
- Rum and coffee tasting
The short experience was amazing, each island had her own flavor, smell and exotic touch. There are several flights with Level from Paris that I totally recommend as they are really cheap. It’s beautiful, exotic, beautiful again and more exotic one more time 🙂