Secret Caribbean Islands: 8 Hidden Gems Worth Seeking Out
In case you didn't get the memo, there is much more to the Caribbean than just Jamaica and Turks and Caicos. In the shadow of these popular islands are a host of (relatively) untapped destinations, where the beaches are just as gorgeous and prices remarkably more affordable.
Culebra, Puerto Rico
A mere 17 miles east of Puerto Rico, hugging a curving coastline is the island of Culebra. This secret Caribbean island is all about the low-key vibe and powdery white sands—seven-miles of virtually untouched stretches with clear views of PR. Stay at the hilltop Club Seabourne, a string of white plantation-style cottages with private terraces and hammocks perfect for lounging the day away. Or, go for a snorkel near the marine reserve, where you'll spot tropical fish and sea turtles (it's an important nesting site for the majestic creatures thanks to the establishment of a National Wildlife Refuge), then watch the sun go down at Culebrita, the Caribbean's oldest lighthouse.
Canouan, St. Vincent and the Grenadines
The small hook-shaped island of Canouan rings in at only 3.5 miles and has roughly 1,200 residents. What the pint-sized island lacks in land mass, however, it makes up for in unspoiled beaches with plenty of diving and boating excursions on offer. Rest your head at the ultra-private Canouan Estate surrounded by the world's largest coral reefs, with 'gram-worthy panoramic views of the water. JS Tip: Don't miss a sunrise climb to Mt. Royal where, on a clear day, you can catch a glimpse of St. Lucia just 85 miles north.
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You won’t find a beach on the small Dutch volcanic island of Saba, only 12 minutes from St. Maarten, but don’t let that scare you away: there are plenty of activities to keep you entertained, from hiking and climbing to boating and scuba diving with dolphins, stingrays, and sea turtles. Stop by the Hot Springs which provide mind-bending views of sculpted underwater pinnacles (created by volcanic activity), or get a kick-ass cardio workout by trekking up 1064 stone steps to Mt. Scenery (it's worth it for the views).
The French island of Martinique has long catered to food lovers with its diverse fusion of French, Creole, and African cuisine. There's no better place to sample the bounty than the casual Le Francois at L’Ilet Oscar, set in a private lagoon accessible only by boat. Try the accras (crispy fish fritters). If you're looking to get the blood pumping, sign up for a scuba or sailing adventure or go for a hike along the island's 80-mile network of trails. At the end of day, you'll be more than happy to hit your plush canopy bed at the luxe Le Cap Est Lagoon Resort & Spa.
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To get to sleepy Barbuda, you land in Antigua and either hop a plane (20 minutes) or boat (3 hours). Your reward? Pink and white sand beaches, a small, colorful village and almost no other tourists in sight. Grab a sea taxi to the Frigate Bird Sanctuary at Codrington Lagoon, where more than 5,000 frigates (the world's largest colony) gather in the mangroves. Although hit hard by Hurricane Irma in 2017, the island is on the mend and its best resort, Barbuda Belle, has reopened with added rooms, a new restaurant, and a forthcoming spa.
With its miles of hiking trails, tropical rainforests, and black beaches, it's no wonder Dominica is considered the Caribbean's “Nature Isle.” There are hidden waterfalls, fresh water lakes, and hot springs to discover along with wildlife like loggerhead turtles and sperm whales. The island is also home to the Kalinago Barana Aute, an indigenous tribe of Carib Indians. During visits to the village, you can see traditional basket weaving by the Kalinago People, as well as cassava bread baking). As for where to stay, check into the Fort Young Hotel in the capital of Roseau, whose best rooms feature balconies overlooking the ocean.
Rosario Islands, Colombia
A short 45-minute boat road from Cartagena, these secret Caribbean islands are actually an archipelago of 30 small islets. Daily excursions from the mainland head out for scuba diving, snorkeling or beach-bumming followed by a lunch of fresh grilled fish, rice and an ice-cold Aguila beer. If you'd rather hole up for a night or two, the chic, whitewashed rooms of Hotel San Pedro de Majagua are the place to stay.
Caye Caulker, Belize
On Caye Caulker, you won't find cars, packed restaurants, or overly crowded beaches. What you will find: bikes, golf carts, casual beachfront restaurants and a thriving Rastafarian culture (locals often gather on the beaches for drumming sessions). The small Central American island is just a wee portion of the largest reef system in North America (which means top-notch diving and snorkeling) and tropical mangroves offer prolific bird watching. Local bars bear the mantra, “no shirt, no shoes, no problem,” and exuding that same attitude is the small, family-run boutique Sea Dreams Hotel.
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